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A Murder of Crows

Alison Littlewood, author of The Crow Garden and The Hidden People, give us her take on the folklore behind the crow and its influences on The Crow Garden.

For Halloween, I thought I’d share some of the folklore and legends about crows that I came across in writing The Crow Garden. There are many stories told of these beautiful birds, right across the world – legends explain their behaviour, why their cry is hoarse or why they are black (often they begin as white birds, blasted with some punishment for wrongdoing). In northern Europe they are symbols of war and death, probably because among other things, they feed on carrion. An old saying tells how they foretell death in the house: ‘A crow on the thatch, death soon lifts the latch.’

Their role doesn’t end there – they are said carry souls to the land of the dead, though watch out, because they have been known to bring them back again! Despite this, it’s bad luck to kill one. If you do so accidentally, the lore advises burying it, wearing black as a sign of respect.

Crows also hold their own funerals, and not just in legend. They have been observed gathering where one of their number has fallen; they stay a while in silence, then just as silently depart. They are highly intelligent, being resourceful problem solvers and users of tools, and have even been known to leave gifts for those who feed them – making them as fascinating in reality as they are in the stories.