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Contrary to the common opinion that regards crows as maleficent beings, bad omen and symbols of selfishness, bringer of plagues and devourers of cadavers, symbolizing failure in duties and procrastination, indiscretion and gossip, the hermetic tradition takes quite a different look at them that may be classified into three levels of interpretation:
- In the alchemical process, the crow represent the first stage, ‘nigredo’, the black work of putrefaction. The blackness of this stage took the name of ‘Corvus’, Raven or Crow. ‘One must wash seven times the head of the crow’ (Mylius, Philosophia Reformata). In the engraving of the ninth key of Basile Valentin, you see the crow, followed by the eagle, the peacock and the swan, all symbols of the stages of the great art. In our studies, at the Scola Hermetica, as the shovel of the Fool arcana indicates, at the start of our journey of self-discovery, we start digging our earth, uncovering a whole inner world we mostly have no consciousness about. The crow represents the power that helps us go through this inner transformation.
- In the cult of Mithra, the rites are a deep dream-like journey through seven levels, each revealing aspects and attributes of the seven planets. The priests of the start level are called: ‘Sacred Crows’ and present to the candidate a crown suspended to the tip of a dagger. The candidate has to refuse it, as shocked, and say: ‘Mihir (Mithra) is my crown!’. The journey went from level to level of perfection the planets represents, each in their own specifics, each gifting the candidates with their specific virtues. The diet was very strict and the training to prepare for such rites was very demanding and severe. Only a very few usually succeed, proving their worth in completing the whole process, and become, in turn, the guides and mentors of a new generation of candidates to initiate. So, the crow is associated with the idea of discrimination, being the door to the inner senses and especially, predilection that helps us map our journey from personal towards community development.
- And finally, the Corvus constellation represents Apollo’s sacred bird in Greek mythology. The crow represents a part of the constellation of Hydra, together with the Cup. Both stand as smaller constellations within the greater region of the Hydra. Located on a surface spanning over 3 signs of the zodiac, Cancer, Lion and Virgo. The crow here is associated with the water element, the finding of water and especially rain. It is also associated to the planet Mars and Saturn.
Modern symbols for the constellations
of Hydra, Crow and Cup, designed by Denis Moskowitz.