Cacaw!

(that's "greetings" in all dialects of avian)

Birds of a feather... are awesome but sometimes creepy together. In this week's issue of the LMAW Insider we'll be discussing mythical fowls; birds who play important and strange roles in various world mythologies (and sometimes in cultural histories). So pop a perch, spread your wings, and kick up your talons - it's learning time!

Yatagarasu

From the annals of Japanese mythology, meet Yatagarasu. One of many iterations of east Asian three-legged crows. Going by different names and representing different things in China and Korea, Yatagarasu is a raven or "jungle" crow in Japanese mythology. Famous throughout the Shinto canon, this three-legged representation of divine intervention appears most prominently in the art of the Edo period.

Yatagarasu was said to have guided Emperor Jimmu, Japan's first Emperor and descendant of the Sun Goddess Amaterasu, towards the plain of Yamato. Upon capturing Yamato, Jimmu grew his territory until he crowned himself Emperor.

The three-legged crow is representative of the sun (3 being the sun's number) and in Japanese mythology also represents the three virtues: Valor, Benevolence, and Wisdom.

The Raven of Mithras

One of the oldest, most widespread, and mysterious cults of ancient history was the cult of Mithras. Written about as far back as Plutarch (45 - 120AD), Mitrhas is said to have killed the "sacred bull" and from its carcass created life on Earth. The Raven of Mithras is almost always featured perched upon the dead bull at the point of creation.

The Cult had a 7-stage initiation, the first stage of which is "Corax" or "The Raven".

In the legend of the bull-slayer the Raven has the role of the messenger who comes to entrust Mithras with his mission. He takes the place, as it were, of Mercury, the messenger of the gods, and bears as his emblem the caduceus, the magic staff of Hermes-Mercury. On the Ostia a cup has been added, and although in the Santa Prisca version the Raven in the procession of the seven grades has unfortunately been lost, beside its place can still be read the words: Nama Coracibus tutela Mercurii, 'Hail to the Ravens under the protection of Mercury'.

The Raven symbolizes the air and at the initiation he must have undergone certain rituals relating to this element, rituals which are called corvina or coracina sacra and which qualify the initiate as a ieros koras or 'divine Raven'. We sometimes find this adjective sanctus used in connection with other grades too, but particularly with the Pater, the Father or head of the community. When attending a service, the Raven wears a raven mask.

Apollo's White Raven

In Greek mythology, the raven was one of the familiars of Apollo. Originally, the bird was white, though, and his feathers were charred into blackness by the god in a jealous fit of rage. The story went like this: Apollo loved a mortal princess named Koronis, choosing her to bear him a son (who would be Asklepios, the god of medicine). While she was pregnant, though, Koronis made the rather bad decision to cheat on the god with a mortal man. Apollo’s raven familiar saw them and reported the betrayal to his master.

Apollo turned to his twin sister, Artemis, for a little revenge. Artemis killed the princess (and an indeterminate number of her associates), and Apollo saved his child by wading into her funeral pyre and pulling out the child. He ordered his son to be raised by the centaur Cherion, and in his rage and grief over what had been done, he burned the feathers of his beloved raven to black for telling him of his beloved’s infidelity.

More mythical birds and other beasts

The Phoenixian Book of Creatures is a phenomenal resource for just that: creatures. I highly recommend you check it out. There's a section on birds, primates, giants, serpents, sea monsters, and the list goes on. Here's an example of the knowledge it contains:

A hippogriff is a creature with the body of a horse and the head, wings, and front legs of a griffin. Since its father is a griffin, which is part lion and part eagle, the hippogriff sometimes has the claws of a lion instead of the talons of an eagle, it may also have the tail of a lion. Its mother is a horse which makes the hippogriff extremely rare because griffins customarily regard horses as prey rather than mates.

The hippogriff is a symbol of love, and is the steed of the muses who rode him into the realm of romance - Pegasus was the original steed of the muses and is the prototype for the hippogriff.

The hippogriff may have originally been a symbol of Apollo, the god of the sun.

Also known as hippogrif, hippogryph, and hippogryphe.

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