Raven Tattoos: History, Meanings & Designs

Raven Tattoos: History, Meanings & Designs

It was Edgar Allen Poe who immortalized the raven in his epic poem and it has taken on a certain ideal in the public conscience that usually revolves around dark mysticism and death. However, the raven also happens to be one of the smarted birds in the world and is more than just a symbological definition of death. 

Raven tattoos have a deep and rich historical significance. They also have a lot of designs and meanings. Norse mythology and Poe breathed life into the symbolism of the raven while it has also featured extensively in the Bible, the Quran, Native American mythology, Roman myths, and Greek mythology as well. 

The raven’s history is illustrious and though it is commonly confused with its smaller cousin, the crow, the raven is one of the world’s brightest birds with one of the most extensive vocabularies, outpacing even the parrot when it comes to having a conversation.

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What is the History of Raven Tattoos?

The history of raven tattoos is varied and spread out all over the place. The symbology is even more so. Ravens have always been associated with magic and dark mysticism, whether it’s Norse mythology or the Celtic culture.

In Norse mythology, two ravens always perched on Odin’s left and right shoulders, and Odin was often referred to as the raven god. Of course, since the raven is so good with language Odin used them to travel throughout the realms to relay information back to him.

According to Native American legends, ravens were actually a symbol of far brighter things than they are often associated with in modern times. For Natives, ravens delivered light to the earth and without them, all would be in darkness. 

Native Americans also thought that ravens were a symbol of balance, without which everything would be consumed by chaos. 

When it comes to the Greeks, ravens existed on the same level as Apollo and were often thought to represent the god himself. The Romans were similar in their comparison of the raven and the goddess, Athena. 

The raven features in the Bible as well, instructing Cain on the finer points of burying the dead body of Abel, the brother that Cain slew. Noah used a raven to determine whether or not land had once again appeared. 

The raven is a bird that has been around for thousands of years, all across the known world, and has been a part of human history since the very first people began to record their history, whether it was verbal or written. 

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What Do Raven Tattoos Symbolize?

There are more symbological meanings for the raven than we can probably fit into a single blog post. You could write books about the history, meaning, and symbolism of the raven and still leave some information on the drawing-room floor. 

  • Death is probably one of the more closely associated aspects of the raven
  • Magic and mysticism are usually symbolic of the raven in pagan rituals
  • Intelligence is another major symbol of the raven
  • In war, ravens are known for feasting on the dead, which is why they are often lumped in with crows
  • Ravens are often associated with shadows
  • Ravens are associated with prophecy throughout history
  • Ravens are associated with wolves and crows more than any other animals
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Amongst all of the potential animal tattoos in the world, the raven is probably the one that is most often linked with symbological meanings. Seeing a raven, perched on a branch, on someone’s arm is likely to convey a lot more meaning than a tattoo of a cobra or Mickey the Mouse. 

Ravens also carry a lot of modern-day entertainment mysticism, especially when they are associated with much of what Hollywood is pushing out these days, including movies like The Northman, TV shows such as American Gods and Vikings, along with historical fiction such as The Last Kingdom series. 

Most Hollywood and fictional entertainment, whether in video games, books, comics, movies, or TV shows, depict the raven as it is associated with Norse mythology, rather than any other pseudo-historic references. 

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Characteristics and Styles of Raven Tattoos

If we were just discussing a raven, alone and with no other imagery present, we are still talking about a formidable and ominous aesthetic, regardless of where you choose to have the tattoo done. 

However, a raven is often depicted in a variety of scenes, rather than as a lone raven, with no other context around it. 

Native American Ravens                            

Often depicted in association with Native American weapons, scenery, or people. The imagery is mostly brighter since Natives thought that the raven symbolized a bringer of light, rather than darkness.

Celtic Ravens

Celtic tattoo designs are highly reminiscent of tribal tattoos, with subtle variations that include symbols, curves, and intricate, Celtic knots. All of these things are drawn together with a central focus on the raven.

Edgar Allen Poe Ravens

In modern times, the raven is often associated with the famous late poet, and tattoos that honor him include both the raven and Poe’s likeness

Black Ink

There are many tattoo lovers out there who absolutely loathe colors in their tattoos and the raven is right up their alley. For them, it symbolizes the pinnacle in black and white artistry on the skin, with the majestic and lush feather details that come with the raven.

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Where Do Raven Tattoos Usually Go?

Raven tattoos are predominately found on the back, chest, and arms. In order to do the animal justice and display it fully, including its lustrous black plumage, there needs to be enough space to do so. 

Ravens that are in flight are often found on the back or the chest, while ravens that are perched are easier to do on the arms. 

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Final Thoughts

The raven is a unique and timeless symbol that stretches beyond modern memory, all the way back to the age of fingerpainting in caves when the raven was a mysterious, cawing, nightmarish, and dark figure in mankind’s memory. 

Today, they represent so many legends and cultures that it’s difficult to keep up with them all, and this is probably why the raven is such a popular and sought-after tattoo. 

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