Wisdom, Love, And Death: The Symbolism Of The Crow Tattoo

Many of us have woken on a crisp morning, mist whipping through the air, and the grass prickly with ice, only to hear the haughty laugh of a crow soaring overhead.

The sound and silhouette of the crow have been used in many horror movies and psychological thrillers as a backdrop to the whole setting in which protagonists find themselves in.

These enigmatic birds have not just captured our imaginations, but the imaginations of humanity for thousands of years, ever since the first people sat around a campfire with stone knives and fur coats looking out at an untamed world and hearing that mocking call.

With such a presence set in our minds, it’s no wonder that this bird has become the inspiration for a tattoo. The crow appears as a statement upon the flesh, making an impression about the person before anyone asks about the meaning of the ink.

However, when you get to that point, the meaning may become muddled. With so many years of intertwining history between humanity and our avian acolytes, what is the meaning behind the crow imagery?

What associations or stories do we call upon when we see the shadow in the sky on a sunless morning?

Image: @arga_bilegtattoo

History And Cultural Significance

Crows, Ravens, Jackdaws, and other Corvids have a long and storied history with humanity and in its legends.

Although they are different birds, these animals are so closely related and so often placed together, that these legends tend to place them as one and the same, so we will be calling upon these legends as depictions of these birds as a whole, despite their different names.

These date back to almost prehistory, with the very earliest civilizations depicting images of crows in their artworks.

In Greek mythology, ravens were the messenger of the god Apollo in the mortal world and were a symbol of bad luck and an omen of poor times to come, thanks to Apollo’s fury being brought down on the bird after his lover cheated on him.

In the Old Testament or the Hebrew Bible, a raven is released by Noah after the great flood to see whether the water had gone down to normal levels and Moses forbade the eating of ravens.

This story is often interpreted by different cultures in different ways: some think that the raven did not come back because it was feasting on dead corpses, some believe it was released as a punishment, and so on. In many of these cases, the Corvid is seen as a bad omen.

The modern western depictions of ravens regularly come from Celtic, Germanic, and Norse mythology.

Image: @birol_dincer_tattoo

To the Germanic and Norse people, ravens and crows were the servants of Odin, who was always flanked by two ravens, Huginn (thought) and Muninn (Memory), which acted as his eyes and ears in our world.

To the Celtic people of Ireland, the Corvid birds were sacred animals of the goddess Mórrígan – the Phantom Queen.

While the goddess can be said to be three different goddesses acting as one or one goddess pretending to be three, the fear and respect she commanded to the Celtic people was terrific, she was the goddess of war, battle, doom, and fate, appearing to protect the territory of her people and bring doom to those who stood in her way.

Alternatively, to the Celtic people of Wales, the god Bran the Blessed was often associated with Ravens and is incredibly important in the epic, The Mabinogion.

Finally, in many countries, the raven and the crow are seen as wise but also jokers, who act the fool despite their keen intelligence.

In Hinduism, there is an old sage, Bhusunda, who takes the form of a crow and records the world’s history, surviving many devastations of it at the same time.

Crows in general are relative to people in Hinduism, as they are considered ancestors and offering food to them is still commonly practiced.

Also, in the pacific northwest, many indigenous cultures see the raven as the creator of the world, but also a fickle joker of a god who is willing to trick and connive for what it wants.

Image: @teo_blood_line_tattoo

Meaning And Symbolism

As you can see, our association and history with crows and ravens is long and detailed. With such a vast and varied view of the crow over so many different cultures, it is hard to pin down exactly what a crow tattoo can mean on a person, however, there are some meanings that are universal to most cultures and peoples that can be attached to a crow tattoo:

Wisdom And Intelligence

Most cultures, even if they have misgivings about the bird, view crows as a sign of intelligence and wisdom. They watch the world carefully and are trusted by gods and prophets for their knowledge, even if they are wary of the animals.

Image: @milettotattoo

Mystical And Secret Keepers

In most cultures, they possess a unique position. Crows are shown moving between the physical and spiritual world with ease and work as servants of different deities.

They are strange, otherworldly, and know secrets humans could never possess.

Arbiters Of Life And Death

These birds are often associated with death. They are seen on battlefields, around carcasses, and often appear as a forerunner of gods of the dead who locate lost souls.

Fate, Chance, and Bad Luck

Due to their association with death, it is no wonder that crows are associated with fate. They appear before someone’s end and are frequently sighted when someone has experienced bad luck.

Some of these ideas and meanings that define the crow in our eyes may not all be good – I certainly don’t want a tattoo that shows I am just bad luck to be around!

But many of the meanings of crows are, honestly, pretty cool.

They are seen as wise birds with hidden knowledge about life, death, and the direction of fate, while even gods and spirits – although they may chastise and punish – are wary of the power they have and the secrets they know.

I don’t know about you, but that sounds sick and definitely something a piece of art I would like on my body.

Tattoo Variations

Thanks to its universal appeal and the ease at which it is to describe crow tattoos – after all crows are all one color, describing a parrot with multiple colors would be far more difficult – there are many tattoo variations on the classic crow, each with a different meaning.

However, we have picked our favorites for you to enjoy today:

Three-Legged Crow

This crow is an important image and symbol across Southeast Asia, that is believed to represent the sun and is still important in China today.

It is often drawn with a sun in the background and three distinct legs coming from its body.

Flying Crow

A flying crow is a striking image. It displays a fierce and daring tattoo that speaks volumes of the crow itself, being a particularly brave and cunning bird.

This image can be drawn realistically, in tribal designs, animated, or as an outline, either way, the effect is incredible.

Image: @tattoos_by_vinny

Calling Crow

The calling crow, to me, speaks quite literally. Judging by what we learned about crows in legend and lore, a calling crow speaks of the hidden world, the spiritual world beyond the veil.

The image depicts mysticism and hidden secrets that you know about yourself or others and will never tell.

Waiting Or Sitting Crow ­

When I think of this crow, I think of the crows that appear in Celtic and Norse mythology, the crow of fate, omens, life, death, and knowledge.

This is the crow that sits, and watches events unfold, only appearing at the most important moments to change the fates of someone, gather lost souls, observe the world, or inform the gods of important events.

These are some modern crow tattoos that you can get today, however, there is no reason to limit yourself.

Crow tattoos and symbolism is universal to all cultures and whatever you feel is right for you as a tattoo, you should get.

Final Thoughts

The crow, the raven, the jackdaw. These three birds have, and indeed most of the Corvid family, have inspired humanity since our inception.

Their intelligence and boldness have ensured that they have been utilizing our cultures, wars, fields, crops, and cities for thousands of years, and we for our part we’ve been fascinated by them.

Getting a crow tattoo is an amazing idea to honor these unlikely inhabitants of human society.

If you do, you’ll be honoring thousands of years of history, right back to when a crow’s cry captured our ancestor’s imagination around that campfire in the first days of civilization.

Image: @anastasialotustats

Frequently Asked Questions

What Do The Number Of Crows On A Tattoo Mean?

The number of crows is normally attributed to fortune and fate in a single tattoo. One crow means bad luck, two crows mean good luck, three means good health, four means wealth, five is a symbol of sickness, and six crows mean death.

Although a lot of people do hold to this, there is a nursery rhyme about magpies that seems very similar to this called ‘One for sorrow’, so it may have been confused with crows in America, where Magpies are less common.

What Does It Mean To Have A Crow Tattooed On Your Body?

A great many things. It can mean wisdom, intelligence, mysticism, fate, death, life, etc.

If you want a more detailed look at the meaning of crows in tattoos read through the article, it will give you a good breakdown of their cultural and spiritual importance.

Can You Get A Crow Tattoo In Black And White?

Absolutely! Of course, you can get a crow tattoo in black and white, and it will be striking to look at!

The only thing to worry about is its resemblance to a magpie, however, if you make it distinctly different from a magpie – which shouldn’t be too difficult, as magpies really only have white on their bellies – then I see no problems arising in the future, for you or your tattoo.