Druid Divination, Using Crows as Omens
Druids and especially bards often employed divination, omens, prophecy, certain plants, and altered states of consciousness in order to predict the future. Before speaking prophecies, the Druids would eat acorns, shut themselves away in a dark place, chant, and in an attempt to attain a visionary state similar to that of the Siberian and Sami shamans.
Specialists performed the more elaborate forms of divination, but regular citizens could on occasion soothsay, especially on the holiday of Samhain. This holiday marked New Year to the Celts, and divination was best performed on that day.
This holiday, according to the records, featured a variety of alcohol. Fires were lit on certain hilltops, and the dead/faerie could walk upon earth, visible even to those who weren’t second-sighted.
Maidens on the Isle of Man baked “dumb cake” (soddag valloo) directly on the coals on the hearth; this cake was then eaten in total silence by all the women of the household. The ladies then retired to their beds, looking forward to dreams of their intended lovers and future husband. It was said that if a girl filled her mouth with water and lurked just outside a neighbor’s house, holding salt in each hand, she would hear the name spoken of her future love.
Here is a popular limerick about crow divination:
One for Sorrow
One for sorrow,
Two for mirth
Three for a funeral,
Four for birth
Five for heaven
Six for hell
Seven for the devil, his own self
The crow was linked to the Morrigan, sort of a Celtic Valkyrie type “plied” goddess linked with fated death. They hovered over the dying and could also inform where the best site for building a new settlement or town should be located. It was considered bad luck to have a crow look down the chimney, for that meant that someone within the house was fated to die in the near future.
Another belief was that the birds were faeries who shape-shifted to cause troubles. Magickal qualities included bringing knowledge, shape-shifting, eloquence, prophecy, boldness, skill, knowledge, cunning, trickery and thievery. In the Middle Ages, people believed that sorcerers and witches used the symbol of crow’s foot to cast death spells.
The sad tale of Deirdre of the Sorrows is contained in a manuscript from the 9th century. There were disputes between the Kingdom of Ulster and Queen Maeve of Connacht and her allies. Fergus, who had been King of Ulster, supported Connacht rather than his native Ulster during the raid. Fergus had desired to marry his brother’s widow, Nessa. She would only agree if he allowed her son, Conchobar, to be King for one year. Deirdre was the daughter of the chief storyteller of Conchobar. The druid Cathbad, the new King’s chief advisor, predicted her great beauty and that many Ulster warriors would die because of her. The men of Ulster wanted to kill her but Conchobar hid her under the care of a nurse as he intended to marry her.
One winter when she was old enough to marry, Deirdre saw a raven drinking the blood of a freshly slaughtered calf. “I could love a man with hair like the raven, cheeks like blood and skin like snow.” and her nurse told her there was such a man. His name was Naoise, son of Usna. Deirdre and Naoise met and eloped to Scotland with his two brothers. Conchobar was furious but dispatched an offer of peace. They agreed to all return if Fergus accompanied them for safety. Conchobar had Fergus delayed and them all murdered with the exception of Deirdre. Fergus’s son was travelling with them and he was also murdered. Fergus left Ulster and offered his services to Queen Maeve. Deirdre lived with Conchobar for a year but she never overcame her grief and killed herself by jumping from a chariot.
In most of England, seeing a solitary crow meant anger, but in Northamptonshire, it meant ill fortune. Crow, cawing in a hoarse voice, meant bad weather. A death omen was a crow cawing thrice as it flew over a house. The Irish believed that Crow flocking in trees, but not nesting were souls from Purgatory. Finding a dead crow was a sign of good fortune. Russians believed that witches took the shape of Crow.
Patterning divination was also practiced; as in January 1st divination practices, molten lead would be poured slowly into water, and the patterns read for insight into the coming year, or for the trade or skill to be acquired during the coming year. Babies born on Samhain were supposed to be year-round augurs, not date-limited for this ability.
Kat Ohren, community coordinator in the Crystal Divination Community.
Sources: Aves Noir