The Crows with White Feathers

Nov 26th, 2017 | By | Category: Articles

We see them every day now. I don’t know when they moved in; or maybe they’ve always been around and we just never noticed them until recently. Three huge, adult crows who always hang around together, hopping along the grass verges outside the local council building.

I saw a meme recently that said ‘If you’ve seen two crows, it’s Odin; if there’s three crows, it’s the Morrigan. Any more crows, and someone’s dropped a sandwich!’ A fairly accurate summation of our scavenger corvid cousins; they gather where there’s food but generally form small, tight social groups. Crows are not like rooks, with their huge, sprawling rookeries. They are also not like jackdaws, with their intensely convoluted social hierarchies. Locally (to me), even where crows have formed larger groups, you tend to only see two or three out in the open, acting as sentries for the rest of the group. In suburban Yorkshire, it’s quite common to see just two or three living together, with no others to look after, presumably as the fledglings have left to form their own ‘murders’ elsewhere. Crow behaviour varies from group to group; much like humans, they can’t be pigeon holed, if you’ll excuse the turn of phrase!

The most interesting thing about these particular crow neighbours is that they all have white feathers. Not entirely, just a trim of white around the wings. Over the years I have seen many black birds with the odd white feather, but this is the first time I have ever seen three birds of the same species, all with the white feathers on the same part of their body. The dash of white is most noticeable when they’re hopping along, with their wings spread slightly to balance their almost comical bobbing about. It’s as if they have all dragged their wing tips through a pool of spilled paint; the splashes of white seem random, giving each of the three birds their own individual, quirky look.

White animals have appeared throughout folklore and mythology, not just in my beloved Celtic stories, but across many cultures and traditions. The Lakota people believe that the birth of a white buffalo may herald a period of purification for Mother Earth and the reunification of humanity. A white tiger appears as Bái Hǔ in China and Byakko in Japan, and is a key part of astrology. Returning back to the British Isles, there are tales of white horses, dogs, deer, hare and many more. To generalise, in Celtic mythology the colour white indicates some connection to the underworld, death, or the aos sí; the people of the hills; fairies, if you will. The overriding theme across all cultures is that a white animal appears at a time of change, transition or transformation; yes, all words with similar meanings, but this transformation can be external or internal; within your control or completely beyond your comprehension.

So why have my friendly, neighbourhood, partially albino (possibly leucistic, a condition that causes pigment in the feathers to be absent) suddenly arrived? Why did I never notice them until the last month, despite having lived here for a year and a half? Well, 2017 has definitely been a year of changes, and not all good; but not all bad either. There’s been illness and trauma among family and friends. We lost a few good people earlier in the year. Some close friends too, suddenly and without warning. On the other side of the wheel, we were, equally unexpectedly, blessed with the news that I was pregnant! There then followed a very difficult pregnancy, with shadows of suspected pre-eclampsia, and very real depression, and a pelvic condition which ended up with me on crutches. The little one was born three weeks ago, and despite the usual new parent fog of fatigue, my health is improving daily, both physically and mentally, and I gradually feel like I’m getting back in touch with the person I remember being.

So are the crows a symbol of the changes that this year has brought? And are the white feathers a reminder that we are never too far away from the other-worldly, and to remember to acknowledge and respect that? It’s definitely given me a lot to think about. A good friend said it was unlikely these birds, so closely associated with the Morrigan and her sister goddesses, would have appeared so suddenly if there wasn’t a good reason. A message, perhaps. All I know for sure is we seem to have three unique birds that have made themselves quite at home in our neighbourhood, and I look forward to seeing them each morning now. And the fact that they have made me reflect on the past year and count my blessings is a powerful magic in itself.

Gorgeous artwork by Sally Wilson, found via Wikimedia Commons. Mabh Savage is the author of Pagan Portals: Celtic Witchcraft and A Modern Celt: Seeking the Ancestors.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Comment