The peoples of dark age northern Europe during pagan times lived according to sorcery and omens, where even the cawing of a crow had meaning.
In England during the early 7th century King Edwin, the tribal chieftain of Northumbria, was on his way to church. Not long back, he’d converted from heathen belief to Christianity and was keen to keep up his worship of the new God and his divine son Jesus.
King Edwin was accompanied by his retinue and by the Roman missionary Bishop Paulinus. By going to church regularly, the idea was to coerce his people, most of whom where still heathen and were followers of gods like Woden and Thunor, into taking up Christianity.
But as Edwin and his companions strode down the old track way that led to the church, a crow suddenly perched itself on a branch of a nearby tree and apparently “sang with evil intent.”
The whole company stopped in their tracks, transfixed by the cawing of the crow.
Amongst the tribal peoples of England and Europe, crows and ravens were regarded as having powers of divination, and were able to deliver messages and omens to priests (who were more like shamans or sorcerers than the priests of modern times).
So Edwin and his retinue (most of whom had only recently converted to Christianity) were somewhat unnerved, if not downright scared.
Edwin had a problem on his hands…
He was faced with a cawing crow, but had dismissed all the sorcerers (pagan priests) from his court. This meant there was nobody on hand to translate the message from the bird.
Bishop Paulinus was also in a fix. Seeing the fear on the faces of Edwin, the chieftain, and his native English entourage, he decided that drastic action was needed if he was to preserve the veneer of Christianity, which Edwin and his followers still clearly struggled to maintain.
Swiftly, Paulinus ordered one of his servants to “Shoot an arrow carefully into the bird.”
Paulinus promptly brandished the dead crow to the heathen populace, who looked on aghast. He then proclaimed that if the bird could not even foretell its own immanent death, then it was unlikely to be able to prophesise anything else either – adding that the heathens should abandon belief in such things.
It is unlikely that the local populace were impressed by the demonstration. So far as they were concerned, the crow was a “spirit messenger” and as such would not be afraid of death in the material world.
To them, the crow’s task had been to give a warning to King Edwin…
But it’s message went unheard and unheeded by the king.
Had a sorcerer, or pagan priest been on hand, the locals very likely believed, he would have given Edwin an interpretation of what the crow was saying. And additionally given the king some inkling of what lay in store for him, thus giving him the chance to take precautions if the omens didn’t look promising.
They may well have been right in their analysis. Soon after the event with the crow, King Edwin was killed in a battle with the heathen King Penda of Mercia. This forced Bishop Paulinus and other missionaries to flee the kingdom.
Unsurprisingly, the Northumbrian populace promptly renounced their official Christian baptisms and return to the way of the old gods.
Latest posts by Doktor Snake (see all)
- Which phases of the moon are best for casting spells? - October 8, 2019
- Auras explained (And how you can see them for yourself) - October 8, 2019
- Why should you grow a beard? - October 5, 2019