Ravens at the Tower of London
Other Scottish Country Dances for this Day
Today's Musings, History & Folklore
"Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
'Tis some visitor,' I muttered, 'tapping at my chamber door—
Only this and nothing more.'"
~ Edgar Allan Poe, The Raven, 1845
Knock, Knock! "Who's there?" If it is a midnight dreary and you are wearily pondering over a particularly complex Pillings diagram and are interrupted by a dark bird with a single utterance, "Nevermore" defy and defer all gloomy pronouncements and invite him to dance this namesake jig instead! Nevermore Night marks the publication of American writer Edgar Allan Poe's famous poem of grief and lost love, published today in 1845. In the poem, the raven is painted as a sinister prophet, providing no consolation to the poem's narrator. Because of its black plumage, croaking call and diet of carrion, the raven has a long folkloric association with loss and ill omen. However, as a talking bird, the raven also represents prophecy and insight, connecting the material world with the world of spirits! According to legend, the Kingdom of England will fall if the ravens of the Tower of London are removed. It was said that Charles II ordered their removal following complaints from John Flamsteed, the Royal Astronomer. However, when told of the legend, Charles, after the English Civil War, was not prepared to take the chance and cleverly had the observatory moved to Greenwich. The Tower of London's more jovial resident ravens are Jubilee, Harris, Poppy, Georgie, Edgar and Branwen (born in 2019) and are tended to by the Ravenmaster! Evermore, dancers! 🖤 💜 ✍️
The Raven's Dance
Ravens are one of the most intelligent of birds and figure prominently in the folklore of many cultures.
The earliest legend that connects the Tower with a raven is the Welsh tale of the War against the Irish leader Matholwch who had mistreated the princess Branwen. Branwen's brother Brân the Blessed (King of the Britons) ordered his followers to cut off his head and bury it beneath The White Hill (upon which the Tower now stands) facing out towards France as a talisman to protect Britain from foreign invasion!
Brân is the modern Welsh word for raven and the magical and protective qualities of ravens are attested throughout Celtic mythology. The knowledge that Brân's head was buried beneath the White Hill would have served as protective reassurance in the Celtic tradition, just as modern ideas about the presence of ravens does.
When it comes to animal intelligence, ravens show intelligence and cognition akin to chimpanzees and dolphins. In one logic test, a raven had to reach a hanging piece of food by pulling up a bit of the string, anchoring it with its talon, and repeating until the food was in reach. Many ravens got the food on the first try, some within 30 seconds. If a raven knows another raven is watching it hide its food, it will pretend to put the food in one place while really hiding it in another. Since the other ravens are smart too, this only works sometimes. In the wild, ravens have pushed rocks on people to keep them from climbing to their nests, played dead beside a beaver carcass to scare other ravens away from the feast, and stolen Costco customers’ packaged meats right out of their carts!
For more about the Tower of London's special ravens, click the 1883 illustration. And to see the dance performed by the Tay Dancers scroll below!