It is interesting how things work out. We have known for some time now that Lord Shiva and Odin are the same deific – expressed prominently to two broad Indo-European mytho-religious sphere : the ‘Vedic’ and ‘Eddic’, we might say.
We have spent much time over the past few years tracing out the various coterminities — occasionally in quite direct form, and often in ways that have direct coterminity and continuity of ‘essence’ even if the ‘expression’ has differed somewhat.
We know, therefore, that Both wield the World-Spear – even if the Spear has Three Points [‘TriShula’] in the Hindu reckoning, and lacks this detail in the Nordic. We know, likewise, that Both have Two Wolves – even if the naming is in Sanskrit and Old Norse, and in the former there is seeming suggestion that the Wolves in question are something akin to ‘Forms’ or Expressions of the God Himself rather than ‘animal’ companions. Although in truth, what is explicit in the Hindusphere is often implicit within the Germanic – and especially given the namings affixed to Odin’s Two Ravens, it should seem quite logical to infer that Freki and Geri might likewise be ‘parts’ to the Great God in just the similar manner. But more upon that, perhaps, at some other time.
One point which has long intrigued me is where we might find the Corvid, the Crow or Raven, in the Hindu reckoning for Lord Shiva. After all, it is a seriously prominent association for Lord Odin – and in terms of other Indo-European expressions for the similar deific complex, we can find quite extensive co-occurrences. Apollo’s linkage with the Corvid being perhaps the best-known, although clearly not the only instance. I looked at an array of these in my previous work – ‘On The Crown Of Crows And The Regality Of Ravens – A Restoration And Re-Explication Of Their Incredible Indo-European Symbolic Saliency‘.
However, when it comes to Lord Shiva, we do not seem to find something so direct, so prominent. This has raised the obvious question – where is the Crow of Shiva, the Raven of Rudra? Is it ‘implicit’ ? Insofar as we CAN demonstrate that there are overlapping understandings for the Corvid in the Hindusphere when it comes to these magnificent creatures as Ancestors, as Emissaries of the Lord of the Dead, and the famed Crow-Sage Bhusunda (Kakbushundi – Kak being, here, ‘Crow’). Or is it something that really had merely ‘fallen by the wayside’. After all, there seems a potential likelihood that another bird of potential linkage here – the Karsiptar / Caxrwak / Cakravaka – is such an occurrence … as the name seems to suggest either ‘Black Winged’ or ‘Harsh Voiced’, and fits into what could very likely be a Corvid spot for one of its major mythic outings (delivering a message from the Divine to the Iranian form of Yima / Yama during the Kingship of this figure), and yet appears in later times to refer to either a lark or a decidedly orange-hued species of duck.
I suspected that it was something I had just simply yet to run across – which had likely been preserved in archaic source-matter, as is so often the case with these elements. And put it to one side to press on with our work in other areas.
Then, a few weeks ago I had cause to be looking over a particular AtharvaVeda hymnal that is quite important as a reservoir of Shaivite conceptry. As I have said elsewhere, the AtharvaVeda is great for this kind of thing – all manner of elements that are briefly mentioned and alluded to elsewhere get slightly more fulsome expression in some of those Hymnals … although even here, it is usually only very brief and fragmentary occurrence that must be attested further via either comparative method or drawing from other, later Hindu texts that are not the liturgy of Vedic hymns but instead narrative in nature, etc.
Now I had not been looking at this particular Hymnal with a view to uncovering the Corvid here – but, instead, a certain other Odinic point of coterminity with our Lord Rudra. In that case, research into the Wild Women that appear to accompany this Indo-European deific, seen also with the Maenads and Ash-Nymphs to be found alongside Dionysus. But, as I say – more upon this most vital matter in a future installment.
What I observed was contained in the second line of the Hymnal [AV XI 2]. Presented here in the Griffith rendering:
“Cast not our bodies to the dog or jackal, nor, Lord of Beasts!
to carrion-kites or vultures.
Let not thy black voracious flies attack them; let not thy birds
obtain them for their banquet.”
Now, I immediately began to ponder whether ‘carrion-kites’ might be ‘concealing’ something – and in fact refer to certain other carrion birds that are rather well-known to us … the aforementioned and much-storied Corvids.
However, I did not do my proper due-diligence and go off and fully investigate the potentiality. And it somewhat slipped from my mind.
That is until just last week, when the great modern-day Vedic sage, Manasataramgini, tweeted that he had just seen a “gigantic raven — the biggest I have [ever] seen in life — the size of an African raven”, and that it reminded him of “the raven of [Rudra] from the atharvaNa shruti or one of [His] Germanic cognate Odin scouring the world for news”.
A brief dialogue ensued about the Hymnal in question which mentions this aforementioned Roudran Raven-clade – largely pertaining to my aforementioned ‘other’ area of salient interest for the Hymnal (the RudraGanikas – those ‘Wild Women’ and Dancers of Dyaus in His Wrathful Form), yet which also had him confirming that yes, yes AV XI 2 2 does incorporate mention for the noble Corvid [directing my attention to his translation of a somewhat differing manuscript for part of the Hymnal in question]. And, as a point of interest, that we find various other species of bird hailed as among Rudra’s Creatures elsewhere within the Hymnal – at AV XI 2 24, including the Hawk, the Swan, and the Eagle (and, of course, the Vultures aforementioned).
This is all unsurprising – the Sky Father deific has ever been associated with the creatures of flight; Rudra is Dyaus, so just as Zeus has His Eagle, we therefore have here Rudra with Eagles likewise. And just as Odin flies in Eagle form to deliver the Mead of Poetry and Agni(-Rudra) arrives in Raptor form (Shyena, but also the Agnicayana Fire (Bird) Altar) to deliver the Soma – so too do we find Raptors in the manner of the Hawk to be under His Blessed Dominion. It fits – Hunting Birds, all. Just as – and I should really move forward rather than delving too deeply into the ornitho-theology of these matters – the Swan would fit similarly with the associated connotations we should come to expect from this Godliest of Gods given His portfolio and mythic associations elsewhere. Including, of course, Zeus’s appearance(s) in the form of such a creature; the Hamsah living at Manasarovar directly proximate to Shiva’s Kailash Mountain fastness, and the other qualities that we associate in the Hindusphere with the Hamsa (Swan).
But let us return to the Ravens.
The question obviously arises as to how we can be sure that these are Corvids that are being described in the original Sanskrit – and why this was evidently overlooked in the Griffith translation.
The actual text itself reads: “Sune krostre ma sarirani kartamaliklavebhyo grdhrebhyo ye ca krsna avisyavah. Maksikaste Pasupate vayamsi te vighase ma vidanta.”
We shan’t go through and individually word-by-word render everything here.
Suffice to say that many elements are largely as Griffith had rendered them – we find that the bodies of the Devotee and those he cares about are the subject of discussion, asking that these not be cast to the carrion creatures by the Roudran Deific(s).
This line could be interpreted in a few ways. One would pertain more to funerary customs and rites – the necessity of a ‘proper burial’ (and yes, this was indeed a Vedically known custom – despite pretenses to the contrary these days; interestingly, if memory serves, with some potential Shaivite saliency … although I shall have to check that, and may write more upon it at some future juncture) or at least proper treatment of the body once we are no longer ‘using’ it.
In the case of a cremation pyre – this is doubly interesting, as we appear to have a suite of Indo-European conceptry where cremation is concerned for the Fire in question being referred to in suitably ‘Wolfish’ terms. Odin, for example, is hailed as the ‘Temple Wolf’ when ‘devouring’ [Kravya, to slip into Sanskrit] the king (Olaf) that is ‘sacrificed’ to Him in such a manner following an uprising detailed in the Ynglinga Saga. In the RV, we find Agni spoken of in terms of the ‘Kravya-Vahana’ [‘Carnivorous Vehicle / Steed’ – although I suppose ‘Cadaver-Conveyor’ would be another potential rendering] that consumes the body in just such a manner [RV X 16 9 – with, as a point of interest, RV X 16 6, three lines earlier, pointedly speaking of a ‘Krishna Shakuna’ – a ‘Black Bird’ … there being a series of co-occurrences of ‘Black Bird’ and ‘Dog’ one after the other elsewhere in the Vedas] . And just as Rudra is Odin – so, too, do we have quite express and explicit confirmation in the Vedas that Rudra is also Agni.
The situation spoken of with these Dog(s) (perhaps we may infer – ‘Wolves’ ? ), and the Jackals mentioned immediately afterward, is therefore a case of averting the undesirable and via allusion, inducing the more desirable. Instead of one’s body being devoured by scavenging ‘Kravya’-vores as carrion, being granted the proper end to one’s material remains via the ‘Fire-Wolf’ of the pyre. And, of course, the Soul be safe-passaged even despite the consuming tongues of the fire’s scalding, incandescent embrace.
Another interpretation would be the more straightforward one – protecting the worshiper pre-mortem, so that he does not wind up post-mortem. And therefore subject to the attentions of these aforementioned carnivorous creatures.
In any case, the general association of the creatures mentioned in these lines of their being carrion-eaters is quite important. Because, as the effective ‘set-definer’ it then makes our task rather easier when we progress further along the line and encounter the ‘Krishna’ (‘Black’) that is similarly ‘devouring’ (‘Ca’ – ‘च’ – interestingly also a Shaivite theonym; with meanings that can also include ‘malefic’, ‘thief’ .. although is also encountered simply to mean ‘an additional’, ‘equally [the]’, etc.), and ‘Vehement’ in its attentions (Avisyu – also renderable as ‘Desirous’, ‘Violent’; ‘Desirous of Devouring’, indeed; Whitney proposes ‘Greedy’).
But what exactly is this ‘Krsna’?
It would appear that Griffith sought to link this ‘Black Voracious’ with the ‘Makshika’ (Fly, Flies) that is in the next section. It is perhaps understandable why he presumed that the flies which accumulate upon a corpse were the ‘black’ winged creatures involved (and given the somewhat .. various state of the AV’s actual text, perhaps he might have been running upon a different transcription or otherwise subject to scribal error).
Yet other commentators and translators have disagreed with his interpretation – instead placing the Flies in another clause to this Krishna creature (for example, the Bloomfield translation published just a year after Griffith’s – which places ‘Black’ in the preceding section and infers ‘Birds’ (i.e. ‘Black Birds’) are meant; although then moves ‘Greedy’ to the next section to apply to the insects / flies; the Whitney translation from just under a decade later, meanwhile, manages “them that are black [and] greedy”, with “flies” in the next section. In terms of modern renderings, Manasataramgini’s (which is, it must be noted, a translation of a somewhat different but significantly coterminous form of the text) produces “black birds (crows)”, followed up by “May your voracious (flesh-eating) flies” in the immediate next section).
Part of the difficulty results from the frankly obscure (in both senses of the term – particularly the old Latinate) term ‘Aliklava’ that occurs earlier in the verse. We can tell that it likely refers to, as the dictionaries put it, some form of ‘carrion bird’, not least due to the ‘Karta’ (‘Cutting’, ‘Tearing’, ‘Rending’) activity it is engaged in with the prospective bodies of the deceased. Yet given that it literally only seems to occur in two AtharvaVeda Hymnals (this one presently under discussion (AV XI 2 2) – and AV XI 9, line 9; a Hymnal entitled by Griffith “An incantation for the destruction of a hostile army”, and by Whitney the as per usual rather more prosaic “To conquer enemies: to Arbudi”), we are left with very little else to help to ‘triangulate’ our interpretation of the term.
It would be tempting to suggest that instead of, as various commentators have promulgated, the ‘Karta Aliklava’ being a particular species (Whitney postulates a ‘Buzzard’; Griffith a ‘Kite’ – Manasataramgini also having ‘Scavenging Kite’ in his own translational rendering (as one of three species of bird, whereas Griffith presumes only two); I am presuming that ‘Kambalayin’ is at least partially why: this referring to a Spoon-beaked Kite) – that this ‘Karta Aliklava’ is instead a signposting that the next two creatures to be mentioned are of that particular sort: i.e. ‘carrion birds’. This may be useful considering that the previous two creatures (dogs and jackals) have been of an entirely different type of potential feaster-upon-the-dead clade (i.e. quadrupeds and canids).
The line all up could therefore read something like “Do not render our (dead) bodies unto the Dog or Jackal; [nor] the Carrion Birds – the Vulture [Grdhra] and these [Ye] the eager Black [Birds]”.
We can tell that Krsna is likely intended to refer to a bird due to the next line, wherein – as Manasataramgini observed to me in the course of our brief conversation upon the subject – we find the preceding clade of creatures referred to as ‘vayamsi’ : that is to say ‘sorts of birds’. [As it happens, there’s a somewhat obscure mention for this term also used to designate a hinterland tribe in the early 1st millennium BC in the lands to the east of the Arya demesne – although while it would be tempting to presume that this may suggest an invocation of another ‘Barbarian’ group within the ranks of Rudra’s instruments … the more ordinary and literal avian interpretation is almost certainly on far surer footing as well as wing].
Therefore, whether or not ‘Aliklava’ is intended to mean a Kite (or some other species of ‘carrion bird’) or be a typological designator for the Vultures and ‘Black [Birds]’ which immediately follow afterward, we can be reasonably sure that the ‘Krsna’ of AV XI 2 2 is, indeed, a Corvid. What other explanation could there be when it comes to a notoriously black bird that is engaged in the cadaverous consumption with the notably ‘Death’ and ‘Doom’ associations we find for both the avian and its Lord.
There are, as I say, an array of other, further occurrences for a ‘Black Bird’ or ‘Crow’ etc. in the Vedas that would prove interesting to examine in this light – not merely to evince that these ‘Black Birds’ are, quite likely those Black Birds, but also to sketch out how they may (or may not) link also to Rudra. Certainly, in various of these the conceptry is somewhat more oblique: we find the Black Bird linked to Nirrti, for example. And that connotes the bearing of impending doom, misfortune via baleful omen, and imminent not just Death – but Devouring Annihilation.
All of this, of course, is not exactly out-of-keeping with the quite literally terrific (as in, abjectly terrifying) belief in Rudra which prevailed during the Vedic Age (and which still persists to this day – even if it is significantly ‘tempered’ in the minds of many via the greater awareness of the ‘other Sides’ to Him in the modern age and modern Hinduism).
It is also not entirely removed from how we find Corvids called upon in subsequent Hinduism – as Yamadutas [‘Emissaries of Death’], even when not necessarily incarnate Pitrs [‘Ancestors’ – ‘[Fore]Fathers’ would be a direct cognate]. As we often forget that a healthy fear and trepidation ought accompany the close-encounter with creatures so intimately associated with the ‘border’ between life and death, or which have the uncleanliness of corpse-taste to them, and whose appearance connotes the Attentions of the Underworld (and the Dread, Righteous Ruler thereof – DharmaRaja) have been drawn to one or one’s immediate surrounds.
I mention all of this, of course, not out of any lack of love for the Corvid (or, for that matter, the Wolf – or, most especially, Lord Shiva … but, then, I suspect I repeat myself). Indeed, quite the contrary – my affable affinity thereto is to be found right there within my name. [Something which, as a point of perhaps interest, once terrified a BrahmaKumaris nun – who’d asked what my name meant, and was rather aghast that somebody would name a child, well .. a term linked to the Corvid, for exactly these reasons aforementioned]
However, it has often seemed to me that in this modern era wherein seemingly everybody on certain corners of the internet is posting under an assumed ‘Germanic’ name that has ‘Odin’ somewhere in it – that at least some people have become ‘over-familiar’ with Aspects, Facings, and associated Elements that were, a thousand years ago (or, for that matter, still today – where things are still practiced openly) regarded as something to be very careful indeed with. And with attentions which could very easily bring a man to ruin – especially if the appropriate reverential respect (esp: wariness) was not shown in any invocation which may so happen to be being done.
The appropriate antidote (an excellently Roudran aphorism in and of itself, I suspect – He, after all, presides over not only the utilization of illness as a weapon of His Displeasure, but also the bestowing of the boons which guarantee wellness and hale, hearty health likewise) to this distortionary devolution, I feel, is to go “Back To The Well”. And that mandates the re-examination and re-integration of what is to be found there, in the texts and in the living, pious practice that they go with – back into our beliefs and arrangements of perceptions here in the current, present day.
This is, as we so often find, an ideal station for the Hindusphere to make its contribution. For what may have ‘fallen by the wayside’ somewhat elsewhere – is still vibrantly present here (to be fair and sure – it’s still also very much present in, in this case, the Nordic textual corpus … but as it turns out, it’s a lot easier to ignore a textual corpus when that’s most of what the religion’s now left with. Having a billion plus people giving life to it – and actively integral dimension to the faith in a civilization – helps to ensure the opposite).
Yet at the same time, this situation we currently find ourselves embroiled in the examination of also demonstrates how things can often go the other way – as something that’s a rather brief mention in the almost ’embarrassment of riches’ that is the Vedic scriptural canon, to the point that it might otherwise be missed entirely (especially due to oversights in translation) … yet which is seriously prominent in the Nordic. And which I’d only really thought to look for within the Hindusphere precisely because it seemed logical that it should be there based around comparative Indo-European evidence from other IE spheres.
There are, as I say, quite an array of other examples for both dynamics that we may draw from – yet those, we shall leave for future works.
For now, it is enough to know:
Not just Odin, but Rudra too (but then, I repeat myself) has Ravens !