The crow is a favorite in folklore and mythology, and its worldwide distribution means that it has appeared in many traditions. With a distinguishing call and singular black color, the crow stands out from other birds, inspiring many stories about how it acquired its unique features. Here is a selection of diverse stories (by no means complete) as to how the crow received his blackened plumage:
This mythology centers around the mortal Coronis, a Thessalian princess whose beauty surpassed all others. She was the lover of Apollo and pregnant with his child when he was called away. Apollo left a crow, then snow white, to watch over her, but in his absence Coronis fell in love with another mortal, Ischys, and took him to her bed. When the crow learnt of her discretion, he flew straight to Apollo to tell him of her adultery and betrayal. Upon hearing the news Apollo flew into a rage and turned the crow’s feathers black as punishment before sending his sister Artemis to strike down Coronis. In a last-minute act of mercy Apollo recovered the child, Asclepius, from her dying womb.
Once upon a time the crow was white, and the peacock a pale yellow. One day they were invited to attend Lord Tiger’s wedding, so they thought about ways they could decorate themselves. The peacock remembered that the King of Annam was having a house built, which was adorned with carved dragons painted all sorts of wonderful colors. When the workman broke for lunch the Peacock and the crow flew in and stole all the pots of paint that had been left lying around. Peacock insisted that crow painted him first, so crow covered his breast in beautiful blue green, and covered his tail in intricate designs. When he was finished peacock spread out his feathers to dry out in the sun and wandered over to the river to look at his reflection. He was so proud of the beautiful way he looked! Crow called out to him, telling him it was his turn to paint, but peacock decided he didn’t want crow to share his beautiful colors. Instead, he called out a warning to crow that Eagle was coming, and pretended to run away, accidently knocking all the paint pots into the river as he went. Crow looked into the sky, and not seeing eagle called out to the peacock that all was ok. Peacock returned and crow asked how he could paint him now that all the paint was in the river. Peacock produced a single pot and assured crow that everything would be alright. So, crow let him paint him, not realizing that peacock was painting him jet black. When crow went to look in the river, he realized he had been deceived, he let out a scream of anger, but it stuck in his throat. That is why the crow is now black and can only utter a hoarse cry.
The Lenape people of the North Americas tell a story about the coming of Snow Spirit. Before he arrived, the world was always warm, but once he came, he brought the snow and cold with him causing all the people and animals to suffer. They all called a council to discuss what could be done and decided that a messenger should be dispatched to the creator Kijilamuh Ka’ong to ask for help. Rainbow Crow, the most beautiful of all the creatures, was selected to go. He flew up into the skies for three days until he reached the home of Kijilamuh Ka’ong. Once there he sang his most beautiful song and begged the creator to make the world warm again. The Creator told Rainbow Crow he was unable to do this, but he thought of fire, and how it could be used to warm all the animals and people. He poked a stick into the sun until it caught fire and gave it to Rainbow Crow, warning him to hurry home.
The crow rushed back down to the earth as fast as he could go, but the fire had charred his feathers turning them black, while the smoke had filled his mouth and caused him to lose his beautiful singing voice. This is why the people never kill crow, for he is honored for bringing the gift of fire, and if you look at his feathers closely enough you can still see the colors shining through.
The Wurundjeri people of Australia tell a story about how crow stumbled upon across a cooked yam while out foraging for food one day. Finding it far more delicious than raw food, crow decided that he would start to cook his food from then on. The only problem was that the only people with access to fire were the seven Karatgurk women, who guarded their secret fiercely, always carrying their live coals on their digging sticks and never letting them out of their sight. So, crow thought up a cunning plan to distract the women. He caught a number of snakes and hid them in a giant ant hill, then called to the seven Karatgurk women and told them that it was filled tasty ant larva. The Karatgurk women came over and knocked off the top of the anthill to get at the delicacy, but instead the snakes poured out. The women began to hit at the snakes with their digging sticks which caused the glowing coals on the end to break off. Crow quickly gathered them up in a kangaroo skin bag and flew up into a tree where the women could not catch him.
The other animals heard that Crow had managed to obtain fire. Bunjil the Eaglehawk went and asked him for fire to cook his possum, but Crow refused, offering to cook the possum for him rather than giving away his precious fire. Soon a crowd had gathered round the base of Crows tree, and all the animals were demanding that he share his fire or cook their food too. Crow became angry, and frightened of the crowd, he started hurling his coals at the others, hoping to scare them away. But the bush quickly caught fire, erupting into a wall of flames. Bunjil eventually managed to subdue the fire, but Crows feathers had already been burnt black (the Karatgurk women were swept up into the sky forming the Pleiades).
Given all of that, let’s take a slightly less mythic approach to the genus Corvus:
Recent research has found some crow species capable of not only tool use, but also tool construction. Crows are now considered to be among the world’s most intelligent animals with an encephalization quotient equal to that of many non-human primates (i.e., Great Apes).
So says National Geographic and Nature, as per wikipedia.
Perhaps there is more to their mythic role than we realize…