Friday, August 3, 2012


by Sheila Connolly

Orinthomancy is an Ancient Greek practice of reading omens from the actions of birds.

I had a close encounter with a large black bird last week.  Were this fiction, I would make the bird a raven, in honor of Poe's Deadly Daughters, but I don't think there are a lot of ravens in western Massachusetts.  I'm betting it was a crow, a not-so-bright one that decided to emerge from the shrubbery alongside the two-lane country road I was traveling and aim straight for my windshield.
Before you get upset, there were no casualties, except for the crow, and since I didn't stop to offer aid, he (or she) may have picked himself up off the road and headed off, looking embarrassed.  But somehow I don't think so.  My last sight of the suicide bomber was of the body sprawled smack in the middle of the opposite lane where it had fallen.

So I am left with an odd memory of an large black bird plastered across the windshield in front of me, before it slid off into oblivion.  And I do mean large:  splayed out, it occupied more than half the width of the window.  All black.  I had no time or opportunity to react before the episode was over and what was left of the bird was in my rearview mirror.

All right, you say, why should anyone care about me and that bird?  Here's why: because at that particular moment I was driving past the colonial house that is the heart of my Orchard Mystery series.  So of course I have to assume that it was a bird of omen, not just a crow with no sense.

But what's the omen?  Internet sources are inconclusive.  Modern Witchcraft Journal holds that the observation of a crow is typically a negative sign, but it could also mean that "an old soul will enter your life and bring a message."  Or take, "One crow bodes bad luck." (Certainly for the crow, in this case.) I've actually had an Irish relative quote me the old saying, "One for sorrow, two for joy," although in that case it applied to magpies rather than crows.

It is said that the approach of a bird from the right "foretells of good fortune." However, "black [bird] predicts trouble of some kind."

Gypsies see crows as surrounded by mystery and exceptionally wise (well, this one wasn't!).

So what message am I supposed to take away from this?  Does this putative "bad luck" refer to me?  The Orchard series? Or some trouble not related to the books? (Of course, the only reason I was on that road at that moment was because of the books.) Or I could look at this from the other side and say the bad luck fell upon the bird, not me, since the crow is the one that suffered and the car and I emerged unscathed, if startled (me, not the car). Or maybe in was one of those Granford ancestors trying to get my attention and tell me something—but what?

Do you believe in omens?  What's your interpretation?


Mare said...

Crows have lived and shared my yard in our current house and the last house we lived in. I've always taken it to be a good thing, although on occasion it has creeped my neighbors out when a flock has landed on the roof of the house or barn. I chat with mine every morning from my deck. Could be that they want to be included in your books, but chose a unfortunate messenger.

Sheila Connolly said...

That's an interesting thought, Mare. I'll be happy to include a crow in the current book. But did they have to try so hard to get my attention?

Sandra Parshall said...

Yes, you do have ravens there, Sheila. They're bigger than crows, with thicker beaks, and have a wingspan of around 4 feet.

It's amazing how much myth has grown up around crows and ravens, just because they're big and black and many people see something ominous in their appearance. I enjoy watching crows. They're highly intelligent, family-oriented, and are well-known for their exuberant sense of play. If you put one in your book, I hope it will fare better than the one that hit your windshield. :-)

Julia Buckley said...

I always feel bad when birds smack into windows. It's embarrassing when that happens to a person, but it's downright deadly for birds, as you saw.

I think he was just a bird who wasn't paying attention, but his oe'rspread wings can be seen as a bird blessing on your orchard series.

Katreader said...

I love big black birds, crows, ravens, starling, grakle...Some people get annoyed when these guys take the food they leave for little "pretty" birds-but I specifically want to feed these guys, and the squirrels. In many Native American beliefs, the raven is a symbol of mysticism and they are known as "keepers of secrets" to many nations.

Mare said...

I agree it probably would have been better for all involved had the crow been a bit more reticent.

Kath said...

For several years I volunteered with Alabama Wildlife REscue. When we got in a bird of prey that had been in a car accident, invariably it was because the bird was either ill or on its last legs. Don't feel guilty.

I'm with the crow/raven/vulture lovers. While we did not have ravens at AWRS, we had turkey and black vultures. They have an amazing sense of play-including playing tricks on a certain 'keeper' cleaning out their big flight cage.

PamelaTurner said...

I love crows and ravens too. At the military base, there are these huge crows that strut around like they own the place. The DH and I wonder what they've been eating. LOL