The Mysterious Raven Tattoo: Symbolism, Meanings, and Interpretations

Wondering about the mysterious symbolism and meanings behind raven tattoos? Wonder nevermore.

The raven symbolizes different things in different cultures, from intellect and hope to war and death. Read on to learn about all the different raven tattoo meanings.

Closeup of a raven cawing. Raven tattoo meanings.

Crows Versus Ravens

Although ravens and crows are similar in appearance and symbolism, they’re not the same bird. On a personality level, crows are social, while ravens are solitary, which can, in and of itself, lend meaning to your new tattoo.

In real life, ravens are larger than crows and have curvier beaks, as well as a deeper, more guttural caw. However, it’s easy to see why people get the two birds confused! Just make sure you’re getting the one you want when you get inked.

General Meanings of Raven Tattoos

A tattoo artist working on a dark tattoo of a bird resembling a raven.


Generally, a raven tattoo symbolizes intelligence, thanks to the bird’s cleverness in real life. Ravens learn from their mistakes, which is one reason they’re so difficult to trap or catch.


At the same time, the raven may symbolize rebellion, partly due to their vast intelligence. Because they are hard to trap and drive away, they can become like your raucous neighbors, and good luck trying to get them to shut up and move along if they don’t want to.

Death and rebirth

Ravens have been associated with death because of their affinity for eating carrion. However, this symbolism doesn’t have to be all bad. The raven can symbolize the death of the person you once were. It can symbolize change from who you were to who you want to be.

Cultural Raven Tattoo Meanings

Native American

In some Native American traditions, the raven tattoo represents the duality of life: life and death, a person’s good and bad traits, creator or trickster. Ravens were often used in rituals to represent such duality.

Along the Pacific northwest coast, including parts of Canada, the raven has represented change and transformation. Native people in this area believe the raven transforms the world as a result of the trickery he does to get food.

Ancient Egypt and Ancient China

In ancient Egypt, the raven represented aggression and power.


In Japan, the raven takes on mostly positive meaning. It can represent family love, protection, inner light, and divine intervention.


The death and decay that is often associated with the raven in western culture, thanks to the Celts. To this ancient group, the raven symbolized death and decay because they would often see ravens swarming their bloody battlefields after the fight.

Ravens were so important in celtic culture that they were often used in rituals.


A carved statue of two ravens in Iceland that serves as a tribute to Odin.
Statue of two ravens honoring Odin located in Iceland.

In Norse culture, the raven draws its symbolism from ancient times, as well. In Norse mythology, Odin, the god of war and death, had two ravens, Hugin, who was the mental force, and Munin, who was Odin’s messenger of intellect and intuition.

The mind and intelligence are the biggest symbolic takeaways of the raven tattoo in Norse culture.


Not even close to the Nordic interpretation, the Swedes saw ravens as lost souls who hadn’t had a Christian burial.

Greek mythology

In Greek mythology, the raven is associated with Apollo and represents prophecy–either good or bad. It’s not all negative with the bad, though. The bad news one gets after a raven visit can be seen as a communication straight from the gods. The Greeks believed ravens were the vehicle through which the gods communicated with mortals.


In England, two crows guard the Tower of London. It is said that, if they leave, the tower will fall. From a modern perspective, would that be so bad? Anyway, there’s a whole story or two about the ravens at the tower that’s worth looking into!

Western literature

We would be remiss if we didn’t talk about Edgar Allen Poe while discussing the raven. If you haven’t read The Raven, but you’re ready to get a gothic raven tattoo, you must at least know Poe’s raven. Essentially, the raven in this popular poem reminds the narrator that death is always there.

It follows, then, that Baltimore’s professional football team is the Ravens, as the city claims Poe as a native son.

Raven Tattoo Designs to Consider

Raven and skull

The raven and skull are a popular combination and can absolutely be customized to your preference.

The raven and skull together are often associated with the 14th century plague pandemic, when ravens fed on the carrion of the dead while sitting on the victims’ skulls. Someone with this tattoo may, then, be wanting to represent death.

On the other hand, the raven and skull might represent victory over one’s enemies, as the triumphant raven perches atop its fallen foe’s skull and feasts on his flesh.

Raven and rose

A raven and rose tattoo is often meant to symbolize duality: death and life, hate and love.

Raven feather

If you’re looking for a more subtle way to embrace the many meanings of raven tattoos, a raven feather might be the way you go.

Raven feathers have been used throughout centuries and cultures in ceremonies as a symbol of power and magic, thanks to the wide belief that ravens carry messages from some other world.

In many cultural traditions, the raven feather is a symbol of honor for the brave who risk death to achieve their goals. The raven feather also might indicate protection, as some believe that ravens, who fly around at night, are there to guard over them while they sleep.

Where to Put Your Raven Tattoo

Where you decide to put your raven tattoo depends on your preferences and intentions (and maybe your budget, as well. However, some locations on the body work better for certain raven representations than others.

Chest or back

The chest and back are great places to put a larger raven tattoo, especially one with its wings spread.

Another option is to put two ravens on your chest–one on each pectoral–to represent Munin and Hugin, or one on each shoulder blade.

Leg or arm

Legs and arms are also common places to get a raven tattoo, as well. There’s ample space (assuming you don’t already have a lot of arm or leg ink) for an elongated raven or raven feather.

Whatever You Want It to Be

Closeup of a raven in profile view.

The raven tattoo is an art piece with complicated meanings and myriad interpretations. No matter your reason for getting it, rest assured that your raven tattoo meaning will always be mysterious as long as you want it to be.

Get more ideas and inspiration for your next tattoo from our Tattoo Ideas post series!

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