The Raven – Corvus corax – is hatching. An early nesting bird, and the biggest of the Covids. They were pushed to the West and North by farmers and game keepers but are making a comeback and finding towns convenient for their scavenging habits. So they are moving East again.
Their habits, and their black plumage has made them harbingers of death. In poetry Ravens glut on blood like the warriors whose emblem they are. The Raven was the symbol of the God-King Bran. Bran was the King of Britain and his sister, Branwen, married, the King of Ireland. To cut a long story short, which I will tell in further detail on another occasion, Branwen was exiled to the scullery, and sent a message to her brother by sparrow. He took an army over the Irish Sea to restore her to her rightful state, but the ships were becalmed and so Bran blew the boats across the sea – he was that mighty a man.
Bran was mortality wounded in the battle that followed and he told his companions to cut off his head and take it back to the White Hill in London. His head was as good a companion on the way back as it was on the way out, and the journey home took 90 years. At last they got to London and his head was buried on the White Hill, and as long as it were there Britain was safe from invasion. This was one of the Three Fortunate Concealments and is found in ‘the Triads of the Island of Britain.’
But many years later King Arthur saw no need for anybody or anything other than himself to protect the realm so he had the head dug up. Thus the Saxons won the Kingdom from the Britons. This was one of the Three Unfortunate Disclosures.
The White Hill is said to be Tower Hill, although Primrose Hill is sometimes offered as an alternative. If we want a rational explanation, there is evidence that Celtic cultures venerated the skull, and palladiums play a part in Celtic Tales. A Palladium is something that keeps a City or Country safe, and was named after a wooden status of Pallas Athene, which was taken from Troy to Rome by Aeneas. What was Arthur doing? Vanity, the story is clear. But, perhaps, it’s a memory of Christian rites taking over from pagan rituals. God, Arthur might have thought, would prefer to protect his people himself rather than they rely on a pagan cult object.
The story of Bran’s head is inevitably linked to the Ravens in the Tower who, it is said, keep us safe from invasion, and so we clip their wings and get in a tiss when one goes missing.
Sadly, and I am probably more sad about this than most others, Geoffrey Parnell, when working at the Tower of London, searched the records assiduously for the story of the ravens and found no evidence of the story before the 19th Century and concluded that it was most likely a Victorian invention.
i am doing a Virtual Tour of Chester on Sunday night and you will find a link below: