In a blogpost last year, Lykeia pointed out how it’s actually more closely associated with Apollo and there is nothing in pre-Christian material that ties that particular bird to Hermes. And while this may be true, my mind nonetheless keeps liking the raven with Him. Admissibly, this may be an unconscious interpretatio: Odin has been equated with Mercury and the same is true for Lugh, both of which are connected with ravens. There’s also my love for Lisbon, whose coat-of-arms depicts two of those birds, so my mind may therefore be resorting to stored references and subconsciously connecting things I like. But it may also be hinting at a valuable link and despite the lack of historical references.
Traditionally, the raven is a bird of omens and a guide of souls. Due to its colour and because it can feed on decaying flesh, it’s an animal with an otherworldly aura that implies death, the ability to move between worlds, to bring things from the other side or to take them took it. In this, there’s also an implication of knowledge, for in its liminal freedom to move from one realm to another, the raven can see and hear a multitude of things, some of which are outside the normal human experience. The connection with Mercury is obvious: He’s a psychopomp, a messenger of the Gods, and while Apollo is undoubtedly an oracular deity, it’s also true that Hermes was taught cruder forms of divination by his Delphic brother. As such, He is not without the ability to look into the future and, in any case, by moving freely between worlds and being a conveyer of information, He has access to otherwordly knowledge and the ability to pass it on. It’s not by accident that He’s a god of hermeneutics.
The raven is also known for being a highly intelligent bird: they’re crafty, able to solve problems, and have even been seen using tools to acquire food, from fishing with bread crumbs to using strips of vegetation to scope for underground insects. Experiences have also shown how they can change materials into a desired form so as to create a better tool. Again, this reminds me of Hermes/Mercury, who’s well known for His inventive skills and crafty ways, like when He stole Apollo’s cattle at a very early age. He’s a trickster and the same can be told of ravens, whose ability to steal and hide things is not unheard of.
But how can a black-feathered bird of carrion be linked to a god who, while being a psychopomp, is not Himself a deity of death or battle? The answer may have been given by Lykeia with regards to Apollo: “He [the raven] feasts on the old that we can become reborn as it were into something better.” It is, in other words, a bird of change and transformation, and while that may be rightly associated with Apollon Agyieus, it can also stand for a god of movement like Mercury: like life, He is not static, but ever moving. And if there’s an initiation element in change and transformation, keep in mind that the god can go in and out of the underworld. In his book on the Guide of Souls, Karl Kerény pointed out how that implies some form of initiatory preparation or recognition of Hermes’ friendly terms with Hades (2008, 65).
All of this tells me what others have already hinted at and mentioned: the raven is a very hermetic animal, able to stand as a bird of Hermes/Mercury. Of course, one may ask how can that be if it’s already taken by Apollo, but this is hardly an issue: just as gods can share functions, the same may happen with animals. The snake, for instance, is linked to Dionysus, Demeter, Asclepius, and Ares; the dog to both Artemis and Hekate. These things don’t usually work on exclusive terms.