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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Picking the Bones and Other Superstitions

From the time that crows started picking the bones of dead people during the “black plague,” both crows and ravens have been the brunt of superstition and fear. Labeled “harbingers of death,” “bringers of doom,” and “murderers,” crows have never outlived their bad reputations.

In mythology and folklore, crows are said to carry off the spirits of those who are dieing or are near death. This belief called out to me when I saw this struggling street urchin from India. Was he near death? Had he been too long without food? The possibility of a painting began to emerge.


I did some research. In India, crows are considered “messengers of death” Where they are called “house crows.” Unlike their cousins in the U.S., they have gray feathers on the scruff of their necks and underbellies. House crows are gregarious, unafraid of humans, and dependent on human habitation.


An American citizen who rented an apartment in India, moved a screeching nest of crows from his front porch to a nearby tree. Each time he left his apartment, the angry crows bombarded him with pecks and squawks. After a few months, he moved back to the States and didn’t return to the apartment until a year later.


The crows still remembered him and squacked and bombarded him whenever they got the chance. Crows are an intelligent bird and can recognize individual human faces and remember them even after a year’s time. I doubt any of us could remember an individual crow’s identity.

Hindu scripture mentions crows as descendants of evil spirits and demons (believed to come from Kakasure, a demon in the body of a crow.) They are still considered a negative omen.

I wanted to use the crow as a symbol of death in my painting of the young street urchin. I don’t have a canvas sketch, but some very preliminary drawings on paper (not complete enough to share).


There are thousands of homeless children roaming the streets of India. Diseased and showing signs of starvation, they are often abused, kidnapped or used in the sex trade. God bless each and everyone of them.