Chasing the Ravens.

The patterns that appeared on the walls of Castle Gates House, in the county town of Shropshire, spoke of ravens in flight; a guardian in each quarter forming a cross within a circle.

Whether they are meant to or not, they suggest whispers of Occult knowledge, teasingly inviting further investigation. 🙂

Ravens are often associated with death, they being of the class of carrion as are their relatives Crows and Magpies.

Macabre images of silent battlefields cannot help but conjure the raven’s feasting. Which calls to mind the legend of how Oswestry, a town with long links to Shrewsbury got it’s name. It was a raven, so the legend has it, that picked up the arm of Oswald, King of Northumbria, who met his death at the Battle of Maserfield at the hands of Penda, Pagan King of Mercia. Oswalds body was nailed to a tree and hacked to bits – one of which was picked up by the raven. The hand of this arm, was blessed by a bishop the night before, at the pre-battle feast Oswald held for his men. Said raven found cause to drop the arm and where the hand fell, up from the earth sprang healing waters – later to be known as St Oswalds Well around which the town of Oswaldstree grew into Oswestry 🙂

Not far from Oswestry, over the border in Wales, lies the Vale of Llangollen, home to Dinas Bran – Crow or Raven’s City. The castle upon the hill over looking the town is linked to Bran, who’s oracular head is said to be buried under the Tower of London. The Tower of London, has it’s famous ravens; wings clipped for there is a legend that if the ravens leave the Tower then England will fall.

Of course, this local knowledge might have been familiar to the person who’s connected with the house. What’s annoying for me, in my attempts to research the building is the scant information available on the internet. But that has, at least, given me a glimpse into the past history of the building; it’s present location is not the original site of the house! Apparently, the building was moved from Dogpole and re-erected on it’s present site by the Earl of Bradford in 1702!

Castle Gate House is Grade II* listed, the patterns we are looking at, are cusped quatrefoil panelling, which can also be seen on various houses of the same time periods around Shrewsbury. Ravens seem to have a connection with the town; we have Ravens Meadow, down towards the river Severn, supposedly haunted by a milk maid, which is not far from Castle St, either. But while the pattern seem to be seen on many other buildings in the town, they’re are not as stylised as the one’s on Castle Gates House.

Moving away from local knowledge, into the field of folklore and Witchcraft, it’s interesting to note the connection of the raven, with the Norse God, Odin. He has two ravens associated with him; Huginn and Muninn, who sat one on each shoulder.

At dawn each day he sent them out and every day at dusk, back they came, with tales to tell him. Thus he kept informed of many events all over the world. From this it’s easy to see the association that the raven is a wise bird, full of knowing, and ready to tell their secrets to those who would hear…

Ravens are also linked with The Morrigan, Goddess of battle, strife, and fertility.

The Morrigan © Mary McAndrews – used with kind permission of the artist.

If we look at this ariel image of the house below, we see the frontage where the ravens are faces roughly NW, north being the direction associated the Roman Goddess of the moon, Luna, who is associated with ‘works of mystery’. This may be coincidental tho but I always thought most homes of this period had at least one aspect aligned to the S or SW.

As I’ve said the lack of information about this house is frustrating  – what I need to do is pay another visit to the town and to the museum and Research and Records to look deeper into the local history, with the hope of finding out more about this beautiful house. I also intend to look closely at the OS maps of the area as the house is obviously in an important position, next to the castle and opposite the old Shrewsbury School. It’s clear from the map that this is the high spot of the town, and also the point where the river Severn, which surround the town almost completely, is at it’s closest point.

I’ll also be looking at the quatrefoil pattern a little closer to see what I can find.

Until then the Ravens are in Flight whirling like Dervishes in the Windmills of my mind.


3 thoughts on “Chasing the Ravens.

  1. The British kings of Rheged (probably Cumbria) were known as the ravens (according to Taliesin). They were very much in decline by Maserfield, but they were still around. The ‘last princess’ of that line, Rhieinmelth, married Oswald’s heir Oswiu shortly after the battle. It’s barely a leap to suggest that one of Rhieinmelth’s relatives was one of the ones rescuing the body parts! History also records that Oswiu retrieved his brother’s body the year after the battle.

    I have no idea *why* the men of Rheged were known as ravens, though 🙂

    1. Yes I heard it took a year to retrieve his body – I can’t remember where I read it tho’ so if you have a link I’d be interested.

      As for the last of the Rheged line that is VERY interesting.

      I once read that there’s still an Oswald cult in Germany (must look this one up again for the details) and I did find a pic of his ‘relics’ or what was supposed to be … a bejewelled skull if memory serves … and in Germany he is depicted with a Raven on his one arm.

      Something makes me wonder how Oswui actually found his brothers body – unless it was still nailed to the oak tree…

      No doubt there was much symbolism within the tale of the battle told at the time – much must have been lost over time though – even the version my Mother told me, as told to her by her Father (who’s family I’ve traced back in the area 400 years) differs from ‘offical’ versions taught in the local schools.

      Thank you for these insights – yet more to ponder on 🙂

  2. Hi there – the source on Oswald is Bede, but you have to apply a filter for the fact that Bede was a monk and he was writing about his royal family’s saint. I suspect Oswald’s bits were still on that tree; let’s face it, they were quite keen on leaving heads on poles and bodies on gallows for a good while.

    And you’re right, Oswald is a popular saint in Europe. No idea why.

    You do see reference to ravens all over this period of time (post Roman and pre Anglo Saxon domination) amongst the Brythonic-speaking peoples (note not Oswald and Oswiu’s Angles). No doubt it meant more than we fully understand now.

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