Sunday, January 20, 2013

Raven Rendezvous

This post is starting with President Obama's inauguration and is going to transition into the ravens at the Tower of London. Yep, that's happening RIGHT NOW.

Today, President Barack Obama took an oath to continue his presidency as he was sworn into office for a second time. I haven't read anything about this, although when I see 'Inauguration Day Fun Facts,' I just can't resist.

My favorite fun fact in this list isn't really a fun fact at all. In fact, it's a weird, morbid fact. It happened a year and a half before Richard Nixon resigned, during his second inauguration parade in 1973. At Nixon's request, the inaugural committee spent $13,000 to spray tree branches with a chemical repellent called 'Roost-No-More' to rid the parade route of birds. He was afraid of a little pigeon doodie dropping on his head while he poked his head out of the car's sunroof. This chemical was supposed to drive the birds away by making their feet itch, however, many of the pigeons just ate the chemical and died instead. The parade route was littered with dozens of dead birds.  Bad omen perhaps?

So in honor of these dead feathered creatures, I am going to divert my attention to some birds that have prevented the demise of an entire kingdom for decades (according to superstition).

The Tower of London has been home to at least 6 ravens at all times since the 1800's. Under the care of the Beefeaters, these ravens are an invented tradition, designed to preserve England's past. They are said to hold the power of the Crown, therefore it is believed that if the ravens should leave, the Crown and the Tower will fall.

In an illustration of the Tower from 1885, a scaffold that was used for beheading showed a raven nearby. The positioning of the raven suggests that they were used to dramatize accounts of execution.  From very early times, ravens, as scavengers, had been notorious for gathering at scenes of carnage such as scaffolds and battlefields. They have a history of being depicted as birds of doom who gather at these places to feed on human flesh.

The ravens were originally brought to the Tower to dramatize the site of past executions although some experts believe that the ravens were first brought in as pets by a private individual and later taken over by the Tower. Although the raven's presence is believed to be older, there is no written evidence about them prior to the 19th century. This invented tradition is said to be the equivalent to the wearing of kilts in Scotland, which is supposed to be an ancient practice but only goes back to the latter half of the 18th century.

Nevertheless, there is more to the ravens than entertainment for tourists. They have come to represent the beheaded and their persecutors.

And these ravens will be around for a lot longer, as their wings are trimmed on one side so that they are slightly off balance and cannot fly very far. And if you want to conquer England and believe in this superstition, just slip some "Roost-No-More' into their cages and lets see what happens.

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