Both my mother and father can be linked mythologically to the raven, a bird of death and transmutation. On my father's side, we have traced the raven quite literally through the name. Before Texas, we began in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where Great-grampa lived as well as the two generations before him. I never met him, but I heard he was an amazing old-timer and true cowboy who even had an Indian name: He Who Moves Slowly Through the Woods. My Great-great-great-grampa Ernest Gottfied died in Shelby, Michigan, but had come through New York (where he married Anna Ophelia Greene) from Herne, Germany where he was born in 1836. He was most likely fleeing the German Civil War that resulted in Prussian rule. In Germany they were blacksmiths, miners and papermakers, decidedly working class. Finally, in the deep, dark past of the 13th century, we allegedly hearkened from Ravensburg, Germany, home of the famous knight Herbord von Raven (his castle is pictured above). Most likely he was a brutal landlord who killed Pagans. At Darmstadt, Germany in 1767, a Von Raven founded a Masonic clerical order involving theosophy, alchemy and magic. True to the Masonic tradition, though, the knowledge was kept secret and the inside circle was considered superior to all others. Legend has it that one of our ancestors was a Knight who served in the Middle East in the 13th century, who probably slaughtered natives who didn't worship Christ. Lord...not too much has changed...
On my mother's side, the raven has appeared beautifully (and brutally) in the myths of her motherland.
Our gramma's maiden name was Ramey. The Ramey family, originally Remy, was from France. Many Remys became Huguenots, Protestants who broke away from the Catholic Church and the Pope in the 1400s. They worshiped in secret and began to be persecuted and massacred by the Catholics. Among the other Huguenots in exodus, Jacob Remy left France around 1654. Tens of thousands of our ancestors were killed because they were Huguenots, including Jacob's father, Pierre.
There are possibilities of the Rameys having roots in Gallic Druid tradition, the mysterious, archaeologically controversial, order of mystical healers, teachers and mages. The Gauls were a Celtic Pagan tribe in northern France, Belgium and Rhineland (Herne, where paternal Gottfied was born, is on the Rhine). The word Gaul, like the word Viking, may have been derived from a word meaning "pirate" or "raider". They put up quite a fight against the Roman Empire, much like the other Celtic tribes.
On a side note, I find it interesting that our paternal heritage is, for the most part, a patriarchal Christian order of Germanic Knights. I can almost see them in full pitch black armor on black stallions breathing fire and beheading peasants for the Church. On the other hand, our maternal heritage is one of Pagan rebel tribes, fighting the Church and Empire. I can almost see them dancing among the stones and drinking mead with faeries. But that's an awfully dualistic view and I digress...
Our great-gramma's maiden name was Lankford, which goes further back to Cornwall, the beautiful southwestern tip of Britain. The Cornish and the Welsh are the most clearly descended in blood and culture from the Pagan Iron Age Britons. Folklore speaks of faeries, giants, sorceresses, piskies and small people. The Danish Vikings, who were allies and probably interbred with the Cornish, brought stories of dwarves and elves. In Cornwall stand ancient monoliths testament to Celtic native princes' deeds. Standing stones, called menhir (literally "long stones"), are strewn by the hundreds amongst cairns and barrows alive with ghost and faerie stories. One great granite pillar is named Mên Scryfa or Screfys (which means "written stone").
A passage from Antiquities of West Cornwall by Ian Cooke says of the stone:
The inscription, probably made long after the menhir was orginally erected, reads
RIALOBRANI (Royal Raven)
CUNOVALI FILI ('Famous leader' or 'Glorious Prince')
The raven is a bird of carrion, linked with death and the battlefield and was believed to have magical power for those who worshipped it. The raven is one of the forms taken by the Irish Morrigan, goddess of war and death.
Celtic legend links the name of Bran (in RialoBRANi) to a ancient British warrior king, keeper of the cauldron of immortality, whose decapitated head continued to have powers of speech and was later buried on the site of the Tower of London, where ravens still live. Bran also appears in Arthurian legend under a variety of names and he was a Celtic solar war god.
The story of RIALOBRANI (Ryalvran) is clearly very ancient. An invader attacked the Glorious Prince, seized his lands and occupied the Lescudjack hillfort at Penzance, which protected the harbour. The defeated royalty fled possibly to the area around Carn Euny or the hillfort of Caer Bran (Raven Castle). The Royal Raven tried to reclaim his territory and a battle took place, but Ryalvran was killed and buried by the stone which apparently was the same height as the dead warrior.
The height of the stone that is legendarily the same as the warrior's is nine feet. Other legends say that he was buried with all his weapons and treasures, even that he was not dead but sleeping beneath it, ready to answer Cornwall's call in time of need.
The picture above is 2,500-year-old Chûn Castle, built on a summit near Mên Scryfa where the Royal Raven was buried.
More recently, the myths of the Raven is alive and thriving in Cornwall. This was posted in Gorseth Kernow News in 2002:
Due to habitat changes the Chough (pronounced "chuff" or, traditionally, "chaw") has not bred in the wild in Cornwall for 50 years, but a pair has now been sighted. It is a Raven with a red beak and red legs. The pair are thought to have come from Ireland or South Wales. It has been Cornwall's national emblem for so long that the Welsh word for a Chough is Bran Gernyw (Crow of Cornwall). It is believed to be the guardian of the spirit of King Arthur who will one day return to free his people.