Crow Journal 8

04 / 05 / 2023

Thoughts about crows, sightings, encounters, communication ... 
People seem to have enjoyed the questionnaire and there are a lot more responses than I expected. Even now, a good while later, a few people are asking me if it’s too late or if they can still send a recording. When I listen to people’s recordings about the crow questionnaire, there are definitely some commonalities. The one I notice first of all is how people respond to the question about what crows symbolise.

4) What do you think crows symbolise? Do they relate to any feelings for you?

A typical response would be something like as follows:

I know that crows symbolise [insert a list of negative things here, such as bad luck, war, conflict etc], but for me, they are different. For me crows symbolise [insert list of positive, or at least, ambiguous meanings].

The list of more positive things are varied, but not, apparently, entirely random. Crows seem to be admired for their courage and their ingenuity. They seem to be recognised as resourceful survivors. They do make people uneasy, it’s true, but not everyone. Some people are fascinated by their intelligence and seem to want to get closer to them. Many people also seem to feel that crows have abilities tied to other realms in some way. Being able to read thoughts, move through different realities, control time, etc.

So, it seems that there is something important to learn here about what an animal such as a crow would mean for an audience member watching a performance in regard to my main research question:

Can imagery and words evoke a sense of transportation in an onlooker?  Can the crow trigger a non-ordinary reality within which we encounter shared emotions and ideas?

1) The crow has a received cultural symbolism that is fairly simple and one dimensional. It is negative and largely refers to omens of bad luck. This symbolism is widespread across the cultural backgrounds of the people who responded to the questionnaire (note — I didn’t attempt to get a broad spread of cultural backgrounds with the questionnaire, but rather sent it to a lot of my friends I thought would be interesting and who would actually reply).

2) All respondents are aware of this received cultural symbolism to a greater or lesser degree, but are fairly dismissive of it. It is seen, it seems, as something remote and that doesn’t apply to them, or which no longer applies. It seems to refer to a cultural language and landscape that is somewhat removed. 

3) Even though respondents are dismissive of this symbolism of the crow, they are not dismissive per se of the symbolism of crows. Rather, they have a more personalised and intimate symbolism that comes from their own feelings and from associations they have built up personally through their own experiences.

4) There is a commonality among these personal symbolisms. Though they are expressed in varied ways, it is not as though they are random. The crow does have a cohesive symbolism on this level too.

5) The personal, active symbolisms are something the respondents talk about eloquently and in detail. There is no dismissiveness. These symbolisms are also usually complex and ambiguous, functioning in a much more complex way than a crow simply symbolising bad luck.

There is a very important lesson in here.


When dealing with the symbolism of a certain animal in a performance (and this could apply to symbolism at large), one must be aware that symbolism is in itself complex and multi-layered. Just because a person is aware of the symbolism of something in their own cultural landscape, i.e. literate in it, it doesn’t mean that they subscribe to that symbolism.

Not subscribing to a cultal symbolism about the crow, however, may not be in opposition to simply dismissive the whole idea of symbolism. It may be that people have developed a more personal and complex symbolism in relation to them that is not entirely ideosyncratic.

It is possible this ‘new’ symbolism will eventually replace the ‘old’ symbolism, but it is also possible they will simply exist at odds with one another and always have.


Symbolism can be harnessed in a complex and multilayered way in the performance. It would be possible to reference not only the top level cultural symbolism, but also the personal symbolisms. If one assumes that personal symbolisms are not entirely ideosyncratic (which I think is a good assumption, though I have little evidence), then one could ‘talk’ to an audience personally by referencing elements of this deeper and more ambiguous symbolism.

One could also play off one layer of symbolism against the other. So, one could reference the base cultural layer and then contradict it and dive into the deeper layer.

I think the big warning here is to never assume that gross cultural outlines in symbolism are more than that. There is always a deep and nuanced layer. I can imagine it being particularly easy to miss this nuance and oversimplify when dealing with a culture not one’s own. 

Trust what people tell you. Trust what you feel. If it’s different to what you read in books, it doesn’t undermine that!