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October 20, 2017


With the occupation of Alexander the Great of Egypt in 332 BC, Greek culture was introduced to Egypt with all its good and bad. Some of the latter were the Greeks’ own superstitions and myths. Crows and ravens, with their black plumage and feeding on carrion, were seen as messengers of bad omen. When they fly above or land on properties or croak, they bring with them death or other sorts of evil. From the Greeks the superstition seems to have spread to Europe; and in Egypt, it still survives. I remember my mother used, whenever a raven flew over or landed on top of our house or croaked, used to silently spit out, and quietly pray, “God, make it good.” We have in the Coptic Life of Shenoute by his disciple Besa a little story which tells us that the superstition existed in the days of Shenoute (348 – 466 AD). We can see that Shenoute was against such superstitions.

Another day, when our father apa Shenoute was sitting talking with some laymen, a raven settled on the wall above them and croaked down at them. Then one of the men sitting by our father looked up at the raven and said: ‘Is that good news in your beak, raven?’ our father apa Shenoute sighed and said: ‘What foolishness prevails among the sons of men! How can this raven know this good news? Is the raven your father’s messenger? No, my son; do not again put in your heart to listen to this bird. He is only calling to the Lord to get his dinner ready! Have you not heard David the psalmist saying, “It is he who gives their food to the beasts and to the young ravens who call out to him”[1]. For there are many men who take auguries from the voice of birds, and from the sun, moon, or stars. All these things are idolatrous and evil, for it is written, “As for the man that does these things, I will obliterate that man from among his people”[2].[3]


[1] Ps 147:9.

[2] Lv 20:6.

[3] Besa, The Life of Shenoute. Introduction, translation, and notes by David N. Bell (Cistercian Publications, Kalamazoo, Michign, 1983); p. 84.

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