The HRAFN Ravens - Huginn and Muninn
Updated: Apr 1, 2020
HRAFN (pronounced Ra-vn) means Raven in Old Norse. The two ravens of Odin, Huginn and Muninn - meaning Thought and Memory - feature on every label of our gins. What is the legend and myth behind the ravens, the cleverest of the corvids, and how did Huginn and Muninn end up on a gin label?
Ravens have an important place in Norse mythology. To the Vikings, the image of Odin, the “All-Father”, seated on his throne with ravens upon his shoulder, symbolised his power to see into the future with his mind and thoughts. Additionally, as symbols of the battlefield, ravens represent Odin’s welcoming to Valhalla, in which the warriors fallen in battle can enjoy an honourable and happy afterlife.
The connection between Odin and ravens is very old and very deep. By the sixth and seventh centuries AD – well before the beginning of the Viking Age – visual depictions of Odin on helmets and jewellery frequently picture him accompanied by two ravens.
According to the medieval Icelandic historian Snorri Sturluson:
“Two ravens sit on his (Odin’s) shoulders and whisper all the news which they see and hear into his ear; they are called Huginn and Muninn. He sends them out in the morning to fly around the whole world, and by breakfast they are back again. Thus, he finds out many new things and this is why he is called ‘raven-god’ (hrafnaguð).”
Snorri’s main source for the passage above seems to be an evocative stanza in the Poetic Edda, Grímnismál, a 13th century compilation based on traditional folklore (B. Thorpe translation) where Odin says:
“Hugin and Munin fly each day
over the spacious earth. I fear for Hugin, that he come not back, yet more anxious am I for Munin.”
'Huginn and Muninn' by Larry Vienneau Jr.©
Some scholars interpret Huginn and Muninn (old Norse meaning Thought and Memory) as projections of Odin himself, rather than common ravens whom he has blessed with special powers. They can fly swiftly over the Nine Worlds of the Viking Realm to report their observations to Odin.
They are amazingly far-sighted and can understand and speak human language. In Norse culture, it was common for shamans to enter a trance-like state, during which they sent their consciousness to probe the world and bring back their learnings. The names of Odin’s ravens’ support the idea that they are projections of his consciousness journeying outward in the form of fittingly intelligent and curious birds to gather additional wisdom and knowledge. This may explain why Odin fears that Huginn and Muninn might not return to him. That Huginn and Muninn were hatched from Norse culture is no coincidence. Not only are ravens powerful and common symbols in Norse folklore, they played an important role in the everyday life of the Norse people, too.
Perhaps the first link between the Norse people and ravens was their survival traits. Early Norse people were hunter/gatherers, while ravens were carrion feeders. A clever raven might trail a hunter, and when the hunt was successful, invite itself to the feast. Likewise, a hungry hunter might notice a raven circling in the sky and follow it to a ready meal. In this way, a primitive bond formed between the Norse people and ravens.
As time went by and Norse civilization advanced, people began embarking on their epic sea voyages that would establish Norse culture’s glorious place in history — and they took their winged allies with them. Just as ravens once guided the Norse people to food, they were now relied upon to guide their boats to land. The mighty birds were carried in cages on Viking ships. At regular intervals, they were taken from their cages and released into the breeze to scout out the boat’s surroundings. If the bird sensed land, it would head toward it, giving the crew the direction landward. If it did not sense or find land, it would return to the ship.
Extract from HRAFN GIN | THE STORY
Callum, one of the brothers behind HRAFN GIN, has always been interested in Norse mythology and even wanted to be a Viking when he was 4 years old! During a trip to the Bruichladdich Distillery on Islay, a raven landed close to Callum and just stared at him, and so HRAFN the brand was born ...
The labels of all Hrafn Gin feature Huginn and Muninn, from an engraving by the renowned US artist Larry Vienneau and he is a not only a very talented artist, but now we consider him a great friend.
But these are stories yet to be told...