Hello to my fellow Brothers and Sisters of the Ravenspire!
The purpose of this thread is to provide a “living” resource that we as Raven Guard commanders (and their successors) can draw upon as a means to get creative with something that’s canon. One of the best parts of having your own DIY Chapter is the ability to write your own background and create a rich history, and sometimes trying to do that for a Chapter that has already been scripted out by Games Workshop, it can feel like your hands are tied. In order to counter act that, I wanted to make this thread as a way for us to deposit little nuggets of information that we can use to “flesh out” our own stories, if you will.
I intend to break this post down into 3 parts:
i. Symbolism and Themes
ii. History and Purpose
iii. Words, Emphasis, and Definitions
The first and second categories will be more of an essay – an editorial – if you will. However, that doesn’t make it any less mutable. If you would like me to amend or add to any of these sections, please do post with your input. Feel free to cite sources as well, my first write-up will more than likely be devoid of sources, but if the community wills it, we can make that a thing.
Onwards to the meat of the matter...
Symbolism and Themes:
The Raven Guard, XIX, 19th Legion. Sons of Corax. Warriors of Deliverance.
Like most bits of Games Workshop fluff, the Raven Guard seem no different, their background a bit on-the-nose. The Primarch’s name, Corvus Corax, is the literal latin translation for common raven. Their armor is black. They favor an aerial and stealth approach to combat, and their crucible (the fields of Istvaan V) they focused on survival where they principally relied on scavenging to see them through (much like their namesake being a carrion eater). If we take a deeper look into some of these themes though, there is some significant depth.
The Raven: While the Primarch might literally be named Raven, the bird itself is a huge indicator to the theme of the force as a whole. The Corvidae family of birds is known to encompass not only Ravens, but also Crows, Rooks, Jackdaws, Jays, Magpies, and Shrikes. What does this family mostly have in common? High intelligence. Many members of the Corvidae family are highly intelligent when compared to the rest of their class of the animal kingdom, possessing a brain to body mass ratio similar to apes, not far behind that of humans. There are many examples of Ravens (and other members of the Corvidae family) using and making their own tools. They are a very resourceful species, opportunistic in their diet (most are omnivores, but the real interesting bit is them being carrion feeders – eaters of the dead). These sort of things are important when you want to look at the over-arching theme we can feel.
It is also worth noting the clear relationship between the Raven as a bird, in addition to “The Raven” a poem by the American writer, Edgar Allen Poe. The poem covers a narrative of a person at home reading esoteric or forbidden texts, only to hear knocking at his door. When he goes to answer expecting a person, it is in fact a raven. The raven stares at this guy blankly, and the guy figures “Well I’m just going to ask this majestic Raven if he knows where my dead girlfriend Lenore is”. Raven answers no. Guy proceeds to lose his , lots of dark imagery ensures in regards to the raven, death, ghosts, and forbidden knowledge. Basically his grief is catalyzed by the symbol of the raven, oh and the fact that it squawks “Nevermore” at him a bunch.
In Germanic Mythology, ravens are closely associated with Odin, whom he was often cited as being accompanied by two of. They were frequently referred to as his eyes and ears. His watchers if you will, who would report back to him. The raven is seen as auspicious and a symbol of knowledge. It would be quite easy to draw a parallel between Odin and the Emperor, and makes sense as a means to justify the much more secretive relationship that he had with his son Corvus, where they were documented in the fluff for having prolonged conversations, in private, multiple times. Out of all of the Emperor’s sons, you will be hard pressed to find one that was privy to more one on one time with pops than Corvus.
Raven Word Bank: Black, Intelligent, Resourceful, Opportunistic, Wisdom, Death, Carrion-feeder, Fear, Knowledge, Messengers & Prophecy.
Shadows: The theme of warriors that “strike from the shadows” is a continual one. This theme is only slightly related to that of the Raven, but is really its own independent theme. The Raven Guard home world is a desperate one. Corvus grew up on the slave world of Lycaeus, which was a nasty place of struggle. A mining world exposed to the void, where its inhabitants were forced to work like slaves doing grueling labor below the heel of brutal oppressors. Corvus grew up in the bowels of this community, learning guerilla warfare and basing his entire moral compass on trying to earn his own freedom and the freedom of those that cared for him. Sabotage, raids, and hit and run were the name of the game. Shadows plays a big part into this thematically.
Early on Corvus discovered he had a special ability. All of the Emperor’s sons are touched by the warp and latently psychic, but most don’t manifest powers openly, rather they have “gifts” that manifest themselves in a much more specific manner. Corvus’ gift is referred to as wraith-slipping (also Shadow-Slip or Shadow Walk). Basically if he wills it, he can make himself invisible to other sentient beings by melding with the shadows. What’s interesting about this ability (and relates it to being psychic in nature) is that he isn’t able to hide from artificial scanners/sensors. This lends itself to being an apparent trick of the mind or psychic in nature.
Even some of Corvus’ sons had this ability as well, but it alluded to being a weaker version and more based on a mutation/bonus ability in their geneseed. Marines with possession of this ability would be promoted to the ranks of the Mor Deythan, an elite fighting unit that operated clandestinely outside the rest of the legion. Later on after the Horus Heresy, more champions of the Raven Guard chapter would be cited in having similar abilities (although frequently watered down versions compared with their Heresy-era counterparts).
What is apparent and consistent throughout the canon is the nature of the Raven Guard to employ stealth and subterfuge as a pillar of their tactica. What’s this mean thematically? The concept itself (like the quality) is ephemeral. Employing stealth gives an incredible advantage tactically, but it can also give an advantage emotionally (if survivors are left to tell the tale), as the enemy will know of your name in hushed tones for centuries to come. This evokes a sort of fear, but not so crude or baroque as that which their Night Lords brethren would employ. It’s the sort of Fear that creeps into the enemy, and erodes confidence. It’s the sort of fear that feeds on itself. Much like a child’s fear of the dark, the Raven Guard have the ability to unsettle and disarm even the toughest of foes, simply by their way of war.
Shadows Word Bank: Ghost, Wraith, Apparition, Phantom, Shade, Shroud, Dusk, Gloom, Aphotic, Dark(ness), Dirge, Umbra, Silent, Stalk, Stealth, Guile, Somber, Whisper
Paint It, Black: Again, it feels hard to draw a line between shadows and black, but I feel it’s necessary because you can evoke a lot of different things emotionally when pulled in different directions. Black as a color is a very primal thing, and it fits perfectly with the Raven Guard aesthetic due to the fact that it’s the absence or complete absorption of light. This of course hits on the wraith-slipping note quite well. The Raven Guard approach from a practical standpoint is one of utility. Since the Legion/Chapter prefers to use stealth and swiftness as their main avenue of aggression, black fits the perfect requirement of stealth and efficacy. The Raven Guard eschew much of the adornment that their fellow chapters use in terms of their armor and iconography, preferring a more subtle approach to their panoply, exceeded in utility only by their successor chapter, the Raptors.
For many cultures, the color black is associated with a raft of concepts. Amongst the most common is death and mourning. I feel that most Raven Guard depicted in the fiction have a very melancholic nature to them, which definitely aligns with this theme of mourning. While utterly practical, they all seemed possessed of an overwhelming sadness. Whether this is related to their tragic history as a legion, their desperate home world and origin, or simply just a genetic trait inherited from their gene-sire. Ultimately it feels like the members of the Chapter are in on some grand secret about the galaxy that only they know. I suspect it has something to do with being in flames, and only war.
Black Word Bank: Ebony, Jet, Obsidian, Onyx, Sable, Ebon, Atrementous
Birds, Predators, and Flight: My last symbolism category will be more a grouping of symbols and themes that all share elements, but probably aren’t worth breaking down on their own. It’s worth noting that thematically, the Raven Guard allude to and make reference of numerous cases of what are considered Birds of Prey. What’s interesting about this is that Ravens are, in fact, not considered a bird of prey (or Raptor). While Raven Guard history refers to many different families of birds of prey (Raptors, Hawks, Falcons, etc) while Ravens themselves are part of the Corvidae family, and are considered a song bird.
The Raven Guard way of war can have many of its aspects directly compared to certain birds of prey. Falcons as an example are known to hunt in a swoop or dive. This can be directly compared to the way Raven Guard employ Jump Pack Infantry, either deployed via Thunderhawk, Whispercutter, or by pack alone. Most birds of prey hunt by making a diving attack with a significant amount of kinetic force coupled with razor sharp talons, which results in killing their prey typically in a single blow. This also lines up with the Raven Guard way of war. Also when we as humans think of birds of prey (like Eagles), we probably don’t consider stealth a key attribute to their success in the food chain. The truth is quite different though. From the prey’s perspective, those predators do employ stealth, simply by virtue of the fact that in most instances, the prey isn’t even aware of the fact they are being hunted until right as death takes them. This also provides a parallel to the teachings of Corax.
It’s also worth speaking about the Raven Guard rite of passage, where they hunt a small species of raven native to Kiavahr. It’s hinted that this process is a step that must be completed as a scout to progress to a fully-fledged battle brother. In addition, these sort of hunts can be undertaken as a form of meditation or spirit quest. Once killed, the warrior keeps the skull, or Corvia, and attaches it as a totem to his armor. These skull totems are worn into battle, and an older warrior may acquire more of them as time goes on. Should a brother fall in battle, a fellow Astartes will retrieve his Corvia, and carry them as a personal burden and symbol of honor, until such a time as he returns to Kiavahr, and is able to bury the skull in the soil personally.
This tradition has a couple of neat parallels I think. First off, it’s unique to see an Astartes rite of passage that focuses on agility and stealth as its main methods for success. On top of that, collecting trinkets (including bones/skulls) is a thing multiple species of Raven and Crows do (as do a handful of other song bird species). This tradition blends motifs of stealth, agility, death, and honor (yet subtlety) all in one.
Predators Word Bank: Passerine, Forfex, Corvia, Swoop, Dive, Descent, Swift, Talon, Claw, Blade, Rend, Tear.
History and Purpose:
I realize my above segments on theme are quite wordy, so I will try to provide my history of violence for our boys in black in a succinct manner. Once founded by the Emperor, the past of the legion is one of not-so-honorable deeds. The nature of the legion in its infancy was one of recon and wetwork. They were not a legion known for their ability to wage war entirely independently. The Emperor utilized them to infiltrate, reconnoiter, and assassinate would be usurpers and rival tyrants during the Unification Wars. While a noble purpose in the end game, definitely not something most warriors would consider an honorable deed. After the Unification of Terra, once the Great Crusade began, the legion was tasked with mainly being a supporting force for the Luna Wolves. Under the Lupercal’s command, the legion ended up filling the same functionary role that it did on Terra for the Emperor: swift, decisive, decapitation strikes.
Later on, once merged with their gene-sire, the overtone of the legion would begin to shift, but not without its continual “taint” being a reoccurring theme. As an example, in Corax’s uprising on Deliverance, it was necessary for him to ally himself with not only people whom he liked and trusted, but also with those whom he did not, but rather shared a common goal. These killers would prove very useful in the years to come, having been charged and imprisoned for being murderers, rapists, and thieves. Some of these warriors would go on to become Astartes, and excellent ones at that. They would go on to be known as Moritats, members of the Ash Blind. A group of killers who for all intents and purposes don’t play well with others. These warriors were frequently deployed alone, given a target, and often died in the act of completing the task. Highly effective, marginally ethical, later on other legions would be unable to deny their effectiveness and begin to employ the like themselves.
When Corax inherited his birthright, he was ashamed of his legion. He saw their brutal methods very similar in nature to the slave masters he had seen oppress his people on Lycaeus. While their methods of war would not change drastically, it would seem going forward Corax would expect a certain level of accountability in his warriors, and ultimately he would place that burden on himself. All applications of force should be evaluated before the blow is delivered, lest one see themselves become the tyrant they seek to overthrow.
Later on, once the legion became crippled at Istvaan V, Corax would once again resort to methods that were questionable in nature. He would tap into a forbidden process of trying to grow new Astartes in a rapid fashion, using his father’s methods (without his permission). While initially thought to be a success to produce a new breed of stronger and faster Astartes, it would come to pass that this course of action would have dire circumstances resulting in mutated Astartes, and a shame brought down upon Corax’s shoulders. These series of events would also come to further compromise the legions position going forward, for their ability to replenish their ranks. These mutated warriors (Raptors) would prove themselves valiantly, albeit not proudly. As time goes on into the 41st millennium, the history of these failed science experiments would fade, but tales would be told centuries later of large vicious mutant’s fighting alongside their black armored brethren once more. It would appear the Raven Guard as a chapter would continue to maintain the membership to the “huge secrets we hide from the inquisition” club, along with their brother Astartes the Dark Angels, Blood Angels, and Space Wolves.
A recurring exchange when looking at the legion historically is the ends justify the means. Frequently the legion (and its Primarch) was prepared to cross the proverbial line, should that mean victory. However, these choices are not taken lightly, and the legion as a whole seems consumed by a sort of sadness, as a result of these choices. The Raven Guard are known to seek out conflicts on smaller worlds, forgotten worlds, far flung bastions of the Imperium that have long since been neglected by their Emperor. They show up, without warning, answering a distress call never thought to be answered. It is very easy to associate these actions with atonement, and also justice. They would seek to save those from a dire fate, much like the legion did itself on Deliverance, while also pushing themselves forward to a noble cause.
Words, Emphasis, and Definitions:
In this final section (and probably the most valuable of this post). I will combine all the above word banks into a glossary if you will. My intent was to only provide definitions for a handful of the more obscure terms used, but given the global nature of the hobby, and the fact that many users of this forum are not native English speakers, I thought it prudent to just provide definitions to every word in the bank. In turn, as this word bank grows, we can provide more terms and definitions, to grow it as a resource.
All definitions below courtesy of www.dictionary.com and my own personal bias to cherry pick what definition I like most in this context.
Apparition: a supernatural appearance of a person or thing, especially a ghost, specter or phantom.
Atramentous: black as ink.
Black: characterized by absence of light; enveloped in darkness.
Blade: the flat cutting part of a sword, knife, etc.
Carrion-feeder: something that consumes dead and putrefying flesh.
Corvia: a small totem consisting of the skull of a small species of raven from the forests of Kiavahr.
Claw: a sharp, usually curved, nail on the foot of an animal, as on a cat, dog, or bird.
Dark(ness): absence or deficiency of light; obscurity; concealment.
Death: the total and permanent cessation of all the vital functions of an organism.
Descent: the act, process, or fact of moving from a higher to a lower position.
Dirge: any composition resembling such a song or tune in character, as a poem of lament for the dead or solemn, mournful music.
Dive: to plunge, fall, or descend through the air.
Dusk: the state or period of partial darkness between day and night; the dark part of twilight.
Ebony / Ebon: a deep, lustrous black.
Fear: a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, etc., whether the threat is real or imagined.
Forfex: a pair of pincers.
Gloom: total or partial darkness; a state of melancholy or depression.
Ghost: a mere shadow or semblance.
Guile: insidious cunning in attaining a goal.
Intelligent: having the faculty of reasoning and understanding.
Jet: a compact black coal, susceptible of a high polish, used for making jewelry, a deep black.
Knowledge: awareness, as of a fact or circumstance.
Messengers: carriers of a message as a matter of duty.
Obsidian: a volcanic glass similar in composition to granite, usually dark but transparent in thin pieces, and having a good conchoidal fracture.
Onyx: black, especially a pure or jet black.
Opportunistic: a person who adheres to the policy of adapting actions, decisions, etc., to effectiveness regardless of the sacrifice of ethical principles.
Passerine: Bird order with feet for perching (3 toes) and advanced vocal chords (Oscine).
Phantom: an appearance or illusion without material substance, as a dream image, mirage, or optical illusion.
Prophecy: a divinely inspired utterance or revelation.
Rend: to tear apart, split, or divide with force or violence.
Resourceful: able to deal skillfully and promptly with new situations, difficulties, etc.
Sable: the color black, often being one of the heraldic colors.
Shade: a place or an area of comparative darkness, as one sheltered from the sun.
Shroud: to cover; hide from view.
Silent: making no sound; quiet; still.
Somber: gloomily dark; shadowy; gloomy, depressing, or dismal.
Specter: some object or source of terror or dread.
Stalk: to pursue or approach prey, quarry, etc., stealthily.
Stealth: secret, clandestine, or surreptitious procedure.
Swift: moving or capable of moving with great speed or velocity; fleet; rapid.
Swoop: to come down upon something in a sudden, swift attack.
Talon: a claw, especially of a bird of prey.
Tear: to pull apart or in pieces by force, especially so as to leave ragged or irregular edges.
Umbra: shade; shadow; a phantom or shadowy apparition, as of someone or something not physically present; ghost; spectral image.
Whisper: to speak with soft, hushed sounds, using the breath, lips, etc., but with no vibration of the vocal cords.
Wisdom: knowledge of what is true or right coupled with just judgment as to action.
Wraith: an apparition of a living person supposed to portend his or her death.
Edited by ltvyper, 30 January 2017 - 07:36 PM.