Through time, birds have been honoured for their association with gods and good deeds.
October is the month of Halloween and that invokes a time of mystery and magic. In the world of nature there is no creature more magical than a bird. Some of the most ancient cultures celebrated or honoured birds, many of them having their own version of a bird goddess. Many of the earliest artifacts ever discovered were carvings of birds or a bird goddess – a female body with a bird head. The pagan and wiccan religions along with native Americans, Druids and ancient Greeks all have fascinating histories that speak to how they honoured and adored our feathered friends.
Crows have the reputation of being one of the world’s smartest creatures with their ability to use tools and work together to problem solve.
In early times, the Greeks thought of crows as messengers of the gods, holding wisdom and secrets. Hindu legends speak of the crows’ ability to deliver messages and offerings to ancestors. In India, the sight of a crow perching in a tree signals good luck to come. In Celtic lore, the goddess Morrigan was represented by crows and ravens; in that guise she warned of approaching enemies, and after a battle carried the souls of the dead to the after-world.
The much-loved American robin is revered most for being a true symbol of the arrival of spring. In folklore, robins were said to be present at funerals to sing last rites. It was believed, too, that when you saw your first robin of the year perching in a tree, you could make a wish and if you made it before the robin flew away that wish would come true. English legends call the robin a bird of good fortune and to kill or harm one would bring bad luck for the rest of your life.
Known for its soft cooing sounds, the mourning dove earned its name from the mournfulness of its call. Doves were first domesticated by the Egyptians in 2600 B.C. and have since been a part of history and mythology as a symbol of peace, divinity and spirit. Greek mythology says doves carried messages for Zeus, and goddesses Atargatis and Astarte were always adorned in doves.
The dove is recognized widely as being a sign of peace; it is hard to believe it could ever be associated with anything dark, but in medieval Europe this was the case. Some believed the devil could take the form of a dove and lead people unknowingly to the dark side. Others insisted the dove was so pure the devil could never succeed in this, and the theory was eventually altered.
This tiny bird has more history attached to it from more cultures than any other bird I researched! Wrens meant much to the Druids and were said to hold magical powers, often being called the”’sorcerer bird”. This was deemed so powerful a bird that most Druids wore a wren feather as an amulet to protect against magic spells. In Rome it was said that a wren predicted the murder of Julius Caesar through its oracular powers. The Greek writer Aesop wrote of how a wren outwitted an eagle to become the king of all birds.
He told of a great avian assembly that chose the smallest and largest bird to compete to determine who would be their sovereign. The bird which could fly the highest would win. It was generally assumed the eagle would soar above the tiny wren and would then hold the highest power. As the eagle gained in its flight high into the sky, the tiny wren jumped out of the eagle’s feathers where it had hidden. It climbed even higher into the sky and became king.
Birds have played a role in the lives of humans as far back as history can show us. They also gifted us with the beauty of music and the inspiration to take flight. They are creatures truly to be honoured and respected. Sadly, climate change, habitat loss and over-use of chemicals have resulted in a steep decline in bird populations in the past 40 years. Hopefully changes can be made to keep the magic of nature and all its creatures alive and well for future generations to enjoy, too.
Sherrie Versluis owns the Preferred Perch on St. Mary’s Road in St. Vital. Phone 204-257-3724.