The symbolism and power of birds in Paganism


Banner The symbolism and power of birds within paganism

[ Birds in Mythology ]

Birds have always been included within mythology.  Many deities in different cultures are connected with or accompanied by birds.

In Norse Mythology, the All Father Odin was accompanied by two large ravens named Huginn (meaning thought) and Muninn (meaning memory).  They would fly around the world and return to tell him everything that was happening.

In Egyptian Mythology there is the famous falcon-headed god Horus, son of Isis and Osiris.  He is the God of the Sky.  When he flew across the sky in his falcon form, his eyes were the sun and moon respectively.  There is also the scribe and Ibis-headed God of wisdom, Thoth.

In Greek Mythology, Athena was accompanied by her trusted owl who was considered the symbol of wisdom.  This concept is believed to come from the fact owls can see in the dark, so can see “into all things.”

Zeus had a golden eagle that was his messenger and even found his way into the constellations.

There is the beautiful firebird, Phoenix, the symbol of resurrection and rebirth.  This immortal creature, when it reached full maturity (at around 1000 years) would built of nest of twigs and spices.

The nest was set on fire and would burn hot enough to consume the Phoenix to ashes.  As this funeral pyre began to die, the newly reborn phoenix would emerge.  In one legend, ashes would be formed into an egg of myrrh.  The phoenix would then carry this to Heliopolis to the temple of Ra.

In the Arabic stories, there is the myth of the Roc, a gigantic bird that was large enough to carry oxen off in its talons.

[ Birds in Omens ]

Birds are often seen as messengers.  Bringing forth news, both good and bad.

Crows, magpies and ravens are all seen in different cultures are messengers from beyond the veil, able to move between the land of living and the dead.

Owls were often seen as ill omens, predicting destruction and death.

Cranes were considered omens of longevity while eagles are seen as omens of strength and endurance in dark times.

After battles birds (mainly crows and ravens) would pick over the remains of the fallen. Some said they would carry the souls of the dead to the next world.

[ Bird Totems ]

Blackbird is the totem of perception.  He is connected to healing and awakening knowledge.  It is the blackbird who teaches intuition and listening to the unseen.  He stretches the consciousness and taps gently into the unconsciousness.

Vulture is the totem of purification and patience.  He is determination and understanding of how things befall.  He will offer clarity and vision, seeking the goal with steady patience.

Crow is the totem of change, representing the cycle of life.  He is the magic in the world, the dark watcher.  He teaches the balance, the line between life and death, light and dark.  He is awareness beyond the senses.

Dove is the totem of peace and serenity.  She is the symbol of hope, trust and opening up. She teaches that to be loved you must be open to the risk of hurt.  She is the sun at the horizon and the faith in others.  A symbol of forgiving, empathy and thinking of others.

[ Birds in dreams ]

Dream symbolism is often subjective because an archetypal image will have different meanings depending on the context.  A bird in flight will offer different meaning to a bird feasting on carrion.  Our personal connection to birds will also play a part.

A bird merely watching in a dream is non-threatening to those who like birds, however if you are fearful of these creatures this dream would take on a more malevolent meaning.

However some of the basics are that birds are often seen as symbols of imagination, freedom, escapism, hopes and pushing against limitations and restrictions.

Again birds can take on messenger roles in our dreams as many birds are again personal symbols for things like love (doves / lovebirds), changes (swallow / robin) loss (ravens) understanding (owls).

[ Birds and our role ]

As Pagans we have a responsibility to this world and all its creatures.  Birds face many dire situations such as persecution, starvation, loss of habitat etc.

For example, Birds of Prey are often targeted and killed (illegally – at least in the UK) by those who want to protect pheasants and grouse (so that THESE birds can be shot for sport).

Many garden birds suffer due to people’s ignorance and continued use of pesticides and chemicals.  So many people forget that when they chemically poison slugs, mice, aphids etc that these animals don’t always die immediately and can be eaten by birds who then get sick (or worse).

Hedgerows are pulled up, removing an important sources of food for birds from berries to insects, this also removes habitat where they can make nests safely.

Land and gardens can become so (aesthetically) neat that they can be completely barren for birds.  This can have a severe impact, especially during cold seasons or breeding seasons when birds have to find food in difficult situations.

PS: I do not believe in poisoning slugs, aphids, mice etc even if it DIDN’T injure birds.  I believe there are organic ways of removing those creatures that humans consider pests

[ What you can do ]

Help protect our beautiful feathered friends by feeding them year round.  In cold seasons include high energy foods such as suet.  In breeding seasons include live food like mealworms to help tired parents feed their young!

If you feed birds nuts, use special nut feeders or at least put them through a grinder to chop them into smaller pieces, otherwise baby birds can choke on them.  Offer clean water and in cold weather check that it hasn’t frozen over.

Consider planting native bushes and plants to offer shelter, encourage insects and other wildlife into the garden.  Keep areas of the garden open where you can feed the birds and they can see predators coming – giving them time to escape.

Put up bird houses (check locations as this can affect if they will get used).  If you have pets, give them a brushing then put the loose fur out in wire looped hangers – birds will use this to make nests and keep their young warm

Keep bird feeders clean (use a bird-safe cleaner) as diseases can develop in unclean feeders and be spread.

Monitor bird levels.  In the UK there is the Big Garden Bird Watch.  People are encouraged to spend one hour watching the birds and recording their numbers.  These are sent to the RSPB who correlate the results to give an image of bird numbers. This has helped to show serious declines in some species and which ones need our help.

If you have children, consider getting them interested in ornithology, it is a great pastime watching the birds and can be a wonderful stepping stone into conservation.

)O( ~ )O( ~ )O( ~ )O( ~ )O( ~ )O( ~ )O( ~ )O( ~ )O( ~ )O( ~ )O( ~ )O( ~ )O( ~ )O( ~ )O( ~ )O( 

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Bright blessings





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