Special Sub-Topic: That Bird's Trying To Tell Me Something
|We start off with the largest living bird, the ostrich, whose main association is quite ironic, being based on the incorrect idea that the large birds bury their heads in the sand when threatened. What is the main characteristic association of an ostrich? |
Ignorance. The association with ignorance was furthered by the observations that ostriches "stupidly" ate sharp objects. However, these sharp objects are swallowed with the intention of aiding digestion.
It is also false that ostriches bury their heads in the sand to avoid predators. It is therefore somewhat ironic that our ignorance about the habits of the ostrich has led us to lumber the great bird with the quality of ignorance.
The ostrich does have some positive symbolic associations. Its feathers, unlike those of birds of flight, are perfectly symmetrical, and were seen by the ancient Egyptians as a sign of truth. Also, the ostrich is sometimes seen as a symbol of patience, due to the long incubation period of its egg.
|This next bird is closely linked to the sea. Sailors believed this bird to be the soul of a dead shipmate, coming to guide them through a safe journey. Killing this bird at sea is therefore said to bring bad luck. Which bird is this? |
The albatross. While the albatross which follows the boat is still alive, it is said to be a good omen, but if killed by one of the sailors, the entire ship will be cursed.
The albatross is seen as a messenger of the gods, being protected as it sleeps on the wing. The belief that an albatross can sleep whilst flying has also proven to be a myth. The large wings mean that it can glide for long periods of time, without flapping, probably giving rise to this popular myth.
The word albatross can also be used to describe a burden.
|Perhaps the bird with most symbolic links is the eagle, which has been used to represent war, truth, knowledge and power. Which celestial body is the eagle most associated with? |
The sun. Being the natural predator of the snake, which represents the devil, the eagle is often seen as being on the "side" of god.
The eagle can fly high, and it was commonly said to be the only animal able to look directly into the sun. These qualities earned the eagle the nickname of "King of the Skies", as well as linking it with many gods around the world. For example, some Native Americans view the eagle as a godly figure and its feathers as the ultimate prize.
|Our next bird, as one of the longest living in the bird kingdom, is seen as a sign of longevity, and is even sometimes credited with giving us the alphabet. What bird is being described here? |
The crane. It was told that Hermes, the messenger of the Greek gods, watched the flight paths and angular shapes of the wings of the crane, and formed the letters of the Greek alphabet from what he saw.
As well as a symbol of communication in ancient Greece, the crane was also viewed as close to Apollo and, therefore, the sun. Apollo was said to disguise as himself as a crane sometimes when he visited Earth.
Fossilised evidence has shown that cranes have been present on earth for tens of millions of years (one source puts the figure as high as 54 million years). This, along with the long lifespan of the crane (between 30 and 40 years), gives rise to the crane's link to longevity.
|Our next bird was commonly believed to be able to transfer energy to humans, as it still is to this day in a form of soup. Also, as the alternative name for this bird may suggest, it is linked with masculinity and sexual prowess. Which bird is this? |
The rooster. It is no coincidence that the alternative name for a rooster is a cock, as this bird is linked with masculinity.
It is said that chicken soup is good for the soul, and this comes from the idea that you are able to harness energy from a rooster. The rooster itself was said to gain its energy from the sun.
The rooster's crow is said by some Christians to symbolise the end of the world, whilst the Qur'an claims that the world will end when a rooster ceases to crow.
|Usually a bird of such positive symbolism - gods, seasons, and the soul - it seems odd that the 13th century Pope Gregory IX attached to the duck such a negative trait. What did Gregory IX claim about the duck? |
It was a demon in disguise. Pope Gregory IX claimed that the demon Asmodeus appeared to his evil followers as a duck. From here, many thought of the duck as unholy, and culpable for many evil-doings.
To most, however, ducks are intimately linked with nature, symbolising the changing of the seasons, as a result of their migratory habits. Being water birds, ducks were sometimes also linked to Poseidon, the sea god in Greek mythology. Its take-off from water into air is said to symbolise the journey of the soul into the afterlife.
|This bird is linked with two major Greek goddesses, and its habit of hunting silently in the night has given it strong ties to witches and black magic. What bird is this? |
An owl. With terrific night vision, near perfect hunting precision, and an ability to swivel its head 270 degrees, the owl is seen as a symbol of dark secrets and wisdom.
Its ghostly habits during the night have linked it with witches - the Italian word for owl is "strix", meaning witch.
The owl is also linked with both Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom, and Hecate, the Greek goddess of witchcraft and the crossroads.
|The habits and appearance of this bird has led to it being associated with the Devil in Christianity, with spying in East Asia, and with gossip and intoxication in Greece. Which bird is this? |
The magpie. The black and white colouring of the magpie has led to it being associated by some with alternating good and evil. The plumage of the magpie also sparked the popular Christian belief that the bird refused to dress in full black to mourn the death of Jesus, and so was linked with the Devil.
The attraction of the magpie to shiny objects has given it the reputation of a thief. This preoccupation has also linked the magpie with mirrors in Japanese culture. It was said that men would give their wives mirrors as a gift, but that these would actually be magpies in disguise, which would then spy on the woman.
|Despite the small size of the wren, its status as a magical symbol in the folklore of many countries, as well as its intelligence, has led to it being given a prestigious title - a title it shares with the eagle. What title is this? |
The King of the Birds. It is told that the powerful eagle challenged all other birds to a contest to determine which could fly the highest, but the tiny wren was dismissed as too insignificant. Whilst the physical presence of the wren is hardly something to marvel at, this tale praises the intelligence of the small bird, which hid in the plumage of the great eagle, and jumped out at the last minute to claim victory.
Whilst often held as a sacred bird, the wren is also seen as deceitful, betraying St. Stephen and preventing him from escaping from jail. It has therefore become tradition in some parts of the UK - Isle of Man, Ireland, and Wales - and in Newfoundland, on St. Stephen's day (December 26th) that a fake wren is hunted.
|Associated with light and feminine beauty, our final bird is mistakenly thought to be silent for its entire life, before uttering its first and last sound before death, giving rise to a popular phrase. Even more ironic is that this animal's name is derived from an Anglo-Saxon word meaning "sound". Which bird is this? |
A swan. The pure white plumage of the swan and the elegance with which it drifts on the surface of the water led some to think of it as an otherworldly creature.
The term "swan-song" came from the belief that a swan was silent until the moment before its death, when it would let out a loud noise. As mentioned in the question, not only is this statement untrue, as swans can produce a range of noises, but the swan's name actually comes from an Anglo-Saxon word meaning "sound."
The swan was also an important symbol in Greek mythology, being sacred to the goddess of love, Aphrodite, as well as being the form assumed by Zeus when he seduced Leda.
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