Many of us see birds as a symbol of freedom because of their ability to fly. For many centuries, birds and their feathers have symbolized life, death, good and bad luck, the future, the past, and other signs. A blackbird might be a good omen, but a crow might signal the opposite. Black feathers are mystical and might signal supernatural prowess, but also bad luck. White birds and feathers’, conversely, may signal good fortune. Bluebirds are associated with spiritual joy and contentedness.
Bird symbols are all around us. From automobile and sports teams names to images on stamps, coins, liquor bottles, songs, paintings, sculptures, cereals, dances, songs, poems, mythology, astronomy, greeting cards, clothing, shoes, etc., birds have been well integrated into all cultures. This page can’t even begin to celebrate all we do with birds and their images.
Birds have played diverse roles in folklore, religion, and popular culture. The Greek goddess of wisdom, Athena, had the wise old owl as her companion. Barn owls were once nailed to house doors to wa
rd away evil spirits. Native Americans had many stories about ravens and crows; especially interesting is the story about why the raven is black.
Birds have been represented in culture and society since prehistoric times, depicted in cave paintings and carvings. Later birds became religious or symbolic icons. Birds hold a sacred spiritual significance, as all animals. The sacred symbolism of birds is seen clearly through observation of the spiritual practices of early African tribes and in Egyptian civilization. These ancient tribes studied the sacred symbolism of birds because they were thought to express the divine will and expression of God.
“More than any other bird, owls play starring roles in mystical folklore. This may be because of their nighttime wanderings, their eerie gift of silent flight, or simply their large, human-like eyes that seem to stare so intently. Whatever the reason, beliefs about owls abound around the world.
Native Americans, in particular, had very strong superstitions regarding owls. The Apache tribe of North America viewed owls as the most frightening of all birds. Owls filled Apache people with foreboding because the birds were believed to be the embodiment of their dead. Apache people believed that misfortune followed the person who sighted an owl. This belief still prevails among some Apache people today.” From Project Beak.
The sacred symbolism of birds is interwoven into the mythology and spirituality of early African tribes. Early Egyptian gods were zoomorphic; they had animal characteristics. The Egyptian god Horus was known as the Sky God. He is usually shown with hawk’s head. The pronunciation of his name in the Egyptian hieroglyphs was Horus meaning falcon, brother to the hawk. The Egyptian goddess Nekhbet was the protectress of the king and goddess of heaven. She is depicted as a woman with the head of a white vulture. Early African tribes worshiped these birdlike gods and honored their feathers as a means of sacred ritual.
Birds were useful to the military. During World War I, pheasants detected oncoming hostile aircraft at long distances and “gave the alarm by their insistent cries,” canaries sensed poison gas; gulls followed submarines in search of garbage. Carrier pigeons successfully navigated through shellfire and transported messages that helped the Allies capture German submarines, and saved the crews of downed seaplanes and a sunken minesweeper. Birds are bona fide heroes.
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