Folklore and Symbolism of Birds from Around the World

Throughout history, humans have created a wide variety of myths, tales, and superstitions about birds. When you consider that the first flying machines were created by humans only a little over a century ago, this makes much more sense.

Birds were among the only animals that could soar among the clouds before the early 20th century, which led many of our predecessors to view them as representations of the link between heaven and earth. Let’s examine the significance of a bird flying into your home as well as some other popular bird superstitions.

When Birds Enter the House

While keeping pets is a rule today, many of our predecessors were horrified by the thought of bringing a bird inside. When a bird flies into your house, what does that mean? Like all symbols, the answer is highly subjective. While some tribes believed it to be a harbinger of oncoming bad luck, others just believed it to be a message on the horizon.

However, the notion that the circumstance is connected with bad luck is reasonable given the commotion a trapped bird can produce inside the normal dwelling. Lucille Ball was a well-known proponent of the notion that birds were only meant to live outside.

The I Love Lucy star was so afraid of birds because of superstition that she wouldn’t stay in any accommodations that even had pictures of birds inside. When she discovered to her horror that birds were incorporated into the design, she once went so far as to take the wallpaper out of her house.

However, Lucy’s beliefs were probably more a sign of PTSD because a bird had flown into her house on the day her father had passed away when she was a child.

Birds as messengers from God

Birds are traditionally connected to heavenly messengers in many civilizations. Because they could defy gravity, our forefathers were thought to have some sort of superpower because they believed that the sky represented the spiritual world. Many individuals still have the tendency to think that heaven is a place in the clouds.

This explains why for a long time people thought that birds had special rights that were not granted to mankind. Birds seemed to be capable of nothing less than divine transcendence to ancient people who were solidly grounded. Many cultures thought that since birds may land at will, they act as messengers between the worlds of the gods and humans.

This is most likely the reason why angels, who are also thought of as divine messengers, have historically been shown in artwork as having bird-like wings. Doves continue to be a well-known Christian emblem of the Holy Spirit to this day because they are said to represent human access to the divine.

Doves are a representation of peace and healing in Judaism. This is perhaps related to the narrative of Noah, in which a dove informed the ark that the flood had finally subsided.

Bird Symbols from Various Genres

The kind of bird in question was important to its meaning in many cultures. But just like any symbol, the meaning of a particular kind of bird depends on who you ask.

Consider the peacock as an example. Peacocks are believed to bring bad luck according to an ancient Mediterranean superstition because of marks on their feathers that were thought to be the eye of Lilith, an evil character. The same patterns, however, were perceived as protective vigilant eyes in other civilizations.

Sometimes the symbolism attached to a particular bird had a significant impact on how people from different cultures interacted with that bird. The albatross has represented luck for seafaring people for ages. Unless, of course, you ventured to hurt one, as The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge demonstrates.

In ancient Egypt, both the Hawk and the Ibis were safeguarded because they were regarded as being extremely sacred. This was due to the widespread belief that Egyptian deities were capable of changing into particular animals wholly or partially. The Hawk was frequently linked with the god Horus, whereas the Ibis was Thoth’s sacred bird.

The historian Herodotus noted that the Egyptians took these associations so seriously that “Whoever kills an ibis or a hawk, intentionally or not, shall die for it.”

Modern Symbolism of Birds

Although it may be tempting to dismiss bird superstitions as a thing of the past, many birds are still connected to a variety of ideas in modern society. For instance, consider the eagle. The eagle is sometimes considered to be the strongest and bravest of all birds, which is probably why Native Americans used eagle traits as a symbol of honour. The bald eagle was chosen as the United States’ national symbol for identical reasons.

The owl, on the other hand, is still frequently linked to knowledge or wisdom. The owl’s acute night vision, which enables it to see what other animals cannot, is perhaps where the idea of a “smart owl” came from. This skill has been known since the days when Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom, was claimed to have made the owl her sacred animal.

Swans also frequently evoke well-known associations. Since swans are lifelong partners, they are now frequently used as symbols of romance and love. Swans are frequently associated with grace and beauty, two qualities that few would dispute.

Blackbirds are yet another bird that is frequently utilised as a symbol in stories, just like Crows and Ravens. Blackbirds are frequently utilised to evoke feelings of discomfort, from the classic poem The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe to contemporary TV series and movies. This may be because they are carrion birds, which means they eat other dead animals, and because their feathers help them blend into the darkness.

As you can see, over history, many societies have associated different birds with distinct superstitions. What does it mean if a bird enters your home, then? The solution most likely resides in your own interpretation rather than one of the many contradictory beliefs from the past.

Misha Khatri
Misha Khatri is an emeritus professor in the University of Notre Dame's Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. He graduated from Northern Illinois University with a BSc in Chemistry and Mathematics and a PhD in Physical Analytical Chemistry from the University of Utah.


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