Bird Symbolism and Spiritual Gifts
Birds as Spiritual Symbols of the Divine
In many cultures around the world, birds are seen as a supernatural link between Heaven and Earth. In the Middle East and Asia, birds symbolize immortality. In East Indian mythology, birds represent departed souls. In Christian art, birds are often depicted as saved souls.
Some birds appear across cultures as symbols of courage, strength, and fertility. There are references to birds in folklore the world over. Read on to learn more about what birds represent and how humans have used birds and images of birds to attract luck and other virtues.
Eagles: Power, Resurrection, and Courage
Eagles are often associated with the sun and Heaven. They are powerful symbols of resurrection and rebirth.
The eagle is said to have the ability to soar into the sun's light. It symbolizes Christ and embodies faith, courage, and inner reflection. Often a church's lectern is shaped like a winged eagle to highlight these virtues.
- According to the Bible, the eagle is a sign of God's power over the wicked. Eagles take tender care of their babies, as God cared for the Israelites (Deuteronomy 32:11).
- Eagles foretell desires that will be fulfilled.
- They are associated with lightning storms and thunderbolts.
- In Greek and Roman times, the eagle was the King of Birds. Ancient artists depicted a soaring eagle carrying the soul to heaven.
Cranes: Long Life and Immortality
Cranes are associated with long life, health, happiness, wisdom, and good luck. In Asian culture, a white crane can travel to the heavens and is sometimes called "heavenly" or "blessed." In China, cranes flew the gods to the "Isle of the Immortals," the legendary home of the eight immortals. Crane eggs were also used in magic potions to grant eternal life.
- Cranes are often regarded as messengers of the gods. An ancient Egyptian legend tells of a two-headed crane seen flying over the Nile to announce the start of a joyful and prosperous new season.
- Cranes are masters at killing snakes. In Christian symbolism, cranes are seen as natural enemies of Satan. Due to their long migration season, they also became a symbol of endurance and their wings were once used as talismans to aide weary travelers. The spring return of cranes is a symbol of Christ's resurrection.
- In Roman mythology, the crane was sacred to Demeter, the mother goddess. Demeter was said to renew the earth each spring when her daughter, Persephone, was released from the underworld.
In some cultures the falcon is a protective guardian and companion of hunters. Falcons never close their eyes, even in sleep.
- Egyptians associated the falcon with the Eye of Horus and the god Ra. Horus was believed to appear in the form of a "falcon-headed god." He could see all, because one eye was the sun and the other was the moon.
- As the embodiment of Horus, the falcon wears a double crown. When the falcon represents the Egyptian god Ra, he wears a disk on his head. A falcon with a human head symbolizes the human soul.
- In Christianity, the falcon represents the Holy Spirit.
Owls: Death, Wisdom, and Virtue
In dreams, owls represent wisdom, insight, and virtue. However, the owl can also be an omen of death and darkness.
- An owl's hoot foretells future heartache and warns that deception or death lies ahead.
- Finding a dead owl means you recently escaped an illness or even death.
- Owls are sometimes viewed as the embodiment of the "Prince of Darkness," or Satan, since they are nocturnal.
The owl is sometimes seen in scenes of Christ's crucifixion, due to its positive attributes of wisdom and virtue. As such, the owl represents Christ, who sacrificed himself to save man, "to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. . ." (Luke 1:7).
Nightingales: Love and Longing
The nightingale, with its evening song, is the bird of love, sheltering secret lovers from prying eyes.
Because it sings all night long, the nightingale was once thought to not sleep at all. One legend tells of a reluctant shepherdess who kept postponing her wedding date. This caused her fiancée so many sleepless nights that he finally turned her into a nightingale, condemning her to a life with no sleep.
- A folktale tells that if a nightingale's eyes and heart are hidden in a drink, the one who drinks them will die of sleeplessness.
- The nightingale's song is cherished around the world and considered to be a good omen for poets, writers, and singers. Eating the nightingale's heart was once thought to inspire talent in artists.
- Nightingales teach their offspring to sing and so are often symbols of education and good teaching.
- Christians once considered the nightingale's song to be the cries of lost souls trapped in purgatory. These souls were expressing their longing for heaven.
- Early Christians, noting that the bird sang with increasing joy as dawn approached, made the nightingale a symbol of the righteous Christian soul, singing in anticipation of the arrival of Christ.
- St. Bonaventure believed the nightingale's last song (similar to the fabled last song of the swan) was always its most joyful and most beautiful. According to the Saint, the nightingale sang with greatest happiness as it looked forward to its final release from this earthly life. The nightingale was believed to die during the ninth hour of the day (three o'clock in the afternoon), the same time as Christ's death on the cross.
- The nightingale is the bird of the month of May.
Peacocks: Birth, Longevity, and Love
Peacocks represent spring, birth, new growth, longevity, and love. They are good omens, signifying successful relationships and careers. Alternatively, the peacock's bold display of beautiful feathers is also seen as a sign of arrogance, pride, and vanity.
- The peacock's beauty is depicted in temples, royal gardens, and even, according to one Muslim legend, at the Gates of Paradise.
- The peacock is known as the Bird with One Hundred Eyes. The eye patterns in its tail feathers represent the stars, universe, sun, moon, and "vault of heaven." To Christians, the eyes in the peacock's tail are a symbol of an all-seeing God and are sometimes used to symbolize an all-seeing church as well.
- In Catholic art, the peacock depicts immortality. This symbolism is derived from an ancient belief that the flesh of the peacock does not decay.
- In Greek and Roman mythology, the peacock is the favorite bird of Hera or Juno. One tale tells how Hera created the peacock from the eyes of her hundred-eyed guard, Argus.
- Peacocks dance when rain is coming, according to legend.
- At one time, peacocks were sacrificed to bring rain and to make women, animals, and the land fertile. The ancient Chinese believed that one glance from a peacock could impregnate a woman.
- The peacock symbolizes beauty, prosperity, royalty, love, compassion, the soul, and peace.
- Peacocks were sacred in ancient China and are the national bird of India.
- According to Hindu beliefs, Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge and wisdom, rides a peacock and the god Indra can transform himself into a peacock.
- In Buddhism, the peacock symbolizes purity and its feathers are used in purification ceremonies.
- Ancient lore often depicts the peacock as a symbol of fidelity. A peacock will die of grief or remain forever single if it loses its mate, according to legend.
- Finding a peacock feather brings good luck, harmony, serenity, and peace of mind.
- In Europe, however, the cry and feathers of a peacock were once considered a bad omen.
Sparrows: Hope, Fertility, and Resurrection
The sparrow is a symbol of rebirth, resurrection, and the mother goddess.
- The long battle at Troy was forecast when nine sparrows, representing the nine years of war, were eaten by a snake.
- As a Christian symbol, the sparrow represents the concern of God for the least among all people. They are always under God's protection.
- According to the Bible, " . . . even the lowly sparrow was invited to make her home in the Lord's temple." (Psalm 84:3).
- Sparrows are also symbols of pious families who live humble, lowly lives in obedience of God's will.
- A lone sparrow upon a roof represents Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, where he was emotionally abandoned by his sleeping disciples (Psalm 102:7).
- Twelve sparrows represent the twelve apostles. The gospels relate a story of the very young Jesus forming twelve sparrows out of the clay on a riverbank and giving them life.