Sunday, March 4, 2012

Birds: A Spiritual Field Guide

I once had a sparrow alight upon my shoulder for a moment, while I was hoeing in a village garden, and I felt that I was more distinguished by that circumstance that I should have been by any epaulet I could have worn.  ~Henry David Thoreau

Isn’t it wonderful that we can take the small action of hanging out a birdfeeder and almost immediately be blessed by their presence?   It’s hard to explain my growing interest in birds, but I know how Thoreau felt when he wrote the statement above.  A visit from a bird, especially a rare or new one, is like a small miracle.  A new book by a  Arin Murphy-Hiscock, Birds: A Spritual Field Guide, explores these sightings and encounters from a new perspective.

Why do these sightings and encounters feel this way?  And what is behind this feeling of significance?

The book uses cultural myths, popular culture, folklore and legend to explain what each bird divines.   Here are some things I learned about a few favorite species, the ones that I’m drawn to as my own “spiritual guides.”

Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) – Cardinals mate for life and defend their territory with song.  Cherokee’s believe that the cardinal is the daughter of the sun.  The legend says that if you see one flying upward, toward the sun, you will have good luck.  If you see one flying toward the earth, watch out.   Associated energies: leadership, self-worth, confidence, creativity, vitality, activity.

Chickadee (Poecile or Parus atricapillus) – The chickadee’s brain allows neurons and associated old information to die, each year, leaving room to absorb new information and adapt to it.   They are said to bring good news – if you hear a chickadee chirping, expect good weather.  Chickadees are often found in mixed flocks and it’s considered a leader in these flocks, drawing many groups together.  Chickadees are bold and quick to approach humans.  Associated energies: industry, activity, communication, leadership, unity, playfulness, cheer, adaptability, optimism.

Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) – There are about forty different members of this genus.  Crows are among the world’s most intelligent creatures, having been known to use and construct tools, and engage in play.  In folklore, Crows are known as “psychopomps” or guides between the world of the living and the afterlife.  They’re also portrayed as tricksters in Native American mythology.  Associated energies:  Death, prophecy, change, play, innovation

Use the talents you possess - for the woods would be a very silent place if no birds sang except for the best.  ~Henry Van Dyke

Mockingbird (Mimus polygottos)- A songbird with a long tail, the mockingbird mimics the songs and calls of other birds, improvises, makes up new songs, and is cocky and confident. It is said that the Cherokee fed their children mockingbird hearts so that they’d learn to talk.  Another folk anecdote: If a mockingbird flies over the head of a single woman, she’ll be married within a year.  Messages from a mockingbird: be brave, be original, use your own words, don’t take yourself too seriously.  Associated energies: Reflection, communication, humor, improvisation.

A bird is a free spirit.
– Marc Morrone “The Petkeeper”

Great Blue Heron (Ardea Herodias) –  (in first photo above) The wingspan of a heron can reach up to 70 inches.  They use their feet to stir up mud, and hunt by standing motionless in the water, waiting for fish.  Folklore says that a heron landing on your house is a sign of good fortune.  Seeing a heron could be a message to be patient and choose the right moment.  Associated energies: patiences, self-reliance, observation, focus, concentration.

Murphy-Hiscock, who is a third-degree Wiccan High Priestess, encourages us to construct our own method of interpretation, and develop our own system of observation, noting that bird divination can vary greatly from person to person, or culture to culture.   She suggests keeping records, noting dates, times, locations, mood, weather and moon phase in addition to the type of bird in the companion: Birds: A Spiritual Journal.

Which birds would you consider your “spiritual guides”?


Joanne said...

When I was out walking a few days ago, I saw my spiritual feathered guide to summer ... the first red-winged blackbird tweeted and whistled at me from the top of a small skinny tree. To me, they're such a sound and sight of summer.

Ashling said...

TOTALLY cool....mighyt not buy the book, but sure would like to read it! And herons...herons are harbingers of good things for me, and remind me to be still and calm (something I rarely achieve). Fascinating post; thanks for sharing!

k said...

Crows and ravens, for me. I love the little birds truly and deeply. But I always wait to hear if the crows have a message for me.

tina said...

The folklore associated with birds is most interesting. I'd love to see a heron land on my house. A duck did once but so far no heron.

Prairie Cat said...

Some very interesting tidbits!

Mockingbirds have always been a favorite of mine. Since moving from the city to the country, I have only become more fond of them. The ones around our house last year were especially great at mimicking our chickens and bullfrogs!

JGH said...

Joanne, I've only seen a couple red-winged blackbirds here, and didn't know they were a seasonal marker. I'll be on the lookout!

Ashling, have you ever seen a green heron? I saw one for the first time in Florida last year - very cool birds.

K, Crows are so smart - wondering if people keep them as pets.

Tina, I never see herons up here in NY - or ducks on my house. Bluejays seem to be the only ones nervey enough.

PrairieCat, Now that I can recongize mockingbirds, I'm sure I'll be seeing them more. I had one at the feeder last week, but he was pretty quiet.

TALON said...

This was neat, JGH. I've always noticed hawks around just before something big happens in my life. There is such an abundance and variety of birds here that it's fun to think what messages they might have. I adore the chickadees - they're so friendly and so quick. And they're song never fails to make me smile. We have two pairs of cardinals that think they own our feeder. The males will chase any other birds off. They are fiery so I can really see that sun association :)

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