The beauty and behavior of birds has long fascinated people from all cultures. You are likely to hear a myth or legend about a bird wherever you travel. Some myths and legends about birds seem universal, while others are learned only in specific cultures.
The Baby-Carrying Stork
The most famous myth that many of us are familiar with is that of the infamous baby-delivering stork. Whether in animated movies or cartoons, we are all familiar with the image of this leggy, long billed bird with a cloth bundle dangling from its bill. This image has become so associated with newborns that it’s not uncommon to find images like it on everything from baby blankets to congratulatory cards. It’s become so common place that we don’t even question why we think of a stork carrying a newborn to begin with.
A difficulty lies in tracing most myths’ and legends’ roots, especially when the myth can be found across the world in many cultures. Some accounts trace this baby-carrying bird back to Greek culture and the story of the Greek goddess Hera. Hera was a vengeful God, myths have it, and in a fit of jealous rage turned a beautiful queen named Gerana into a stork. Devastated by her new state, Gerana tried to get her child back from Hera’s clutches. The Greek myth illustrates Gerana as a stork with a baby dangling from her beak.
The Ill Omen of the Raven
Though the raven is a playful and intelligent bird. Still, people often associate it with ill omens, darkness, and death. Still, some myths about the raven are quite contradictory to this view.
Myth of the raven traces bird back to the Old Testament. During Noah’s journey on the ark, he sent the raven to look for land. In another Biblical account, a raven is described as being a provider for Elijah. Ravens are symbolic of God’s providence in the New Testament as well. Christian artworks depict the raven as symbolic of God’s divine care and guidance.
A popular Norse myth features two Ravens by the name of Munin and Hugin. In the story, the two ravens would fly infinite distances for news to bring back to the Norse god Odin.
The Norse culture wasn’t the only one that passed along a myth about this mystical black bird. In Native American culture, the raven was said to have dropped pebbles into the ocean that later formed the continents. Viewing this raven as God, they believed it created the animals and mankind that populated the earth. But as much as they viewed the raven as creator of earth and life, some of these native people also believed the raven was a sign of death.
The Wisdom of the Owl
The owl is in the myth in and lore of numerous cultures. The most common myth is that of the wise old owl, still seen today in cartoons, animated movies, and even commercials featuring a wise old bespectacled owl.
The most famous owl that is based on this myth is that of the character Owl in the famous Winnie the Pooh books by author A.A. Milne. Owl is considered the most intelligent creature in Hundred Acre Wood. He bores the other residents with long, drawn out stories to show off his extraordinary intelligence. Owls in myths and legends go back further than the character in this legendary children’s book.
See also: How to Attract Owls to Your Backyard
In ancient Greece, there was the myth about Little Owl, the beloved owl of the Goddess of Wisdom, Athena. Greeks considered owls wise, as well as the bearers of prophecy. Owls were looked to with a mix of admiration and fear. The Greeks went so far as to mint coins with Athena’s face on one side and an owl’s face on the other.
Owls were viewed as evil creatures during the Middle Ages because of their nocturnal nature. The were often looked on as witches’ companions and symbolic of imminent death to others. Just as the black cat was believed to be a witch’s familiar, owls were often viewed the same.
Owls were sacred to some Native Americans. Like the Greeks, Native Americans associated owls with prophecy. The natives of the Hopi tribe believed the burrowing owl was sacred. To the Hopi, the burrowing owl was symbolic of their God of the dead. They referred to this owl as Ko’Ko. Because the burrowing owl nests in the ground, the Hopi believed this species of owl was a protector of the underworld and all that grew in the earth.
The Purity and Peace of the Dove
In many cultures, doves are depicted as the most positive of any bird. These gentle, pure birds are symbolic of love and peace across the world. The color white has long been associated with purity, a key reason why many believe in the bird’s divinity.
In Greek mythology the dove was a symbol of romance. They Greeks associated the delicate white bird with their goddess of love, Aphrodite.
Aphrodite is shown with doves flying about her or gently resting on her hand. It was said that Aphrodite was born in a chariot that was drawn by these pure white birds. Her daughters were known as the seven sisters of the night sky. They were also referred to in mythology as a flock of doves.
Most notably, in Christianity, the dove symbolized a heavenly messenger and remains the personification of the holy spirit. In the Old Testament it is told a dove bearing an olive branch came to Noah to let him know that the flood waters had receded. This was one of the earliest symbols of the dove as a heavenly messenger. Early Christians associated the dove and olive branch in its mouth as a symbol of peace, the symbol becoming a significant part of the act of Baptism.
Created to Explain and Entertain
These stories of storks, ravens, owls, and doves were created long ago by diverse cultures across the world. They were an answer to questions most people at the time could not answer. They continue to fascinate people from all cultures today.