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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in birds

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Song of the Crow Man

he wold com to my hows top in the shape of a crow, or lyk a dear or in any uther shap now and then, I wold ken his woice at the first heiring of it, and wold goe forth to him and hav carnall cowpula[tio]n w[i]th him 

  [Scottish witch Isobel Gowdie, of the Devil (1662)]

For just a moment, I thought that somehow I'd driven onto a set from Hitchcock's The Birds.

Sunset, Christmas Eve 2000. In the stillness of the Yule-frith, the only things moving were me and the stoplights, as I drove to work in downtown Minneapolis.

And the crows. Thousands of crows, literally, filling the trees that lined Park Avenue. Hundreds, raucous black fruit, in each tree, silhouetted against the sunset sky. 

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
The Devil's Bird

The Mothers and Fathers reckoned the Horned One as god of animal life generally—what, in History of Religions lingo, is known as a “Master of Animals”—but for all that, he is rarely ascribed a sacred bird of his own. Birds, of course, are given mostly to the Sky Powers: raptors to Thunder, water-birds to Sun and Moon, etc. It's fascinating that these embodiers of the animal god's being should be given to other gods, as if they somehow constitute his yearning for them, as Earth's quartz yearns to the Moon. But to Himself the lore alots the merest avian handful: corvids, perhaps the peacock (see below), the robin (as Promethean bringer-of-fire) and, of course, the cock.

Everyone knows that the rooster—I suppose one really must say “cock” here—is the Devil's bird, (“Men call me the Devil,” he is reputed to have told Scots witch Isobel Gowdie, “but they know not what they mean”), and better it be if it's black. It's a staple of Southern (American) folklore that to invoke the Devil you sacrifice a black cock at a crossroads at midnight. Why a cock? Standard etiology would have it that the cock, being preeminently the bird that proclaims the coming of light, is the sworn enemy of the Prince of Darkness, Enemy of Light. But, as one might expect, matters are considerably more complex than that.

The domestic chicken originated in Southeast Asia and, it would seem, first came to the British Isles with the Romans (Yeates 166). Nonetheless, one finds the cock's head associated with the Horned One on the coinage of the Dobunni, the Keltic tribe that in later days morphed into the Hwicce, the “Tribe of Witches.” The rooster has a reputation as the most virile and pugnacious of birds, a fitting emblem for the father and protector of the people, the Pater Hwicciorum (Yeates 165-9). (Interestingly, though, the use of “cock” for “penis” derives, not from the name of the bird, but from the sense of “water-tap.”)

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Divination is a gift from the Gods, a way to contact the Gods directly through oracles and seers. It was something heavily relied upon in ancient Hellas, and in its mythology: many war, quests, and epics started with a visit to Delphi. Especially in Hómēros, divination by way of birds features heavily, and it has had my interest for a long while. Almost a year ago, I wrote about oiônoskopos for the Pagan Blog Project, in a post about oracles, seers and divination, and from that point on, I've been teaching the art to myself. Today, I would like to share what I have discovered.

Oiônoskopos, like many of the divinatory practices, was considered a 'technical' or 'learned' art, opposed by 'natural' or 'unlearned' types of divination. Typically, natural divination was understood to include dreams and the reading of utterances of others or yourself, and to be the older and more reliable form of divination as these types were communicated more directly by the Gods. Aristotle and the Peripatetic philosophers found value only in natural divination. Technical means of divination was everything else; anything that depended on acquired human skills, such as the reading of entrails, the behavior of birds, or birthmarks. Most form of divination, called 'mantikē', playwright Aeschylus states in 'Prometheus Bound', were taught to us by Prometheus himself:
 
"And I marked out many ways by which they might read the future, and among dreams I first discerned which are destined to come true; and voices baffling interpretation I explained to them, and signs from chance meetings. The flight of crook-taloned birds I distinguished clearly—which by nature are auspicious, which sinister—their various modes of life, their mutual feuds and loves, and their consorting's; and the smoothness of their entrails, and what color the gall must have to please the gods, also the speckled symmetry of the liver-lobe; and the thigh-bones, wrapped in fat, and the long chine I burned and initiated mankind into an occult art. Also I cleared their vision to discern signs from flames, which were obscure before this." [477]

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Suzanne Corbie
    Suzanne Corbie says #
    Hello Elani, interesting blog as many moons ago, I read that the Athenians, in an attempt to galvanise and motivate their army, wo
  • Elani Temperance
    Elani Temperance says #
    This practice would not surprise me at all Thanks!
  • Jamie
    Jamie says #
    This is just great stuff! Many thanks again.

Posted by on in SageWoman Blogs

I walked down an escalator into the 24th Street BART station in San Francisco's Mission District. I was in a hurry, as I always am in BART. I don't enjoy BART with the same wonder that I felt 23 years ago, when the then-gleaming gray cars of the underground light rail stood for everything my former home of Orange County did not: efficient futurism.

Now BART has become another feature of the city, and it is worn down, besides. It's now simply a well-traveled, still efficient, but sadly familiar semaphore for the agitated haste of the city commuter. I walked rapidly down the moving escalator steps.

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  • Lizann Bassham
    Lizann Bassham says #
    May we all have the wisdom to stop and notice. Thank you for your words.

Posted by on in SageWoman Blogs

Generally speaking, modern Paganism seems to associate new beginnings with spring – often as early as Imbolc. Granted, in the northern hemisphere, by the second of February there are lambs and the sheep milk is flowing, and there are snowdrops in bloom, but it is the beginning of beginnings. Eggs aren’t laid until it is considerably warmer. If that early part of the year did not strike you as a good time to get moving, perhaps the nest-leaving season will.

For birds capable of flight, there are two ways of leaving the nest (aside from being eaten by a predator!). Water birds nest low, in reeds, on banks and are usually very close to the water. As soon as the chicks hatch, they are able to float about, and so it’s not unusual at this time of year to see tiny, day old ducklings on the water. When they are this tiny, ducklings have so little weight that they can run across the water’s surface, which is a lovely and strange thing to behold. Water birds become independent quickly, foraging their own food and getting about by paddling. It will be some time before they can fly.

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