Birds in Folklore from Around the World

May 14, 2007 by  
Filed under Features

No matter where you go travel, you are likely to see varying bird species and hear about stories and folklore about these beautiful and sometimes mysterious creatures. As such, birds have featured in the folklore of many cultures and a variety of myths, legends, superstitions, tales and beliefs revolve around various bird species – some famous, others infamous.

Bird species have taken on numerous roles in folklore from serving as messengers of the gods to taking the place of terrifying omens. Some birds have been the objects of worship, whilst others are despised as bearers of misfortune. Birds have been a part of man’s culture since the early days of humankind’s history as can be seen in ancient cave paintings throughout Africa, Europe and Asia when travelling to various countries. There are even tales which speak of humans turning into birds.

A Norse myth speaks of two common ravens known as Hugin and Munin. These two birds served as scouts for the mighty God Odin. Hugin and Munin would often fly vast distances in search of news, which they would deliver to Odin. Ravens are also part of Native American folklore in North America. According to Native American culture, it was a raven that dropped pebbles in to the blue ocean eventually forming the continents. The Raven God was also believes to be responsible for creating animals and mankind. Conversely, some indigenous peoples viewed ravens as a sign of ruination and death.

Owls are also commonly seen in folklore throughout many cultures. For centuries, owls were considered to bearers of prophecy and were used to symbolize wisdom. Greek mythology taught that the goddess of wisdom, Athena, was married to an owl. However, in the Middle Ages the nocturnal habits of the owl saw it slowly become characterized by some as an evil creature. Owls, which were gentle birds, were thought to accompany witches and many believed that owls were representative of imminent death. Fortunately, in modern time we have dispelled such myths as owls have once again resumed the role as bearers of immense wisdom in most cultures.

Folktales from around the world tell of people who metamorphosed into swans. The famous ballet “Swan Lake” sees the beautiful maiden trapped under a spell, which transforms her into a swan. This fascination with ladies and swans may come from an ancient Mycenaean folklore where 3 goddesses brought their champion an offering, traveling in the shape of swans.

Certain cultures have created their own species of birds through folklore and storytelling. One of mythical birds is the well-known Phoenix. Tales of this amazing bird originated as early as 500 BC. Legend has it that the Phoenix would live for 500 years but just before its death, the Phoenix would create a funeral pyre where it would lie down and disappear in flames with another Phoenix to arise from the ashes.

There are just a few of the many intriguing tales, legends and beliefs regarding birds that have stayed with us throughout the centuries. Although the majority of folktales with birds are fictional they are still interesting to hear and read about from historical and entertainment perspectives.

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