Birds? So. What About Them?

by Ron Shafer

© 1998 Ron Shafer

What is this fascination we have with birds? Well, there's the old thing about flight and freedom, etc., but I don't think that's really it. At least it isn't for me. And, of course, there are some who ridicule us, call us, disparagingly, "bird-watchers," said with a sneer (much like they'd say "tree-huggers."
But this love of birds is very, very ancient. Humans have always watched and attached significance to birds. Sometimes birds watch us. I was sitting reading one pleasantly warm day when I had that feeling that I was being watched. I looked out my living room window, which was open. There on a branch, not two feet from the screen, sat a male cardinal, staring intently into the room, moving his head back and forth. He sat there for fifteen minutes. He was either listening to the Native American flute music on the stereo, or looking at me and thinking, "So. That's one of them. Hmmm, he looks harmless enough."
Still, why do they move us so much? I can't imagine a world without birds. Is there anything more soulful than seeing a cardinal in the snow? Anything more interesting than a chickadee wildly throwing bird seed out of a feeder looking for the seed he wants? Anything that lifts the heart more than the flight of a great hawk? Birds touch us deeply. Their songs, their flight, their color, their movement. They touch something deep in our souls. Native peoples knew this.
For Native Americans there are few symbols stronger than red-tailed hawks. To the Pueblo, the red-tailed hawk was known as the red eagle. Its feathers and energies were used for healing ceremonies and for bringing the rains and waters necessary for life. To the Ojibwa, he represented leadership, deliberation, and foresight. "Hawk is akin to Mercury, the messenger of the gods. Hawk medicine teaches you to be observant.... Life is sending you signals," says Jamie Sams, Native American medicine teacher and a member of the Wolf Clan of the Seneca people.
Owls are another significant bird, associated with mystery and magic, omens, silent wisdom, and the vision of the night. What a history they have! To the ancient Greeks, the owl was associated with Athena, Goddess of Wisdom, and the guardian of the Acropolis. To the early Christian Gnostics, the owl was associated with Lilith, the first wife of Adam who refused to be submissive to him. To the Pawnee, the owl was a symbol of protection. To the Ojibwa, a symbol of evil and death. To the Pueblo, owl is connected to "The Skeleton Man," meaning both death and fertility. In Wales, the owl is associated with fertility; to the Romans, the discovery of secrets.
Birds touch us and always have. They touch something profound in our natures. Even cardinals and chickadees!

copyright 1998 Ron Shafer, all rights reserved

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