Mar 20, 2015

Birds in magick and divination

     The birds almost deserve a separate branch of magick, a system If You will, dedicated to solely to them. Like  the Fairies ( Fairy magick ) or magickal gemology ( crystal magick )… Many beliefs and folklore about them, spin the globe, and connect the cultural heritage of diverse ethnic and national J
groups, transcending thus the physical, and fictive,  boundaries, we humans had set. They can fly after all

     And it’s the very ability of flight, that had earned the birds almost instant association with magick, in human mind, according to anthropologists. We can easily understand, and agree with this.

     However, there is always something more, something intangible, and subtle, delicate and inconspicuous to the “unwary” eye of a non believer. Birds were guides of shamans, witchdoctors, and witches through human history. 

     Birds   were ominous to humans, and predicted either catastrophes or successes of civilizations, as well as individuals, as far as human memory goes back.  Also, birds were held to be   messengers of deities, and sometimes deities themselves in disguise. Examples are many. Sparrows and swallows, and sometimes doves, were considered sacred to Aphrodite. Owls are told to always accompany to the Judaic demon Lilith, and she would often morph in one of them. Hence the name, “night owl” , which was often used as synomum for Lilith. Native Americans firmly believe that the Eagle carries on his imposing wings, prayers to Wakan Tanka or Maitou ( name varies in tribes ) that is the Great Spirit. Ravens, although almost universally seen as bad omens  in the world, is also a bird that had feed the St Elijah the prophet , in Judeo-Christian lore. The white Dove is a symbol of the Holy Spirit in Christianity and omen of blessing, empowerment , and salvation.

The four feathers

Native Americans, hold particularly sacred these four species of birds:

·         Eagle ( most often Bold eagle, Haliaeetus leucocephalus ) – Native American people consider Eagle a chief of    the bird tribe, and is believed to carry prayers of the people  to Great spirit.  It’s a symbol of strength and courage, and his feathers carry some of  that power, hence their use among Native   American people, as a fetish, or amulet bestowing courage, while also being a medal of honor of a kind. Direction associated with the Eagle is East, and season is spring.
A White headed Eagle

·         Hawk ( subfamily Accipitrinae, various genus’ and species ) –  Native American people held that the Hawks were messengers of spirits, and that they were associated with  the mystical Thunderbird.  The feathers of the Hawk were consequently used for invocation of the rain  in some tribes, and were widely used  among various tribes  in healing  rituals.  Direction associated with the Hawk is south, and the season is summer.

·         Owl ( many of the genus’ from the family  Strigida, and from the order Stigiformes ) –  Owl, as a night-bird is in Native American though associated with the Moon, unlike the Eagle and the hawk who are associated with Sun. It’s also associated with the knowledge, and sometimes magick and transformation. Direction associated with the Owl in North, and season is winter.

·         RavenCorvus spp. ) – Raven is believed to be a messenger of the Great spirit according to Native American people,  guardian of the Sacred laws,  the theft who had once stolen the Sun, trickster and a bird of transformation.  Direction associated with the Raven is west, and the season is autumn.[1]

     Here are some additional Native American beliefs associated with the Owl:

     “Some Native American cultures link owls with supernatural knowledge and divination. In the Menominee myth of The Origin of Night and Day, Wapus (rabbit) encounters Totoba (the saw-whet owl, Aegolious acadicus) and the two battle for daylight (wabon) and darkness (unitipaqkot) by repeating those words. Totoba errs and repeats "wabon" and daylight wins, but Wapus permits that night should also have a chance for the benefit of the conquered, and thus day and night were born. The Pawnees view the owl as a symbol of protection; the Ojibwa, a symbol of evil and death, as well as a symbol of very high status of spiritual leaders of their religion; and the Pueblo, associated with Skeleton Man, the god of death and spirit of fertility. On a warm afternoon in August 1985, one of the authors (DHJ) observed Ojibwa peoples at a weekend cultural celebration in Duluth, Minnesota using dried wings of Great Horned Owls (Bubo virginianas) as hand-held fans to cool themselves after participating in native dances.” [2]

     Read about some more Native American legends,  associated with the Owl,  on the Owl pages 
In any case, the four feathers of these birds were placed on four cardinal points of the wheel inside Wigvams of those starting spiritual journey, for the sake of illumination, vision quest or   initiation. As we have seen earlier in the text the position of the feathers was following:


Birds in divination, ornithomancy and avimancy ( also ornithoscopy )

     The divination by observing birds, and hearing their singing is called   ornithomancy. There are many methods and variations, depending on the culture, tradition, and even the bird species. But there are general guidelines for  what should be observed in a  typical “reading”  via birds , if we can call it that.

     After the practitioner had asked the questions, in many traditions three times, aloud, somewhere outside, he/she/it observes for appearance of bird, and some other specific thing.

Aspects important in divination via birds that seem universal in the world are following:
a)      Direction - in which the birds appear and are seen, when the diviners spots them. For example, the birds moving towards the diviner, foretell about the happy times awaiting the questioner.
b)      Direction change – sudden or abrupt change of the direction was also “diagnostic”. For example, a large flock of birds suddenly changing the direction was indicative of, sudden intense change in emotional life of the diviner , emotional instability and doubt.
c)       Color – was an important aspect too. Majority  of the flock consisting of light colored birds, was a sing to take action, while the majority of the flock   being made from  the black or dark ones, was a sing that more planning is due, and probably, that the questioner should ask someone for  an advice.
d)      Height – When it comes to height of bird’s flight, the simple rule of thumb applies, when it comes to interpretation.  Plainly, the higher the better. On the other hand, horizontal, up-down and zigzag flight, is  a warning   of the forthcoming obstacles on  diviner’s road to success.
e)      Singing – Bird’s song is interpreted differently depending on the species, but  generally,  if the bird/s are squawking a lot and flying in circles it’s a very bad omen. If a  whole flock is doing it over a specific town, area… it can be sing of a natural catastrophe of some kind.

     Later in the article, we will touch upon the divination with specific bird’s such as Cuckoo bird, and others,  upon discussing these particular birds. The variations are so many that it would hardly be possible for me to explain them all in a blog post like this.  Follow the given  guidelines, in general divination and experiment with them. Teach Yourself to observe birds and pay attention to them more, they have a lot to teach, those that are ready  to listen, according to the words of the wise people.

Birds in folk magick and divination of Balkan Peninsula

     I decided it’s best to approach the animal magick from the perspective I am most familiar with, here. Its traditional Balkan witchcraft, folk magick and lore. I  have also  observed animal magick, from perspective of Hoodoo,  but that’s a topic for some other post/s. If fact, I hope I will  have the opportunity to write about chicken as a magickal bird, in more detail in a separate post. I will save Hoodoo insight on the issue of bird magick for such occasion.

     In Balkan peninsula, birds, as ominous creatures  and folk medicine source, were always held at high regard. Even by people who are not superstitious. They might not believe, but they are at least cautious and open-minded, about the possibility that birds indeed carry messages from Higher Power.  Or that they know something. It may have to do with the rich body of folklore, which is a cultural heritage of people in this part of world, and that dealing with birds is extremely large. It can, alone fill tomes and tomes of books. Here I shall deal with  those extremely popular and well known, as it’s only appropriate for this type of work ( blog post ). I will give the species* of the bird spoken of, or at least that which is most commonly identified as such. So let’s begin.

Raven ( Corvus corax , Ordo Passeriformes, Fam. Corvidae )


     According to one legend, raven was the first bird that the Noah had released to seek the dry land, but the bird got too distracted by eating carcasses, so the Noah had  to send the dove, which brought back the olive branch.
     For the Balkan peninsula people, especially in Serbia, Montenegro and some parts of Bulgaria, the raven is purely and exclusively a bad omen.  Seeing it, hearing it, flying, sitting on a tree,  on a chimney, it matters very little. It’s a sign of a great misfortune, either way.  In fact raven is plainly seen as a sign of great misfortune. There are even various incantations that are to be “said” ** upon seeing eitheer a flock of ravens, or a single one on Your rooftop in Your yard, flies over Your village etc. to negate the power of this omen. The only positive thing about this bird is that it had various applications in folk, ritual medicine, and was a powerful, according to the folk “probatum” cure for many, otherwise hard to  treat or incurable conditions. For example, salt poured through the dry head*** of the Raven was a cure for poor memory, it restored the memory faculty, and could even activate immune system in some cases. A few drops of raven’s blood, slipped (  ritually ) into the vine of a drunk, would gradually or instantly ( sometimes it had to be done few times to take the full effect )  them of alcoholism, and the reckless behavior associated with it.
     Raven is  also associated with the Celtic deities Bran the blessed, and Lugh, whose name  actually derives from the Celtic word for “raven”.

Magpie ( most often Pica pica, also O. Passeriformes, Fam. Corvidae )

     Another one seen as exclusively or almost exclusively as a  bad omen, depending on  it’s behavior, in some areas of Balkan Peninsula. It might have been seen as omen of upcoming news, on rare occasions.  But the Magpie, was much like Raven, ironically used in  ritual medicine profusely.  Among others, it was a definite cure for epilepsy when   “prepared” in specific way.  If someone was stuttering badly, or had lost the ability to talk, due to some kind of nervous system blockage, even those magickaly induced, they were cured by means of feeding them ten pulverized magpie tongues, in a glass of milk on a New Moon night.
     Magpie feather, in Europe is widely held to be a magickal charm ( or talisman ) that can help one retrieve and locate lost items and people.

Crow ( various species Corvus sinatus, C. frugilegus, C. cornix and others, also O.Passeriformes, Fam. Corvidae )

     A crow, landing on a tree, in front of Your house, or a lone one sighted in nature,  according to the Balkan folk  foretells of a arrival of some guest.  One  heard squawking, while flying over Your house  or resting near it foretells of some  important news.  Just for precaution, upon such occasion, Balkan folk would say, in their mind’s voice:

If it’s a good voice/news, let them squawk, if it’s a bad one, let them fly away and carry the misfortune with them

     The crow was not used much in ritual medicine, but there are some indications that it was sporadically used as a sacrifice to some deities of pagan Slavic pantheon. [3]

Cuckoo bird (many species from the Cuculidae family, particularly of Cuculus genus )

     Balkan Peninsula folk, have always considered Cuckoo birds to be prophetic birds, often harbingers of death even, but an utmost friendly harbinger.  Whatmore, they were treated as godsend omen! But mind You, Balkan Peninsula folk believe that a cuckoo bird singing on the house chimney, predicts dead of some of the house inhabitants.  But unlike with Ravens and magpies, cuckoo bird’s singing is rather a friendly warning, about unnatural death (premature, not destined), that can thus be stopped. Hearing the Cuckoo bird’s “song” coming from the east, was ominous of lucky, successful year, whereas the singing coming from the west was a warning to “slow down”,  dela y  all unnecessary journeys, and think things through a bit more. If you hear the Cuckoo bird for the first time some year, on an empty stomach, that is before you ate, it would be a sign that you will be troubled with insomnia and fatigue, throughout the upcoming year. To prevent the “fulfillment” of such prophecy, simply say as many times as the bird sounded the following: “For life and health”.  There is a curious dream incubation recorded being done here, upon seeing a Cuckoo bird for the first time in the year. This simple rite, is said to induce prophetic dreams.  On such occasion one is to dig up some earth from where they are standing with their right hand, and wrap it in some white or red paper. This “sachet” is then to be placed bellow pillow.  In some parts of Balkan Peninsula spotting Cuckoo bird on a tree, was a chance for diviners to get some answer. They would sit down below the tree, asking YES or NO questions aloud, and counting the  bird’s “replies”,  even numbers would mean YES, and odd number of cuckoo sounds would mean NO. The tree where the bird had spent some time, or rather the very branch, was considered to attain special healing powers afterwards.  Particularly in helping the hair growth, and becoming beautiful in Young women.

Divination by rooster’s choice, or alectryomancy
     This type of divination, common among rural areas of Europe, was/is particularly often done with roosters, but in ancient Rome, where from the divination originates, it had been done with white chickens, or “holy birds”, which were hens, used solely for divination, and carried around in luxurious cages, by Roman soldiers.
     The very method is rather simple, the diviner/s draw circles on the ground, mark them with symbols ( answer  options, or even letters of the alphabet ) and then cast a few seeds of a kind, oftentimes wheat on each. The birds are then released from the cages, and it’s observed and noted, which seeds they ate first, second etc., that is from which one of the marked circles, and what where the symbols/meanings behind it.

Divination by Magpies

A Magpie

     An old nursery rhyme, popularly referred to as “One for sorrow” is actually an example of apantomancy,   combined with numerology, and folklore superstitions.
     In short, the little poem, first time recorded around 1780. (in John Brand's “Observations on Popular Antiquities on Lincolnshire” )  it consisted of four lyrics, attributing ominous meaning and symbolism, or accidental encounter with Magpie birds; one was indicative of sorrow, two were foretelling  mirth ( sometimes also births ), and so on.

One for sorrow,
Two for mirth,
Three for a wedding,
And four for death” [4]

     Which latter evolved into a tad more lengthy poem, having ten lyrics, and therefore observing the symbolism of accidental encounter with one, two, three, etc. up to ten Magpies. In parts of the world where magpies are not that common, the same symbolism may apply to Crows, or Ravens.

One for sorrow,
Two for luck; (or mirth)
Three for a wedding,
Four for death; (or birth)
Five for silver,
Six for gold
;Seven for a secret,Not to be told;
Eight for heaven,
Nine for [hell]
And ten for the d[evi]l's own sell! [5]

NOTES: This article was written and composed by myself, so If You wish to use any parts of it elsewhere, feel free, but provide credits; Shadow of the Shadows magick place , , or a direct link to this post

[1] According to Cassandra Eason as stated in her : “Encyclopedia of magck and ancient Wisdom”, adopted  and edited here by myself.
[2] Retrieved from: posted here  for educational purposes without any ill will
[3] Various sources, mostly : magazine :”Bakini recepti za srecu” #11 , 5th August  2012., pg. 36th and 37th,  ( see more about the magazine on here :     ) also  “Srpski Rjecnik” by Vuk Stefanovic Karadzic“, and:  Mit I religija u Srba” Veselin Cajkanovic, all dealing with cultural anthropology, religion, superstition and myths in Balkan peninsula inhabitants
[5]  Retrieved from:  same source listed under [4] Originally quoted from: I. Opie and M. Tatem, eds, A Dictionary of Superstitions (Oxford University Press, 1989), pp. 235-6

 All used here for illustrative and explanatory purposes without any ill will

No comments: