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Title: Birds in Legend, Fable and Folklore
Author: Ingersoll, Ernest
Language: English
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                            BIRDS IN LEGEND
                           FABLE AND FOLKLORE


[Illustration:

  ST. FRANCIS PREACHING TO THE BIRDS.

  _Attributed to Giotto_
]



                            BIRDS IN LEGEND
                           FABLE AND FOLKLORE

                                   BY
                            ERNEST INGERSOLL
 AUTHOR OF “THE LIFE OF MAMMALS,” “NATURE’S CALENDAR,” “THE WIT OF THE
        WILD,” ETC.: AND SECRETARY OF THE AUTHORS CLUB, NEW YORK

[Illustration]

                        LONGMANS, GREEN AND CO.
                       55 FIFTH AVENUE, NEW YORK
                   39 PATERNOSTER ROW, LONDON, E.C. 4
                 TORONTO, BOMBAY, CALCUTTA, AND MADRAS
                                  1923


                          COPYRIGHT, 1923, BY
                        LONGMANS, GREEN AND CO.


                       MADE IN THE UNITED STATES

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                CONTENTS


         CHAPTER                                           PAGE
              I. A CHAT WITH THE INTENDING READER             3

             II. BIRDS AS NATIONAL EMBLEMS                   28

            III. AN ORNITHOLOGICAL COMEDY OF ERRORS          51

             IV. THE FOLKLORE OF BIRD MIGRATION              81

              V. NOAH’S MESSENGERS                           98

             VI. BIRDS IN CHRISTIAN TRADITION AND FESTIVAL  109

            VII. BIRDS AS SYMBOLS AND BADGES                127

           VIII. BLACK FEATHERS MAKE BLACK BIRDS            154

             IX. THE FAMILIAR OF WITCHES                    179

              X. A FLOCK OF FABULOUS FOWLS                  191

             XI. FROM ANCIENT AUGURIES TO MODERN RAINBIRDS  212

            XII. A PRIMITIVE VIEW OF THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES  226

           XIII. BIRDS AND THE LIGHTNING                    242

            XIV. LEGENDS IN AN HISTORICAL SETTING           253

             XV. SOME PRETTY INDIAN STORIES                 270

                 LIST OF BOOKS REFERRED TO                  282

                 INDEX                                      287



                            BIRDS IN LEGEND
                           FABLE AND FOLKLORE



                               CHAPTER I
                    A CHAT WITH THE INTENDING READER

  Angus Mac-ind-oc was the Cupid of the Gaels. He was a harper of the
  sweetest music, and was attended by birds, his own transformed
  kisses, which hovered, invisible, over young men and maidens of
  Erin, whispering love into their ears.


When we say, “A little bird told me,” we are talking legend and folklore
and superstition all at once. There is an old Basque story of a
bird—always a small one in these tales—that tells the truth; and our
Biloxi Indians used to say the same of the hummingbird. Breton peasants
still credit all birds with the power of using human language on proper
occasions, and traditions in all parts of the world agree that every
bird had this power once on a time if not now. The fireside-tales of the
nomads of Oriental deserts or of North American plains and forest alike
attest faith in this power; and conversation by and with birds is almost
the main stock of the stories heard on our Southern cotton-plantations.
You will perhaps recall the bulbul bazar of the _Arabian Nights_, and,
if you please, you may read in another chapter of the conversational
pewit and hoopoe of Solomonic fame.

Biblical authority exists in the confidence of the Prophet Elijah that a
“bird of the air ... shall tell the matter”; and monkish traditions
abound in revelations whispered in the ear of the faithful by winged
messengers from divine sources, as you may read further along if you
have patience to turn the leaves. The poets keep alive the pretty
fiction; and the rest of us resort to the phrase with an arch smile
whenever we do not care to quote our authority for repeating some
half-secret bit of gossip. “This magical power of understanding
birdtalk,” says Halliday,[1][A] “is regularly the way in which the seers
of myths obtain their information.”

Footnote A:

  This and similar “superior” figures throughout the text refer to the
  List of Books in the Appendix, where the author and title of the
  publication alluded to will be found under its number.

  The author takes this opportunity, in place of a perfunctory Preface,
  to make grateful acknowledgment of assistance to Professor A. V. H.
  JACKSON, who revised the chapter on fabulous birds; to Mr. STEWART
  CULIN, helpful in Chinese matters, etc.; to Professor JUSTIN H. SMITH,
  who scanned the whole manuscript; and to others who furnished valuable
  facts and suggestions.

Primitive men—and those we style the Ancients were primitive so far as
nature is concerned—regarded birds as supernaturally wise. This
canniness is implied in many of the narratives and incidents set down in
the succeeding pages; and in view of it birds came to be regarded by
early man with great respect, yet also with apprehension, for they might
utilize their knowledge to his harm. For example: The Canada jay is
believed by the Indians along the northern shore of Hudson Bay to give
warning whenever they approach an Eskimo camp—usually, of course, with
hostile intent; and naturally those Indians kill that kind of jay
whenever they can.

The ability in birds to speak implies knowledge, and Martha Young[2]
gives us a view of this logic prevailing among the old-time southern
darkies:

  Sis’ Dove she know mo’n anybody or anything in de worl’. She know
  pintedly de time anybody gwine die. You’ll hear her moanin’ fer a
  passin’ soul ’fo’ you hear de bell tone. She know ’fo’
  cotton-plantin’ time whe’r de craps dat gatherin’ ’ll be good er
  bad. ’Fo’ folks breaks up de new groun’ er bust out middles, Sis’
  Dove know what de yield ’ll be. She know it an’ she’ll tell it, too.
  ’Caze ev’ybody know if Sis’ Dove coo on de right han’ of a man
  plowin’, dare ’ll be a good crap dat year; but ef she coo on de lef’
  dar ’ll be a faillery crap dat year.

  Sis’ Dove she know about all de craps dat grow out er de groun’ but
  she ’special know about corn, fer she plant de fi’st grain er corn
  dat ever was plant’ in de whole worl’. Whar she git it?... Umm—hum!
  You tell me dat!

From the belief in the intuitive wisdom of birds comes the world-wide
confidence in their prophetic power. Hence their actions, often so
mysterious, have been watched with intense interest, and everything
unusual in their behavior was noticed in the hope that it might express
a revelation from on high. Advantage was taken of this pathetic hope and
assurance by the Roman augurs in their legalized ornithomancy, of which
some description will be found in another chapter. Nine-tenths of it was
priestly humbug to keep ordinary folks in mental subjection, as
priestcraft has ever sought to do. The remaining tenth has become the
basis of the present popular faith in birds’ ability to foretell coming
weather. Let me cite a few aboriginal examples of this faith, more or
less sincere, in the ability and willingness of birds to warn inquiring
humanity.

The Omahas and other Siouan Indians used to say that when whippoorwills
sing at night, saying “Hoia, hohin?” one replies “No.” If the birds stop
at once, it is a sign that the answerer will soon die, but if the birds
keep on calling he or she will live a long time. The Utes of Colorado,
however, declare that this bird is the god of the night, and that it
made the moon by magic, transforming a frog into it; while the Iroquois
indulged in the pretty fancy that the moccasin-flowers (cypripediums)
are whippoorwills’ shoes.

This is a little astray from my present theme, to which we may return by
quoting from Waterton[73] that if one of the related goatsuckers of the
Amazon Valley be heard close to an Indian’s or a negro’s hut, from that
night evil fortune sits brooding over it. In Costa Rica bones of
whippoorwills are dried and ground to a fine powder by the Indians when
they want to concoct a charm against some enemy; mixed with tobacco it
will form a cigarette believed to cause certain death to the person
smoking it.

To the mountaineers of the southern Alleghanies the whippoorwill reveals
how long it will be before marriage—as many years as its notes are
repeated: as I have heard the bird reiterate its cry more than 800 times
without taking breath, this must often be a discouraging report to an
anxious maid or bachelor. One often hears it said lightly in New England
that a whippoorwill calling very near a house portends death, but I can
get no evidence that this “sign” is really attended to anywhere in the
northern United States.

This, and the equally nocturnal screech-owl (against which the darkies
have many “conjurings”) are not the only birds feared by rural folk in
the Southern States, especially in the mountains. A child in a family of
Georgia “crackers” fell ill, and his mother gave this account of it to a
sympathetic friend:

  Mikey is bound to die. I’ve know’d it all along. All las’ week the
  moanin’ doves was comin’ roun’ the house, and this mornin’ one come
  in at the window right by Mikey’s head, an’ cooed an’ moaned. I
  couldn’t scare it away, else a witch would ’a’ put a spell on me.

Mikey lived to become a drunkard, is the unfeeling comment of the
reporter of this touching incident in _The Journal of American
Folklore_.

“One constantly hears by day the note of the limócon, a wood-pigeon
which exercises a most extraordinary interest over the lives of many of
the wild people, for they believe that the direction and nature of its
notes augur good or ill for the enterprises they have in hand.” This
memorandum, in Dean Worcester’s valuable book on the Philippines,[3] is
apt to the purpose of this introductory chapter, leading me to say that
the continuing reader will find doves (which are much the same in all
parts of the world) conspicuous in legend, fable and ceremony; also that
the “direction and nature” of their voices, as heard, is one of the most
important elements in the consideration of birds in general as
messengers and prophets—functions to which I shall often have occasion
to refer, and on which are founded the ancient systems of
bird-divination.

In these United States little superstition relating to animals has
survived, partly because the wild creatures here were strange to the
pioneers, who were poorly acquainted with their characteristics, but
mainly because such fears and fancies were left in the Old World with
other rubbish not worth the freight-charges; yet a few quaint notions
came along, like small heirlooms of no particular value that folks
dislike to throw away until they must. Almost all such mental keepsakes
belong to people in the backward parts of the country, often with an
ill-fitting application to local birds. A conspicuous disappearance is
that venerable body of forebodings and fancies attached to the European
cuckoo, totally unknown or disregarded here, because our American
cuckoos have no such irregular habits as gave rise to the myths and
superstitions clustering about that bird in Europe.

We saw a moment ago that the negro farmer estimated what the yield of
his field would be by the direction from which the dove’s message came
to his ears. I have another note that if one hears the first
mourning-dove of the year above him he will prosper: if from below him
his own course henceforth will be down hill.

This matter of direction whence (and also of number) is of vital
importance in interpreting bird-prophecy the world over, as will be
fully shown in a subsequent chapter. Even in parts of New England it is
counted “unlucky” to see two crows together flying toward the left—a
plain borrowing from the magpie-lore of Old England. In the South it is
thought that if two quails fly up in front of a man on the way to
conclude a bargain he will do well to abandon the intended business.
Break up a killdeer’s nest and you will soon break a leg or arm—and so
on.

There always have been persons who were much disturbed when a bird
fluttered against a closed window. A rooster crowing into an open
house-door foretells a visitor. The plantation darkies of our Southern
States believe that when shy forest-birds come close about a dwelling as
if frightened, or, wandering within it, beat their wings wildly in
search of an exit, so some soul will flutteringly seek escape from that
house—and “right soon.” Similar fears afflict the timid on the other
side of the globe. On the contrary, and more naturally, it is esteemed
among us an excellent omen when wild birds nest fearlessly about a
negro’s or a mountaineer’s cabin.

When a Georgia girl first hears in the spring the plaintive call of
returning doves she must immediately attend to it if she is curious as
to her future partner in life. She must at once take nine steps forward
and nine backward, then take off her right shoe: in it she will discover
a hair of the man she is to marry—but how to find its owner is not
explained! This bit of rustic divination is plainly transferred from the
old English formula toward the first-heard cuckoo, as may be learned
from Gay’s _The Shepherd’s Week_,[8] which is a treasury of rustic
customs in Britain long ago. Says one of the maids:

             Then doff’d my shoe, and by my troth I swear,
             Therein I spy’d this yellow, frizzled hair.

This matter of the hair is pure superstition allied to magic, in
practicing which, indeed, birds have often been degraded to an evil
service very remote from their nature. Thiselton Dyer quotes an Irish
notion that “in everyone’s head there is a particular hair which, if the
swallow can pluck it, dooms the wretched individual to eternal
perdition.” A Baltimore folklorist warns every lady against letting
birds build nests with the combings of her hair, as it will turn the
unfortunate woman crazy. Any woman afraid of this should beware of that
dear little sprite of our garden shrubbery, the chipping-sparrow, for it
always lines its tiny nest with hair. This notion is another
importation, for it has long been a saying in Europe that if a bird uses
human hair in its nest the owner of the hair will have headaches and
later baldness. Curiously enough the Seneca Indians, one of the five
Iroquois tribes, are said to have long practised a means, as they
believed it to be, of communicating with a maiden-relative, after her
death, by capturing a fledgling bird with a noose made from her hair.
The bird was kept caged until it began to sing, when it was liberated
and was believed to carry to the knowledge of the departed one a
whispered message of love.

Now the idea underlying all this faith in the supernatural wisdom and
prophetic gift in birds is the general supposition that they are
spirits, or, at any rate, possessed by spirits, a doctrine that appears
in various guises but is universal in the world of primitive culture—a
world nearer to us sophisticated readers than perhaps we realize: but a
good many little children inhabit it, even within our doors.

“The primitive mind,” as Dr. Brinton asserts, “did not recognize any
deep distinction between the lower animals and man”; and continues:

  The savage knew that the beast was his superior in many points, in
  craft and in strength, in fleetness and intuition, and he regarded
  it with respect. To him the brute had a soul not inferior to his
  own, and a language which the wise among men might on occasion
  learn.... Therefore with wide unanimity he placed certain species of
  animals nearer to God than is man himself, or even identified them
  with the manifestations of the Highest.

  None was in this respect a greater favorite than the bird. Its
  soaring flight, its strange or sweet notes, the marked hues of its
  plumage, combined to render it a fit emblem of power and beauty. The
  Dyaks of Borneo trace their descent to Singalang Burong, the god of
  birds; and birds as the ancestors of the totemic family are
  extremely common among the American Indians. The Eskimos say that
  they have the faculty of soul or life beyond all other creatures,
  and in most primitive tribes they have been regarded as the
  messengers of the divine, and the special purveyors of the vital
  principles ... and everywhere to be able to understand the language
  of birds was equivalent to being able to converse with the gods.[4]

If this is true it is not surprising that savages in various parts of
the world trace their tribal origin to a supernatural bird of the same
form and name as some familiar local species, which was inhabited by the
soul of their heroic “first man.” The Osage Indians of Kansas, for
example, say that as far back as they can conceive of time their
ancestors were alive, but had neither bodies nor souls. They existed
beneath the lowest of the four “upper worlds,” and at last migrated to
the highest, where they obtained souls. Then followed travels in which
they searched for some source whence they might get human bodies, and at
last asked the question of a redbird sitting on her nest. She replied:
“I can cause your children to have human bodies from my own.” She
explained that her wings would be their arms, her head their head, and
so on through a long list of parts, external and internal, showing
herself a good comparative anatomist. Finally she declared: “The speech
(or breath) of children will I bestow on your children.”[5]

Such is the story of how humanity reached the earth, according to one
branch of the Osages: other gentes also believe themselves descended
from birds that came down from an upper world. Dozens of similar cases
might be quoted, of which I will select one because of its curious
features. The Seri, an exclusive and backward tribe inhabiting the
desert-like island Tiburon, in the Gulf of California, ascribe the
creation of the world, and of themselves in particular, to the Ancient
of Pelicans, a mythical fowl of supernal wisdom and melodious song—an
unexpected poetic touch!—who first raised the earth above the primeval
waters. This last point is in conformity with the general belief that a
waste of waters preceded the appearance, by one or another miraculous
means well within the redman’s range of experience, of a bit of land;
and it is to be observed that this original patch of earth, whether
fixed or floating, was enlarged to habitable dimensions not by further
miracles, nor by natural accretion, but, as a rule, by the labor and
ingenuity of the “first men” themselves, usually aided by favorite
animals. Thus the Seri Indians naturally held the pelican in especial
regard, but that did not prevent their utilizing it to the utmost. Dr.
W. J. McGee[6] found that one of their customs was to tie a
broken-winged, living pelican to a stake near the seashore, and then
appropriate the fishes brought to the captive by its free relatives.

In fewer cases we find that not only tribal but also individual origin
is ascribed to a bird, the best illustration of which is the notion of
the natives of Perak, in the Malay Peninsula, that a bird brings the
soul to every person at birth. A woman who is about to become a mother
selects as the place where her baby shall be born the foot of a certain
tree—any one that appeals to her fancy—and this will be the “name-tree”
of her child. The parents believe that a soul has been waiting for this
child in the form of a bird that for some time before the birth
frequents all the trees of the chosen kind in that vicinity, searching
for the occasion when it may deliver its charge, intrusted to it by
Kari, the tribal god. This bird must be killed and eaten by the
expectant mother just before the actual birth or the baby will never
come to life, or if it does will speedily die. A poetic feature in this
tender explanation of the mystery of life among the jungle-dwellers is
that the souls of first-born children are brought always by the newly
hatched offspring of the bird that contained the soul of the mother of
the child.[7]

Apart from this singular conception of the source of existence, the
general theory of spirituality in birds is based, as heretofore
intimated, on the almost universal belief that they are often the
visible spirits of the dead. The Powhatans of Virginia, for example,
held that the feathered race received the souls of their chiefs at
death; and a California tribe asserted that the small birds whose hard
luck it was to receive the souls of bad men were chased and destroyed by
hawks, so that those of good Indians alone reached the happy
hunting-grounds beyond the sky.

James G. Swan relates in his interesting old book about early days at
Puget Sound,[10] that the Indians at Shoalwater Bay, Oregon, were much
disturbed one morning because they had heard the whistling of a plover
in the night. The white men there told them it was only a bird’s crying,
but they insisted the noise was that of spirits. Said they: “Birds don’t
talk in the night; they talk in the daytime.” “But,” asked Russell, “how
can you tell that it is the _memelose tillicums_, or dead people? They
can’t talk.” “No,” replied the savage, “it is true they can’t talk as we
do, but they whistle through their teeth. You are a white man and do not
understand what they say, but Indians know.”

This bit of untainted savage philosophy recalls the queer British
superstition of the Seven Whistlers. Wordsworth, who was a
North-countryman, records of his ancient Dalesman—

            He the seven birds hath seen that never part,
            Seen the Seven Whistlers on their nightly rounds
            And counted them.

The idea that the wailing of invisible birds is a warning of danger
direct from Providence prevails especially in the English colliery
districts, where wildfowl, migrating at night and calling to one another
as they go, supply exactly the right suggestion to the timid. Sailors
fear them as “storm-bringers.” Even more horrifying is the primitive
Welsh conception (probably capable of a similar explanation) of the
Three Birds of Rhiannon, wife of Pwyll, ruler of Hades, that could sing
the dead to life and the living into the sleep of death. Luckily they
were heard only at the death of great heroes in battle.

How easily such things may beguile the imagination is told in Thomas W.
Higginson’s book on army life in the black regiment of which he was the
colonel during the Civil War. This sane and vigorous young officer
writes of an incident on the South Carolina Coast: “I remember that, as
I stood on deck in the still and misty evening, listening with strained
senses for some sound of approach of an expected boat, I heard a low
continuous noise from the distance, more mild and desolate than anything
my memory can parallel. It came from within the vast circle of mist, and
seemed like the cry of a myriad of lost souls upon the horizon’s verge;
it was Dante become audible: yet it was but the accumulated cries of
innumerable seafowl at the entrance of the outer bay.”[9]

But I have rambled away along an enticing by-path, as will frequently
happen in the remainder of this book—to the reader’s interest, I venture
to believe.

Returning to the theme of a moment ago, I recall that the Rev. H.
Friend[11] tells us that he has seen Buddhist priests in Canton “bless a
small portion of their rice, and place it at the door of the refectory
to be eaten by the birds which congregate there.” These offerings are to
the “house spirits,” by which the Chinese mean the spirits of their
ancestors, who are still kindly interested in the welfare of the family.
This is real ancestor-worship expressed in birds; and Spence[12] records
that “the shamans of certain tribes of Paraguay act as go-betweens
between the members of their tribes and such birds as they imagine
enshrine the souls of their departed relatives.” The heathen Lombards
ornamented their grave-posts with the effigy of a dove. This notion of
birds as reincarnated human souls is not confined to untutored minds nor
to an ancient period. Evidences of its hold on the human imagination may
be found in Europe down to the present day, and it animates one of the
most picturesque superstitions of pious followers of Mahomet, two forms
of which have come to me. The first is given by Doughty,[13] the second
by Keane,[14] both excellent authorities.

Doughty says: “It was an ancient opinion of the idolatrous Arabs that
the departing spirit flitted from man’s brainpan as a wandering fowl,
complaining thenceforward in perpetual thirst her unavenged wrong;
friends, therefore, to avenge the friend’s soul-bird, poured upon the
grave their pious libations of wine. The bird is called a ‘green fowl.’”

Quoting Keane: “It is a superstition among the Mohammedans that the
spirits of martyrs are lodged in the crops of green birds, and partake
of the fruit and drink of the rivers of paradise; also that the souls of
the good dwell in the form of white birds near the throne of God.”

But the spirits represented in birds are not always ancestral or
benevolent: they may be unpleasant, foreboding, demoniac. The Indians
and negroes along the Amazons will not destroy goatsuckers. Why? Because
they are receptacles for departed human souls who have come back to
earth unable to rest because of crimes done in their former bodies, or
to haunt cruel and hard-hearted masters. In Venezuela and Trinidad the
groan-like cries of the nocturnal, cave-dwelling guacharos are thought
to be the wailing of ghosts compelled to stay in their caverns in order
to expiate their sins. Even now, the Turks maintain that the dusky
shearwaters that daily travel in mysterious flocks up and down the
Bosphorus are animated by condemned human souls.

By way of the ancestral traditions sketched above, arise those “sacred
animals” constantly mentioned in accounts of ancient or backward
peoples. Various birds were assigned to the deities and heroes of
Egyptian and Pagan mythology—the eagle to Jove, goose and later the
peacock to Juno, the little owl to Minerva, and so on; but to call these
companions “sacred” is a bad use of the term, for there was little or
nothing consecrate in these ascriptions, and if in any case worship was
addressed to the deity, its animal companion was hardly included in the
reverential thought of the celebrant.

It is conceivable that such ascriptions as these are the refined relics
of earlier superstitions held by primitive folk everywhere in regard to
such birds of their territory as appealed to their imaginations because
of one or another notable trait. Ethnological and zoölogical books
abound in instances, which it would be tedious to catalog, and several
examples appear elsewhere in this book. A single, rather remarkable one,
that of the South African ground-hornbill or bromvogel, will suffice to
illustrate the point here. I choose, among several available, the
account given by Layard,[15] one of the early naturalist-explorers in
southern Africa:

  The Fingoes seem to attach some superstitious veneration to the
  ground-hornbills and object to their being shot in the neighborhood
  of their dwellings, lest they should lose their cattle by
  disease.... The Kaffirs have a superstition that if one of these
  birds is killed it will rain for a long time. I am told that in time
  of drought it is the custom to take one alive, tie a stone to it,
  then throw it into a “vley”; after that a rain is supposed to
  follow. They avoid using the water in which this ceremony has been
  performed.... Only killed in time of severe drought, when one is
  killed by order of the rain-doctor and its body is thrown into a
  pool in a river. The idea is that the bird has so offensive a smell
  that it will make the water sick, and that the only way of getting
  rid of this is to wash it away to the sea, which can only be done by
  a heavy rain.

  The ground where they feed is considered good for cattle, and in
  settling a new country spots frequented by these birds are chosen by
  the wealthy people. Should the birds, however, by some chance, fly
  over a cattle kraal, the kraal is moved to some other place.... It
  is very weak on the wing, and when required by the “doctor” the bird
  is caught by the men of a number of kraals turning out at the same
  time, and a particular bird is followed from one hill to another by
  those on the lookout. After three or four flights it can be run down
  and caught by a good runner.... The Ovampos [of Damara land] seem to
  have a superstition [that the eggs cannot be procured because so
  soft that] they would fall to pieces on the least handling.

It seems to me likely that the sense of service to men in its constant
killing of dreaded snakes—birds and serpents are linked together in all
barbaric religious and social myths—may be at the core of the veneration
paid the hornbill, as, apparently, it was in the case of the Egyptian
ibis. This wader was not only a foe to lizards and small snakes, but, as
it always appeared in the Nile just as the river showed signs of
beginning its periodic overflow, a matter of anxious concern to the
people, it was regarded as a prescient and benevolent creature
foretelling the longed-for rise of the water. At Hermopolis, situated at
the upper end of the great fertile plain of the lower Nile, the ibis was
incarnated as Thoth (identified by the Greeks with Hermes), one of the
highest gods of the ancient Egyptians. This ibis, and other incarnated
animals, originally mere symbols of lofty ideas, came to be reverenced
as real divinities in the places where their cult flourished (although
they might enjoy no such distinction elsewhere), were given divine
honors when they died, and were, in short, real gods to their devotees;
that is to say, the sophisticated Egyptians of the later dynasties had
elevated into the logical semblance of divinity this and that
animal-fetish of their uncultured ancestors.

Another singular case of a bird rising to the eminence of tutelary deity
is that of the ruddy sheldrake (_Casarca rutila_) or Brahminy duck in
Thibet. From it is derived the title of the established church of the
lamas (practically the government of that Buddhistic country); and their
abbotts wear robes of the sheldrake colors. In Burmah the Brahminy duck
is sacred to Buddhists as a symbol of devotion and fidelity, and it was
figured on Asoka’s pillars in this emblematic character. This sheldrake
is usually found in pairs, and when one is shot the other will often
hover near until it, too, falls a victim to its conjugal love.[16]

A stage in this process of deification is given by Tylor in describing
the veneration of a certain bird in Polynesia, as a Tahitian priest
explained it to Dr. Ellis, the celebrated missionary-student of the
South Seas. The priest said that his god was not always in the idol
representing it. “A god,” he declared, “often came to and passed from an
image in the body of a bird, and spiritual influence could be
transmitted from an idol by imparting it by contact to certain valued
kinds of feathers.” This bit of doctrine helps us to understand what
Colonel St. Johnston has to tell in his recent thoughtful book[48] on
the ethnology of Polynesia, of the special use of the feathers (mainly
red) of particular birds in the insignia of chiefs, and in religious
ceremonials; and he comments as follows:

  In the Samoa, Fiji, and Tonga groups the very special mats of the
  chiefs were edged with the much-prized red feathers usually obtained
  with great difficulty from Taverni Island.... In Tahiti the fan was
  associated with feathers in a peculiar idea of sacredness, and
  feathers given out by the priests at the temple at the time of the
  “Pa’e-atua” ceremony were taken home by the worshippers and tied on
  to special fans. These beautiful feathers of the Pacific were, of
  course, prized by an artistic people for their colors alone, but
  there seems to have been something more than that, something
  particularly connected with a divine royalty. In Hawaii the
  _kahili_, the sceptre of the king, was surmounted with special
  feathers. The royal cloaks (as in Peru) and the helmets had feathers
  thickly sewn on them; the _para-kura_, or sacred coronet of Tangier
  was made of red feathers; and the Pa’e-atua ceremony that I have
  just written of consisted of the unwrapping of the images of the
  gods, exposing them to the sun, oiling them, and then wrapping them
  once more in feathers—fresh feathers, brought by the worshippers,
  and given in exchange for the old ones, which were taken away as
  prized relics to be fastened to the sacred fans.

  Can it be that the feathers represent divine birds, symbolic of the
  “Sky People”? We know that many birds were peculiarly sacred (the
  tropic bird of Fiji might be mentioned among others), and the
  messages of the gods were said to have been at first transmitted by
  the birds, until the priests were taught to do so in the squeaky
  voices—possibly imitative of bird-cries—they adopted.

Such deifications of birds took place elsewhere than in Fiji and Egypt.
Charles de Kay has written a learned yet readable book[18] devoted to
expounding the worship of birds in ancient Europe, and their gradual
mergence into deities of human likeness. He calls attention to remains
in early European lore indicating a very extensive connection of birds
with gods, pointing to a worship of the bird itself as the living
representative of a god, “or else to such a position of the bird toward
a deity as to fairly permit the inference that at a period still more
remote the bird itself was worshipped.” The Polynesian practices
detailed above certainly are of very ancient origin, probably coming to
the islands with the earliest migrants from the East Indian mainlands;
and the theology involved may be a lingering relic of the times and
ideas described in De Kay’s treatise.

To carry these matters further is not within my plan, for they would
lead us into the mazes of comparative mythology, which it is my purpose
to avoid as far as possible, restricting myself to history, sayings, and
allusions that pertain to real, not imaginary, birds.[B]

Footnote B:

  Nevertheless, I have made one exception by devoting a chapter to “a
  fabulous flock” of wholly fictitious birds, namely, the phenix, rukh
  (roc), simurgh and their fellows—all hatched from the same solar
  nest—because they have become familiar to us, by name, at least, in
  literature, symbolism, and proverbial sayings.

The distinction I try to make between the mythical and the legendary or
real, may be illustrated by the kingfisher—in this case, of course, the
common species of southern Europe. Let us consider first the mythical
side. Alcyone, daughter of Æolus, the wind-god, impelled by love for her
husband Ceyx, whom she found dead on the shore after a shipwreck, threw
herself into the sea. The gods, rewarding their conjugal love, changed
the pair into kingfishers. What connection exists between this, which is
simply a classic yarn, and the ancient theory of the nidification of
this species, I do not know; but the story was—now we are talking of the
real bird, which the Greeks and Latins saw daily—that the kingfisher
hatched its eggs at the time of the winter solstice in a nest shaped
like a hollow sponge, and thought to be solidly composed of fish-bones,
which was set afloat, or at any rate floated, on the surface of the
Mediterranean. The natural query how such a structure could survive the
shock of waves led to the theory that Father Æolus made the winds
“behave” during the brooding-time. As Pliny explains: “For seven days
before the winter solstice, and for the same length of time after it,
the sea becomes calm in order that the kingfishers may rear their
young.” Simonides, Plutarch, and many other classic authorities, testify
to the same tradition, which seems to have belonged particularly to the
waters about Sicily. More recent writers kept alive the tender conceit.

              Along the coast the mourning halcyon’s heard
              Lamenting sore her spouse’s fate,

are lines from Ariosto’s verse almost duplicated by Camoens; and
Southey—

             The halcyons brood around the foamless isles,
             The treacherous ocean has forsworn its wiles.

while Dryden speaks of “halcyons brooding on a winter sea,” and Drayton
makes use of the legend in five different poems. It is a fact that in
the region of southern Italy a period of calm weather ordinarily follows
the blustering gales of late autumn, which may have suggested this
poetic explanation; but one student believes that the story may have
been developed from a far earlier tradition. “The Rhibus of Aryan
mythology, storm-demons, slept for twelve nights [and days] about the
winter solstice ... in the house of the sun-god Savitar.”

Such is the history behind our proverbial expression for tranquillity,
and often it has been used very remotely from its original sense, as
when in _Henry VI_ Shakespeare makes La Pucelle exclaim: “Expect St.
Martin’s summer, halcyon days,” St. Martin’s summer being the English
name for that warm spell in November known to us as Indian summer. All
this is an extended example of the kind of poetic myth which has been
told of many different birds, and which in this book is left to be
sought out in treatises on mythology.

In contrast with this sort of tale I find many non-mythical notions,
historical or existing, concerning the actual kingfisher, which properly
belong to my scheme. One of the oldest is the custom formerly in vogue
in England, and more recently in France, of turning this bird into a
weathercock. The body of a mummified kingfisher with extended wings
would be suspended by a thread, nicely balanced, in order to show the
direction of the wind, as in that posture it would always turn its beak,
even when hung inside the house, toward the point of the compass whence
the breeze blew. Kent, in _King Lear_, speaks of rogues who

                       Turn their halcyon beaks
               With every gale and vary of their masters.

And after Shakespeare Marlowe, in his _Jew of Malta_, says:

               But how stands the wind?
               Into what corner peers my halcyon’s bill?

We are told that the fishermen of the British and French coasts hang
these kingfisher weathervanes in the rigging of their boats; and it
seems likely to me that it was among sailors that the custom began.

Although Sir Thomas Browne[33] attributed “an occult and secret
property” to this bird as an indicator of wind-drift, it does not
otherwise appear that it had any magical reputation: yet the skin of a
kingfisher was sure to be found among the stuffed crocodiles, grinning
skulls and similar decorations of the consulting-room of a medieval
“doctor,” who himself rarely realized, perhaps, what a fakir he was.
Moreover, we read “That its dried body kept in a house protected against
lightning and kept moths out of garments.”

On the American continent, probably the nearest approach to the
“sacredness” discussed in a former paragraph, is the sincere veneration
of their animal-gods, including a few birds, by the Zuñis and some other
Village Indians of New Mexico and Arizona, which has been studied
minutely by our ethnologists. Yet we read of many other sacred birds
among the redmen. The redheaded woodpecker is regarded as the tutelary
deity of the Omahas, and as the patron-saint of children, because, they
say, its own family is kept in so safe a place. Pawnees have much the
same sentiment toward the wren, which they call “laughing-bird” because
it seems always happy. The crow was the sacred bird of the
“ghost-dance”—a religious ceremony of high significance among the tribes
of the Plains, as is explained in Chapter IX. The Navahos regard the
mountain bluebird as sacred on account of its azure plumage, which (as
something blue) is representative of the South; and it is deemed the
herald of the rising sun, which is their supreme image of God. One of
their old men told Stewart Culin that “two blue birds stand at the door
of the house in which [certain] gods dwell.”

In most cases among our Indians, as elsewhere, it is unlawful to kill or
eat such a bird, which indicates a relation to totemism. Thus, as
Powers[19] asserts, the Mono Indians of the Sierra Nevada, never kill
their sacred black eagles, but pluck out the feathers of those that die
and wear them on their heads. “When they succeed in capturing a young
one, after a fortnight the village makes a great jubilation.” Some
Eskimos will not eat gulls’ eggs, which make men old and decrepit.

Whatever tradition or superstition or other motive affected the choice
of any bird as a tribal totem, or endowed it with “sacredness,”
practical considerations were surely influential. It is noticeable that
the venerated ibis and hawk in Egypt were useful to the people as
devourers of vermin—young crocodiles, poisonous snakes, grain-eating
mice and so forth. Storks in Europe and India, and the “unclean” birds
of Palestine forbidden to the Jews, were mostly carrion-eaters, and as
such were desirable street-cleaners in village and camp. A tradition in
the Ægean island Tenos is that Poseidon—a Greek St. Patrick—sent storks
to clear the island of snakes, which originally were numerous there.
Australian frontiersmen preserve the big kingfisher, dubbed
“laughing-jackass,” for the same good reason. The wiser men in early
communities appreciated this kind of service by birds, and added a
religious sanction to their admonition that such servants of mankind
should not be killed. It was the primitive movement toward
bird-protection, which, by the way, was first applied in this country to
the scavenging turkey-buzzards and carrion-crows of the Southern States.

As for the smaller birds, where special regard was paid them it was
owing, apart from the natural humane admiration and enjoyment of these
pretty creatures, to the mystery and fiction of their being animated by
spirits. When they were black, like ravens and cormorants, or were cruel
night-prowlers, such as owls, or uttered disconsolate cries, they were
thought to be inhabited by dread, malignant, spirits “from night’s
Plutonian shore,” as Poe expresses it, but when they had pretty plumage,
pleasing ways and melodious voices, they were deemed the embodiment of
beneficent and happy spirits—perhaps even those of departed relatives.

Hence we have the notion that some birds are lucky and others unlucky in
their relation to us. Those that bring good luck are mainly those kinds
that associate themselves with civilization, such as the various robins,
wrens and storks, the doves and the swallows. Even so, however, time and
place must be considered in every case, for the dearest of little birds
when it pecks at a window-pane, or seems bent on entering a cottage door
will arouse tremors of fear in a superstitious heart—much more so a bird
that ordinarily keeps aloof from mankind. Frazer records, in his essay
on Scapegoats, that if a wild bird flies into a rural Malay’s house, it
must be carefully caught and smeared with oil, and must then be released
into the open air with a formula of words adjuring it to take away all
ill-luck. In antiquity Greek women seem to have done the same with any
swallow they found inside the house, a custom mentioned by both
Pythagoras and Plato—the latter humorously proposing to dismiss poets
from his ideal State in the same manner. Such doings remind one of the
function of the scapegoat; and in fact, according to Frazer, the Hazuls,
of the Carpathian Mountains, imagine they can transfer their freckles to
the first swallow they see in the spring by uttering a certain command
to the bird. Are these practices distorted reminiscences of the
conjuring by the Hebrew shaman as described in the Old Testament?

  This shall be the law of the leper in the day of his cleansing: He
  shall be brought into the priest.... Then shall the priest command
  to take for him that is to be cleaned two birds alive and clean, and
  cedar wood and scarlet and hyssop. And the priest shall command that
  one of the birds be killed in an earthen vessel over running water.
  As for the living bird, he shall take it and the cedar wood, and the
  scarlet, and the hyssop, and shall dip them and the living bird in
  the blood of the bird that was killed over the running water; and he
  shall sprinkle upon him that is to be cleansed from the leprosy
  seven times, and shall pronounce him clean, and shall let the living
  bird loose into the open field. (_Lev. xiv, 27._)

The matter of “luck” in this hocus-pocus seems to lie in the chance as
to which bird is chosen to be “scapegoat,” and so is allowed to remain
alive, cleaning its feathers as best it may. Evidently, the bird that
wishes to do nothing to offend anyone must go warily. A cuckoo, for
example, may spoil the day for an English milkmaid by incautiously
sounding its call before her breakfast.

Such has been the mental attitude underlying the amazing ideas and
practices that will be found described in succeeding chapters of this
collection of traditional birdlore, much of which is so juvenile and
absurd. Until one reviews the groping steps by which mankind advanced
with very uneven speed—a large body of it having yet hardly begun the
progress, even among the “civilized”—from the crudest animism to a
clearer and clearer comprehension of “natural law in the physical
world,” he cannot understand how men gave full credence to fictions that
the most superficial examination, or the simplest reasoning, would show
were false, and trembled before the most imaginary of alarms. Add to
this childish credulity the teachings of religious and political leaders
who had much to gain by conserving the ignorance and faith of their
followers; add again the fruitful influence of story-tellers and poets
who utilized ancient legends and beliefs for literary advantage, and you
have the history and explanation of how so many primitive superstitions
and errors have survived to our day.



                               CHAPTER II
                       BIRDS AS NATIONAL EMBLEMS


Several nations and empires of both ancient and modern times have
adopted birds as emblems of their sovereignty, or at least have placed
prominently on their coats of arms and great seals the figures of birds.

Among these the eagle—some species of the genus Aquila—takes precedence
both in time and in importance. The most ancient recorded history of the
human race is that engraved on the tablets and seals of chiefs who
organized a civilization about the head of the Persian Gulf more than
4000 years before the beginning of the Christian era. These record by
both text and pictures that the emblem of the Summerian city of Lagash,
which ruled southern Mesopotamia long previous to its subjugation by
Babylonia about 3000 B. C., was an eagle “displayed,” that is, facing us
with wings and legs spread and its head turned in profile. This figure
was carried by the army of Lagash as a military standard; but a form of
it with a lion’s head was reserved as the special emblem of the Lagash
gods, with which the royal house was identified—the king’s standard.

After the conquest of Babylonia by Assyria this eagle of Lagash was
taken over by the conquerors, and appears on an Assyrian seal of the
king of Ur many centuries later. “From this eagle,” says Ward,[23] “in
its heraldic attitude necessitated by its attack on two animals [as
represented on many seals and decorations] was derived the two-headed
eagle, in the effort to complete the bilateral symmetry. This
double-headed eagle appears in Hittite art, and is continued down
through Turkish and modern European symbolism.”

Among the host of rock-carvings in the Eyuk section of the mountains of
Cappadocia (Pteria of the Greeks) that are attributed to the Hittites,
Perrot and Chipiez found carvings of a double-headed eagle which they
illustrate;[112] and they speak of them as often occurring. “Its
position is always a conspicuous one—about a great sanctuary, the
principal doorway to a palace, a castle wall, and so forth; rendering
the suggestion that the Pterians used the symbol as a coat of arms.”

Dr. Ward thought the Assyrian two-headed figure of their national bird
resulted from an artistic effort at symmetry, balancing the wings and
feet outstretched on each side, but I cannot help feeling that here
among the Hittites it had its origin in a deeper sentiment than that. It
seems to me that it was a way of expressing the dual sex of their
godhead, presupposed, in the crudeness of primitive nature-worship, to
account for the condition of earthly things, male and female uniting for
productiveness—the old story of sky and earth as co-generators of all
life. Many other symbols, particularly those of a phallic character,
were used in Asiatic religions to typify the same idea; or perhaps the
conception was of that divine duality, in the sense of co-equal power of
Good and Evil, God and Satan, that later became so conspicuous in the
doctrine of the ancient Persians. Could it have been a purified
modification of this significance that made the eagle during the Mosaic
period—if Bayley[24] is right—an emblem of the Holy Spirit? And Bayley
adds that “its portrayal with two heads is said to have recorded the
double portion of the spirit bestowed on Elisha.”

Old Mohammedan traditions, according to Dalton, give the name “hamca” to
a fabulous creature identical with the bicephalous eagle carved on
Hittite rock-faces. Dalton[25] says also that coins with this emblem
were struck and issued by Malek el Sala Mohammed, one of the Sassanids,
in 1217; and that this figure was engraved in the 13th century by
Turkoman princes on the walls of their castles, and embroidered on their
battle-flags.

To the early Greeks the eagle was the messenger of Zeus. If, as
asserted, it was the royal cognizance of the Etruscans, it came
naturally to the Romans, by whom it was officially adopted for the
Republic in 87 B. C., when a silver eagle, standing upright on a spear,
its wings half raised, its head in profile to the left, and thunderbolts
in its claws, was placed on the military standards borne at the head of
all the legions in the army. This was in the second consulship of Caius
Marius, who decreed certain other honors to be paid to the bird’s image
in the Curia.

One need not accuse the Romans of merely copying the ancient monarchies
of the East. If they thought of anything beyond the majestic appearance
of the noble bird, it was to remember its association with their great
god Jupiter—the counterpart of Zeus. Nothing is plainer as to the origin
of the ideas that later took shape in the divinities of celestial
residence than that Jupiter was the personification of the heavens; and
what is more natural than that the lightnings should be conceived of as
his weapons? Once, early in his history, when Jupiter was equipping
himself for a battle with the Titans, an eagle brought him his dart,
since which time Jupiter’s eagle has always been represented as holding
thunderbolts in its talons. The bird thus became a symbol of supreme
power, and a natural badge for soldiers. The emperors of imperial Rome
retained it on their standards, Hadrian changing its metal from silver
to gold; and “the eagles of Rome” came to be a common figure of speech
to express her military prowess and imperial sway.

By such a history, partly mythical, and partly practical and glorious,
this bird came to typify imperialism in general. A golden eagle mounted
on a spear, was the royal standard of the elder Cyrus, as it had been of
his ancestors.

When Napoleon I. dreamed of universal conquest he revived on the
regimental banners of his troops the insignia of his Roman predecessors
in banditry—in fact he was entitled to do so, for he had inherited them
by right of conquest from both Italy and Austria, the residuary legatees
of Rome. Discontinued in favor of their family bees by the Bourbons,
during their brief reign after the fall of Bonaparte, the eagle was
restored to France by a decree of Louis Napoleon in 1852. There is a
legend that a tame eagle was let loose before him when he landed in
France from England to become President of the first French Republic.
Now it is the proper finial for flagstaffs all over the world except,
curiously, in France itself, where a wreath of laurel legally surmounts
the tricolor of the Republic, which has discarded all reminders of
royalty. Thus the pride of conquerors has dropped to the commonplace of
fashion—

               Imperial Caesar, dead and turned to clay,
               Might stop a hole to keep the wind away.

The destruction of the Italian and western half of the old Roman empire
was by the hands of northern barbarians who at first were mere
conquerors and despoilers, but finally, affected by their contact with
civilization and law, became residents in and rulers of Italy, and were
proud to assume the titles and what they could of the dignity of Roman
emperors. In the eighth century Charlemagne became substantially master
of the western world, at least, and assumed the legionary eagle as he
did the purple robes of an Augustus; and his successors held both with
varying success until the tenth century, when German kings became
supreme and in 962 founded that very unholy combination styled the Holy
Roman Empire. For hundreds of years this fiction was maintained. At
times its eagle indicated a real lordship over all Europe; between times
the states broke apart, and, as each kept the royal standard, separate
eagles contended for mastery. Thus Prussia and other German kingdoms
retained on their shields the semblance of a “Roman” eagle; and the
Teutonic Knights carried it on their savage expeditions of
“evangelization” to the eastern Baltic lands.

All these were more or less conventional figures of the Bird of Jove in
its natural form, but a heraldic figure with two heads turned, Janus
like, in opposite directions, was soon to be revived in the region
where, as we have seen, it had been familiar 2000 years before as the
national emblem of the Eastern, or Byzantine, Empire, which for hundreds
of years contested with Rome, both the political and the ecclesiastical
hegemony of the world. Just when this symbol came into favor at
Constantinople is unknown, but one authority says it did not appear
before the tenth century. At that time the Eastern emperors were
recovering lost provinces and extending their rule until it included all
the civilized part of western Asia, Greece, Bulgaria, southern Italy,
and much of the islands and shores of the Mediterranean; and they
asserted religious supremacy, at least, over the rival European empire
erected on Charlemagne’s foundation. It would seem natural that at this
prosperous period, when Byzantium proudly claimed, if she did not really
possess all “the glory that was Greece and the grandeur that was Rome,”
such a double-headed device might be adopted, signifying that she had
united the western power with her own. The evidence of this motive is
doubtful, however, for it is not until a much later date that the figure
begins to be seen on coins and textiles, first at Trebizond,
particularly in connection with the emperor Theodore Lascaris, who
reigned at the beginning of the 13th century. Dalton[25] suggests
plausibly that this symbol may have become Byzantine through the
circumstance that this Lascaris had previously been despot of Nicomedia,
in which province Bogaz-Keui and other Hittite remains were situated,
and where the bicephalous carvings heretofore alluded to are still to be
seen on rockfaces and ruins, always in association with royalty.

It is very attractive to think that this form of eagle was chosen, as
has been suggested, to express the fact that Constantinople was now lord
over both halves, East and West, into which Diocletian had divided the
original empire of Rome. Whether this idea was behind the choice I do
not know, but at any rate the two-faced eagle became latterly the
acknowledged ensign of imperial Byzantium, and as such was introduced
into European royal heraldry, whether or not by means of the returning
Crusaders, as commonly stated, remains obscure.

In the 15th century what was left of the Holy Roman Empire became the
heritage of the Austrian house of Hapsburg which had succeeded the
German Hohenstauffens; and to Sigismund, head of the house in that
century, is ascribed the design in the Austrian arms of the two-headed
eagle, looking right and left, as if to signify boastfully that he ruled
both East and West. These were relative and indefinite domains, but as
he had, by his crowning at Rome, received at least nominal sovereignty
over the fragmentary remains in Greece of the ancient Eastern Empire, he
was perhaps justified in adopting the Byzantine ensign as “captured
colors”; but a rival was soon to present a stronger claim to these
fragments and their badge.

In this same period, that is in the middle of the 15th century, Ivan the
Great of Russia was striving with high purpose and despotic strength to
bring back under one sway the divided house of Muscovy, together with
whatever else he could obtain. To further this purpose he married, in
1472, Sophia Paleologos, niece of the last Byzantine emperor, getting
with her Greece and hence a barren title to the throne of the Eastern
empire—a barren title because its former domain was now over-run by the
Turks, but very important in the fact that it included the headship of
the Greek, or Orthodox, Church. From this time Russia as well as Austria
has borne a two-faced eagle on its escutcheon; and, although both birds
are from the same political nest, the feeling between them has been far
from brotherly.

It may be remarked here, parenthetically, that in Egypt the cult of the
kingly eagle never flourished, for the griffon vulture, “far-sighted,
ubiquitous, importunate,” became the grim emblem of royal power; and a
smaller vulture (_Neophron percnopterus_) is called Pharaoh’s chicken to
this day by the fellaheen. By “eagle” in Semitic (Biblical) legends is
usually meant the lammergeier.

Prussia had kept a single-headed eagle as her cognizance in remembrance
of her previous “Roman” greatness; and it was retained by the German
Empire when that was created by Bismarck half a century and more ago.
From it the Kaiser designated the two German military orders—the Black
Eagle and the superior Red Eagle; and Russia and Serbia have each
instituted an order called White Eagle. The traditional eagle of Poland
is represented as white on a black ground. It was displayed during the
period of subjection following the partition of the country in 1795,
with closed wings, but now, since 1919, it spreads its pinions wide in
the pride of freedom.

_In the years between 1914 and 1919 an allied party of hunters, enraged
by their depredations, went gunning for these birds of prey, killed most
of them and sorely wounded the rest!_

Although several species of real eagles inhabit the Mediterranean region
and those parts of Europe and Asia where these nations lived, and
warred, and passed away, and are somewhat confused in the mass of myth
and tradition relating to them, the one chosen by Rome was the golden
eagle, so called because of the golden gloss that suffuses the feathers
of the neck in mature birds. Now we have this species of sea-eagle in
the United States, and it has been from time immemorial the honored
War-eagle of the native redmen. If it was needful at our political birth
to put any sort of animal on our seal, and the choice was narrowed down
to an eagle, it would have been far more appropriate to have chosen the
golden rather than the white-headed or “bald” species—first because the
golden is in habits and appearance far the nobler of the two, and,
second, because of the supreme regard in which it was held by all the
North American aborigines, who paid no respect whatever to the bald
eagle. On the other hand, the white head and neck of our accepted
species gives a distinctive mark to our coat of arms. The history of the
adoption of this symbol of the United States of America is worth a
paragraph.

On July 4, 1776, on the afternoon following the morning hours in which
the Congress in Philadelphia had performed the momentous duty of
proclaiming the independence of the United States, it dropped down to
the consideration of its cockade, and appointed a committee to prepare a
device for a Great Seal and coat-of-arms for the new republic.[26]
Desiring to avoid European models, yet clinging to the traditions of art
in these matters, the committee devised and offered in succession
several complicated allegorical designs that were promptly and wisely
rejected by the Congress. Finally, in 1782, the matter was left in the
hands of Charles Thomson, Secretary of the Congress, and he at once
consulted with William Barton of Philadelphia. They abandoned allegory
and designed an eagle “displayed proper,” that is, with a shield on its
breast. Mr. Barton, who was learned in heraldry, explained that “the
escutcheon being placed on the breast of the eagle _displayed_ is a very
ancient mode of bearing, and is truly imperial.” To avoid an “imperial”
effect, however, a concession was made to local prejudice by indicating
plainly that the bird itself was the American bald eagle—unless, indeed,
that happened to be the only one Barton knew!

This design was finally adopted in 1782. Since then the Great Seal has
been re-cut several times, so that the bird in its imprint is now a far
more reputable fowl than at first—looks less as if it were nailed on a
barn-door _pour encourager les autres_. In its right claw it holds a
spray of ripe olives as an emblem of a peaceful disposition, and in its
left an indication of resolution to enforce peace, in the form of
American thunderbolts—the redman’s arrows.

There were men in the Congress in 1782, as well as out of it, who
disliked using any eagle whatever as a feature of the arms of the
Republic, feeling that it savored of the very spirit and customs against
which the formation of this commonwealth was a protest. Among them stood
that clear-headed master of common sense, Benjamin Franklin, who thought
a thoroughly native and useful fowl, like the wild turkey, would make a
far truer emblem for the new and busy nation. He added to the turkey’s
other good qualities that it was a bird of courage, remarking, with his
own delightful humor, that it would not hesitate to attack any _Red_coat
that entered its barnyard!

Franklin was right when he argued against the choice of the bald eagle,
at any rate, as our national emblem. “He is,” he said truly, “a bird of
bad moral character; he does not get his living honestly; you may have
seen him perched on some dead tree, where, too lazy to fish for himself,
he watches the labor of the fishing-hawk, and when that diligent bird
has at length taken a fish and is bearing it to its nest the bald eagle
pursues him and takes it from him. Besides, he is a rank coward; the
little kingbird attacks him boldly. He is therefore by no means a proper
emblem.”

None of these depreciatory things could Franklin have truly said of the
skilful, self-supporting, and handsome golden eagle—a Bird of Freedom
indeed. (Audubon named a western variety of it after General
Washington.) This species was regarded with extreme veneration by the
native redmen of this country. “Its feathers,” says Dr. Brinton, the
ethnologist, “composed the war-flag of the Creeks, and its image, carved
in wood, or its stuffed skin, surmounted their council-lodges. None but
an approved warrior dare wear it among the Cherokees, and the Dakotas
allowed such an honor only to him who first touched the corpse of the
common foe. The Natchez and other tribes regarded it almost as a deity.
The Zuñi of New Mexico employed four of its feathers to represent the
four winds when invoking the rain-god.”

Hence a war-song of the Ojibways reported by Schoolcraft:

                Hear my voice ye warlike birds!
                I prepare a feast for you to batten on;
                I see you cross the enemy’s lines;
                Like you I shall go.
                I wish the swiftness of your wings;
                I wish the vengeance of your claws;
                I muster my friends;
                I follow your flight.

Doesn’t this sound like a bit from the _Saga_ of Harold Hadrada?

Mexico did better in choosing her crested eagle, the harpy (_Thrasaëtus
harpia_),a magnificent representative of its race, renowned from
Paraguay to Mexico for its handsome black-and-white plumage adorned with
a warrior’s crest, and for its grand flight, dauntless courage and
amazing endurance. Quesada tells us that the Aztecs called it the winged
wolf. The princes of Tlascala wore its image on their breasts and on
their shield as a symbol of royalty; and in both Mexico and Peru, where
it was trained for sport in falconry, it was preferred to the puma,
which also was taught to capture deer and young peccaries for its
master, as is the cheeta in India. Captive harpies are still set to
fight dogs and wildcats in village arenas, and rarely are vanquished.

The tradition is that the Aztecs, a northern Nahuatl tribe, escaping
from the tyranny of the dominant Chichemecas, moved about A. D. 1325
into the valley of Mexico (Tenochtitlan), and settled upon certain
islets in a marshy lake—the site of the subsequent City of Mexico; and
this safe site is said to have been pointed out to them by a sign from
their gods—an eagle perched upon a prickly-pear cactus, the nopal, in
the act of strangling a serpent. This is the picture Cortez engraved on
his Great Seal, and Mexico has kept it to this day.

Guatemala was a part of ancient Mexico; and perched on the shield in
Guatemala’s coat-of-arms is the green or resplendent trogon
(_Pharomacrus mocinno_), the native and antique name of which is
quetzal. This is one of the most magnificent of birds, for its crested
head and body (somewhat larger than a sparrow’s) are iridescent green,
the breast and under parts crimson, and the wings black overhung by
long, plumy coverts. The quetzal’s special ornament, however, is its
bluish-green tail, eight or ten inches long, whose gleaming feathers
curve down in the graceful sweep of a sabre. It has been called the most
beautiful of American birds, and it is peculiar to Central America.

How this trogon came to be Guatemala’s national symbol, made familiar by
all its older postage-stamps, is a matter of religious history. One of
the gods in the ancient Aztec pantheon was Quetzalcoatl, of whom it was
said in their legends “that he was of majestic presence, chaste in life,
averse to war, wise and generous in action, and delighting in the
cultivation of the arts of peace.” He was the ruler of the realm far
below the surface of the earth, where the sun shines at night, the abode
of abundance where dwell happy souls; and there Quetzalcoatl abides
until the time fixed for his return to men. The first part of the name
of this beneficent god, associated with sunshine and green, growing
things, meant in the Nahuatl language a large, handsome, green feather,
such as were highly prized by the Aztecs and reserved for the decoration
of their chiefs; and one tradition of the god’s origin and equipment
relates that he was furnished with a beard made of these plumes. These
royal and venerated feathers were obtained from the trogon, which his
worshippers called _Quetzal-totl_. The emerald-hued hummingbirds of the
tropics also belonged to him.

Although Mexico and Central America were “converted” to Christianity by
a gospel of war and slavery, the ancient faith lived on in many simple
hearts, especially in the remoter districts of the South, and nowhere
more persistently than among the Mayas of Guatemala and Yucatan, whose
pyramidal temples are moldering in their uncut forests. When, in 1825,
Guatemala declared its independence and set up a local government, what
more natural than that it should take as a national symbol the glorious
bird that represented to its people the best influence in their ancient
history and the most hopeful suggestion for the future.

In the religion of the Mayas of Yucatan the great god of light was
Itsamna, one of whose titles was The Lord, the Eye of the Day—a truly
picturesque description of the sun. A temple at Itzmal was consecrated
to him under the double name Eye of Day-Bird of Fire. “In time of
pestilence,” as Dr. Brinton informs us,[27] “the people resorted to this
temple, and at high noon a sacrifice was spread upon the altar. The
moment the sun reached the zenith a bird of brilliant plumage, but which
in fact was nothing else than a fiery flame shot from the sun, descended
and consumed the offering in the sight of all.” Another authority says
that Midsummer-day was celebrated by similar rites. Hence was held
sacred the flame-hued ara, or guacamaya, the red macaw.

The Musicas, natives of the Colombian plateau where Bogotá now stands,
had a similar half-superstitious regard for this big red macaw, which
they called “fire-bird.” The general veneration for redness, prevalent
throughout western tropical America, and in Polynesia, is doubtless a
reflection of sun-worship.

Let us turn to a lighter aspect of our theme.

France rejoices, humorously, yet sincerely, in the cock as her
emblem—the strutting, crowing, combative chanticleer that arouses
respect while it tickles the French sense of fun. When curiosity led me
to inquire how this odd representative for a glorious nation came into
existence, I was met by a complete lack of readily accessible
information. The generally accepted theory seemed to be that it was to
be explained by the likeness of sound between the Latin word _gallus_, a
dunghill cock, and _Gallus_, a Gaul—the general appellative by which the
Romans of mid-Republic days designated the non-Italian, Keltic-speaking
inhabitants of the country south and west of the Swiss Alps. But whence
came the name “gaul”? and why was a pun on it so apt that it has
survived through long centuries? I knew, of course, of the yarn that
Diodorus Siculus repeats: that in Keltica once ruled a famous man who
had a daughter “tall and majestic” but unsatisfactory because she
refused all the suitors who presented themselves. Then Hercules came
along, and the haughty maiden surrendered at Arras. The result was a son
named Galetes—a lad of extraordinary virtues who became king and
extended his grandfather’s dominions. He called his subjects after his
own name Galatians and his country Galatia. This is nonsense. Moreover
“Galatia” is Greek, and was applied by the Greeks, long before the day
of Diodorus, to the lands of a colony of Keltic-speaking migrants who
had settled on the coast of Asia Minor, and became the Galatians to whom
Paul wrote one of his _Epistles_. The Greek word _Galatai_ was, however,
a form of the earlier _Keltai_.

As has been said, what we call Savoy and France were known to the Romans
as _Gallia_, Gaul; but this term had been familiar in Italy long before
Caesar had established Roman power over the great region between the
German forests and the sea that he tersely described as _Omnia Gallia_;
and it seems to have originated in the following way:

About 1100 B. C. two wild tribes, the Umbrians and the Oscans, swept
over the mountains from the northeast, and took possession of northern
Italy. These invaders were Nordics, and used an antique form of Teutonic
speech. They were resisted, attacked, and finally overwhelmed by the
Etruscans, who about 800 B. C., when Etruria was at the height of its
power, extended their rule to the Alps and the Umbrian State
disappeared. In the sixth century new hordes, calling themselves Kymri,
coming from the west, and speaking Keltic dialects, swarmed into
northern Italy from the present France. The harried people north of the
Po, themselves mostly descendants of the earlier invasion, spoke of
these raiders by an old Teutonic epithet which the Romans heard and
wrote as _Gallus_, the meaning of which was “stranger”—in this case “the
enemy.”

The word _Gallus_, Gaul or a Gaul, then, was an ancient Teutonic epithet
inherited by the Romans from the Etruscans, and had in its origin no
relation to _gallus_, the lord of the poultry-yard. It is most likely,
indeed, that the term was given in contempt, as the Greeks called
foreigners “barbarians” because they spoke some language which the
Greeks did not understand; for the occupants of the valley of the Po at
that time were of truly Germanic descent, and did not regard the
round-headed, Alpine “Kelts” as kin in any sense, but rather as ancient
foes. What the word on their lips actually was no one knows; but it
seems to have had a root _gal_ or _val_, interchangeable in the sound
(to non-native ears) of its initial letter, whence it appears that
Galatai, Gael, Valais, Walloon, and similar names connected with Keltic
history are allied in root-derivation. Wales, for example, to the early
Teutonic immigrants into Britain was the country of the _Wealas_,
_i.e._, the “foreigners” (who were Gaulish, Keltic-speaking Kymri); and
the English are not yet quite free from that view of the Welsh.

The opportunity to pun with _gallus_, a cock, is evident, just as was a
bitter pun current in Martial’s time between _Gallia_, a female Gaul and
_gallia_, a gall-nut; but in all this there is nothing to answer the
question why the pun of which we are in search—if there was such a
pun—has endured so long. I think the answer lies in certain appearances
and customs of the Keltic warriors.

Plutarch, in his biography of Caius Marius, describes the Kymri fought
by Marius, years before Caesar’s campaigns, as wearing helmets
surmounted by animal effigies of various kinds, and many tall feathers.
Diodorus says the Gauls had red hair, and made it redder by dyeing it
with lime. This fierce and flowing red headdress must have appeared much
like a cock’s comb, to which the vainglorious strutting of the
barbarians added a most realistic touch in the eyes of the disciplined
legionaries. Later, the Roman authorities in Gaul minted a coin or coins
bearing a curious representation of a Gaulish helmet bearing a cock on
its crest, illustrations of which are printed by G. R. Rothery in his _A
B C of Heraldry_. Rothery also states that the bird appears on
Gallo-Roman sculptures. Another writer asserts that Julius Caesar
records that those Gauls that he encountered fought under a
cock-standard, which he regarded as associated with a religious cult,
but I have been unable to verify this interesting reference. Caesar does
mention in his _Commentaries_ that the Gauls were fierce fighters, and
that one of their methods in personal combat was skilful kicking, like a
game-cock’s use of its spurs—a trick still employed by French rowdies,
and known as _la savate_. In the Romance speech of the south of France
chanticleer is still _gall_.

The question arises here in the mind of the naturalist: If the
aboriginal Gauls really bore a “cock” on their banners and wore its
feathers in their helmets (as the Alpine regiments in Italy now wear
chanticleer’s tail-plumes), what bird was it? They did not then possess
the Oriental domestic fowls to which the name properly belongs, and had
nothing among their wild birds resembling it except grouse. One of these
wild grouse is the great black capercaille, a bold, handsome bird of the
mountain forests, noted for its habit in spring of mounting a prominent
tree and issuing a loud challenge to all rivals; and one of its gaudy
feathers is still the favorite ornament for his hat of the Tyrolean
mountaineer. By the way, the _cockade_, that figured so extensively as a
badge in the period of the French Revolution was so called because of
its resemblance to a cock’s comb.

Now comes a break of several centuries in the record, illuminated by
only a brief note in La Rousse’s _Encyclopédie_, that in 1214, after the
Dauphin du Viennois had distinguished himself in combat with the
English, an order of knights was formed styled L’Ordre du Coq; and that
a white cock became an emblem of the dauphins of the Viennois line.

The cock did not appear as a blazon when, after the Crusades, national
coats-of-arms were being devised; nevertheless the _le coq de France_
was not forgotten, for it was engraved on a medal struck to celebrate
the birth of Louis XIII (1601). Then came the Revolution, when the old
régime was overthrown; and in 1792 the First Republic put the cock on
its escutcheon and on its flag in place of the lilies of the fallen
dynasty. When this uprising of the people had been suppressed, and
Napoleon I had mounted the throne, in 1804, he substituted for it the
Roman eagle, which he had inherited from his conquests in Italy and
Austria, and which was appropriate to his ambitious designs for world
domination. This remained until Napoleon went to Elba, and then Louis
XVIII brought back for a short time the Bourbon lilies; yet medals and
cartoons of the early Napoleonic era depict the Gallic cock chasing a
runaway lion of Castile or a fleeing Austrian eagle, showing plainly
what was the accepted symbol of French power in the eyes of the common
folks of France. One medal bore the motto _Je veille pour le nation_.

Napoleon soon returned from Elba only to be extinguished at Waterloo,
after which, during the régime of Louis Philippe, the figure of the
Gallic cock was again mounted on the top of the regimental flagstaffs in
place of the gilded eagle; an illustration of this finial is given in
_Armories et Drapeaux Français_. Louis Philippe could do this
legitimately, according to Rothery and others, because this bird was the
crest of his family—the Bourbons—in their early history in the south of
France. The Gallic cock continued to perch on the banner-poles until the
foundation of the second Empire under Louis Napoleon in 1852. Since then
the “tricolor,” originating in 1789 as the flag of the National Guard,
and dispensing with all devices, has waved over France. Officially bold
chanticleer was thus dethroned; but in the late World War, as in all
previous periods of public excitement, the ancient image of French
nationality has been revived, as the illustrated periodicals and books
of the time show; and, much as they revere the tricolor, the soldiers
still feel that it is _le coq Gaulois_ that in 1918 again struck down
the black eagles of their ancient foes.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Juvenal’s sixth _Satire_, in which he castigates the Roman women of his
day for their sins and follies, contains a line, thrown in as a mere
side-remark—

             Rara avis in terris, negroque similima cygno—

which has become the most memorable line in the whole homily. It has
been variously translated, most literally, perhaps, by Madan: “A rare
bird in the earth, and very like a black swan.” The comparison was meant
to indicate something improbable to the point of absurdity; and in that
sense has _rara avis_ been used ever since.

For more than fifteen hundred years Juvenal’s expression for extreme
rarity held good; but on January 6, 1697, Dutch navigator Willem de
Vlaming, visiting the southwestern coast of Australia, sent two boats
ashore to explore the present harbor of Perth. “There their crews first
saw two and then more black swans, of which they caught four, taking two
of them alive to Batavia; and Valentyne, who several years later
recounted this voyage, gives in his work a plate representing the ship,
boats and birds at the mouth of what is now known from this circumstance
as Swan River, the most important stream of the thriving colony now
State of Western Australia, which has adopted this very bird as its
armorial symbol.”

Another Australian bird, that, like the black swan, has obtained a
picturesque immortality in a coat-of-arms; and on postage stamps, is the
beautiful lyre-bird, first discovered in New South Wales in 1789, and
now a feature in the armorial bearings of that State in the Australian
Commonwealth. New Zealand’s stamps show the apteryx (kiwi) and emeu.

One might extend this chapter by remarking on various birds popularly
identified with certain countries, as the ibis with Egypt, the
nightingale with England and Persia, the condor with Peru, the red
grouse with Scotland, the ptarmigan with Newfoundland, and so on. Then
might be given a list of birds whose feathers belonged exclusively to
chieftainship, and so had a sort of tribal significance. Thus in Hawaii
a honeysucker, the mamo, furnished for the adornment of chiefs alone the
rich yellow feathers of which “royal” cloaks were made; the Inca
“emperors” of Peru, before the Spanish conquest, reserved to themselves
the rose-tinted plumage of an Andean water-bird; an African chief
affected the long tail-plumes of the widowbird—and so forth.

Only one of these locally revered birds entices me to linger a
moment—the nightingale, beloved of English poets, whose oriental
equivalent is the Persian bulbul. The mingled tragedies of the
nightingale and the swallow form the theme of one of the most famous as
well as sentimental legends of Greek mythology. These myths, strangely
confused by different narrators, have been unravelled by the scholarly
skill of Miss Margaret Verrall in her _Mythology of Ancient
Athens_;[108] and her analysis throws light on the way the Greek
imagination, from prehistoric bards down to the vase-decorators of the
classic era, and to the dramatists Sophocles, Æschylus, and
Aristophanes, dealt with birds—a very curious study. Miss Verrall
reminds us that a word is necessary as to the names of the Attic tale.
“We are accustomed, burdened as we are with Ovidian association, to
think of Philomela as the nightingale. Such was not the version of
Apollodorus, nor, so far as I know, of any earlier Greek writer.
According to Apollodorus, Procne became the nightingale (’αηδών) and
Philomela the swallow χελιδών. It was Philomela who had her tongue cut
out, a tale that would never have been told of the nightingale, but
which fitted well with the short restless chirp of the swallow. To speak
a barbarian tongue was ‘to mutter like a swallow.’”

But there has arisen in Persia a literature of the nightingale, or
“bulbul,” springing from a pathetic legend—if it is not simply poetic
fancy—that as the bird pours forth its song “in a continuous strain of
melody” it is pressing its breast against a rose-thorn to ease its
heart’s pain. Giles Fletcher, who had been attached to one of Queen
Elizabeth’s missions to Russia, and perhaps in that way picked up the
suggestion, used it in one of his love-poems in a stanza that is a very
queer mixture of two distinct fancies and a wrong sex, for the thrush
that sings is not the one that has any occasion to weep about virginity:

          So Philomel, perched on an aspen sprig,
              Weeps all the night her lost virginity,
          And sings her sad tale to the merry twig,
              That dances at such joyful mystery.
              Ne ever lets sweet rest invade her eye,
          But leaning on a thorn her dainty chest
          For fear soft sleep should steal into her breast
              Expresses in her song grief not to be expressed.

The poetic vision over which Hafiz and others have sighed and sung in
the fragrant gardens of Shiraz seems to owe nothing to the Greek tale,
and to them the plaintive note in the bird’s melody is not an expression
of bitter woe, but only bespeaks regret whenever a rose is plucked. They
will tell you tearfully that the bulbul will hover about a rosebush in
spring, till, overpowered by the sweetness of its blossoms, the
distracted bird falls senseless to the ground. The rose is supposed to
burst into flower at the opening song of its winged lover. You may place
a handful of fragrant herbs and flowers before the nightingale, say the
Persian poets, yet he wishes not in his constant and faithful heart for
more than the sweet breath of his beloved rose—

                          Though rich the spot
                  With every flower the earth has got,
                  What is it to the nightingale
                  If there his darling rose is not.

But romantic stories of the association of the queen of flowers with the
prince of birds are many, and the reader may easily find more of them.
In a legend told by the Persian poet Attarall the birds once appeared
before King Solomon and complained that they could not sleep because of
the nightly wailings of the bulbul, who excused himself on the plea that
his love for the rose was the cause of irrepressible grief. This is the
tradition to which Byron alludes in _The Giaour_:

               The rose o’er crag or vale,
               Sultana of the nightingale,
                   The maid for whom his melody,
                   His thousand songs, are heard on high,
               Blooms blushing to her lover’s tale—
               His queen, the garden queen, the rose,
               Unbent by winds, unchilled by snows.



                              CHAPTER III
                   AN ORNITHOLOGICAL COMEDY OF ERRORS


Among the many proverbial expressions relating to birds, none, perhaps,
is more often on the tongue than that which implies that the ostrich has
the habit of sticking its head in the sand and regarding itself as thus
made invisible. The oldest written authority known to me for this notion
is the _Historical Library_ of Diodorus Siculus. Describing Arabia and
its products Diodorus writes:

  It produces likewise Beasts of a double nature and mixt Shape;
  amongst whom are those that are called _Struthocameli_, who have the
  Shape both of a Camel and an Ostrich ... so that this creature seems
  both terrestrial and volatile, a Land-Beast and a Bird: But being
  not able to fly by reason of the Bulk of her body, she runs upon the
  Ground as Swift as if she flew in the air; and when she is pursued
  by Horsemen with her Feet she hurls the Stones that are under her,
  and many times kills the Pursuers with the Blows and Strokes they
  receive. When she is near being taken, she thrusts her Head under a
  Shrub or some such like Cover; not (as some suppose) through Folly
  or Blockishness, as if she would not see or be seen by them, but
  because her head is the tenderest Part of her Body.[109]

It would appear from this that Diodorus was anticipating me by quoting
an ancient legend only to show how erroneous it was; but the notion has
survived his explanation, and supplies a figure of speech most useful to
polemic editors and orators, nor does anyone seem to care whether or not
it expresses a truth. The only foundation I can find or imagine for the
origin of this so persistent and popular error in ornithology is that
when the bird is brooding or resting it usually stretches its head and
neck along the ground, and is likely to keep this prostrate position in
cautious stillness as long as it thinks it has not been observed by
whatever it fears. The futile trick of hiding its head alone has been
attributed to various other birds equally innocent.

Ostriches in ancient times roamed the deserts of the East from the Atlas
to the Indus, and they came to hold a very sinister position in the
estimation of the early inhabitants of Mesopotamia, as we learn from the
seals and tablets of Babylonia. There the eagle had become the type of
the principle of Good in the universe, as is elsewhere described; and a
composite monster, to which the general term “dragon” is applied,
represented the principle of Evil. The earliest rude conception of this
monster gave it a beast’s body (sometimes a crocodile’s but usually a
lion’s), always with a bird’s wings, tail, etc. “From conceiving of the
dragon as a monster having a bird’s head as well as wings and tail, and
feathers over the body, the transition,” as Dr. Ward[23] remarks, “was
not difficult to regard it entirely as a bird. But for this the favorite
form was that of an ostrich ... the largest bird known, a mysterious
inhabitant of the deserts, swift to escape and dangerous to attack. No
other bird was so aptly the emblem of power for mischief....
Accordingly, in the period of about the eighth to the seventh centuries,
B. C., the contest of Marduk, representing Good in the form of a human
hero or sometimes as an eagle, with an ostrich, or often a pair of them,
representing the evil demon Tiamat, was a favorite subject with
Babylonian artists in the valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates.”

In view of their inheritance of these ideas it is no wonder that
Oriental writers far more recent told strange tales about this bird,
especially as to its domestic habits, as is reflected in the book of
Job, where a versified rendering of one passage (xxxix, 15, 16) runs
thus:

            Gavest thou the goodly wings unto the peacocks?
            Or wings and feathers unto the ostrich?
            Which leaveth her eggs in the earth,
            And warmeth them in the dust,
            And forgetteth that the foot may crush them,
            Or that the wild beast may break them?
            She is hardened against her young ones
            As though they were not hers:
            Because God hath deprived her of wisdom,
            Neither hath he imparted to her understanding.

This was more elegant than exact, for ostriches are exceedingly watchful
and patient parents, as they have need to be, considering the perilous
exposure of their nests on the ground, and the great number of enemies
to which both eggs and young are exposed in the wilderness. Major S.
Hamilton,[110] than whom there is no better authority, testifies to
this. “The hen-bird,” he says, “sits on the eggs by day and the cock
relieves her at night, so that the eggs are never left unguarded during
incubation.” The chicks are able to take care of themselves after a day
or two, and there is no more foundation in fact for the Biblical charge
of cruelty than for that other Oriental fable that this bird hatches its
eggs not by brooding but by the rays of warmth and light from her eyes.
“Both birds are employed,” the fable reads, “for if the gaze is
suspended for only one moment the eggs are addled, whereupon these bad
ones are at once broken.” It is to this fiction that Southey refers in
_Thalaba, the Destroyer_:

                 With such a look as fables say
                 The mother ostrich fixes on her eggs,
                 Till that intense affection
                 Kindle its light of life.

Hence, as Burnaby tells us, ostrich eggs were hung in some Mohammedan
mosques as a reminder that “God will break evil-doers as the ostrich her
worthless eggs.” Professor E. A. Grosvenor notes in his elaborate
volumes on Constantinople, that in the turbeh of Eyouk, the holiest
building and shrine in the Ottoman world, are suspended “olive lamps and
ostrich eggs, the latter significant of patience and faith.” Their
meanings or at any rate the interpretations vary locally, but the shells
themselves are favorite mosque ornaments all over Islam, and an
extensive trans-Saharan caravan-trade in them still exists. Ostrich eggs
as well as feathers were imported into ancient Egypt and Phœnicia from
the Land of Punt (Somaliland) and their shells have been recovered from
early tombs, or sometimes clay models of them, as at Hu, where Petrie
found an example decorated with an imitation of the network of cords by
which it could be carried about, just as is done to this day by the
Central-African negroes, who utilize these shells as water-bottles, and
carry a bundle of them in a netting bag. Other examples were painted;
and Wilkinson surmises that these were suspended in the temples of the
ancient Egyptians as they now are in those of the Copts. The Punic tombs
about Carthage, and those of Mycenae, in Greece, have yielded painted
shells of these eggs; and five were exhumed from an Etruscan tomb,
ornamented with bands of fantastic figures of animals either engraved or
painted on the shell, the incised lines filled with gold; what purpose
they served, or whether any religious significance was attached to them,
is not known. Eggs are still to be found in many Spanish churches
hanging near the Altar: they are usually goose-eggs, but may be a
reflection of the former Moorish liking for those of the ostrich in
their houses of worship.

To return for a moment to the notion that the ostrich breaks any eggs
that become addled (by the way, how could the bird know which were “gone
bad”?), let me add a preposterous variation of this, quoted from a
German source by Goldsmith[32] in relation to the rhea, the South
American cousin of the ostrich—all, of course, arrant nonsense:

  The male compels twenty or more females to lay their eggs in one
  nest; he then, when they have done laying, chases them away and
  places himself upon the eggs; however, he takes the singular
  precaution of laying two of the number aside, which he does not sit
  upon. When the young one comes forth these two eggs are addled;
  which the male having foreseen, breaks one and then the other, upon
  which multitudes of flies are found to settle; and these supply the
  young brood with a sufficiency of provision till they are able to
  shift for themselves.

Another popular saying is: “I have the digestion of an ostrich!”

What does this mean? Ancient books went so far as to say that ostriches
subsisted on iron alone, although they did not take the trouble to
explain where in the desert they could obtain this vigorous diet. A
picture in one of the Beast Books gives a recognizable sketch of the
bird with a great key in its bill and near by a horseshoe for a second
course. In heraldry, which is a museum of antique notions, the ostrich,
when used as a bearing, is always depicted as holding in its mouth a
Passion-nail (emblem of the Church militant), or a horseshoe (reminder
of knightly Prowess on horseback), or a key (signifying religious and
temporal power).

An amusing passage in Sir Thomas Browne’s famous book, _Common and
Vulgar Errors_[33]—which is a queer combination of sagacity, ignorance,
superstition and credulity—is his solemn argument against the belief
prevalent in his day (1605–82) that ostriches ate iron; but he quotes
his predecessors from Aristotle down to show how many philosophers have
given it credence without proof. The great misfortune of medieval
thinkers appears to have been that they were bound hand and foot to the
dead knowledge contained in ancient Greek and Latin books—a sort of
mental mortmain that blocked any progress in science. They made of
Aristotle, especially, a sort of sacred fetish, whose statements and
conclusions must not be “checked” by any fresh observation or
experiment. Browne was one of the first to exhibit a little independence
of judgment, and to suspect that possibly, as Lowell puts it, “they
didn’t know everything down in Judee.”

“As for Pliny,” Sir Thomas informs us, “he saith plainly that the
ostrich concocteth whatever it eateth. Now the Doctor acknowledgeth it
eats iron: ergo, according to Pliny it concocts iron. Africandus tells
us that it devours iron. Farnelius is so far from extenuating the matter
that he plainly confirms it, and shows that this concoction is performed
by the nature of its whole essence. As for Riolanus, his denial without
ground we regard not. Albertus speaks not of iron but of stones which it
swallows and excludes again without nutriment.”

This is an excellent example of the way those old fellows considered a
matter of fact as if it were one of opinion—as if the belief or
non-belief of a bunch of ancients, who knew little or nothing of the
subject, made a thing so or not so. Sir Thomas seems to have been
struggling out of this fog of metaphysics and shyly squinting at the
facts of nature; yet it is hard to follow his logic to the conclusion
that the allegation of iron-eating and “concocting” (by which I suppose
digestion is meant) is not true, but he was right. The poets, however,
clung to the story. John Skelton (1460–1529) in his long poem _Phyllip
Sparrow_ writes of

                     The estryge that wyll eate
                     An horshowe so great
                     In the stede of meate
                     Such feruent heat
                     His stomake doth freat [fret].

Ben Johnson makes one of his characters in _Every Man in his Humor_
assure another, who declares he could eat the very sword-hilts for
hunger, that this is evidence that he has good digestive power—“You have
an ostrich’s stomach.” And in Shakespeare’s _Henry VI_ is the remark:
“I’ll make thee eat iron like an ostrich, and swallow my sword.”

Readers of Goldsmith’s _Animated Nature_,[32] published more than a
century later (1774) as a popular book of instruction in natural history
(about which he knew nothing by practical observation outside of an
Irish county or two), learned that ostriches “will devour leather, hair,
glass, stones, anything that is given them, but all metals lose a part
of their weight and often the extremities of the figure.” That the
people remembered this is shown by the fact that zoölogical gardens have
lost many specimens of these birds, which seem to have a very weak sense
of taste, because of their swallowing copper coins and other metallic
objects fed to them by experimental visitors, which they could neither
assimilate nor get rid of. It is quite likely that the bird’s reputation
for living on iron was derived from similarly feeding the captive
specimens kept for show in Rome and various Eastern cities, the fatal
results of which were unnoticed by the populace. The wild ostrich
contents itself with taking into its gizzard a few small stones, perhaps
picked up and swallowed accidentally, which assist it in grinding hard
food, as is the habit of many ground-feeding fowls. Much the same
delusion exists with regard to the emeu.

If I were to repeat a tithe of the absurdities and medical superstitions
(or pure quackery) related of birds in the “bestiaries,” as the books of
the later medieval period answering to our natural histories were named,
the reader would soon tire of my pages; but partly as a sample, and
partly because the pelican is not only familiar in America but is
constantly met in proverbs, in heraldry, and in ecclesiastical art and
legend, I think it worth while to give some early explanations of the
curious notion expressed in the heraldic phrase “the pelican in its
piety.” It stands for a very ancient misunderstanding of the action of a
mother-pelican alighting on her nest, and opening her beak so that her
young ones may pick from her pouch the predigested fish she offers them
within it. As the interior of her mouth is reddish, she appeared to some
imaginative observer long ago to display a bleeding breast at which her
nestlings were plucking. Now observe how, according to Hazlitt,[84] that
medieval nature-fakir, Philip de Thaum, who wrote _The Anglo-Norman
Bestiary_ about 1120, embroiders his ignorance to gratify the appetite
of his age for marvels—sensations, as we say nowadays—and so sell his
book:

  “Of such a nature it is,” he says of the pelican, “when it comes to
  its young birds, and they are great and handsome, and it will fondle
  them, cover them with its wings; the little birds are fierce, take
  to pecking it—desire to eat it and pick out its two eyes; then it
  pecks and takes them, and slays them with torment; and thereupon
  leaves them—leaves them lying dead—then returns on the third day, is
  grieved to find them dead, and makes such lamentation, when it sees
  its little birds dead, that with its beak it strikes its body that
  the blood issues forth; the blood goes dropping, and falls on its
  young birds—the blood has such quality that by it they come to
  life——”

and so on, all in sober earnest. But he made a botch of it, for earlier
and better accounts show that the male bird kills the youngsters because
when they begin to grow large they rebel at his control and provoke him;
when the mother returns she brings them to life by pouring over them her
blood. Moreover, there crept in a further corruption of the legend to
the effect that the nestlings were killed by snakes, as Drayton writes
in his _Noah’s Flood_:

           By them there sat the loving pellican
           Whose young ones, poison’d by the serpent’s sting,
           With her own blood again to life doth bring.

St. Jerome seems to have had this version in mind when he made the
Christian application, saying that as the pelican’s young, “killed by
serpents,” were saved by the mother’s blood, so was the salvation by the
Christ related to those dead in sin. This point is elaborated somewhat
in my chapter on _Symbolism_.

Before I leave this bird I want to quote a lovely paragraph on pelican
habits, far more modern than anything “medieval,” for it is taken from
the _Arctic Zoölogy_ (1784) of Thomas Pennant, who was a good
naturalist, but evidently a little credulous, although the first half of
the quotation does not overstrain our faith. He is speaking of pelicans
that he saw in Australia, and explains:

  They feed upon fish, which they take sometimes by plunging from a
  great height in the air and seizing like the gannet; at other times
  they fish in concert, swimming in flocks, and forming a large circle
  in the great rivers which they gradually contract, beating the water
  with their wings and feet in order to drive the fish into the
  centre; which when they approach they open their vast mouths and
  fill their pouches with their prey, then incline their bills to
  empty the bag of the waters; after which they swim to shore and eat
  their booty in quiet.... It is said that when they make their nests
  in the dry deserts, they carry the water to their young in the vast
  pouches, and that the lions and beasts of prey come there to quench
  their thirst, sparing the young, the cause of this salutary
  provision. Possibly on this account the Egyptians style this bird
  the _camel of the river_—the Persians tacub, or water-carrier.

Now let us look at the Trochilus legend, and trace how an African plover
became changed into an American hummingbird. The story, first published
by Herodotus, that some sort of bird enters the mouth of a Nile
crocodile dozing on the sand with its jaws open, and picks bits of food
from the palate and teeth, apparently to the reptile’s satisfaction, is
not altogether untrue. The bird alluded to is the Egyptian plover, which
closely resembles the common British lapwing; and there seems to be no
doubt that something of the sort does really take place when crocodiles
are lying with open mouth on the Nile bank, as they often do. This
lapwing has a tall, pointed crest standing up like a spur on the top of
its head, and this fact gives “point,” in more senses than one, to the
extraordinary version of the Herodotus story in one of the old plays,
_The White Devil_, by John Webster (1612), where an actor says:

  “Stay, my lord! I’ll tell you a tale. The crocodile, which lives in
  the river Nilus, hath a worm breeds i’ the teeth of ’t, which puts
  it to extreme anguish: a little bird, no bigger than a wren, is
  barber-surgeon to this crocodile; flies into the jaws of ’t, picks
  out the worm, and brings present remedy. The fish, glad of ease, but
  ingrateful to her that did it, that the bird may not talk largely of
  her abroad for nonpayment, closeth her chaps, intending to swallow
  her, and so put her to perpetual silence. But nature, loathing such
  ingratitude, hath armed this bird with a quill or prick on the head,
  top o’ the which wounds the crocodile i’ the mouth, forceth her open
  her bloody prison, and away flies the pretty tooth-picker from her
  cruel patient.”

A most curious series of mistakes has arisen around this matter.
Linguists tell us that the common name among the ancient Greeks for a
plover was _trochilus_ (τροχίλος), and that this is the word used by
Herodotus for his crocodile-bird. But in certain passages of his
_History of Animals_ Aristotle uses this word to designate a wren; it
has been supposed that this was a copyist’s error, writing carelessly
τροχίλος for ’ορχίλος, but it was repeated by Pliny in recounting what
Herodotus had related, and this naturally led to the statement by some
medieval compilers that the crocodile’s tooth-cleaner was a wren. This,
however, is not the limit of the confusion, for when American
hummingbirds became known in Europe, and were placed by some naturalists
of the 17th century in the Linnæan genus (Trochilus) with the wrens, one
writer at least, Paul Lucas, 1774 (if Brewer’s _Handbook_ may be
trusted), asserted that the hummingbird as well as the lapwing entered
the jaws of Egyptian crocodiles—and that he had seen them do it!

This curious tissue of right and wrong was still further embroidered by
somebody’s assertion that the diminutive attendant’s kindly purpose was
“to pick from the teeth a little insect” that greatly annoyed the huge
reptile. Even Tom Moore knew no better than to write in _Lalla Rookh_ of

             The puny bird that dares with pleasing hum
             Within the crocodile’s stretched jaws to come.

The full humor of this will be perceived by those who remember that
hummingbirds are exclusively American—not Oriental. Finally Linnæus
confirmed all this mixture of mistakes by fastening the name Trochilidæ
on the Hummingbird family.

Finally, John Josselyn, Gent., in his _Rarities of New England_, calls
our American chimney-swift a “troculus,” and describes its nesting
absurdly thus:

  The troculus—a small bird, black and white, no bigger than a
  swallow, the points of whose feathers are sharp, which they stick
  into the sides of the chymney (to rest themselves, their legs being
  exceedingly short) where they breed in nests made like a swallow’s
  nest, but of a glewy substance; and which is not fastened to the
  chymney as a swallow’s nest, but hangs down the chymney by a
  clew-like string a yard long. They commonly have four or five young
  ones; and when they go away, which is much about the time that
  swallows used to depart, they never fail to throw down one of their
  young birds into the room by way of gratitude. I have more than once
  observed, that, against the ruin of the family, these birds will
  suddenly forsake the house, and come no more.

Another unfortunate but long-accepted designation in systematic
ornithology was attached by Linnæus to the great bird of paradise in
naming this species _Paradisea apoda_ (footless); and it was done
through an even worse misunderstanding than in the case of Trochilus—or
else as a careless joke. It is true that at that time no perfect
specimen had been seen in Europe; yet it is hard to understand Linné’s
act, for he could not have put more faith in the alleged natural
footlessness of this bird than in the many other marvelous qualities
ascribed to it. Wallace has recounted some of these myths in his _Malay
Archipelago_.[35]

  When the earliest European voyagers reached the Moluccas in search
  of cloves and nutmegs, they were presented with the dried skins of
  birds so strange and beautiful as to excite the admiration even of
  those wealth-seeking rovers. The Malay traders gave them the name of
  “manuk dewata,” or God’s birds; and the Portuguese, finding they had
  no feet or wings, and being unable to learn anything authentic about
  them, called them “passares de sol” or birds of the sun; while the
  learned Dutchmen, who wrote in Latin, called them avis paradeus or
  paradise-bird. Jan van Linschoten gives these names in 1598, and
  tells us that no one has seen these birds alive, for they live in
  the air, always turning toward the sun, and never lighting on the
  earth till they die; for they have neither feet nor wings, as he
  adds, may be seen by the birds carried to India, and sometimes to
  Holland, but being very costly they were rarely seen in Europe. More
  than a hundred years later Mr. William Fennel, who accompanied
  Dampier ... saw specimens at Amboyna and was told that they came to
  Banda to eat nutmegs, which intoxicated them, and made them fall
  senseless, when they were killed by ants. [Tavernier explains that
  the ants ate away their legs—thus accounting for the footlessness.]

It is to this nutmeg dissipation that Tom Moore alludes in _Lalla
Rookh_:

           Those golden birds that in the spice time drop
           About the gardens, drunk with that sweet fruit
           Whose scent has lured them o’er the summer flood.

The unromantic fact was that the natives of the Moluccas then, as now,
after skilfully shooting with arrows or blow-guns and skinning the
(male) birds, cut off the legs and dusky wings and folded the prepared
skin about a stick run through the body and mouth, in which form
“paradise-birds” continued to come to millinery markets in New York and
London. A somewhat similar blunder in respect to swallows (or swifts?)
has given us in the martlet, as a heraldic figure, a quaint perpetuation
of an error in natural history. “Even at the present day,” remarks Fox
Davies,[111] speaking of England, “it is popularly believed that the
swallow has no feet ... at any rate the heraldic swallow is never
represented with feet, the legs terminating with the feathers that cover
the shank.”

I do not know where Dryden got the information suggesting his
comparison, in _Threnodia Augustalis_, “like birds of paradise that
lived on mountain dew”; but the idea is as fanciful as the modern Malay
fiction that this bird drops its egg, which bursts as it approaches the
earth, releasing a fully developed young bird. Another account is that
the hen lays her eggs on the back of her mate. Both theories are wild
guesses in satisfaction of ignorance, for no one yet knows precisely the
breeding-habits of these shy forest-birds, the females of which are
rarely seen. Dryden may have read that in Mexico, as a Spanish traveller
reported, hummingbirds live on dew; or he may have heard of the medieval
notion that ravens were left to be nourished by the dews of heaven, and,
with poetic license to disregard classification, transferred the feat to
the fruit-eating birds of paradise.

Next comes that old yarn about geese that grow on trees. When or where
it arose nobody knows, but somewhere in the Middle Ages, for Max Müller
quotes a cardinal of the 11th century who represented the goslings as
bursting, fully fledged, from fruit resembling apples. A century later
(1187) Giraldus Cambrensis, an archdeacon reproving laxity among the
priests in Ireland, condemns the practice of eating barnacle geese in
Lent on the plea that they are fish; and soon afterward Innocent III
forbade it by decree. Queer variants soon appeared. A legend relating to
Ireland inscribed on a Genoese world-map, and described by Dr. Edward L.
Stevenson in a publication of The Hispanic Society (New York) reads:
“Certain of their trees bear fruit which, decaying within, produces a
worm which, as it subsequently develops, becomes hairy and feathered,
and, provided wings, flies like a bird.”

An extensive clerical literature grew up in Europe in discussion of the
ethics of this matter, for the monks liked good eating and their Lenten
fare was miserably scanty, and a great variety of explanations of the
alleged marine birth of these birds—ordinary geese (_Branta bernicla_)
when mature—were contrived. That something of the kind was true nobody
in authority denied down to the middle of the 17th century, when a
German Jesuit, Gaspar Schott, was bold enough to declare that although
the birth-place of this uncommon species of goose was unknown (it is now
believed to breed in Spitzbergen and Nova Zembla), undoubtedly it was
produced from incubated eggs like any other goose. Nevertheless the
fable was reaffirmed in the _Philosophical Transactions_ of the Scottish
Royal Society for 1677. Henry Lee[36] recalls two versions of the absurd
but prevalent theory. One is that certain trees, resembling willows, and
growing always close to the sea, produced at the ends of their branches
fruits in the shape of apples, each containing the embryo of a goose,
which, when the fruit was ripe, fell into the water and flew away. The
other is that the geese were bred from a fungus growing on rotten timber
floating at sea, and were first developed in the form of worms in the
substance of the wood.

It is plain that this fable sprang from the similitude to the wings of
tiny birds of the feathery arms that sessile barnacles reach out from
their shells to clutch from the water their microscopic food, and also
to the remote likeness the naked heads and necks of young birds bear to
stalked or “whale” barnacles (Lepas). Both these cirripeds are found
attached to floating wood, and sometimes to tree-branches exposed to
waves and to high tides. The deception so agreeable to hungry churchmen
was abetted by the etymologies in the older dictionaries. Dr. Murray,
editor of _The New Oxford Dictionary_, asserts, however, that the origin
of the word “barnacle” is not known, but that certainly it was applied
to the mature goose before its was given to the cirriped.

Speaking of geese, what is the probable source of the warning “Don’t
kill the goose that lays the golden eggs” beyond or behind the obvious
moral of Æsop’s familiar fable? The only light on the subject that has
come to me is the following passage in Bayley’s[24] somewhat esoteric
book:

  The Hindoos represent Brahma, the Breath of Life, as riding upon a
  goose, and the Egyptians symbolized Seb, the father of Osiris, as a
  goose.... According to the Hindoo theory of creation the Supreme
  Spirit laid a golden egg resplendent as the sun, and from the golden
  egg was born Brahma, the progenitor of the Universe. The Egyptians
  had a similar story, and described the sun as an egg laid by the
  primeval goose, in later times said to be a god. It is probable that
  our fairy tale of the goose that laid the golden egg is a relic of
  this very ancient mythology.

These notions in India probably were the seed of a Buddhist legend that
comes a little nearer to our quest. According to this legend the Buddha
(to be) was born a Brahmin, and after growing up was married and his
wife bore him three daughters. After his death he was born again as a
golden mallard (which is a duck), and determined to give his golden
feathers one by one for the support of his former family. This
beneficence went on, the mallard-Bodhisat helping at intervals by a gift
of a feather. Then one day the mother proposed to pluck the bird clean,
and, despite the protests of the daughters, did so. But at that instant
the golden feathers ceased to be golden. His wings grew again, but they
were plain white. It may be added that the Pali word for golden goose is
_hansa_, whence the Latin _anser_, goose, German _gans_, the root, _gan_
appearing in our words gander and gannet; so that it appears that the
“mallard” was a goose, after all—and so was the woman!

This may not explain Æsop, for that fabulist told or wrote his moral
anecdotes a thousand years before Buddhism was heard of; but it is
permissible to suppose that so simple a lesson in bad management might
have been taught in India ages before Æsop (several of whose fables have
been found in early Egyptian papyri), and was only repeated, in a new
dressing, by good Buddhists, as often happens with stories having a
universal appeal to our sense of practical philosophy or of humor.

We have had occasion to speak of the eagle in many different aspects, as
the elected king of the birds, as an emblem of empire, and so on, but
there remain for use in this chapter some very curious attributes
assigned to the great bird by ancient wonder-mongers that long ago would
have been lost in the discarded rubbish of primitive ideas—mental toys
of the childhood of the world—had they not been preserved for us in the
undying pages of literature. Poetry, especially, is a sort of museum of
antique inventions, preserving for us specimens—often without labels—of
speculative stages in the early development of man’s comprehension of
nature.

In the case of the eagle (as a genus, in the Old World not always
clearly distinguished from vultures and the larger hawks) it is
sometimes difficult to say whether some of its legendary aspects are
causes or effects of others. Was its solar quality, for example, a cause
or a consequence of its supposed royalty in the bird tribe? The
predatory power, lofty flight, and haughty yet noble mien of the true
eagle, may account for both facts, together or separately. It would be
diving too deeply into the murky depths of mythology to show full proof,
but it may be accepted that everywhere, at least in the East, the
fountain of superstitions, the eagle typified the sun in its divine
aspect. This appears as a long-accepted conception at the very dawn of
history among the sun-worshippers of the Euphrates Valley, and it
persisted in art and theology until Christianity remodelled such
“heathen” notions to suit the new trend of religious thought, and
transformed the “bird of fire” into a symbol of the Omnipotent Spirit—an
ascription which artists interpreted very liberally.

In Egypt a falcon replaced it in its religious significance, true eagles
being rare along the Nile, and “eagle-hawks” were kept in the sun-gods’
temples, sacred to Horus (represented with a hawk-head surmounted by a
sun-disk), Ra, Osiris, Seku, and other solar divinities. “It was
regarded,” as Mr. Cook explains in _Zeus_,[37] “as the only bird that
could look with unflinching gaze at the sun, being itself filled with
sunlight, and eventually akin to fire.” Later, people made it the sacred
bird of Apollo, and Mithraic worshippers spoke of Helios as a hawk, but
crude superstitions among the populace were mixed with this priestly
reverence.

It was universally believed of the eagle, that, as an old writer said,
“she can see into the great glowing sun”; few if any were aware that she
could veil her eyes by drawing across the orbs that third eyelid which
naturalists term the nictitating membrane. Hence arose that further
belief, lasting well into the Middle Ages, that the mother-bird proved
her young by forcing them to gaze upon the sun, and discarding those who
shrank from the fiery test—“Like Eaglets bred to Soar, Gazing on Starrs
at heaven’s mysterious Pow’r,” wrote an anonymous poet in 1652. “Before
that her little ones be feathered,” in the words of an old compiler of
marvels quoted by Hulme,[38] “she will beat and strike them with her
wings, and thereby force them to looke full against the sunbeams. Now if
she sees any one of them to winke, or their eies to water at the raies
of the sunne, she turns it with the head foremost out of the nest as a
bastard.”

How many who now read the 103d Psalm, or that fine figure of rhetoric in
Milton’s _Areopagitica_, could explain the full meaning of the
comparison used? The passage referred to is that in which Milton
exclaims: “Methinks I see in my mind a noble and puissant nation rousing
herself like a strong man after sleep.... Methinks I see her renewing
her mighty youth, and kindling her undazzled eyes at the sun.” Milton
evidently expected all his readers to appreciate the value of his
simile—to know that eagles were credited with just this power of
juvenescence. “When,” in the words of an even older chronicler, “an
eagle hathe darkness and dimness in een, and heavinesse in wings,
against this disadvantage she is taught by kinde to seek a well of
springing water, and then she flieth up into the aire as far as she may,
till she be full hot by heat of the air and by travaille of flight, and
so then by heat the pores being opened, and the feathers chafed, and she
falleth sideingly into the well, and there the feathers be chaunged and
the dimness of her een is wiped away and purged, and she taketh again
her might and strength.” Isn’t that a finely constructed tale? Spencer
thought so when he wrote:

            As eagle fresh out of the ocean wave,
            Where he hath left his plumes, all hoary gray,
            And decks himself with feathers, youthful, gay.

Margaret C. Walker[39] elaborates the legend in her excellent book,
suggesting that it may have originated in contemplation of the great age
to which eagles are supposed to live; but to my mind it grew out of the
ancient symbolism that made the eagle represent the sun, which plunges
into the western ocean every night, and rises, its youth renewed every
morning.

  “It is related,” says Miss Walker, “that when this bird feels the
  season of youth is passing by, and when his young are still in the
  nest, he leaves the aging earth and soars toward the sun, the
  consumer of all that is harmful. Mounting upward to the third region
  of the air—the region of meteors—he circles and swings about under
  the great fiery ball in their midst, turning every feather to its
  scorching rays, then, with wings drawn back, like a meteor himself,
  he drops into some cold spring or into the ocean wave there to have
  the heat driven inward by the soul-searching chill of its waters.
  Then flying to his eyrie he nestles among his warm fledglings, till,
  starting into perspiration, he throws off his age with his feathers.
  That his rejuvenescence may be complete, as his sustenance must be
  of youth, he makes prey of his young, feeding on the nestlings that
  have warmed him. He is clothed anew and youth is again his.”

Cruden’s _Concordance_[51] to the Bible, first published in 1737,
contains under “Eagle” a fine lot of old Semitic misinformation as to
the habits of eagles, which Cruden gives his clerical readers apparently
in complete faith and as profitable explanations of the biblical
passages in which that bird is mentioned. Allow me to quote some of
these as an addition to our collection, for I find them retained without
comment in the latest edition of this otherwise admirable work:

  It is said that when an eagle sees its young ones so well-grown, as
  to venture upon flying, it hovers over their nest, flutters with its
  wings, and excites them to imitate it, and take their flight, and
  when it sees them weary or fearful it takes them upon its back, and
  carries them so, that the fowlers cannot hurt the young without
  piercing through the body of the old one.... It is of great courage,
  so as to set on harts and great beasts. And has no less subtility in
  taking them; for having filled its wings with sand and dust, it
  sitteth on their horns, and by its wings shaketh it in their eyes,
  whereby they become an easy prey.... It goeth forth to prey about
  noon, when men are gone home from the fields.

  It hath a little eye, but a very quick sight, and discerns its prey
  afar off, and beholds the sun with open eyes. Such of her young as
  through weakness of sight cannot behold the sun, it rejects as
  unnatural. It liveth long, nor dieth of age or sickness, say some,
  but of hunger, for by age its bill grows so hooked that it cannot
  feed.... It is said that it preserves its nest from poison, by
  having therein a precious stone, named Aetites (without which it is
  thought the eagle cannot lay her eggs ...) and keepeth it clean by
  the frequent use of the herb maidenhair. Unless it be very hungry it
  devoureth not whole prey, but leaveth part of it for other birds,
  which follow. Its feathers, or quills, are said to consume other
  quills that lie near them. Between the eagle and dragon there is
  constant enmity, the eagle seeking to kill it, and the dragon breaks
  all the eagle’s eggs it can find.

If the Jewish eagles are as smart as that, my sympathies are with the
dragon!

The relations between Zeus, or Jupiter, and the eagle, mostly
reprehensible, belong to classic mythology; and they have left little
trace in folklore, which, be it remembered, takes account of living or
supposed realities, not of mythical creatures. The most notable bit,
perhaps, is the widely accepted notion that this bird is never killed by
lightning; is “secure from thunder and unharmed by Jove,” as Dryden
phrases it. Certain common poetic allusions explain themselves, for
instance, that in _The Myrmidons_ of Æschylus:

              So, in the Libyan fable it is told
              That once an eagle, stricken with a dart,
              Said, when he saw the fashion of the shaft,
              ‘With our own feathers, not by others’ hands
              ‘Are we now smitten.’

These little narratives, which are certainly interesting if true—as they
are not—are good examples of the failure to exercise what may be called
the common-sense of science.

Extraordinary indeed are the foolish things that used to be told of
birds by men apparently wise and observant in other, even kindred,
matters. Isaak Walton,[40] for example, so well informed as to fish,
seemed to swallow falsities about other animals as readily as did the
gudgeon Isaak’s bait. He writes in one place, after quoting some very
mistaken remarks about grasshoppers, that “this may be believed if we
consider that when the raven hath hatched her eggs she takes no further
care, but leaves her young ones to the care of the God of Nature, who is
said in the _Psalms_ ‘to feed the young that call upon him.’ And they be
kept alive, and fed by a dew, or worms that breed in their nests, or
some other ways that we mortals know not.”

The origin of this is plain. The ancient Jews told one another that
ravens left their fledglings to survive by chance, not feeding them as
other birds did. This is manifested in several places in the Bible, as
in the 147th Psalm: “He giveth to the beast his food _and_ to the young
ravens which cry”; but this absurd notion is far older, no doubt, than
the Psalms. Aristotle[41] mentions that in Scythia—a terra incognita
where, in the minds of the Greeks, anything might happen—“there is a
kind of bird as big as a bustard, which ... does not sit upon its eggs,
but hides them in the skin of a hare or fox,” and then watches them from
a neighboring perch. Readers may guess at the reality, if any, behind
this. Aristotle seems to have accepted it as a fact, for he goes on to
describe how certain birds of prey are equally devoid of parental sense
of duty; but we cannot be sure what species are referred to, despite the
names used in Cresswell’s translation of the _History of Animals_, as
follows:

  The bird called asprey ... feeds both its young and those of the
  eagle ... for the eagle turns out its young ... before the proper
  time, when they still require feeding and are unable to fly. The
  eagle appears to eject its young from the nest from envy ... and
  strikes them. When they are turned out they begin to scream, and the
  phene comes and takes them up.

Why so strange notions of maternal care in birds should ever have gained
credence in the face of daily observation of the solicitude of every
creature for its young, is one of the puzzles of history, but that they
were widespread is certain, and also that they persisted in folklore
down to the time when, at the dawn of the Renaissance, observation and
research began to replace blind confidence in ancient lore. Thus J. E.
Harting,[42] in his well-known treatise on the natural history in
Shakespeare, quotes from a Latin folio of 1582 in support of his
statement that “it was certainly a current belief in olden times that
when the raven saw its young newly hatched, and covered with down, it
conceived such an aversion that it forsook them, and did not return to
its nest until a darker plumage showed itself.”

Ravens have quite enough sins to answer for and calumnies to live down
without adding to the list this murderous absurdity, contrary to the
very first law of bird-nature. Nevertheless the poets, as usual, take
advantage of the thought (for its moral picturesqueness, I suppose), as
witness Burns’s lines in _The Cotter’s Saturday Night_—

             That he who stills the raven’s clamorous nest

                    ·       ·       ·       ·       ·

             Would in the way his wisdom sees the best,
             For them and for their little ones provide.

It is plain that the plowman-poet was too canny to believe it, but
perhaps it is well to say that there is no foundation in fact for this
extraordinary charge. Ravens are faithful and careful parents: in fact
Shakespeare makes a character in _Titus Andronicus_ mention that “some
say that ravens foster forlorn children,” a view quite the opposite of
the other.

Another calumny is thoughtlessly repeated by Brewer[34] in his widely
used reference-book _Phrase and Fable_ (which unfortunately is far from
trustworthy in the department of natural history) when he records:
“Ravens by their acute sense of smell, discern the savor of dying
bodies, and under the hope of preying on them, light on chimney-tops or
flutter about sick-rooms.”

The correction to be made here is not to the gruesome superstition but
to the asserted keenness of the bird’s sense of smell. The gathering of
vultures to a dead animal is not by its odor, but by the sight of the
carcass by one, and the noting of signs of that fact by others, who
hasten to investigate the matter. Oliver Goldsmith[32] fell into the
same error when he wrote of the protective value, as he esteemed it, of
this sense in birds in general, “against their insidious enemies”; and
cited the practice of decoymen, formerly so numerous as wildfowl
trappers in the east of England, “who burn turf to hide their scent from
the ducks.” The precaution was wasted, for none of the senses in birds
is so little developed or of so small use as the olfactory. Goldsmith’s
_Animated Nature_ was, a century ago, the fountain of almost all popular
knowledge of natural history among English-reading people, and was often
reprinted. As a whole it was a good and useful book, but its
accomplished author was not a trained naturalist, and absorbed some
statements that were far from authentic—perhaps in some cases he was so
pleased with the narrative that he was not sufficiently critical of its
substance, as in the story of the storks in Smyrna:

  The inhabitants amuse themselves by taking away some of the storks’
  eggs from the nests on their roofs, and replacing them with fowls’
  eggs. “When the young are hatched the sagacious male bird discovers
  the difference of these from their own brood and sets up a hideous
  screaming, which excites the attention of the neighboring storks,
  which fly to his nest. Seeing the cause of their neighbor’s
  uneasiness, they simultaneously commence pecking the hen, and soon
  deprive her of life, supposing these spurious young ones to be the
  produce of her conjugal infidelity. The male bird in the meantime
  appears melancholy, though he seems to conceive she justly merited
  her fate.”

In Goldsmith’s day such contributions to foreign zoology were common.
Even the so-called scientific men of early Renaissance times indulged in
the story-teller’s joy. Albertus Magnus asserted that the sea-eagle and
the osprey swam with one foot, which was webbed, and captured prey with
the other that was armed with talons. Aldrovandus backed him up, and
everybody accepted the statement until Linnæus laughed them out of it by
the simple process of examining the birds. These, you may protest, are
not mistakes but pure fancies; yet it is only a short step from them to
the romance, hardly yet under popular doubt, that the albatross broods
its eggs in a raftlike, floating nest and sleeps on the wing, as you may
read in _Lalla Rookh_:

                 While on a peak that braved the sky
                 A ruined temple tower’d so high
                 That oft the sleeping albatross
                 Struck the wild ruins with her wing,
                 And from her cloud-rocked slumbering
                 Started, to find man’s dwelling there
                 In her own fields of silent air.

Even more poetic is the tale of the death-chant of the swan, still more
than half-believed by most folks, for we constantly use it as a figure
of speech, describing in a word, for example, the final protest of a
discarded office-seeker as his “swan-song.” It is useless to hunt for
the origin of this notion—it was current at any rate in Aristotle’s
time, for he writes: “Swans have the power of song, especially when near
the end of their life, and some persons, sailing near the coast of
Libya, have met many of them in the sea singing a mournful song and have
afterwards seen some of them die.” Pliny, Ælian (who called Greece
“mother of lies”), Pausanias and other more recent philosophers, denied
that there was any truth in this statement; but the sentimental public,
charmed by the pathos of the picture presented to their imaginations,
and refusing to believe that in reality this bird’s only utterance is a
whoop, or a trumpet-like note, have kept it alive aided by the poets who
have found it a useful fancy—for example Byron, who moans

               Place me on Sunium’s marbled steep,
                   Where nothing save the waves and I
               May hear our mutual murmurs sweep;
                   There, swan-like, let me sing and die.

The poets are not to be quarrelled with too severely on this account. It
must be conceded that our literature would have been considerably poorer
had poets declined to accept all that travellers and country folk told
them. Chaucer uses the “swan-song,” and Shakespeare often alludes to it,
as in _Othello_:

                 I will play the swan and die in music.
                 A swan-like end, fading in music.

Even Tennyson has a poem on it, picturing a scene of the most charming
nature, the pensive beauty of which is vastly enhanced by the bold use
of the fable.

It has required both the hard scientific scrutiny of the past century
and a wide scattering of geographical information, to offset in the
minds of most of us the tendency to imagine that “over the hills and far
away” things somehow are picturesquely different from those in our own
humdrum neighborhood, and that perhaps _yonder_ the laws of nature, so
inexorable here, may admit now and then of exceptions. Amber came
from—well, few persons knew precisely whence; and wasn’t it possible
that it _might_ be a concretion of birds’ tears, as some said?

             Around thee shall glisten the loveliest amber
             That ever the sorrowing sea-bird hath wept—

sang an enamored poet.

_Facilis descensus Averni_ is a Latin phrase in constant use, with the
implication that it is difficult to get back—_sed revocare gradus_,
that’s the rub! But how many know that this dark little cliff-ringed
lake near Cumae, in Italy, was anciently so named in the belief that
because of its noxious vapors no bird could fly across it without being
suffocated. Hence a myth placed there an entrance to the nether world,
and, with keen business instincts, the Cumaean sybil intensified her
reputation as a seer by taking as her residence a grotto near this
baleful bit of water.

Who can forget the monumental mistake of that really great and
philosophic naturalist, Buffon, in denying that the voices of American
birds were, or could be, melodious. He said of our exquisite songster,
the wood-thrush, that it represented the song-thrush of Europe which had
at sometime rambled around by the Northern Ocean and made its way into
America; and that it had there, owing to a change of food and climate,
so degenerated that its cry was now harsh and unpleasant, “as are the
cries of all birds that live in wild countries inhabited by savages.”
The danger of error in drawing inferences as to purpose in nature is
great in any case; but it is doubly so when the philosopher is mistaken
as to his supposed facts.

By going back a few decades one might find examples of more or less
amusing errors in natural history to the point of weariness, but with
one or two illustrations from _The Young Ladies’ Book_ (Boston, 1836), I
will bring this chapter to its end. This little volume, doubtless
English in origin, was intended for the entertaining instruction of
school-girls, and in many respects was excellent, but when it ventured
on American ornithology it put some amusing misinformation into its
readers’ minds. It teaches them that our butcherbirds “bait thorns with
grasshoppers to decoy the lesser insectivorous birds into situations
where they may easily be seized”—a beautiful sample of teleological
assumption of motive based on the fact that the shrike sometimes impales
dead grasshoppers, mice and so forth on thorns or fence-splinters,
having learned apparently that that is a good way to hold its prey (its
feet are weak, and unprovided with talons) while it tears away mouthfuls
of flesh. Often the victim is left there, only partly eaten, or perhaps
untorn; and rarely, if ever, does the shrike return to it, and certainly
it attracts no “lesser insectivorous” birds nor any other kind.

The author also instructs his young ladies that “the great American
bittern has the property of emitting a light from its breast,” and so
forth. His authority for this long-persistent and picturesque untruth
was a review of Wilson’s _American Ornithology_ in Loudon’s _Magazine of
Natural History_ (London, Vol. vi., 835.) Speaking of this familiar
marsh-bird, which, let me repeat, has no such aid in making a living, or
need of it, as it is not nocturnal in its habits, the anonymous reviewer
writes:

  It is called by Wilson the great American bittern, but, what is very
  extraordinary, he omits to mention that it has the power of emitting
  a light from its breast, equal to the light of a common torch, which
  illuminates the water so as to enable it to discover its prey.... I
  took some trouble to ascertain the truth of this, which has been
  confirmed to me by several gentlemen of undoubted veracity, and
  especially by Mr. Franklin Peale, the proprietor of the Philadelphia
  Museum.

A similar belief existed in the past in regard to the osprey, which we
in the United States call the fish-hawk. Loskiel (_Mission to the
Indians_, 1794) records it thus: “They say that when it [the fish-hawk]
hovers over the water, it possesses a power of alluring the fish toward
the surface, by means of an oily substance contained in its body. So
much is certain, that, if a bait is touched with this oil, the fish bite
so greedily, that it appears as if it were impossible for them to
resist.” How much of this is native American, and how much is imported
it is hard to determine now.



                               CHAPTER IV
                     THE FOLKLORE OF BIRD MIGRATION


I was sitting on a hillside in the Catskill Mountains a few years ago in
June, when a hawk came sailing over the field below me. Instantly a
kingbird sprang from the edge of the woods and rushed, in the cavalier
manner of that flycatcher, to drive the hawk away, presumably from its
nesting neighborhood. The hawk tried to avoid the pecking and
wing-beating of its furious little foe, but the tormenter kept at it;
and before long I saw the kingbird deliberately leap upward and alight
on the hawk’s broad back, where it rode comfortably until both birds
were out of sight. I have seen a hummingbird indulge in the same piece
of impudence.

The Arawak Indians of Venezuela relate that their ancestors obtained
their first tobacco-plants from Trinidad by sending a hummingbird,
mounted on a crane, to snatch and bring back the jealously guarded
seeds. The association of these birds in this way seems significant.

It was doubtless because adventures similar to that of the kingbird were
noticed long ago, that there grew up the very ancient fable that on one
occasion a general assembly of birds resolved to chose for their king
that bird which could mount highest into the air. This the eagle
apparently did, and all were ready to accept his rule when a loud burst
of song was heard, and perched upon the eagle’s back was seen an
exultant wren that, a stowaway under its wing, had been carried aloft by
the kingly candidate. This trickiness angered the eagle so much, says
one tradition, that he struck the wren with his wing, which, since then,
has been able to fly no higher than a hawthorn-bush. In a German version
a stork, not an eagle, carries the wren aloft concealed under its wing.

W. H. Hudson, the authority on Argentine zoology, says that the
boat-tailed grakle, or “chopi,” pursues all sorts of predatory birds,
even the great caracara eagle, “pouncing down and fastening itself on
the victim’s back, where it holds its place till the obnoxious bird has
left its territory.” Sir Samuel Baker encountered in Abyssinia bands of
cranes walking about in search of grasshoppers, every crane carrying on
its back one or more small flycatchers that from time to time would fly
down, seize an insect in the grass, and then return to a crane’s
shoulders. Precisely the same thing has been recorded of bustards and
starlings in South Africa.

Bird-students are well aware that certain ducks that nest in trees, and
such marine birds as guillemots breeding on sea-fronting cliffs,
sometimes carry down their young from these lofty birth-places by
balancing them on their backs; also that it is a common thing to see
water-fowls, especially grebes and swans, swimming about with a lot of
little ones on deck, that is, on the broad maternal back.

These facts prepare us somewhat for examining the widely credited
assertion that various large birds of powerful flight transport small
birds on their semiannual migrations—a speculation accepted since
classic times, or before them. In _Deuteronomy_, xxxii, II, we read: “As
the eagle fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh
them, beareth them on her wings,” etc. Modern ornithologists scout the
notion. Thus Alfred Newton[55] refers to it in a scornful way, but
admits that it is the conviction not only of Egyptian peasants but of
Siberian Tartars, who assured the ornithologist Gmelin, in 1740, that in
autumn storks and cranes carried southward on their backs all the
Siberian corncrakes. In a Gaelic folk-tale of Cathal O’Couchan a falcon,
knowing that the wren of the story has a long way to go, says: “Spring
up between my wings, and no other bird will touch thee till thou reach
home.”

In fact, this popular notion is almost world-wide, and it is useful to
assemble such evidence as may be had as to the basis of it, for one
cannot well dismiss with a gesture of disdain a theory that appears to
have arisen independently, and from observation, among peoples so widely
separated as those of Siberia and Egypt, of Crete and the Hudson Bay
country; and which continues to be held by competent observers. A German
man of letters, Adolph Ebeling, who published a book of his experiences
in Egypt in 1878, was surprised to find the wagtail there at that
season. This is a small, ground-keeping bird that flits about rather
than flies; and he expressed to an old Arab his astonishment that such
birds should be able to get across the Mediterranean. “The Bedouin,”
Ebeling relates, “turned to me with a mixture of French and Arabic as
follows: ‘Do you not know, noble sir, that these small birds are borne
over the sea by the larger ones?’”

I laughed, but the old man continued quite naturally:

“Every child among us knows that. Those little birds are much too weak
to make the long sea-journey with their own strength. This they know
very well, and therefore wait for the storks and cranes and other large
birds, and settle themselves upon their backs. In this way they allow
themselves to be borne over the sea. The large birds submit to it
willingly, for they like their little guests who by their merry
twitterings help to kill the time on the long voyage.”

Ebeling met that evening, he says, in Cairo, the African explorer
Theodor von Heuglin, who, as all know, was a specialist in African
ornithology, related to him the conversation with the Bedouin, and asked
his opinion on it. “Let others laugh,” said von Heuglin. “I do not
laugh, for the thing is known to me. I should have recently made mention
of it in my work if I had had any strong personal proof to justify it.
We must be much more careful in such matters than a mere story-teller or
novelist.”

A Swedish traveller, Hedenborg, is quoted by August Petermann, the
geographer, as stating that in autumn on the Island of Rhodes, in the
Ægean Sea, when the storks came in flocks across the water he often
heard birds singing that he was unable to discover. “Once he followed a
flock of storks, and as they alighted he saw small birds fly up from
their backs.”

There was published in London in 1875 a book entitled _Bible Lands and
Bible Customs_, the author of which was the Rev. Henry J. Van Lennep,
D.D. Dr. Lennep informs his readers that many small birds are unable to
fly across the Mediterranean, “and to meet such cases the crane has been
provided.... In the autumn numerous flocks may be seen coming from the
north ... flying low and circling over the plains. Little birds of
various species may then be seen flying up to them, while the twittering
songs of those comfortably settled on their backs may then be distinctly
heard.” (Quoted in _Nature_, March 24, 1881). We may smile at the good
man’s faith that God “provided” big birds as carriers for little
ones—especially as we know that the weakest warblers are able to cross
from Europe to Africa; but other equally modern and more matter-of-fact
testimony comes from the same quarter of the world. In _The Evening
Post_, of New York City, dated November 20, 1880, a long letter appeared
on this topic, written by an anonymous correspondent who gave his own
similar experience in Crete in the autumn of 1878, part of which reads:

  “On several occasions the village priest—a friendly Greek with whom
  I spent the greater part of my time—directed my attention to the
  twittering and singing of small birds which he distinctly heard when
  a flock of sand-cranes passed by on their southward journey. I told
  my friend that I could not see any small birds, and suggested that
  the noise came from the wings of the large ones. This he denied,
  saying ‘No, no! I know it is the chirping of small birds. They are
  on the backs of the cranes. I have seen them frequently fly up and
  alight again, and they are always with them when they stop to rest
  and feed.’ I was still sceptical, for with the aid of a field-glass
  I failed to discover the ‘small birds’ spoken of. I inquired of
  several others and found the existence of these little feathered
  companions to be a matter of general belief. ‘They come over from
  Europe with them.’ One day, while fishing about fifteen miles from
  shore, a flock of cranes passed quite near the yacht. The fishermen,
  hearing the ‘small birds,’ drew my attention to their chirping.
  Presently one cried out, ‘There’s one!’ but I failed to catch sight
  of it, whereupon one of the men discharged his flintlock. Three
  small birds rose up from the flock and soon disappeared among the
  cranes.”

This letter, despite its column-length and its anonymity, was copied in
full by that highly scientific journal _Nature_, of London, and this
immediately brought out a note from John Rae, one of the wisest
explorers of northwestern Canada, who related (_Nature_, March 3, 1881)
that it was the general belief among the Maskegan (Cree) Indians
dwelling along the southwestern shore of Hudson Bay that “a small bird,
one of the Fringillidae, performs its northward migration in spring on
the back of the Canada goose. These geese reach Hudson Bay about the
last of April, and the Indians state that when they are fired at little
birds are seen flying away from them.” Mr. Rae adds: “An intelligent,
truthful and educated Indian, named George Rivers ... assured me that he
had witnessed this, and I believe I once saw it occur.”

Almost simultaneously _Forest and Stream_ (New York, March 10, 1881)
printed a communication from J. C. Merrill of Fort Custer, Montana,
alleging “a general belief among the Crow Indians of Montana that the
sandhill crane performs the same office for a bird they call
_napite-shu-utl_, or crane’s back.” Mr. Merrill continued:

  “This bird I have not seen, but from the description it is probably
  a small grebe. It is ‘big medicine’ and when obtained is rudely
  stuffed and carefully preserved.... About ten or fifteen per cent of
  cranes are accompanied by the ‘crane-back,’ which, as the crane
  rises from the ground, flutters up and settles on the back between
  the wings, remaining there until the crane alights. Such is the
  Indian account, and many of their hunters and chiefs have assured me
  that they have frequently seen the birds carried off in this way. At
  these times the bird is said to keep up a constant chattering
  whistle, which is the origin of the custom of the Crow warriors
  going out to battle, each with a small bone whistle in his mouth;
  this is continually blown, imitating the notes of the
  ‘crane’s-back,’ and, as they believe, preserves their ponies and
  themselves from wounds, so that in case of defeat they may be safely
  carried away as is the napite-shu-utl.

  “The Cree Indians are said to observe the same habit in the white
  crane.”

Now there is no good reason to deny the honesty or sneer at the value of
these widely distributed observations so long as they are regarded as
descriptive of exceptions and not of a rule of migration. Neither the
observers nor the reporters had any motive for deception, and are not
likely to deceive themselves in every case—moreover, new witnesses
continually arise. For example: Mr. E. Hagland, of Therien, Alberta,
wrote to me as follows in a casual way, without any prompting, in April,
1919:

  “One fall a flock of cranes passed over me flying very low, and
  apart from their squawking I could distinctly hear the twittering of
  small birds, sparrows of some kind. The chirping grew louder as the
  cranes drew towards me, and grew fainter as they drew away; and as
  the cranes were the only birds in sight I concluded that little
  birds were taking a free ride to the south.”

The manner of flight of sandhill cranes as described by Dr. Elliott
Coues[50] suggests why they might well be utilized as common carriers by
small birds going their way. “Such ponderous bodies, moving with slowly
beating wings, give a great idea of momentum from mere weight ... for
they plod along heavily, seeming to need every inch of their ample wings
to sustain themselves.” This would make it easy and tempting for a tired
little migrant to rest its feet on the crane’s broad back—and once
settled there, why not stay?

The flaw in this whole matter is the unwarranted inference made by the
Bedouins who talked with Herr Ebling, and by wiser persons, namely, that
_all_ the wagtails and other little birds annually perform their
overseas journeys by aid of stronger-winged friends. That is reasoning
from some to all, which is bad logic. It is as if a stranger in town
noticed a few schoolboys hopping on the back of a wagon, and immediately
noted down that in Pequaket boys in general rode to school on the
tailboards of farm-wagons. Little birds, like small boys, have sense
enough in their migrations to utilize a convenience when it is going
their way—in other words a very few lucky ones each year manage to
“steal a ride.”

Thus far we have been dealing with a matter pretty close to actual
ornithology; but it is only within recent years that study has made
clear to us “the way of an eagle in the air,” which, as a symbol of the
semiannual movement of bird-hosts, was such a mystery to our
forefathers. They imagined many quaint explanations, often no more
sensible than the theory of the Ojibway Indians, who say that once
bird-folk played ball with the North Wind. The latter won the game, and
those kinds of birds who were on his side now stay in the North all
winter, while those of the defeated side are obliged to flee southward
every autumn, as their ancestors did at the end of the great ball-game.

Sir Walter Scott recalls in one of his novels the fond conceit of the
little nuns in the abbey of Whitby, on the Northumberland coast, that
the wee immigrants arriving there after their flight across the North
Sea fluttered to earth not in weariness of wings but to do homage to
Hilda, their saintly abbess. That was fifteen long centuries ago; but
the story is true, for you may still see the ruins, at least, of Hilda’s
abbey, and still, spring by spring, do tired birds pause beside it as if
to pay their devotions.

Much less pleasant is the dread inspired in the hearts of those who
listen to the Seven Whistlers. Formerly no Leicestershire miner would go
down into a pit, after hearing them, until a little time had elapsed,
taking the sounds as a warning that an accident was impending; and
doubtless coincident mishaps occurred often enough to confirm faith in
the presentiment. Level-headed men knew well enough what the Seven
Whistlers were—“it’s them long-billed curlews, but I never likes to hear
’em,” said one. The northern name of these birds is “whimbrel,” a form
of the English _whimperer_. As these curlews when migrating often travel
low on dark nights, and are unseen, it is not strange that their
unearthly cries should chill the imagination of the superstitious, and
that the Scotch should call them “corpse-hounds.” “Gabble retchet” is
another Scotch term; and probably the Irish banshee had a similar
origin. Still another name is “Gabriel hounds,” originating, it is
thought in Scandinavia, and explained by the fact that there the calling
to one another of bean-geese in their nocturnal journeys, in spring,
have a singular resemblance to the yelping of beagles; and the story is
that Gabriel is obliged to follow his spectral pack, said to be
human-headed, high in the dark air, as a punishment for having once
hunted on Sunday.

Wordsworth in one of his sonnets connects this belief with the German
legend of the Wild Huntsman, “doomed the flying hart to chase forever on
aërial grounds.” A Lancashire explanation, quoted by Moncure D. Conway
is that these migrants, there deemed to be plovers, were “Wandering
Jews,” so called because they contained the souls of Jews who assisted
at the Crucifixion, and in consequence were condemned to float in the
air forever. A curious coincidence, given by Skeat,[7] is that the
Malays have an elaborate story of a spectral huntsman, and hear him in
the nocturnal notes of the birikbirik, a nightjar.

It is hardly more than a century ago that intelligent men abandoned the
belief that certain birds hibernated in hollow trees, caverns, or even
buried themselves every autumn in the mud at the bottom of ponds, and
then recovered in the spring. This theory is of great antiquity, and was
applied especially to the swallows, swifts, nightingales and corncrakes
of the Mediterranean region; but even Aristotle doubted whether it was
true of all birds. He discusses at some length in his _Natural
History_[41] the winter retreat of fishes and other creatures that
hibernate, and continues:

  “Many kinds of birds also conceal themselves, and they do not all,
  as some suppose, migrate to warmer climes ... and many swallows have
  been seen in hollow places almost stripped of feathers; and kites,
  when they first showed themselves, have come from similar
  situations.... Some of the doves conceal themselves; others do not,
  but migrate along with the swallows. The thrush and the starling
  also conceal themselves.”

I have an unverified memorandum from the pen of Antonio Galvano, who
resided in Mexico, long ago, that in his time hummingbirds “live of the
dew, and the juyce of flowers and roses. They die or sleepe every yeere
in the moneth of October, sitting upon a little bough in a warme and
close place: they revive or wake againe in the moneth of April after
that the flowers be sprung, and therefore they call them the revived
birds.”

Even Gilbert White,[45] was inclined to think hibernation might be true,
at least of British swallows; and Cowper sings—

                   The swallows in their torpid state
                   Compose their useless wings.

Alexander Wilson[46] thought it necessary to combat vigorously the same
fiction then persistent among Pennsylvania farmers, and did so at length
in his _American Ornithology_ published in 1808.

But the wildest hypothesis was the one prevalent in the Middle Ages and
alluded to by Dryden in his poem _The Hind and The Panther_, speaking of
young swallows in autumn:

      They try their fluttering wings and trust themselves in air,
      But whether upward to the moon they go,
      Or dream the winter out in caves below,
      Or hawk for flies elsewhere, concerns us not to know.
      Southwards, you may be sure, they bent their flight,
      And harbored in a hollow rock by night.

Or as Gay’s shepherd surmises:[8]

            He sung where woodcocks in the summer feed,
            And in what climates they renew their breed;
            Some think to northern coasts their flight tend,
            Or to the moon in midnight hours ascend:
            When swallows in the winter season keep,
            And how the drowsy bat and dormouse sleep.

A quaint theological justification of this theory that birds fly to the
moon as a winter-resort is to be found in Volume VI of _The Harleian
Miscellany_. It is entitled “An Inquiry into the Physical and Literal
Sense of the Scriptures,” and is an exegesis of Jeremiah viii, 7: “The
stork in the heaven knoweth her appointed time, and the turtle and the
crane and the swallow observe the time of their coming.” The reverend
commentator, whose name is lost, begins at once to explain migration
among birds. He first assures his readers that many birds, including
storks, often fly on migration at a height that renders them
indiscernible. Now, he argues, if the flight of storks had been in a
horizontal direction flocks of birds would have been seen frequently by
travellers—ignoring the fact that they are and always have been
observed. But, he goes on, as the flight is not horizontal it must be
perpendicular to the surface of the earth, and, therefore, it becomes
clear that the moon would be the first resting-place the birds would be
likely to strike, whereupon he draws this conclusion: “Therefore the
stork, and the same may be said of other season-observing birds, till
some place more fit can be assigned to them, does go unto, and remain in
some one of the celestial bodies; and that must be the moon, which is
most likely because nearest, and bearing most relation to this our
earth, as appears in the Copernican scheme; yet is the distance great
enough to denominate the passage thither an itineration or journey.”

The author next clinches the matter by taking the time that the stork is
absent from its nesting-place, and showing how it is utilized. Two
months are occupied in the upward flight, three for rest and
refreshment, and two more for the return passage. Thus this ingenious
writer lays what he considers a solid scientific foundation beneath an
ancient and vague theory.

The sudden vanishing of some migratory birds while others resembling
them remained in view gave to ancient ignorance—not yet altogether
dissipated, even in these United States—the belief that a bird might
change into the form of another. The difference noticed in plumage in
some species in summer and winter was accounted for in the same way, as
many old Greek myths illustrate. Thus Sophocles, trying in one of his
dramas to explain an inconsistency between two versions of the myth of
Tereus, declares that the hoopoe of the older story is the hawk of the
newer one—the birds were altered, not the narrative. He was easily
believed, for to the Greeks of his day it appeared plain that birds
might become transformed into others birds. Aristotle took great pains
to show the absurdity of this notion, yet it has held on. Swann tells of
an Englishman who declared that it was well-known that sparrow-hawks
changed into cuckoos in spring; and another old belief is that the
European land-rail becomes in winter the water-rail, resuming its own
form in spring. A French name for the land-rail, by the way, is “king of
the quails,” because the quails chose it as leader in their migrations.

One of the most picturesque incidents in the story of the
wilderness-roving of the Children of Israel, who were “murmuring” for
the fleshpots of Egypt, is the sudden coming of quails that “filled the
camp.” The interpretation is plain that a migratory host of these birds
had settled for the night where the Hebrews, or some of them, were; and
the notable point is their abundance, and that they had disappeared when
morning came, which is characteristic. These quails visit Europe in
summer in prodigious numbers from south of the Mediterranean, and are
netted for market by tens of thousands. It is said that in old times the
bishops of Capri—Italy receives the greatest flight—derived a large part
of their wealth from a tax on the catching of quails. Pliny alleges, as
an example of the immense migrations of these quails in his time, that
often, always at night, they settled on the sails of ships and so sank
them. This really seems possible when one thinks of the small size of
the “ships” of that period, and recalls that flights of our own
migrating pigeons (now extinct) used to smash down stout branches of
trees by the weight of the crowds of birds that settled on them.

Cranes are birds of striking characteristics, as we have seen, and seem
to have impressed very forcibly the ancient Greeks as well as recent
Orientals, the latter finding in them an extraordinary symbolism. The
Greeks believed that during their winter absence the cranes were in
constant battle with the Pygmies—“That small infantry warred on by
cranes,” as Milton characterized those diminutive, but pugnacious folks
who lived no one knew exactly where, but certainly at the ends of the
earth. “The cranes travel,” Aristotle records, “from Scythia to the
marshes in the higher parts of Egypt from which the Nile originates.
This is the place where the Pygmies dwell; and this is no fable, for
there is really, it is said, a race of dwarfs, both men and horses,
which lead the life of troglodytes.”

        When the shrill clouds of Cranes do give alarmes,
        The valiant _Pigmy_ stands unto his armes:
        Straight, too weak for the _Thracian_ bird, he’s swept,
        And through the eye in crooked tallons rapt.[48]

But this is only one item in the crane’s list of wonders. When this bird
migrates it always flies against the wind, according to ancient
bird-minders, and carries a swallowed stone as ballast so that it may
not be swept out of its course by a change of wind; and this stone when
it is vomited up is useful as a touchstone for gold. Aristotle had heard
of this ballasting precaution, and expressly denies it, but he says
nothing about other stones associated with the history of the bird,
perhaps because they had not been discovered in his day. The sagacious
cranes were also said to post sentinels, while halting at night, and to
insure their necessary vigilance these sentinels were required to stand
on one foot, and to hold in the other, uplifted one a large stone.
Should one of these sentinel-birds drowse the stone would drop and by
its noise awaken the sleepy sentry. This explains the fact that in
British heraldry the crane is always represented with a bit of rock in
its fist, the pose signifying “vigilance.”

Lyly,[49] in that queer old book _Euphues_, confesses: “What I have done
was only to keep myselfe from sleepe, as the Crane doth the Stone in her
foote; and I would also, with the same Crane, that I had been silent,
holding a Stone in my mouth.” His 16th-century readers understood this
second simile, for they remembered that cranes were said to be thus
gagged when migrating, so as not to utter any cries that would bring
eagles or other birds of prey to attack them.

This, perhaps, will be the most appropriate place to mention some other
quaint but widely credited stories of birds possessed of stones,
although they are not usually connected with migratory habits.

The people of Rome in the old days were told of a crystalline stone
called _alectorius_, as large as a bean, to be found in the gizzard of
the barnyard cock. It was held to have wonderful properties, endowing
its possessor with strength, courage, and success with women and money,
and to this apparently complete list of virtues is added by one
historian the quality of invisibility. This last virtue also pertained
to the stone placed by the raven in the throat of its fledgling, but the
formalities described as necessary for anyone who sought to obtain it
were quite impossible to fulfil. “It may, indeed,” as Hulme[38] remarks,
“have had the same effect on the original owner, as there could scarcely
be an authentic instance of such peculiar property being found.” On the
other hand we are told that a stone from the hoopoe, when laid upon the
breast of a sleeping man, forced him to reveal any rogueries he might
have committed.

It is stated in Cassell’s _Natural History_ (Vol. IV), that in India
exists a popular superstition that if you will split the head of an
adjutant stork before death you may extract from the skull “the
celebrated stone called _zahir mora_, or ‘poison-killer,’ of great
virtue and repute as an antidote to all kinds of poison.” One would
suppose that all the adjutants in India would long ago have been
exterminated, but in fact this is one of the most numerous of birds
there—the scavenger of every village.

The common swallow was once believed to have two of these miraculous
stones stowed away somewhere in its interior. One was red, and cured an
invalid instantly: the other, a black one, brought good fortune. Also,
it was reported, swallows found on a seabeach, by some sort of
inspiration, a particular kind of stone which would restore sight to the
blind; and it was to this legend that Longfellow alluded in
_Evangeline_—

 Seeking with eager eyes that wondrous stone which the swallow
 Brings from the shore of the sea to restore the sight of her fledglings.

Various birds also gave, or strengthened, sight to their young by means
of certain plants mentioned by old herbalists. Finally, it should not be
overlooked that on page 152 of the most recent edition of Cruden’s
celebrated _Concordance_[51] to the Bible, among the generally
astonishing notes beneath the word “eagle” is printed the following: “It
is said that it preserves its nest from poison, by having therein a
precious stone, named Aetites (without which it is thought the eagle
cannot lay her eggs, and which some use to prevent abortion and help
delivery in women, by tying it above or below the navel) and keepeth it
clean by the frequent use of the herb maiden-hair.”

Now it is all well enough to find this information in the writings of
Pliny senior, who alleges that these “eagle-stones” (in fact natural
hollow nodules of iron-impregnated clay) were transported by nesting
eagles to their domiciles to assist them in ovulation, whence by
analogy—recognizing unwittingly the kinship of men and animals—they
would aid women in travail, and to smile over it with the shrewd editor
of _Vulgar Errors_,[33] but it is odd to find such an absurdity
recommended by a modern clergyman as “profitable” material for sermons.

Let me round out this chapter with that recognition of bird-migration in
the custom among the Vikings of the 8th and 9th centuries of saying as
they embarked upon some raid upon the coasts south of them that they
were “following the swan’s path.”



                               CHAPTER V
                           NOAH’S MESSENGERS


Our first thought when we hear the word “deluge” is of Noah and his Ark,
and the funny toy of our childhood rises to the mind’s eye. In that
childhood we had no doubt that the flood described in the first book of
the Old Testament covered the whole globe. Now we know that the story is
a Semitic tradition, perhaps nothing more than a sun-myth in origin,
although the actual occurrence of some extraordinary inundation may have
got mixed with it and localized it. In fact, the belief in an
all-submerging deluge, or, in what is its equivalent—namely, a time when
the world was a plain of water with no land above its quiet surface—is a
part of the mythology or theology, or both, of many diverse peoples in
both hemispheres; and almost always birds are prominently associated
with its incidents and the ensuing separation of land from water.

A surprising number of persons of ordinary intelligence even now, and in
this enlightened country, continue to regard beds of water-worn gravels,
and the fossil shells, etc., seen in the rocks, as relics of the
Noachian deluge, and “diluvian” and “antediluvian” are terms that hardly
yet have disappeared from popular geology.

The earliest available accounts of such a deluge as the Noachian are
engraved on clay tablets recovered from the ruins of Babylonia, and
written 2000 or more years before the beginning of the Christian era.
Several narratives have been deciphered, agreeing in the facts of a vast
destruction by water in Mesopotamia, and of a relatively huge house-boat
built by a chosen family for the preservation of themselves and an
extensive collection of livestock. After floating about for seven days
this Babylonian ship grounded on a submerged hill-top, and seven days
later the patriarchal shipmaster sent out as explorers a dove, a
swallow, and a raven. The dove and the swallow returned, the raven did
not.

The close similarity between this and the Biblical account of Noah’s
voyage on a world of waters (which account appears to be a combination
of two separate legends) leads to the opinion that the whole narrative
is derived from some more ancient and widespread Oriental tradition; and
there seems fair evidence that it does not describe any physical
happening at all, but is a symbolical sun-myth, a hint of which is
given, even in the Bible, by the incident of the rainbow. Let me quote
the history in Genesis so far as it relates to our purpose:

  “And it came to pass at the end of forty days that Noah opened the
  window of the ark which he had made: and he sent forth a raven which
  went forth to and fro until the waters were dried up from off the
  earth. Also he sent forth a dove from him, to see if the waters were
  abated from off the face of the ground. But the dove found no rest
  for the sole of her foot, and she returned unto him into the ark;
  for the waters were on the face of the whole earth. Then he put
  forth his hand and took her, and pulled her in unto him into the
  ark. And he stayed yet other seven days; and again he sent forth the
  dove out of the ark. And the dove came in unto him in the evening,
  and, lo, in her mouth was an olive-leaf plucked off: so Noah knew
  that the waters were abated from off the earth. And he stayed yet
  other seven days, and sent forth the dove, which returned not again
  unto him any more.”

As to the choice of these particular birds out of Noah’s great aviary,
it is well to remember that doves were sacred in ancient Babylonia to
Ishtar, who, as the deified (female) personification of productiveness,
co-existent with the (male) Sun-god, was sometimes designated as
Mother-goddess, or even as “Mother Earth”: so that it would be highly
appropriate to send first a dove as a messenger to this incarnation of
fruitful land. This falls in with Moncure D. Conway’s suggestion[56]
that the dove and raven were tribally “sacred” animals among the people
affected by this Babylonian deluge. The choice of the swallow was
natural, when one remembers its habit of flying long and far over bodies
of water; and that the raven should not come back is in keeping with its
character as much as is the quick return of the semidomestic dove and
swallow. Dr. Laufer[52] notes that St. Ambrose, in his treatise _De Noe
et Area_, devotes a whole chapter to the “crow’s” impiety in not
returning to the Ark. The Arabs, according to Keane,[14] even yet call
this bird “raven of separation,” meaning the separation of the water
from the land at the close of the Flood. Another Arabic source, quoted
by Baring-Gould from the medieval _Chronicle_ of Abou-djafer Tábari,
transmits traditional particulars that considerably extend the
too-laconic Biblical log of the Ark. “When Noah had left the Ark,” it
relates, “he passed forty days on the mountain, till all the water had
subsided into the sea.... Noah said to the raven, ‘Go and place your
foot on the earth, and see what is the depth of the water.’ The raven
departed, but having found a carcass it remained to devour it and did
not return. Noah was provoked, and he cursed the raven, saying, ‘May God
make thee contemptible among men, and let carrion be thy food.’”

Johann von Herder, the poet and friend of Goethe, either found or
invented another story to account for the curse resting on the raven,
which runs thus in the words of an old translator:

  Anxiously did Noah look forth from his swimming ark, waiting to see
  the waters of the flood abate. Scarcely had the peaks of the highest
  mountains emerged from the waves, when he called all the fowls
  around him. “Who among you,” said he, “will be the messenger to go
  forth and see whether the time of our deliverance is nigh?” The
  raven with much noise crowded hastily in before all the rest: he
  longed ardently for his favorite food. Scarcely was the window open,
  when he flew away and returned no more. The ungrateful bird forgot
  his errand and the interests of his benefactor—he hung at his
  carcass! But punishment did not delay. The air was yet filled with
  poisonous fog, and heavy vapors hung over the putrid corpses; these
  blinded his eyes and darkened his feathers. As a punishment for his
  forgetfulness, his memory as well as his sight became dim; even his
  own young he did not recognize; and he experienced towards them no
  feelings of parental joy.

Quoting again the Arab chronicler Abou-djafer Tábari: “After that Noah
sent forth the dove. The dove departed, and without tarrying put her
foot in the water. The water of the Flood scalded and pricked the legs
of the dove. It was hot and briny and feathers would not grow on her
legs any more, and the skin scaled off. Now, doves which have red and
featherless legs are of the sort that Noah sent forth. The dove
returning showed her legs to Noah, who said: ‘May God render thee well
pleasing to men.’ For that reason the dove is dear to men’s hearts.”

Still another Arabic version, given by Gustav Weil, is that Noah blessed
the dove, and since then she has borne a necklace of green feathers; but
the raven he cursed, that its flight should be crooked—never direct like
that of other birds. This is also a Jewish legend. A more modern
addendum is that the magpie, one of the same group of birds, was not
permitted to enter the ark, but was compelled to perch on the roof
because it gabbled so incessantly. A quaint 14th-century manuscript
quoted by Hulme[38] says of the raven’s exit from the ark:

                   Then opin Noe his window
                   Let ut a rauen and forth he flew
                   Dune and vp sought heare and thare
                   A stede to sett upon somequar.
                   Vpon the water sone he fand
                   A drinkled best ther flotand
                       Of that flees was he so fain
                       To ship came he never again.

To this list of messengers medieval tradition added a fourth—the
kingfisher, which in Europe is blue-green above and rich chestnut on the
breast. At that time, however, it was a plain gray bird. This scout flew
straight up to heaven, in order to get a wide survey of the waters, and
went so near the sun that its breast was scorched to its present tint
and its back assumed the color of the sky overhead. (This recalls
Thoreau’s saying that our bluebird carries the sky on its back and the
earth on its breast.)

Faith in a general flood long ago is shown by primitive documents to
have prevailed not only in Asia Minor and eastward, but in Persia, India
and Greece. It did not prevail in Europe generally, nor in Africa. On
the other hand missionaries report traditions of it in Polynesia—where,
curiously, geographers find evidence of great subsidences since the
archipelagoes affected have been inhabited; and certainly it was a part
of the mythical prehistory of many tribes among the aborigines of North
America, where birds were often connected with the adventures of the few
or solitary survivors by means of whom the world was repeopled. Thus
scores, perhaps hundreds, of varying traditions and fables exist of the
creation of the earth out of a chaos of water, or of its restoration
after having been drowned in a universal flood; and often it is hard to
distinguish the creation-myth from the deluge-tale.

The American story-material of this nature may be divided into groups
that would correspond roughly to the various aboriginal language-stocks,
betraying a family likeness in each group, but showing tribal variations
as a rule connected with each particular tribal or mythical “first man,”
or with the totemic ancestor.

The creation-legends, as such, do not concern us much. They are of
purely mythical, supernatural beings of various sorts, descending from
the sky or coming up out of the underworld, and either finding a
readymade earth to dwell upon or else creating one by magic. Some
Southern darkies will tell you that the bluejay made the earth. “When
all de worl’ was water he brung de fust grit er dirt.” The strangest
conception of this kind is not American but that of the Ainus of
northern Japan, who say that the earth originally was a sterile, cold,
uninhabitable and dreadful quagmire. The creator existed aloft, however,
and finally made and despatched a water-wagtail to construct a place
habitable for men. The bird fluttered over the water-spaces, trampled
the thin mud and beat it down with its feet. Thus ground was gradually
hardened and elevated in spots, the water steadily drained away and good
soil was left. Hence the Ainus hold the little wagtail in almost
worshipful esteem.

Let us, however, restrict the inquiry to North America, and to the
deluge-story proper—that is, the destruction of human life by water
overwhelming a flourishing world, and the subsequent restoration.

The widely spread Algonkin stock has many such legends, in which one or
several persons and animals survive by floating in a canoe or raft, and
at their behest a beaver or a muskrat—the most natural agents—bring up
from the bottom a little mud, which is expanded by magic into a new
continent; but frequently birds do this service or otherwise help to
form livable conditions. The Lenni Lenape (Delawares) had a tradition of
a universal deluge in the far distant past, which Dr. Brinton[27]
recounted as follows, assuring us that it is unmixed with any teaching
by white missionaries: “The few people that survived had taken refuge on
the back of a turtle who had reached so great an age that his shell was
mossy, like the bank of a runlet. In this forlorn condition a loon flew
that way, which they asked to dive and bring up land. He complied but
found no bottom. Then he flew away and returned with a small quantity of
earth in his bill. Guided by him, the turtle swam to a place where a
spot of dry land was found. There the survivors settled and re-peopled
the land.”

Few legends explain how or why the flood occurred. The Ojibways,
however, say that it was the result of the malice of an underground
monster visualized as a huge serpent (recalling the earth-dragon of the
Chinese), which throughout all their mythology is the antagonist of the
good, constructive genius represented by their tribal hero Manabozho.

The Beaver Indians of the Mackenzie Valley offer a more materialistic
and more picturesque explanation. They told George Keith, one of the
fur-traders there a century ago, whose Letters are printed in Masson’s
collection of northern archives,[99] that the deluge resulted from the
sudden melting of a snowfall so deep that tall trees were buried. This
disastrous melting was produced by the release of the sun from a bug in
which it had been hidden by sorcery. Then the sun flew away and began to
shed its heat. There’s a sun-myth for you!

In the resulting freshet so philosophically accounted for the few
persons who had been left unburied in the world of snow fled toward a
high mountain, but only a man and a woman reached it. On this mountain
were gathered pairs of all the kinds of animals in the country. The
flood persisted, and there was nothing to eat. Then the mallard, the
little grebe, or hell-diver, and the buzzard (?) were sent to dive into
the sea and try to find its bottom. All failed repeatedly, but the
buzzard dived again a few days later, and came up with his bill full of
earth, which showed that the flood was subsiding. Finally the waters
drained away or dried up, but the soil had been so ruined by submergence
that not even roots could be found to serve as food. When everybody was
nearly starved, however, the human pair and the animals succeeded in
finding the home of Raven, who lived far away, and from his stores they
obtained food. Then a new world of life began.

The Cheyennes and the Arikarees say that at the height of the flood “a
person” (masculine) was floating in the water with all sorts of aquatic
birds swimming about him. He asked that one of them dive and get some
earth. All tried it and failed until a small duck brought up a little
mud in its beak and gave it to the man. He kneaded it with his fingers
until it was dry, then made little piles of it on the surface of the
water, which enlarged and coalesced into a wide plain.

The Chitimacha Indians of northern Louisiana used to relate that a great
deluge came, whereupon the redheaded woodpecker went up to the sky and
hung by his claws to escape drowning, but his tail hung down into the
dirty water and was stained black, as you now see it. The Pimas and
other tribes of Arizona tell similar stories of certain birds, one clan
of Pueblo Indians putting it on the turkey. They say that a flood was
produced by the god Baholi Konga to punish tribal wickedness. The good
persons in the community escaped this punishment by means of the fact
that Baholi Konga had clothed them in turkey-skins, enabling them to fly
to the high mountains. They flew too low, however, and the tails of
their dresses dragged in the water, the stain of which is still visible.

With one more and a rather pretty tale from the traditions of the Paiute
Indians, whose home is in the region of the Grand Canyon of the
Colorado, I must close this glance at aboriginal legends of a deluge
here in America. These Indians relate that formerly the whole world was
under water save the summit of Mt. Grant, on which existed a fire. It
was the only fire in the universe, and it would have been extinguished
when the wind blew hard and the waves were dashed against the peak had
not the sage-hen settled down there and fanned away the water with her
wings; but while doing this inestimable service to mankind the heat of
the precious flame scorched her breast, and that accounts for its
present blackness.

A curiously similar story, which illustrates the primitive savage’s
perception that obtaining fire was the most important, the first, thing
to do in beginning or reconstituting a habitable world, appears in the
folklore of the Arawaks of British Guiana, and may well be told among
deluge myths. They assure you that the world was once engulfed in a
flood that left exposed only a hilltop where grew some tall cocoanut
palms. The heavenly leader, Sigu, conducted all the animals to this hill
and made such as could go up the trees, while others were placed in a
cave sealed water-tight with wax. (It was during that long, distressful
waiting in the palm-tops that the howling-monkeys perfected the
agonizing quality of their terrific voices.) Finally the waters subsided
and the agami (the trumpeter, _Psophia crepitans_) ventured too soon
upon the ground in search of food; thereupon hordes of starved ants,
issuing from their half-drowned nests, swarmed upon its legs, then of
respectable size, and so nearly devoured them that only the sticklike
shanks now characteristic of the bird remained. Sigu rescued the
unfortunate agami, and then with infinite trouble kindled a fire with a
spark that the maroodie (or guan, a fellow-bird with the agami of
South-American barnyards) had snapped up in mistake for a shining red
insect. The guan tried to shift the blame for this sinful error upon the
alligator but failed to do so, for his own guilt was betrayed by the
glowing spark that had stuck in his throat, as one may see by looking at
any guan to-day.

Another instance of the misfortunes of the trumpeter is related by Leo
Miller[53] as he heard it among the Maquritari Indians who live on the
headwaters of the Orinoco:

  In the very beginning of things a trumpeter and a curassow [a near
  cousin of the guan] decided upon a matrimonial alliance, but
  domestic troubles soon broke out, and there was no possibility of a
  reconciliation; it was thereupon decided to lay the case before the
  gods who live on the summit of Mount Duida. The wise gods ordered
  them to fight it out. In the course of the combat that followed the
  curassow pushed the trumpeter into the fire, burning off the
  feathers of the latter’s tail. The trumpeter promptly retaliated by
  pushing her mate into the fire, singeing his crest. Thereupon the
  gods decided that they should remain in this humiliating plight for
  the rest of their days, and so ... the curassow wears a curled crest
  and the trumpeter has a very short tail.

I am tempted, in spite of my intention to stop here, to annex an
elaborate and somewhat amusing creation-myth of the Yocut Indians of
southern California, because it is both appropriate and picturesque. It
is thus set down by Powers:[19]

  Once there was a time when there was nothing in the world but water.
  About the place where Tulare Lake now is, there was a pole standing
  far up out of the water, and on this pole, perched a hawk and a crow
  ... for many ages. At length they wearied of the lonesomeness, and
  they created the birds which prey on fish, such as the kingfisher,
  eagle, pelican, and others. Among them was a very small duck, which
  dived down to the bottom of the water, picked its beak full of mud,
  came up, died, and lay floating on the water. The hawk and crow then
  fell to work and gathered from the duck’s beak the earth which it
  had brought up, and commenced making the mountains. They began at
  the place now known as Ta-hi-cha-pa Pass, and the hawk made the east
  range, while the crow made the west one. Little by little, as they
  dropped in the earth, the great mountains grew athwart the face of
  the waters pushing north. It was a work of many years, but finally
  they met at Mt. Shasta, and their labors were ended.

  But behold, when they compared their mountains it was found that the
  crow’s was a great deal the larger. Then the hawk said to the crow.
  “How did this happen, you rascal? I warrant you have been stealing
  the earth from my bill, and that is why your mountains are the
  biggest.” It was a fact, and the crow laughed in his claws. Then the
  hawk went and got some Indian tobacco and chewed it and it made him
  exceedingly wise. So he took hold of the mountains and turned them
  around in a circle, putting his range in place of the crow’s; and
  that is why the Sierra Nevada is larger than the Coast Range.



                               CHAPTER VI
               BIRDS IN CHRISTIAN TRADITION AND FESTIVAL


The crowing of a cock ushered in the momentous tragedy that closed the
earthly career of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus had told one of his disciples
in the evening of the Passover, that “the cock shall not crow this day
before that thou shalt twice deny that thou knowest me” (_Luke_, xxii,
34). Later that same night Jesus was arrested and taken into the house
of the Jewish high priest, and when, one after another, three persons
had identified Peter as one of the Disciples Peter each time denied it,
“and immediately, while he yet spake, the cock crew.”

Although the cock and his brood have had a part in Oriental and
classical superstitions, ceremonies, and myths since these things began,
it is probable that Jesus had in mind nothing more than the time of
“cock-crowing,” which among the Jews was a recognized name of the third
watch of the night, beginning at three o’clock in the morning. Mark
enumerates the four watch-divisions when he says: “Ye know not when the
master of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at the
cock-crowing, or in the morning.”

Out of this simple matter, a natural habit of the bird, the early
Christians, with the avidity of zealots for inspired pegs on which to
hang new devotions, set up many theories and customs. For instance, I
find in the English periodical _Nature Notes_ (VI, 189) the following,
translated from the _Treasury of Brunetti Latini_, a teacher of Dante in
the poet’s youth: “By the song of the cock we may know the hour of the
night, and even as the cock before it singeth beateth its body with its
wings, so should a man before he prays flagellate himself.” To this
added a fourteenth-century chant, as follows:

                    Cock at midnight croweth loud,
                          And in this delighteth:
                    But before he crows, his sides
                        With his wings he smiteth:
                    So the priest at midnight, when
                        Him from rest he raiseth,
                    Firstly doeth penitence,
                        After that he praiseth.

Ratzel mentions that in Abyssinia cocks were often placed in churches as
living alarm-clocks. It is a tradition that at the moment of the great
Birth the cock crowed: _Christus natus est!_ Hence as early as the 4th
century arose the belief in its crowing always on Christmas eve—a legend
alluded to by Shakespeare:

              Some say that ever ’gainst that season comes
              Whereon our Saviour’s birth is celebrated,
              The bird of dawning singeth all night long.

By a similar passage in _Hamlet_, where Bernardo, Heraldo, and Marcellus
are discussing the apparition of the ghost of Hamlet’s father, the
reader learns of another ancient superstition:

         _Bern._ It was about to speak when the cock crew.

         _Her._ And then it started like a guilty thing
                 Upon a fearful summons. I have heard
                 The cock, that is the trumpet to the morn,
                 Doth with his lofty and shrill-sounding throat
                 Awake the god of day; and, at his warning,
                 Whether in sea or fire, in earth or air,
                 The extravagant and erring spirit hies
                 To his confine: and of the truth herein
                 This present object made probation.

         _Mar._ It faded on the crowing of the cock.

Not only ghosts, but the Devil and all his powers of darkness,
especially warlocks and witches, must disappear at Chanticleer’s
cheerful warning that daylight is at hand.

Domestic fowls had become common in Palestine at the time of Jesus,
having been received long before from Persia. According to the _Mishna_
Jews were prohibited from selling a white cock to the heathen because it
was suitable for sacrifice, but if it were defective it became
unsuitable. Cyrus Adler tells us that they used to cut off a toe, and so
circumvent the prohibition. Says the Talmud: “There be three that be
unyielding—Israel among the peoples, the dog among beasts, and the cock
among birds” (Beca, 56).

No doubt it is true, as Mr. R. L. Gales pointed out a few years ago in
the _National Review_, that the sacred mythology of the Nativity and
Passion, which is far wider than my immediate use of it, sprang up when
the minds of people constantly dwelt on the Faith in a spirit of
devotion rather than of controversy. “It seems, too, that there was in
the Christianity of the earlier ages something that we may perhaps call
a pantheistic element, which has since disappeared.”

Russians tell the story that while Christ was hanging on the cross the
sparrows were maliciously chirping _Jif! jif!_ that is, “He is living,
He is living!” in order to urge the tormenters to fresh cruelties; but
the swallows cried, with opposite intent, “_Umer! Umer!_” “Dead! Dead!”
Therefore the swallow is blessed, but the sparrow is under a curse, and
ever since that time it hops, because its legs are tied together, for
its sin, by invisible bonds. Another story is that the sparrow was the
bird that betrayed the hiding-place of Jesus in the Garden at
Gethsemane, whereas all other birds tried to entice away the officers
who were searching for him, especially the swallow, whose erratic flight
still shows that it is seeking to find him.

The oystercatcher is still known among the Gaels of northern Scotland as
St. Bride’s lad, says Seton Gordon (_Nineteenth Century_, 1923, p. 420)
from the fact that when that saint first visited Long Island she carried
an oystercatcher in each hand; also, there is an old Gaelic tradition
that this bird covered Jesus with seaweed when his enemies appeared in
hot pursuit. The oystercatcher was therefore blessed, and still shows,
as it flies, the form of a cross on its plumage.

A Spanish legend asserts that the owl was once the sweetest of singers;
but that, having been present when Jesus died, from that moment it has
shunned daylight, and now only repeats in a harsh tone _Cruz! Cruz!_

Most of the legends of the Cross, so far as concern birds, at least,
seem to have arisen in Sweden. The Swedes say, for example, that a
swallow hovered over the Crucifixion crying _Svale! Svale!_ “Cheer up!
Cheer up!” and it is therefore called in their country the bird of
consolation. A similar story is current in Scandinavia of the stork,
which is said to have cried to the Redeemer, as it flew about the Cross,
_Styrket! Styrket!_ “Strengthen ye.” In both cases there is a play on
the Swedish names of these birds; but they testify that the stork, now
virtually mute, formerly had a voice. In Sweden, where the red crossbill
is a familiar winter bird, arose the tradition that its peculiarly
crossed beak became twisted by its efforts to pull the nails from
Christ’s hands and feet:

                Stained with blood and never tiring
                    With its beak it doth not cease,
                From the Cross ’t would free the Saviour
                    Its creator’s son release.

                And the Saviour speaks in mildness:
                    Blest be thou of all the good!
                Bear as token of this moment
                    Marks of blood and holy rood.

So Longfellow paraphrases Julius Mosen’s little German hymn.

The same loving service has been attributed to the red-browed goldfinch
of Europe in a legend current in Great Britain—a story put into verse in
_The Spectator_ (London, 1910) by Pamela Tenant, partly thus:

              Held in his slender beak the cruel thing,
              Still with his gentle might endeavoring
                  But to release it.

              Then as he strove, spake One—a dying space—
              ‘Take, for thy pity, as a sign of grace,
              ‘Semblance of this, my blood, upon thy face
                  ‘A living glory.’

The complaining love-note of the wood-pigeon has, in the northwestern
part of Europe, become the subject of a well-adapted and pathetic myth,
as Watters[57] denominates it in his entertaining _Birds of Ireland_.
“It is said that a dove perched in the neighborhood of the holy cross
when the Redeemer was expiring, and, wailing its notes of sorrow, kept
repeating the words ‘Kyrie! Kyrie!’ [Kyrie eleison—Lord have mercy!] to
alleviate the agony of his dying moments.”

Of all the legends connecting birds with this awful scene those relating
to the little robin-redbreast of Europe are most familiar, for they have
been celebrated in poems that everyone reads. The story is that the
robin, pitying the pain of the cruel crown pressed on the Saviour’s
brow, plucked away the sharpest of the thorns; and some say that before
that moment the bird was all gray, and was bound to remain so until it
had done something worthy of its having a red breast. A forgotten
writer, whose lines have been preserved in an old volume of _Notes and
Queries_, tells the story thus:

          Bearing his cross, while Christ passed by forlorn,
          His Godlike forehead by the mock crown torn,
          A little bird took from that crown one thorn,
          To soothe the dear Redeemer’s throbbing head.
          That bird did what she could; His blood, ’t is said,
          Down-dropping dyed her tender bosom red.
          Since then no wanton boy disturbs her nest;
          Weasel nor wildcat will her young molest—
          All sacred deem that bird of ruddy breast.

The Spaniards, however, believe swallows—also “redbreasts” in their
way—to be the birds that pulled the thorns from Christ’s crown—two
thousand of them!

Another northern tradition is that the robin carries in its beak daily a
drop of water to those shut up in the “burning lake,” and that its
breast is red because scorched by the flames of Gehenna. This old
Swedish legend gave Whittier the inspiration for an exquisite poem:

              He brings cool dew in his little bill,
                  And lets it fall on the souls of sin;
              You can see the mark on his red breast still
                  Of fires that scorch as he drops it in.

Still another theory explains that its reddish front remains tinctured
by the stain it received in trying to staunch the blood that flowed from
the Redeemer’s pierced side.

Almost all boys in Great Britain are, or used to be, collectors of
birds’ eggs, before bird-protecting societies and public enlightenment
restricted their destructive enthusiasm; but the nest of the “ruddock”
(robin) was rarely disturbed by the most careless of them, who, if
undeterred by any soft sentiment, were frightened by the superstition
that bad luck followed any such vandalism. Many maxims to this effect
might be quoted, one of which, a proverb in Cornwall, runs:

                    He that hurts robin or wren
                    Will never prosper, boy or men.

In Essex they repeat to children a little ballad like this:

                    The robin and the redbreast,
                        The robin and the wren;
                    If ye take out o’ their nest
                        Ye’ll never thrive again.

                    The robin and the redbreast,
                        The martin and the swallow;
                    If ye touch one o’ their eggs
                        Bad luck will follow.

The Scotch say it a little differently:

                     The laverock and the lintie,
                         The robin and the wren;
                     If ye harry their nests
                         Ye’ll never thrive again.

Let me digress here for a moment. “Laverock” is Scottish for lark,
meaning the skylark. De Gubernatis,[54] who discourses learnedly on the
mythical connotations of the name in India and ancient Greece, finds
that the significance of this bird in popular tales is due to its crest,
which he shows to be an indication that it was among the birds of the
sun. “The crested lark,” he says, “is the same as the crested sun, the
sun with its rays,” and he continues: “In the legend of St. Christopher
I see an equivoque between the word _Christos_ and the word _cresta_,
crest, and either way I see the sun personified.”

Whatever these speculations may be worth the old stories attribute to
the lark that funereal charity which belongs to several birds, among
them the European robin; and this brings us back to the main track and
to the pretty story of the Babes in the Woods. Away back in bad old
times a Norfolk gentleman left legacies to two infant children, which
were to pass to their uncle if the babies died. After a year this uncle
hired ruffians to take the children into a forest and kill them, but
instead the men left them there to starve. For a time they ate
blackberries, but soon became exhausted, lay down, and went to sleep,
and expired.

           Their little corpse the robin-redbreast found,
           And strew’d with pious bill the leaves around.[8]

More modern poets have made many allusions to this touching tale, which
Shakespeare knew, for in _Cymbeline_ he makes Arviragus say over Imogen—

                  Thou shalt not lack
          The flowers that’s like thy face, pale primrose; nor
          The azured harebell.... The ruddock would
          With charitable bill bring thee all these.

And in William Collins’s _Dirge to Cymbeline_ are the lines:

                The redbreast oft at evening hours
                Shall kindly lend his little aid,
                With heavy moss, and gathered flowers,
                To deck the ground where thou art laid.

The conceit is far more ancient than Shakespeare or Gay or even than
Robert Yarrington—who, in 1601, wrote a ballad on it concluding,

        No buriall this pretty pair of any man receives
        Till Robin Redbreast piously did cover them with leaves—

for Horace relates in one of his poems how he as a child wandering one
day on Mount Vultur fell wearily asleep, and was covered by protecting
doves with laurel and myrtle leaves.

The robin is always remembered at Christmas in the rural villages and
farms of northern Europe, for it is not migratory. In South Germany the
custom is to put grain on a roof for the redbreasts, who come trustfully
about houses at that season, and find welcome shelter in barns and
straw-stacks: and in Sweden and elsewhere an unthreshed sheaf of wheat
is set up on a pole for their winter fare.

It will have been noticed that in the ballads quoted, the wren is
associated with the robin in a protective way. A whole book might be
written about this least of birds, which, although the least, is called
“king” in every European language. We are told that a wren was in the
stable at Bethlehem when Christ was born; and an Irish proverb runs:
“The robin and the wren are God’s two holy men.” How surprising, then,
to read of a custom called Hunting (or in some places Burying) the Wren,
which once prevailed in southern France, in Keltic parts of England, in
Wales, and also in Ireland, where it persisted until abolished by the
British Government about the middle of the 19th century. Accounts of the
practices, songs, etc., connected with it may be found in antiquarian
histories, for example the following from Miles’s book of Christmas
customs:

  In the Isle of Man very early on Christmas morning, when the
  church-bells had rung out midnight, servants went out to hunt the
  wren. They killed the bird, fastened it to the top of a long pole;
  and carried it in procession to every house, chanting these words:

              We hunted the wren for Robin the Bobbin,
                  We hunted the wren for Jack of the Can,
              We hunted the wren for Robin the Bobbin,
                  We hunted the wren for everyone.

  At each house they sought to collect money. At last, when all had
  been visited, they laid the wren on a bier, carried it to the
  church-yard, and buried it with the utmost solemnity, singing Manx
  dirges.

It is evident that this is a very ancient practice, and embodies in its
utterly degenerate state a religious idea or symbolism, the meaning of
which has been forgotten. Why, for example, should the feathers of the
murdered Manx wrens be preserved, one by one, among the coast families,
as a talisman preserving the possessor from shipwreck, unless some
religious sanction was involved, and this may be connected with St.
Stephen, the first Christian martyr, who was stoned to death; for this
savage custom belonged to St. Stephen’s Day, December 26, as well as to
Christmas, or locally in place of Christmas. But why the wren, rather
than some other bird? The matter is interesting enough to justify
quoting the broad account of the matter furnished by Swann:[47]

  An old Irish custom on St. Stephen’s Day, and one that has not quite
  died out, was the “hunting of the wren” by boys. When captured it
  was tied, alive but maimed, to a pole (or, according to Vallancey—De
  Reb. Hib., IV, 13—tied by the leg in the center of two hoops placed
  at right angles with one another) and paraded around the
  neighborhood, a few doggerel verses being repeated at each house,
  while a donation was requested, one version being;

               The wran, the wran, the king of all birds,
               St. Stephen’s Day was caught in the furze,
               Come, give us a bumper, or give us a cake,
               Or give us a copper, for Charity’s sake.

  Yarrell records a similar practice in Kerry, where the peasantry on
  Christmas Day used to hunt the bird with two sticks, “one to beat
  the bushes the other to fling at the bird.” Bullock also mentions it
  as prevalent in the Isle of Man, both on Christmas Eve and St.
  Stephen’s Day, and tells us it was founded on a tradition of a
  beautiful fairy who lured the male inhabitants to a watery grave in
  the sea, and who to escape subsequent destruction took the form of a
  wren, which form she was supposed to be doomed by a spell to
  reassume each succeeding New Year’s Day, ultimately perishing by
  human hands.... To my own knowledge this custom of a “wren hunt”
  existed in Nottinghamshire also within recent times, the bird being
  hunted along the hedgerows by boys armed with stones, but I do not
  recollect that anything was done with the bird when killed or
  maimed....

  In connection with this belief [alluded to above] in the kingship
  over other birds, a Twelfth Day custom of parading a caged wren in
  Pembrokeshire, with the lines recited, is described in Swainson’s
  _Folklore of British Birds_, O’Curry has recorded that the wren,
  like the raven, was kept domesticated on account of the auguries
  derived from it, which were employed by the Druids. An Irish proverb
  asserts that “The fox is the cunningest beast in the world barring
  the wren.” According to Dalyell the wren is considered an unlucky
  token in Scotland, but the robin a lucky one.

Explanations of this revolting yet long persistent custom have been many
and various. A totemic sort of theory is that the bird “was once
regarded as sacred, and the Christmas hunting is the survival of an
annual custom of slaying the divine animal, such as is found among
primitive peoples. The carrying of its body from door to door is
apparently intended to convey to each house a portion of its virtues.” I
know of no facts in history to support this theory as applied to the
Keltic race. One authority tells us that the “crime” for which the bird
must be punished so ferociously is that it has “a drop o’ the de’il’s
blood in its veins,” but so has the magpie, which is not persecuted.

Lady Wilde[60] assures us that “the wren is mortally hated by the Irish
for on one occasion, when the Irish troops were approaching to attack a
portion of Thomas Cromwell’s army the wrens came and perched on the
Irish drums, and by their tapping and noise aroused the English
soldiers, who fell on the Irish troops and killed them all.” For this
tragic incident we are given no time or place; and it happens that the
same report was made respecting a battle between Irish and Danish
invaders some 800 years before Cromwell’s campaigns in the Emerald Isle
or anywhere else.

The real clue to the puzzle is contained in the fact that in their
barbarous hunt for wrens the men and boys kept yelling words that in
Cormac’s _Glossary_ (10th century) are explained as “draoi-en,”
Druid-bird. We know that the Druid priests were accustomed to draw
auguries from the chirpings of the wren—a divination to which the early
Christian missionaries objected strenuously. It is probable that they
condemned the little songster as a symbol of heathen rites, and
encouraged their converts to kill it at the time of the annual Christian
feast as a sign of abnegation of Druidical connections. The stoning of
the birds on St. Stephen’s Day might be regarded as a vengeful reminder
of the manner of that martyr’s murder by a mob.

One more bird-story is connected with Christianity in general—that
alluded to in _Hamlet_, where Ophelia says: “Well, God ’ield you! They
say the owl was a baker’s daughter!” This enigmatical remark probably
had reference to the story formerly, and perhaps still, common among the
peasantry in the English Midlands, of a baker’s daughter that was
transformed into an owl by Jesus as a punishment for reducing to a very
small size the large piece of dough which her mother had agreed to bake
for him. The dough, however, swelled in the oven to enormous
proportions, to the girl’s great astonishment, and she gasped out “Heu,
heu, heu!” This owl-like noise suggested her transformation into that
bird. The story is told to children as a warning lesson against
illiberal treatment of the poor. It is evidently alluded to, also, in
Beaumont and Fletcher’s play _The Nice Valour_, where the Passionate
Lord says, after speaking of a nest of owls, “Happy is he whose window
opens to a brown baker’s chimney! he shall be sure there to hear the
bird sometimes after twilight.” In northern Germany they say a baker’s
man was the offender; and that he was changed by Jesus into a cuckoo,
the white spots in whose wings show where the flour was sprinkled on the
man’s dun coat. The Norse people apply the same moral by means of their
common woodpecker, whose pattern of dress is indicated in the legend
known to Norse children as the Gertrud story, which is prettily related
by Miss Walker.[39] Brewer’s _Handbook_ notes that a maid-servant of the
Virgin Mary, who had purloined one of her mistress’s dresses, was
converted into a lapwing and condemned forever to cry “Tyvit, tyvit!” (I
stole it). The source of the anecdote is not given, nor the language of
the one who interprets it, but it reminds one of Tennyson’s.

                  With a lengthened loud halloo,
                  Tuwhoo, tuwhit, tuwhit, tuwhoo-o-o.

The Greeks, according to Andrew Lang, had a similar legend of feminine
impiety, by which they mystically explained the origin of owls and bats.

The prevalence of a belief in such transformations as these by Jesus is
very widespread; the traditions vary somewhat, as we have seen, in
different countries, but it is evident that the root is in the primitive
notion that such miracles were not only possible, but natural. Rather
more remote and obscure is the connection of birds with certain other
religious feasts, such as the substitution of turkey for boar’s-head as
the central dish for the Christmas dinner among the English Dissenters,
attributed to the fact that turkeys became common about the time of the
Reformation, and acquired a meritorious character on that account among
those who wanted to continue the Christmas feast without the taint of a
dish partaking of the customs of the hated Papists. Is our New England
custom of a turkey dinner on Thanksgiving Day traceable to this,
remembering that the Puritans paid little or no heed to Christmas?

For centuries, and until comparatively recent times, among the sports
and jollifications recalling the Roman carnival (at the same date) that
marked Shrove Tuesday, the last day before Lent, both in Britain and in
France, along with the eating of unlimited pancakes, cock-fighting and
“throwing at cocks” had the most prominent place. The last-mentioned
sport consisted in fastening live cocks in a certain position, and
letting men compete in throwing clubs at them, the man who killed the
bird winning it. This atrocious form of amusement did not shock the
populace of a time when bear-baiting, bull-baiting, and the pitting of
dogs against each other or against badgers and rats were popular; yet a
few protested, and even in the 17th century antiquaries were searching
for the origin of the custom. Hearne asserted that it was in memory of
English victories over the French (symbolized by the Gallic _coq_) in
the time of Henry V; but the sport was customary in France itself long
before that time. A writer quoted by Smith[61] records that “the common
account of it is that the crowing of a cock prevented our Saxon
ancestors from massacring their conquerors, the Danes, on the morning of
a Shrove Tuesday while asleep in their beds,” which recalls one of the
explanations of the Irish wren-hunting. My own opinion is that the
custom had no particular significance, but was just a sportive way of
getting without much cost the material for a good dinner, as were the
“turkey shoots” of our western frontier; and that Erasmus was fairly
right when he remarked that “the English eat a certain cake on Shrove
Tuesday, on which they immediately run mad and kill the poor cocks.”

Lent closes with the joyful celebration of Easter, an occasion in which
the eggs of birds, at least, have a persistent and prominent part, and
doves find a place in several Old World ceremonies of the Church.

In the matter of the almost universal and everywhere popular custom of
playing with colored eggs at Easter, I can do no better than quote _The
Catholic Encyclopedia_, article “Easter”:

  Because the use of eggs was forbidden during Lent they were brought
  to the table on Easter Day, colored red to symbolize the Easter joy.
  This custom is found not only in the Latin but also in the Oriental
  Churches. The symbolic meaning of a new creation of mankind by Jesus
  risen from the dead was probably an invention of later times. The
  custom may have its origin in Paganism, for a great many pagan
  customs, celebrating the return of spring, gravitated to Easter. The
  egg is the emblem of the germinating life of early spring. Easter
  eggs, the children are told, come from Rome with the bells which on
  Thursday go to Rome and return Saturday morning. The sponsors in
  some countries give Easter eggs to their god-children. Colored eggs
  are used by children at Easter in a sort of game which consists in
  testing the strength of the shells. Both colored and uncolored eggs
  are used in some parts of the United States in this game, known as
  “egg-picking.” Another practice is the “egg-rolling” by children on
  Easter Monday on the lawn of the White House in Washington.

A quaint feature in this pagan survival in a Christian celebration of a
momentous incident and idea is the connection with it of the rabbit.
Wherever colored Easter eggs are displayed, images of a rabbit are
likely to accompany them. Children are told that the Easter Rabbit lays
the eggs, for which reason they are, in some countries, hidden in a nest
in the garden. The strangeness of the association disappears when we
remember that the date of the feast is determined by the time when the
moon first becomes full after the spring equinox, and that the rabbit,
which has from time immemorial been a symbol of fertility, is
representative of the moon-goddess, Luna, which was worshipped annually
at a date coinciding with the Easter festival. Thus, like many other
pagan rites and symbols significant of reviving nature, it became
confused with the Christian celebration of the Resurrection.

At the feast of the Pentecost, on Whitsunday, commemorating the descent
of the Holy Ghost upon the Apostles, doves were formerly always employed
in Europe in staging the solemnities.

     On Whitsuntide, white pigeons tame in strings from heaven fly,
     And one that framed is of wood still hangeth in the skie,

as we are told by Neogeorgus (1511–63), speaking of the custom in
Germany; and elsewhere we learn that in Spain pigeons with cakes tied to
their legs were let loose in churches, where representations of the Holy
Ghost were a part of the celebration. This last fact accounts for the
use of the dove—an emblem of the third element of the God head, as we
shall see.

To a similar old custom, if Marion Crawford, the learned author of
_Salve Venetia_, is not mistaken, we owe the picturesque fact that
pigeons are a feature of the plaza of St. Mark in Venice—one of the
“sights” of that wonderful city:

  The Venetians always loved processions, and it is to one of these
  pageants that the pigeons of St. Mark’s owe their immunity. As early
  as the end of the fourteenth century it was the custom to make a
  great procession on Palm Sunday, in the neighborhood of St. Mark’s.
  A canon of the Cathedral deposited great baskets on the high altar
  containing the artificial palms prepared for the Doge, the chief
  magistrates, and the most important members of the clergy....
  According to the appointed service the procession began immediately
  after the distribution of the palms; and while the choir chanted the
  words “_Gloria, laus et honor_” of the sacred hymn, a great number
  of pigeons were sent flying from different parts of the façade down
  into the square, having little screws of paper fastened to their
  claws to prevent them from flying too high. The people instantly
  began to catch the birds, and a great many were actually taken; but
  now and then one, stronger than the rest, succeeded in gaining the
  higher parts of the surrounding buildings, enthusiastically cheered
  by the crowd.

  Those who had once succeeded in making their escape were regarded as
  sacred forever with all their descendants. The state provided them
  with food from its granaries, and before long, lest by mistake any
  free pigeons should be caught on the next Palm Sunday the Signory
  next decreed that other birds must be used on the occasion.

F. Hopkinson Smith, in his _Gondola Days_, gives a more secular account
of the origin of the regard felt by the Venetians for these “pets of the
State,” whose ancestor, the genial artist writes, brought the good news
to Venice of the capture (in 1205) of Candia by Admiral Enrico Dandolo.



                              CHAPTER VII
                      BIRDS AS SYMBOLS AND BADGES


Certain kinds of birds have become symbols of popular ideas, or even
significant badges of persons and events, and are thus more or less
conventionalized accessories in art, by reason of their appearance
(form, color), or their habits, or their connection with some historic
incident or fabulous tale. In many cases this symbolism is of very
ancient origin, as is most particularly true of the eagle and the dove.
The eagle is accounted for elsewhere in its various aspects and
relations: but the dove, by which is meant the prehistorically
domesticated blue rock-pigeon, almost deserves a chapter to itself.

To trace the career of the dove in religion, customs, and art is,
indeed, one of the most engaging of my tasks, and the quest discloses a
curiously double and diverse symbolism running almost simultaneously
from the beginning of history to the present, for this bird serves as an
emblem of purity and conjugal affection in one association, and in
another suggests the familiar epithet “soiled.”

The story of this bird goes back to the misty dawn of civilization and
religion in Mesopotamia, the Garden-of-Eden land, where arose the dual
“nature-worship” of the combining elements heaven and earth, male and
female. The fecund soil, yielding its fruits to the fertilizing sunshine
and rain, sent by the sky-god, became personified as Ishtar (Ashtaroth),
and to her was assigned the amorous and prolific dove as a type of the
family concord and productiveness she represented; and white doves were
sold to worshippers at Babylon to be offered as sacrifices in her
temple. Her worship was spread to Asia Minor and the shore of the Ægean
by Babylonian and Assyrian conquests, and she became known to the
Phrygians as Cybele, to the Syrians as Darketo, and to the Phoenicians
as Atagartis, whom the Ionian Greeks called Astarte.

In these transformations the primitive Ishtar gradually fell from her
original state as a type of motherhood to the baser one of physical
love-indulgence, and among her votaries were troops of maidens who
publicly offered their virginity at her shrine, as a form of sacrifice
and service.

Some of the Syrians are said to have thought of their goddess Darketo as
“Semiramis,” but this was by confusion with her fabled daughter. Whether
or not a real woman and queen of that name ever existed, I leave to the
historians, but a mythical Semiramis belongs to my story, and her
history was first written by Ctesias, an Asiatic-Greek historian of the
fourth century B.C. Ctesias says that near Askalon was a large lake
beside which Darketo (otherwise Atagartis) had a habitation; she is
represented with the face of a woman and the body of a fish—perhaps the
most antique conception of a mermaid. She fell in love with a fair youth
and a girl-baby resulted. Then, in shame, Darketo destroyed her lover,
exposed the child in a rocky desert, and flung herself into the lake.
The babe, nurtured by doves on milk and cheese, was discovered and
reared by a herdsman, who called the child Semiramis—a Syrian word for
“doves.” At the close of her life this mythical Semiramis changed
herself into a dove and flew away with certain other birds. Hence, in
Ctesias’s time, divine honors were paid in the East to doves; and a dove
is the badge of Semiramis in Syrian monumental art. Diodorus Siculus
repeats this account with additional details.

The sceptre in the hand of the revered image of Atagartis in her great
temple at Hierapolis bore the golden figure of a dove on its summit; and
in Phoenicia, Cyprus, Sardinia, and wherever the Phocians and other
Levantine traders of that day traded and colonized, have been found
small terra-cotta figures of this goddess, or of one of her priestesses,
always with a dove.

To the devotees of this cult, which was confined to the coastal region,
and in which the Hebrews and other Semites of the interior desert-plains
took no part, a dove was so sacred that if a person even accidentally
touched one he was “unclean” throughout the day. Hence the birds
thronged in the villages and houses and swarmed about the temple yards,
where they were fed by visitors, as still is the custom in the
Mohammedan mosques that have taken their place. This was noted
especially at Hierapolis, where, according to Lucian, one of the
venerated images had a pigeon’s head.

This religious doctrine, and more particularly the Phrygian cult of
Cybele, was undoubtedly carried to the Ægean islands and to Greece,
while civilization was still in its infancy there, for the “sea-born”
Aphrodite—an epithet indicative of her arrival from across the waters—is
only Astarte transformed in Greek thought, which seems to explain the
classic story that Aphrodite was born from an egg, with a dove brooding
upon it, rolled ashore by a fish.

The focus of religious emotion in those early centuries of Greece, at
least in Attica, was probably in the most ancient of oracles, that at
Dodona. Tradition ascribed its origin to a dove that spoke with a human
voice; and among those who served the shrine were three priestesses
popularly called “Doves,” whose duty it was to announce oracles
requested as if real birds uttered them from the foliage of the
surrounding oaks—divine trees. Connected with the cult of Zeus at Dodona
was that of Aphrodite, then regarded as the goddess of exalted love, not
of the sensual passion by which in later times her cult in Rome, as
Venus, became degraded. It was natural, as we have seen, that the dove
should be associated with this pristine Aphrodite, and equally suitable
that it should be adopted subsequently as the attendant of lascive
Venus, for as De Kay[18] observes, doves are forever making love and
caressing each other. “Chaucer speaks of ‘the wedded turtil with her
herte trewe’.... So the bird is by its nature and habits fitted to be
the attendant and symbol of the goddess of love—the bird that draws her
flower-studded chariot through the air.” A Persian poet asks:

            Knowest thou why round his neck the dove
                A collar wears?—it is to tell
            He is the faithful slave of love,
                And serves all those who serve him well.[88]

An interesting memorandum here is the observation by A. B. Cook,[37] the
erudite author of _Zeus_, that the oracle in the oasis Ammon (Siwah),
which Alexander the Great took such prodigious trouble to visit and
consult, was, like that at Dodona, founded by a dove. “Moreover,” Mr.
Cook remarks, “Semiramis is said to have learned her destiny from Ammon,
and to have fulfilled it by becoming a dove.... In short, it appears
that the whole apparatus of the oracle at Dodona ... was to be matched
in the oasis of Ammon. Strabo adds that both oracles gave their
responses in the selfsame manner, not by words but by certain tokens,
such as the flight of doves.”

The conception of Aphrodite also included that of spring, ushered in by
the early return of this migrant from its winter resort in Africa and
the time when it cooed for a mate—the season when “a livelier iris
changes on the burnished dove”; while the revival of nature in spring
has always to imaginative souls typified the Resurrection as taught in
Christian doctrine and exemplified in some of the customs of Easter,
which, of course, is only an adaptation of the far more ancient festival
of rejoicing at the return of the sun—the rebirth of the year.

Another line of thought apparently of Oriental origin, but prevalent in
northern Europe, connected this dove with the Fates and with death,
especially death by violence—a phase that is traced in wearisome detail
back to the _Rigvedas_ and other misty sources by the myth-readers, and
which probably comes from its plaintive “cooing.” Sometimes, however,
the fateful dove brings good tidings and succor to the distressed, as in
the story of Queen Radegund, who in the form of a dove once delivered
sailors from shipwreck.

This is an appropriate place, perhaps, to repeat the legend related by
the Rhodian Apollonius in his poem _Argonautica_, concerning the
Symplegades—the two islands that stand on opposite sides of the
Bosphorus “mouth.” It appears that these islands were wont in days
ancient even to Apollonius to swing together and crush any living thing
that attempted to pass between them and enter the Black Sea. Phineas,
who lived on the shore near by told Jason, who had arrived there on his
journey in search of the Golden Fleece, and who wanted to go on into the
Euxine, how to escape the fatal grasp of the island-gates. He was to
sail or row the _Argo_ as near as he dared to the entrance, then let
loose a dove. The bird would fly onward, the islands would rush together
to crush it; and the instant they had swung back Jason must drive his
ship on between them before they could close again. This plan, so clever
except for the poor bird, succeeded, and broke the magic spell. Living
heroes had passed safely between them, and ever since then the malicious
Symplegades have remained stable. This story has been scientifically
analyzed by the mythologists in various ways, but none has deigned to
consider why a dove was chosen, rather than some other bird, as the
martyr of the occasion. I am inclined to think it was because among
sailors of those days the dove was believed to help them; and that, in
turn, was owing to its association with the “foam-born” Aphrodite, who
was worshipped by mariners, especially about Cyprus, as goddess of the
sea.

I have dwelt somewhat at length on these antique fables, not only to
give a glimpse of the nativity of certain far more modern, or even
existing, ideas and customs connected with the dove, but more especially
to display the background of tradition and feeling that affected the
minds of people toward this familiar bird at the time when Christianity
began to manifest itself in Italy, and began to replace by a Christian
symbolism the previous figurative significance of the dove. The highest
place given it in early Christian thought and art was as a
representative of the third member of the godhead—the Holy Ghost, and it
still holds this significance, as every one may realize who recalls the
hymn beginning “Come Holy Spirit, heavenly Dove,” which will be sung in
perhaps hundreds of churches next Sunday. An old and natural inference
followed, that the devil cannot ever take (by magic) the form of this
celestial messenger.

According to an apocryphal gospel the Holy Ghost in the semblance of a
dove, designated Joseph as the spouse of the Virgin Mary by alighting on
his head; and in the same manner, according to Eusebius, Fabian was
indicated as divinely appointed to be Pope in the third century. It is
said also that at the Council of Nice (A.D. 325) the creed formulated
there was signed by the Holy Spirit, appearing as a dove—a legend that
magnifies the tremendous importance of that document.

Again, there is the story of the miraculous dove at the consecration of
Clovis on Christmas Day, 496, at Rheims. When Clovis and St. Remi, the
bishop, reached the baptistery the priest bearing the holy chrism was
prevented by the density of the crowd from reaching the font. Then a
dove, whiter than snow, brought a vial (ampoule) filled with chrism sent
from heaven; and the bishop took it, and with this miraculous chrism
perfumed the baptismal water for the Frankish chief by whose victories
over Germanic barbarians France was founded.

The lives of medieval saints and martyrs—or at any rate, the records of
them—abound in such incidents of supernatural recognition. Several
devoted women on taking the vow of virginity received their veils from
doves hatched in no earthly nest; bishops were more than once given
approval of public acts, especially when unpopular, by similar
manifestations of divine approbation, doves alighting on their heads. “A
dove is the special emblem of Gregory the Great (A.D. 590–604), and its
figure rests on his right shoulder in the magnificent statue of this
pope in Rome.”

This is in allusion, according to _The Catholic Encyclopedia_, “to the
well-known story recorded by Peter the Deacon (_Vita_, xxviii), who
tells us that when the pope was dictating his homilies in Ezechiel a
veil was drawn between his secretary and himself. As, however, the pope
remained silent for long periods of time, the servant made a hole in the
curtain and, looking through, beheld a dove seated on Gregory’s head
with its beak between his lips. When the dove withdrew its beak the holy
pontiff spoke and the secretary took down his words; but when he became
silent the servant again applied his eyes to the hole and saw that the
dove had again placed its beak between his lips.” Much the same incident
belongs to the biography of another early pope; and apropos to the
significance of this bird in the Romanist method of demonstrating that
faith to the populace, Mackenzie E. Walcott contributed the following
bit of history to _Notes and Queries_ in 1873:

  The dove was regarded as the symbol of the holy spirit which came in
  the eventide of days, bringing safety and peace to the ark of Christ
  and a world rescued from wreck, and to whom Christians should be
  conformed in innocency. A dove was suspended over the altar, as
  Amphilochius says of S. Basil that he broke the Holy Bread and
  placed one third part in the pendant golden dove over the altar. The
  Council of Constantinople charged a heretic with robbing the gold
  and silver doves that hung above the fonts and altars. The dove was
  also the symbol of our Blessed Lord, as we learn from Prudentius and
  an expression of Tertullian, “the Dove’s house,” applied to a
  church, probably in allusion to Coloss. i, 20.

  The dove for reservation [that is, withholding a part of the
  eucharist] whether for communion of infants in the baptistery, or of
  sick under a ciborium, was suspended by a chain. One is preserved in
  the church of S. Nazarius at Milan, and a solitary mention of
  another is contained in an inventory of Salisbury. In Italy at an
  early date, the dove was set upon a tower for reservation.... We
  also find in early works of devotional art the dove represented as
  flooding a cross with streams of living water. There is a famous
  example in the Lateran, symbolical of Holy Baptism. A holy lamb and
  dove are placed on the canopy of the baptistery at Saragossa.

It seems unlikely that Mohammed could have heard of these pontifical
sources or methods of divine inspiration, yet, according to Brewer,[34]
Prideaux, in his _Life of Mahamet_, relates that he taught a dove to
pick seed placed in his ear as it perched on his shoulder; but the wily
prophet “gave it out it was the Holy Ghost, in the form of a dove, come
to impart to him the counsels of God.” This accounts probably (for
Shakespeare may well have heard the tradition) for the doubting query in
_Henry V_: “Was Mohammed inspired with a dove?”

Whether this legend is credible or not, it is certain that Islam has
preserved the ancient Oriental reverence for this bird, which now flocks
in great numbers around all the mosques; and the Moslems have a
half-superstitious feeling that any bird that seeks its rest and makes
its nest about temples and holy buildings must not be disturbed—a kindly
regard in which swallows share, at least in the Near East, where the
Mohammedans say that the swallow must be a very holy bird, because it
makes an annual pilgrimage to Mecca.

John Keane,[14] an Englishman who spent a long time in Arabia about
forty years ago, records that at Mecca vast flocks of pigeons were to be
seen in the public space surrounding the kaaba. By repeated observations
he estimated that between 5000 and 6000 pigeons assembled there daily,
all so tame that they would alight on men’s heads and shoulders. They
are still held as almost sacred, are never killed, and nest in nearly
every building in niches left for that purpose in the walls of the
rooms. Pilgrims purchase baskets of grain to give to the pigeons as a
pious act, and each benefactor “becomes the vortex of a revolving storm
of pigeons.” In some remote places, indeed, these temple-pets become
themselves almost objects of worship. For example, on the direct road
between Yarkand and Khotan, Chinese Turkestan, stands the locally
celebrated pigeon-shrine (Kaptar Mazzar), where all good Moslems must
dismount and reverently approach the sacred spot. “Legend has it that
Imam Shakir Padshah, trying to convert the Buddhist inhabitants of the
country to Islam by the drastic agency of the sword, fell here in battle
against the army of Khotan, and was buried in the little cemetery. It is
affirmed that two doves flew forth from the heart of the dead saint, and
became the ancestors of the swarms of pigeons we saw ... sated with the
offerings of the Faithful, and extremely fat.... We were told that if a
hawk were to venture to attack them it would fall down dead.”

A pretty story is related by E. Dinet, a French artist, in his book of
sketches in Algeria. “Doves, which the Arabs name imams, because,” he
was told, “like the imam in the mosques, they call the faithful to
prayer, and because, like him, they do not cease to prostrate themselves
by inclining their necks in devotions to the Creator.” Newspapers of the
year 1921 contained an account of how two European boys ignorantly
provoked a riot in Bombay by killing a couple of pigeons in the street.
The Mohammedans were horrified and the police had difficulty in
suppressing an extensive disturbance; the stock exchange and other
general markets were closed, and a wide-spread strike of workmen in
India was threatened, as an evidence of the deep feeling aroused by the
boys’ sacrilegious act. It was evidence also of the panic-force of
superstition under an appropriate stimulus, and a good illustration of
Professor George Santayana’s definition of superstition as “reverence
for what hurts.” In the same year it was reported by telegraph from
Brownsville, Texas, that a snow-white pigeon flew into Sacred Heart
Church there on the morning of November 11, during a service celebrating
Armistice Day, and perched over a memorial window, where it remained
throughout the service. Had it been a sparrow or woodpecker no one would
have thought of recording the incident.

Men in the Middle Ages had perfect faith in prodigies such as those
connected with the holy ampoule of St. Remi and the subsequent miracles
in which it was so efficacious; and everyone understood their meaning.
This continued as long as the Church held sway over hearts and minds of
the populace. Nobody, probably, had the disposition, not to say the
hardihood, to deny the story—you may read it in Froissart—that at the
battle of Roosebeek (or Rosebeque), which put an end to the power of
Philip van Artevelde in 1382, a white dove was seen to circle about and
alight on the French oriflame, which then swept on to victory.

Readers of Malory’s _Morte D’Arthur_ will recall that as on its
appearance the Holy Grail passes before Lancelot’s eyes in the castle of
Pelleas, a dove, entering at the window and carrying a small golden
censer in its beak, impressed the awe-struck knights of the Table Round
as a lovely token of the purity and worship to which the castle was
devoted. Nothing could be more natural in medieval romance than this
incident—a miracle commemorated in the opera _Parsifal_. The Venetians
still assert that the pigeons so familiar and petted in the piazza of
St. Mark fly three times daily around the city in honor of the Trinity.

A later example: in the first voyage of Hernando Cortez to America water
and food were almost exhausted, and everybody in the vessel was
discouraged and mutinous, when “came a Dove flying to the Shippe, being
Good Friday at Sunsett; and sat him on the Shippe-top; whereat they were
all comforted, and tooke it for a miracle and good token ... and all
gave heartie thanks to God, directing their course the way the Dove
flew.” Any sort of bird would have been welcome as an indication of
nearness of land, but a _dove_ meant to them a heavenly pilot. No wonder
that they were comforted! And when they had landed they found in
abundance a flower (the orchid _Peristeria elata_) which they at once
named La Flor del Espiritu Santu—Flower of the Holy Ghost. Why? Because
in its center the consolidated pistil and stamens form an unmistakable
image of a dove.

The immediate source of this symbolism is evidently the account in the
gospels of the divine sanction witnessed at the baptism of Jesus.
Matthew (iii, 16) records: “Lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he
saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him”;
and St. Luke strengthens the realism by writing that “the Holy Ghost
descended in a bodily shape like a dove.” Hence this bird is constantly
associated with Christ and with the Cross by artists and decorative
designers; and it is no wonder that in so strictly Catholic countries as
Italy it is considered sacrilegious by many of the people to eat the
flesh of pigeons.

“In the fifth century,” as Mrs. Jenner tells us in her book on Christian
symbolism,[63] the dove is shown descending on the Blessed Virgin at the
Annunciation. After this date the Holy Dove is commonly shown in
depicting both these subjects, as well as the sacrament of baptism. It
appears frequently also over the pictures of the Virgin and Child, and
in pictures of the Creation, where “the spirit of God moved on the face
of the waters.... The Holy Spirit as a dove bestowing the Gift of
Tongues is shown with flames proceeding from Him.”

The prophet Elisha is represented in a window of Lincoln College,
England, with a two-headed dove on his shoulder—evidently an allusion to
his petition to Elijah (_II Kings_, ii, 9): “I pray thee, let a double
portion of thy spirit be upon me.”

But this venerated bird has many other meanings in Christian art and
parable, sometimes so comprehensive as to include the Church, or Pope,
or Christians generally in the sense that they are distinguished from
Pagans by their gentleness and innocence.

Reference has been made to the funereal quality of this bird, which
appears on medieval funerary monuments as testimony of death in
Christian faith. In the miracle-play depicting the career and martyrdom
of St. Eulalia of Barcelona, which is still enacted annually in the
Catalan village-churches of the eastern Pyrenees, it is represented that
the tortured soul of the Christian maiden escapes to heaven in the form
of a dove. Even to-day one sees these birds, or a pair of them, carved
on tombstones, or their stuffed skins employed as a part of funeral
wreaths and accessories, and certain superstitions have grown out of
this practice, as is related elsewhere.

The white domestic dove has always been a figure of purity by reason, no
doubt, of its whiteness, as of unstained snow or light—the same feeling
that prescribes white raiment in such church services as the
confirmation of girls, and white veils and flowers for brides. This,
probably, was the reason, too, why white doves, and even geese, were
acceptable for sacrifice in the Jewish temple of old from those who
could not afford to give a lamb. Mary, mother of Jesus, offered doves at
her sacrificial purification; and that these birds were commonly used
for that purpose is evident from the fact that a great trade in them had
grown up in and around the temple in Jerusalem, profaning it, so that
later Jesus drove away from its hallowed precincts “them that sold
doves.” A tradition says that Moses, a good economist, decreed as a
proper sacrifice-offering either a turtle-dove or two young pigeons,
because doves were good to eat at any time, whereas pigeons (the larger
and wilder stock) were tough and unpalatable except as squabs; and it is
to be remembered that the edible flesh of sacrificed animals was
afterward eaten, and for that end was divided equally between the
offerer and the priests.

A more widespread, popular and persistent notion makes the dove the
symbol of peace, usually depicted with a spray of olive in its beak. How
the olive came to have this character has been thoroughly discussed by
the Rev. H. Friend.[11] It appears to be largely an accidental
acquisition, even if one believes that the idea is derived from the
olive-leaf brought back by the dove that Noah sent forth from the ark.
In old times a tree-branch of any sort served as does a modern flag of
truce between warring factions; or was held aloft as a sign of friendly
intentions when strangers approached others without hostile purpose. The
tradition of the Deluge suggested, and usage has strengthened, the
supposition that the olive was the proper sort of branch to show
(without danger of misunderstanding), as was the practice of Roman
heralds, and the fact that this bird was associated with the olive in
Biblical legend has made the dove the “bird of peace.” The olive-tree
was given to Athens and the world by Pallas Athene, patron of peace and
plenty.

As a matter of ornithology the choice of this bird as a representative
of peace is an unfortunate one, for pigeons are unusually quarrelsome
among themselves; it is noticeable, however, that in all these relations
the symbolic dove is a white one—not the gray ring-dove. In Japan, on
the contrary doves are considered messengers of war, which perhaps
originated in the legend of an escape from his enemies by the mythical
hero Yoritomo. He was hiding in a hollow tree, and when his pursuers saw
two doves fly out of the hollow they concluded no one could be there and
passed on. Yoritomo afterward became shogun, and he erected shrines to
the god of war, whose birds are doves, become so, perhaps, by reason of
their pugnacity.

Next to the dove (or perhaps the eagle) the peacock appears to have most
importance among birds as a symbol. To us it stands as a vainglorious
and foppish personality of very little use in a practical world; and
India has a proverb that the crow that puts on peacock’s feathers finds
that they fall out and that he has left only the harsh voice. De
Gubernatis[54] quotes another Hindoo saying, that this bird has angel’s
feathers, a devil’s voice and a thief’s walk. Other stories tell of the
proud bird’s chagrin when he looks down and perceives how black and
glossy are his feet—as old Robert Chester sang it in _Love’s Martyr_:

           The proud sun-loving peacocke with his feathers,
           Walkes all alone, thinking himself a king,
           And with his voyce prognosticates all weathers,
           Although God knows but badly doth he sing;
           But when he lookes downe to his base blacke feete,
           He droops, and is asham’d of things unmeete.

A still earlier poet had sung of this secret chagrin attributed to the
conceited fowl, and had accounted for it by a popular Moslem tradition,
illustrated to this day by the fact that the Devil-worshipping sect of
Yezd, in northern Mesopotamia, reverence the peacock as the accomplice
of Eblis, which is Satan; my reference is to the Persian Azz’ Eddin
Elmocadessi,[88] who wrote—

              The peacock wedded to the world,
                  Of all her gorgeous plumage vain,
              With glowing banners wide unfurled,
                  Sweeps slowly by in proud disdain;
              But in her heart a torment lies,
              That dims the lustre of those eyes;
              She turns away her glance—but no,
              Her hideous feet appear below!
              And fatal echoes, deep and loud,
                  Her secret mind’s dark caverns stir;
              She knows, though beautiful and proud,
                  That Paradise is not for her.
              For, when in Eden’s blissful spot
                  Lost Eblis tempted man, she dared
              To join the treach’rous angel’s plot
                  And thus his crime and sentence shared.
              Her frightful claws remind her well
              Of how she sinned and how she fell.

The native home of this resplendent pheasant is India and Malaya, and
the brilliance of its plumage (in the male sex, to which all that
follows refers), the radiating, rustling quills and prismatic eye-spots
of the magnificent tail-coverts, together with other features of the
bird’s life, led to its association in Eastern mythology with the sun
and sometimes with the rainbow. Taken westward by adventurous traders,
the glittering dress of the cock entered into the popular conception of
the phenix, and thus the peacock came to be accepted in pagan Greece and
Italy as a substitute for that gorgeous fiction, as no real phenix was
obtainable. Naturally the new bird was assigned, superseding her homely
goose, to Hera (Juno) the consort of Zeus (Jupiter) whose cognizance was
the eagle—the other component of the hybrid phenix; and, as Juno was
queen of heaven, the bird was used by pre-christian artists as the
symbol of the apotheosis of an empress as was the eagle that of an
emperor.

These ideas were of Eastern origin, and came with the bird when it was
introduced into the western world from its home in southern Asia, where
its harsh cry of warning to the jungle whenever it espied a tiger,
leopard or big snake, was also a welcome signal to the people of the
woodland villages to be on their guard. “For this reason, as well as its
habit of foretelling rain by its dancing and cries of delight, it has
from time immemorial been held in the East as a bird of magic, or the
embodiment of some god of the forest whose beneficence is well worth
supplication, and whose resentment might bring disaster. Hence it was
ever protected, not by law, but from a feeling of veneration.”

The words quoted are from one of a series of articles on Oriental Art by
Mrs. Katherine M. Ball,[68] printed in _Japan_ (July, 1922), from which
the reader may gather further facts as to the place the bird holds in
the religious and artistic thought of the Orient. In China, for example,
in the time of the Tang dynasty (8th century, A. D.), “many thousand
districts,” according to the chronicles, “paid tribute in peacocks,
because their feathers were required by the state, not only as
decorations for the imperial processions, but for the designation of
official rank; for the peacock feather was bestowed upon officials, both
military and civil, as a reward for faithful service.” Such feathers
differed according to the honor to be dispensed, hence there are the
“flower” feather, the “green” feather, and the “one-eyed,” “two-eyed”
and “three-eyed,” all of which were greatly treasured and worn on
special occasions. This use of the feather is accounted for by Mrs. Ball
in this way: “In the Chin dynasty a defeated general took refuge in a
forest where there were many peacocks. When the pursuing forces arrived,
and found the fowl so quiet and undisturbed, they concluded that no one
could possibly have come that way, and forthwith abandoned the search.
The general—who later became known as the ancestor of five kings—was
thus able to escape, and so grateful was he that later when he came into
power he instituted the custom of conferring a peacock feather as an
honor for the achievement of bravery in battle.” This incident reminds
us of the escape of Yoritomo of Japan, and of the Tartar general who
avoided capture under the protection of a quiet owl, as related
elsewhere.

The Japanese are fond of the peacock as a motive in their exquisite art,
and frequently combine it with the peony, as do the Chinese, who
consider that the only flower worthy of such association. Another
subject frequently seen illustrated is a representation of the Buddhist
healing deity Kujako Myowo, the Japanese analogue of the Hindoo
deification of this fowl.

Whether the peacock was brought to the Mediterranean region from India
or Persia or from Phoenicia is unknown. It is commonly said that
Alexander the Great was its introducer; but wherever it went its
symbolic significance accompanied it, otherwise the peoples of Greece
and Italy would hardly have given it the name of their own goddess of
light and day, or have held it to be a visible sign of the rainbow
itself. In combination with the eagle it was originally an attribute of
Pan, who later was obliged to yield it to Juno, the goddess of Heaven,
thus making it the star-bird, the symbol of the starry firmament, on
account of the “eyes” in its tail-feathers, which were regarded as the
very stars themselves. Out of this arose many myths, chief among which
is that of the hundred-eyed Argus—how Argus was set by Juno to watch Io,
of whom she had been jealous, but was killed by Mercury in the interest
of the queen’s unrepentant husband; and how Juno makes the best of a bad
situation:

           Thus Argus lies in pieces cold and pale;
           And all his hundred eyes with all their light
           Are closed at once in one perpetual night.
           These Juno takes, that they no more shall fail,
           And spreads them on her peacock’s gaudy tail.[69]

But the Christians, in their revolt against everything Pagan, regarded
this bird, which like so many other facts and fancies of the ancient
régime they could not destroy, from a new and different angle. They
observed that although it lost (by molting) its splendid raiment yet as
often it was re-acquired—manifestly a similitude of the resurrection of
the devoted soul into renewed glories after death. The fact was true, of
course of all birds, but it was most noticeable in this gaudy stranger
from the land of sunrise; and, in addition, a belief was borrowed from
the phenix that its flesh was incorruptible. Thus the peacock became in
early Christian art a symbol of immortality.

In the general mental lethargy that marked the Middle Ages this elevated
idealism was degraded; yet that somewhat of the bird’s traditional
sacredness remained is shown by the fact that among the customs of
chivalry, knights and squires took oath on the king’s peacock, which,
stuffed and brought ceremoniously to the table, was a feature in various
solemnities. Critics trace to this the Shakespearian oath “By cock and
pye!”—to my mind a dubious gloss. “It is said of Pythagoras,” De
Gubernatis[54] notes, “that he believed himself to have once been a
peacock, that the peacock’s soul entered into Euphorbus, a Homeric
Trojan hero, that of Euphorbus into Homer, and that of Homer into him.”
Those who are familiar with classic literature may be able to continue
the history of this literary metempsychosis down to the present. Hehn
and Stallybrass elaborate their history of the peacock in custom and
myth in exhaustive detail in their _Wanderings of Plants and Animals_.

A quaint relic of ancient ideas survives in the prevalent notion that
the beautiful tail-plumes of the peacock are unlucky or worse, for it is
widely feared that illness and death speedily follow putting them into a
house, especially as affecting the health of youngsters. It occurred to
me that this superstition, as foolish as it is baleful, was probably
connected with the far-reaching dread of the Evil Eye, having in mind
the gleaming ocellæ that decorate these splendid feathers, but
Elworthy’s exhaustive treatise[66] on that dreaded visitation
(especially feared among Italians) alludes to the matter only casually,
and expresses the opinion that the alleged ill-luck is a relic of the
ancient cult of Juno—a lingering fear that in some way her anger may be
excited by the plucking of the feathers of her favorite bird; while the
idea that so long as these plumes are kept in the house no suitors will
come for the daughters points to the old attribute of spite or jealousy
in love or matrimonial matters with which Juno was always accredited in
Pagan times.

It occurs to me, also, that the fact that the revered peacock throws
away (moulds) its quills every year suggests to a superstitious
imagination that they may be distasteful to the bird, and hence
something to be avoided by careful devotees. Nevertheless, on Easter Day
in Rome, when the pope is borne in magnificent state into St. Peter’s,
he waves over the heads of the reverent worshippers assembled there a
fan (flabellum) of ostrich feathers on which have been sewn the
eye-spots from peacock plumes, the latter, we are told, signifying the
all-seeing vigilance of the Church—against foolishness as well as
downright evil, let us hope!

No bird is more often employed symbolically in Christian art than the
pelican, which, like the peacock became a representative of salvation
through the self-sacrifice of Christ. How this developed from the
supposed habit of resuscitating her nestlings by feeding them blood from
her bosom, after they had been murdered by the father, is explained in
another chapter. It is said that the story originated in Egypt, with
reference to a vulture. St. Jerome, however, first gave it a theological
application, teaching that similarly those dead in sin were made alive
again by the blood of the Christ. The form—still familiar in heraldry—is
that of a bird sitting by its nest with its beak depressed and tearing
at its breast, representing “the pelican in its piety,” the last word
here having its original meaning of parental care. It also became a
pictured symbol of the Christ and of the Passion, “and more particularly
of the Eucharist, wherein Christians are nourished by Christ himself.”
Thomas Aquinas (13th century) is the author of a well-known verse of
this import:

         Pelican of Piety, Jesus, Lord and God,
         Cleanse thou me, unclean, in thy most precious blood,
         But a single drop of which doth save and free
         All the universe from its iniquity.

A similar stanza in John Skelton’s _Armoury of Birds_ reads:

                     Then sayd the Pellycane,
                     When my byrdts be slayne,
                 With my bloude I them reuyue [revive].
                     Scrypture doth record
                     The same dyd our Lord,
                 And rose from deth to lyue. [life]

The eagle is to be regarded rather as an emblem than as a symbol yet it
has a significance of this sort, for by the early Christians it was
considered a symbol of the Ascension. This may have been a pious
inversion of the custom in Pagan Rome of setting free an eagle at the
funeral pyre of an emperor, in the belief that this messenger of Jove
would carry the dead monarch’s soul straight up to Olympus.

The notion that in death the soul leaves the body in the form of a bird
is old and very general. Medieval biographies of Christian saints and
martyrs abound in instances, as, for example, the story of Saint Devoté,
found in a boat near Monaco at the moment of her expiring, with a dove
issuing from her lips.[67] The Paris _Figaro_, in October, 1872,
describing the ceremonies at the death of a gipsy in that city,
mentioned that a bird was held close to the mouth of the dying girl,
ready to receive her expired soul. This is not an illogical idea, if the
conception of a person’s soul as a distinct entity is conceded; for if
it is to fly away to Paradise it must have something in the nature of
wings, and a bird, or the semblance of a real bird, is inevitably
suggested, the wings of a bat being too repulsive—reserved, in fact, for
representations of Satan and his emissaries. Angels and genii have
always been provided by prophets, romancers, and artists with swanlike
wings, springing from behind their shoulders, reckless of comparative
anatomy—otherwise how could these “heavier-than-air” beings accomplish
their travelling?

I have said that the theory that the disengaged soul departs to heaven
in the form of or by aid of a bird is historically very old. Probably,
indeed, it is of prehistoric antiquity, for various savage peoples have
arrived at the same doctrine, based on an obvious philosophy. For
example: Powers[19] tells us that the Keltas of southern California
believe that when one of the tribe dies a little bird flies away with
his soul. “If he was a bad Indian a hawk will catch the bird and eat it
up, body, feathers and all; but if he was a good Indian the soul-bird
will reach the spirit-land.”

In Christian iconography the eagle is the emblem of the evangelist St.
John, an assignment originating, it is said, in Jerome’s interpretation
of the amazing visions of the four “beasts” as recorded in _Ezekiel_
i:5, and somewhat less fantastically in _Revelations_ iv:7. Wherever in
sculpture, painting, or stained glass St. John appears he may be
recognized by his eagle; and sometimes the bird is rather more
conspicuous than the saint, as when it is bearing him aloft on its back,
both gazing, open-eyed and resolute, at the sun, as the eagle is fabled
to be able to do. This association also accounts for the practice of
carving the support of the reading-desk in both Catholic and Anglican
churches in the form of an eagle with outstretched wings. At the
beginning, we are told, figures of all four evangelists upheld the
lectern; but one by one the others disappeared before the demands of
artistic grace until at last John, “the beloved disciple,” alone
remained, and presently he came to be represented only by his emblem.
“Medieval writers,” remarks B. L. Gales, in an article in _The National
Review_ (1808), “delight in all sorts of wild and wonderful tales about
his,” that is, the eagle’s “renewing his youth by gazing at the sun or
plunging into a clear stream, and allegorize at length on the Waters of
Baptism and the true Sun—Jesus Christ.” This, of course, is simply a
comparatively modern illustration of the very ancient myth that when the
sun set in the western ocean, yet arose bright and hot next morning, it
had rejuvenated itself by its bath as it passed from west to east
underneath the world.

In the East, where the sport of falconry originated, and where the
Mongols trained and employed, and still do, eagles as well as hawks, the
falcon has acquired much interesting symbolism, especially in Japan, as
appears in many exquisite drawings by early artists; and often these can
be fully understood and enjoyed by us of the West only when the subtle
meaning involved in the picture is interpreted to us, or we learn the
tradition to which it refers. For example, in Hokusai’s drawing _San
Puku_ (The Three Lucky Things) the mountain symbolizes the beauty of
nature, the falcon the delights of the chase, and the eggplant the
wisdom of frugality and of the simplicity of life. This undaunted bird
(_taka_, the heroic one) is to the Japanese the symbol of victory; and
the Medal of Victory, which the government confers upon distinguished
warriors has emblazoned upon it a golden falcon, in commemoration of the
coming to Japan of its mythical ancestor, Jimmu Tenno; for it is related
that as he set foot up on the Island’s shore, a falcon flew toward him
and lit on his bow, an incident which has ever been regarded as
prophetic of the success of his undertaking.

Little can be added in this connection concerning the birds of prey. In
ancient Egypt the vulture represented Nekht, the tutelary deity of the
South, who appeared to men in that form; and the protection she accorded
to the queens of Egypt was indicated by the vulture-headdress worn by
these ladies at least during the Empire. The kite, too, is connected
with early Egyptian history, according to a tradition, preserved by
Diodorus Siculus, that the book of religious laws and customs was
originally brought to Thebes by a kite; wherefore the sacred scribes
wore a red cap with a kite’s feather in it.

The cock in Christian religious art is to be interpreted as an emblem of
vigilance—also as an image of preachers, in which may be a touch of
humor. “When introduced near the figure of St. Peter,” says one
authority, “it expresses repentance; in this connection it is one of the
emblems of the Passion.” The placing of the image of a cock on church
towers is said to be an allusion to Peter as the head of the Church on
earth, and as representing the voice of the Church, which by day and in
the watches of the night calls on men to repent. Another tradition is
that some early pope ordered that the weathervane on churches be in that
form in order to remind the clergy of the necessity of watchfulness—a
second reference to _Mark_, iii, 35.

Ragozin tells us that in the _Vendida_, the “Bible” of the ancient
Medes, great credit is given to the cock as the messenger who calls men
to the performance of their religious duties: “Arise, O men! Whichever
first gets up shall enter paradise!” A Hebrew legendary saying is that
when a cock crows before dawn it warns: “Remember thy Creator, O
thoughtless man!” Finally Drayton sings of—

               The cock, the country horologe that rings
               The cheerful warning to the sun’s awake.

Nowadays, if chanticleer calls to mind anything in particular, except
wrath at his too early rising to adore the god of day, it is the spirit
of boastfulness and “cocksureness”; while his humble mate represents
maternal cares carried to the extreme of fussiness.

The names of a good many birds serve as synonyms of prevailing ideas, or
become figures of speech, without having a special myth or story behind
them. Thus the words _eagle_ and _falcon_ convey to the listener the
notion of nobility in power, while _hawk_ simply means fierceness, with
somewhat of prying, detective skill. _Owl_ provokes in the imagination a
rather smiling picture of solemn pretence of wisdom—a reputation, by the
way, almost wholly due to the little European screech-owl’s accidental
association with Pallas Athene. _Swallow_ suggests spring all over the
world; _goose_ and _gull_ connote easy credulity and foolishness;
_vulture_ and _raven_, rapine and cruelty; _parrot_ senseless chatter or
the lavish repetition of another’s ideas or sayings; _cuckoo_, poaching
on another man’s domestic preserves; and so on down to the _stork_,
which in Germany symbolizes filial piety because of its fancied
solicitude toward aged storks, and which children are taught to believe
brings babies from the fountain to their mothers’ laps. The Chinese and
Japanese peasantry hold the _Mandarin duck_ in high esteem as a model of
conjugal virtues, because it is said to mate for life, and Hindoos feel
the same toward their (sarus) _crane_—a bird that figures extensively in
the legendary lore of both China and Japan. Figures of the crane are
found decorating bridal attire in Japan, and this bird is commended to
womankind generally in Nippon as an example of motherhood to be
emulated. “In this respect it is like the _pheasant_, which is said to
stay by her young during a grass-fire, covering them with her
outstretched wings until, together, they perish in the flames; for in a
similar way the crane shields her young from the bitter cold of the
winter snows.”

In ancient Egypt the plume of the _ostrich_, “on account of the
mathematical equality of the opposing barbs in point of length—a
peculiarity not present in the primary feathers of any other bird with
which the Egyptians were acquainted—was regarded as the sacred symbol of
justice.” Osiris was represented with two ostrich plumes in his crown.
Says Dr. Cyrus Adler: “The Egyptian considered the _hoopoe_ as
symbolical of gratitude because it repays the early kindness of its
parents in their old age by trimming their wings and bringing them food
when they are acquiring new plumage. The Arabs call it ‘doctor,’
believing it to possess marvellous medicinal qualities, and they use its
head in charms and incantations.”



                              CHAPTER VIII
                    BLACK FEATHERS MAKE BLACK BIRDS


No one bird known to Americans is so entangled with whatever witchcraft
belongs to birds as is the raven, yet little of it is American besides
Poe’s melodramatic mummery, whose raven was a borrowed piece of
theatrical property. The shrewd people of this country pay little
attention to signs and portents, yet some survive among us, for the
extravagant notions popularly held as to the sagacity of our crow, with
its “courts” and “consultations,” are no doubt traceable in some measure
to the bird’s history in Old World superstition.

In Europe no bird, save possibly the cuckoo, is so laden with legends
and superstitious veneration as the raven, chiefly, however, in the
North, where it is not only most numerous and noticeable but seems to
fit better than in the gladsome South. To the rough, virile Baltic man,
or to the Himalayan mountaineer, worshipping force, careless of beauty,
this sable bird of hard endurance, challenging cry and powerful wing,
the “ravener,” tearer, was an admirable creature; while to the more
esthetic dweller by the Mediterranean or on Ægean shores such qualities
were repulsive, and the raven became a reminder of winter, when alone it
was seen in the South, and of the savage forests and hated barbarians
whence it came. Much the same antithesis belongs to this bird and its
relatives in the minds of Orientals. To understand the impression the
raven made on primitive men, and the symbolism and dread that have grown
up about it, one must have some knowledge of the real _Corvus corax_.

The raven is the largest member of the ornithological family Corvidæ,
measuring two feet from beak to tail-tip. It is everywhere black, with
steel-blue and purplish reflections, and is distinguished from its
equally black cousins, the crows, by its stouter beak, somewhat hooked
at the tip, and especially by the elongated and pointed feathers on the
throat. It is powerful in flight, and is noted for performing queer
antics in the air. Judged by its anatomy it stands high in the scale of
classification, so that some ornithologists, considering also its
intellect, have put it quite at the top of the scale—made it the true
King of Birds. In its northern home this species is to be found right
around the world, inhabiting Asia and Europe as far south as the great
ridge of mountains that extends from Spain to Siberia, and also living
in Asia Minor and Syria. It is native to all North America, where no
arctic island is too remote to be visited by it in summer. Most of the
ravens fly southward in winter from polar latitudes to kindlier regions,
but those that stay in the far north become doubly conspicuous in a
wilderness of snow, for they do not turn white in winter as do many
arctic residents; therefore Goldsmith wasted much philosophy in
explaining in his _Animated Nature_ why they “become white.” The raven’s
ordinary call-note is well enough described by the words “croak” and
“caw,” but it has many variations. Nuttall quotes Porphyrius as
declaring that no less than 64 different intonations of the raven’s
cries were distinguished by the soothsayers of his day, and given
appropriate significance. Some notes are indescribably queer.

Ravens have almost disappeared from thickly settled regions, in striking
contrast to their near relatives the crows, rooks, choughs, magpies,
jackdaws, and various related species in the Old World, which thrive and
grow tame in the company of civilized humanity. Few pairs of ravens
remain in the United States east of the Rocky Mountains, except on the
wilder parts of the Maine coast and about Lake Superior.

Readers of Charles Dickens’s novels will recall the impish specimen
“Grip” that Barnaby Rudge used to carry about with him, and which became
his fellow-prisoner in jail—and served him right, for he was always
declaring “I’m a devil!”

This raven was modelled after an actual pet, named “Grip,” in the family
of the novelist when he was writing _Barnaby Rudge_ in 1841. It died in
July of that year, and its body passed into the possession of Dr. R. T.
Judd, an English collector of Dickens’ material. In 1922 this
collection, including the stuffed skin of Grip, and its former cage,
labelled with its owner’s name, was offered for sale at the Anderson
Galleries in New York. It appears from accompanying letters that as the
novel was originally written it contained no reference to the bird; but
before the manuscript was completed it occurred to Mr. Dickens that he
could make good use of the mischievous creature in the story, as is
revealed in a letter to George Cattermole, dated January 28, 1841.

The raven may not only be tamed to the point of domestication, but will
learn to speak a few words. Goldsmith asserted, apparently from
experience, that it not only would speak but could “sing like a man.”
Like all its thievish tribe it loves to pick up and hide objects that
attract its quick eye, especially if they are bright, like a silver
spoon or a bit of jewelry; and this acquisitive disposition has more
than once involved in serious misfortune servants accused of purloining
lost articles, as happened in the case of the Jackdaw of Rheims.

  The tradition on which Barham’s _Ingoldsby Legend_ is embroidered is
  a very old one, the earliest statement of which, probably, is that
  in Mignie’s _Patrologia Latinia_, compiled by a monk of Clairvaux.
  The narrative is that of an incident in the time of Frederick
  Barbarossa (12th century) when the monastery of Corvey was ruled by
  a prince-bishop named Conrad. One day he left his episcopal ring
  lying on the dining-table, and it disappeared. The bishop blamed the
  servants and suspected his guests, and finally issued a decree of
  excommunication toward any one who had stolen it. Thereupon the
  bishop’s pet jackdaw “began to sicken little by little, to loathe
  his food, to cease more and more from his droll croakings and
  irrational follies whereby he was wont to delight the minds of fools
  who neglect to fear God.”

  At this dreadful stage it occurred to some bright genius that this
  portentous change in the bird was the effect of the curse, and that
  it was the sought-for thief. Its nest was searched, the precious
  ring was found, the curse was taken off, and the jackdaw recovered
  its plumage and good spirits.

Where ravens can get other food plentifully they seldom attack living
animals. Bendire frequently saw them feeding among his chickens without
harming them, yet undoubtedly they are occasionally guilty in our West
of killing young lambs, game-birds, and poultry, sins of which they are
much accused in Europe. Certainly they rob wild birds of eggs and
fledglings, but these evil deeds are done mainly in spring, in providing
their own nestlings with soft food. During most of the year the food of
the raven consists of carrion, grasshoppers, worms, mussels and other
shellfish (the larger kinds of which they lift high in the air and then
drop to break their shells), and of ground-squirrels and young rabbits
when they can get hold of them.

When a raven alights on a dead animal its first act is to pluck out the
eyes. One of the barbarities in the ancient East was to throw the bodies
of executed criminals out to be devoured by beasts and birds of prey—a
custom of which the Parsee Towers of Silence is a modified relic. The
popular knowledge of this gave great force to Solomon’s warning
(_Proverbs_ xxx, 17): “The eye that mocketh at his father, and despiseth
to obey his mother, the ravens of the valley shall pick it out”—that is,
so bad a boy would end on the gallows.

Although ravens were regarded by the ancient Zoroastrians as “pure,”
because they were considered necessary to remove pollution from the face
of the earth, the Jews classed this creature as “unclean” for the same
reason—it ate carrion. In view of this the Biblical legend that the
Prophet Elijah, when he hid by the brook Kerith from the wrath of Ahab,
was fed by ravens at command of the Lord, is so unnatural that
commentators have done their best to explain it away. To this day the
Moors regard ravens as belonging to Satan. In Chapter V of the _Koran_,
where the killing of Cain by his brother is described, we read: “And God
sent a raven which scratched the earth to show him how he should hide
the shame [that is, the corpse] of his brother, and he said ‘Woe is me!
am I to be like this raven?’ ... and he became one of those who repent.”
This is from Sale’s edition, Philadelphia, 1868; and the editor adds a
note that this legend was derived from the Jews, but that in their
version the raven appears not to Cain but to Adam, who thereupon buried
Abel.

That a bird black as night and its mysteries, a familiar of the
lightning-riven pine and the storm-beaten crag, a ghoulish attendant of
battling men and feasting on their slain, muttering strange soliloquies,
and diabolically cunning withal—that such a creature should have
appealed to the rough mariners of the North is far from surprising. The
supreme Norse god was Odin, an impersonation of force and intellect—an
apotheosis, indeed, of the Viking himself; and his ministers were two
ravens, Hugin and Munin, _i.e._, Reflection and Memory. “They sit upon
his shoulders and whisper in his ears,” says history. “He sends them out
at daybreak to fly over the world, and they come back at eve, toward
meal-time.” Hence it is that Odin knows so much, and is called
_Rafnagud_, Raven-god. Most solicitously does Odin express himself about
these ministers in Grunner’s lay in the _Elder Edda_:

               Hugin and Munin fly each day
               Over the spacious earth. I fear for Hugin
               That he come not back,
               Yet more anxious am I for Munin.

Again, in Odin’s fierce _Raven Song_, Hugin goes “to explore the
heavens.” Jupiter’s two eagles, sent east and west, will be recalled by
readers of classic tales.

As the eagle of Jove became the standard of the Roman legions, so Odin’s
bird was inscribed on the shields and the banners of his warrior sons.
You may see such banners illustrated in the Bayeux tapestry. The Dane
called his standard _landeyda_ (land-waster), and had faith in its
miraculous virtues. The original ensign, that is, the one brought to
England by the first invaders, is described in St. Neot’s biographical
_Chronicles_ (9th century). In 878, it records, a wild Danish rover
named Hubba came with twenty-three ships on a raid into Devon: but the
people rose and killed or drove away all the vikings.

“And there got they [that is, the Devon men] no small spoil, wherein
they took, moreover, that banner which men call the Raven. For they say
that the three sisters of Ingwar and Hubba, the daughters, sooth to say,
of Lodbrock, wove that banner, and made it all wholly ready between morn
and night of a single day. They say, too, that in every fight wherein
that flag went before them, if they were to win the raven in the midst
thereof seemed to flutter, as if it were alive, but were their doom to
be worsted, then it would droop, still and lifeless.”

Britain came to know well that portentous flag—

                The Danish raven, lured by annual prey,
                Hung o’er the land incessant,

as Thomson laments. Finally Harold hurled the power of Canute from
England’s shores forever, and Tennyson sings Harold’s paean:

                     We have shattered back
             The hugest wave from Norseland ever yet
             Surged on us, and our battle-axes broken
             The Raven’s wing, and dumbed the carrion croak
             From the gray sea forever.

“The crow and the raven,” MacBain[71] announces, “are constantly
connected in the Northern mythologies with battle-deities. ‘How is it
with you, Ravens?’ says the Norse _Raven Song_. ‘Whence are you come
with gory beak at the dawning of the day.... You lodged last night, I
ween, where ye knew the corses were lying.’ The ravens also assist and
protect heroes both in Irish and Norse myth. It was a lucky sign if a
raven followed a warrior.”

But the bold Norse sailors made a more practical use also of this
knowing bird, for in those days, before the compass, they used to take
ravens with them in their adventurous voyages on the fog-bound northern
seas, and trust the birds to show them the way back to land. A notable
instance was Floki’s voyage to Iceland in 864 A. D., a few years after
that island’s discovery; and the French historian Mallet[30] narrates it
thus:

  We are told that Floki, previous to setting out on his expedition,
  performed a great sacrifice, and having consecrated three ravens to
  the gods took them with him to guide him on his voyage. After
  touching at the Shetland and Faroë islands he steered northwest, and
  when he was fairly out at sea, let loose one of his ravens, which,
  after rising to a considerable elevation, directed its flight to the
  land they had quitted.... The second bird, after being some time on
  the wing, returned to the ship, a sign that the land was too far
  distant to be descried even by a raven hovering in the sky. Floki
  therefore continued his course, and shortly afterwards let loose his
  third raven, which he followed in its flight until he reached the
  eastern coast of Iceland.

This is a somewhat poetic account, I imagine, of what perhaps was a more
prosaic custom of seamanship, for doubtless it was usual at that time to
carry several birds on such voyages, and to let them fly from time to
time that they might learn and indicate to the voyagers whether land was
near, and in what direction, as did old Captain Noah, master of the good
ship _Ark_. Berthold Lauffer[52] treats of this point with his customary
thoroughness in his pamphlet _Bird Divination_:

  Indian Hindoo navigators kept birds on board ship for the purpose of
  despatching them in search of land. In the _Baveru-Jataka_ it is “a
  crow serving to direct navigators in the four quarters”.... Pliny
  relates that the seafarers of Taprobane (Ceylon) did not observe the
  stars for the purpose of navigation, but carried birds out to sea,
  which they sent off from time to time and then followed the course
  of the birds’ flying in the direction of the land. The connection of
  this practice with that described in the Babylonian and Hebraic
  traditions of the deluge was long ago recognized.... When the people
  of Thera, an island in the Ægean Sea emigrated to Libya, ravens flew
  along with them ahead of the ships to show the way. According to
  Justin ... it was by the flight of birds that the Gauls who invaded
  Illyricum were guided. Emperor Jimmu of Japan (7th century) engaged
  in a war expedition and marched under the guidance of a gold-colored
  raven.

  Mr. Lauffer might have added that Callisthenes relates that two
  heaven-sent ravens led the expedition of Alexander across the
  trackless desert from the Mediterranean coast to the oasis of Ammon
  (Siwah), recalling stragglers now and then by hoarse croaking.

The folklore of northern Europe is full of the cunning and exploits of
this bird and its congeners, which it would be a weary task to
disentangle from pure myth. In Germany there is, or was, a stone gibbet
called, with gruesome memories, Ravenstone, to which Byron alludes in
_Werner_—

                       Do you think
               I’ll honor you so much as save your throat
               From the Ravenstone by choking myself?

We read that the old Welsh king Owein, son of Urien, had in his army
three hundred doughty ravens, constituting an irresistible force;
perhaps they were only human “shock” troops who bore this device on
their targes. Cuchulain, the savage hero of Irish fables, had, like
Odin, two magic ravens that advised him of the approach of foes.
Old-fashioned Germans believe that Frederick I (Barbarossa) is sleeping
under Raven’s Hill at Kaiserlauten, ready to come forth in the last
emergency of his country. There in his grotto-palace a shepherd found
him sleeping. Barbarossa awoke and asked: “Are the ravens still flying
around the hill?” The shepherd answered that they were. “Then,” sighed
the king, “I must sleep another hundred years.”

Waterton[73] tells us that a tradition was once current throughout the
whole of Great Britain that King Arthur was changed into a raven (some
say a chough) by the art of witchcraft; and that in due time he would be
restored to human form, and return with crown and sceptre. In Brittany,
where Arthur and his knights are much more real than even in Cornwall,
the sailor-peasants will assure you that he was buried on the little
isle of Avalon, just off the foreshore of Tregastel, but they will add
very seriously that he is not dead. If you inquire how that can be, they
will explain that the great king was conveyed thither magically by
Morgan le Fay, and he and she dwell there in an underground palace. They
are invisible now to all human eyes, and when Arthur wants to go out
into the air his companion turns him into a raven; and perchance, in
proof, your boatman may point your gaze toward a real raven sitting on
the rocks of the islet.

Ravens figure in many monkish legends, too, usually in a beneficent
attitude, in remembrance of their friendly offices toward Elijah. Saint
Cuthbert and several lesser saints and hermits were fed by these or
similar birds. One hermit subsisted many years on a daily ration of half
a loaf of bread brought him by a raven, and one time, when another saint
visited him, the bird provided a whole loaf! Fish was frequently
brought: and once when a certain eremite was ill, the bird furnished the
fish already cooked, and fed it to the patient bit by bit. Miss
Walker[39] shows that as a companion of saints this bird has had a wide
and beneficent experience, which may be set against the more conspicuous
pages of misdeeds in his highly variegated record. Thus we learn that
St. Benedict’s raven saved his life by bearing away the poisoned loaf
sent to this saint by a jealous priest. “After his torture and death at
Saragossa, when the body of St. Vincent was thrown to the wild beasts it
was rescued by ravens and borne to his brothers at Valencia, where it
reposed in a tomb till the Christians of that place were expelled by the
Moors. The remains of the saint were ... again placed in a tomb [at Cape
St. Vincent] to be guarded forever more by the faithful ravens.” Have
you doubts about this story? Go to that wild headland, where Portugal
sets a firm foot against the Atlantic, watch the ravens hovering above
it, and be convinced! And to many other holy men did these noble birds
render substantial service—to St. Meinrad especially, as is affirmed by
no less an authority than the great Jerome.

“In some parts of Germany,” Miss Walker records, “these birds are
believed to hold the souls of the damned, while in other sections wicked
priests only are supposed to be so re-incarnated. In Sweden the ravens
croaking at night in the swamps are said to be the ghosts of murdered
persons who have been denied Christian burial.” A local and humorous
touch is given to this conception by the Irish in Kerry, who allege that
the rooks there are the ghosts of bad old landlords, because they steal
vegetables from the peasants’ gardens—“Always robbin’ the poor!”

This eerie feeling is of long descent. The supreme war-goddess of the
Gaels, as Squire[74] explains, was Morrigu, the Red Woman or
war-goddess, who figures in the adventures of Cuchulain, and whose
favorite disguise was to change herself into a carrion-crow, the
“hoodie-crow” of the Scotch. She had assistants who revelled among the
slain on a battlefield. “These grim creatures of the savage mind had
immense vitality ... indeed, they may be said to survive still in the
superstitious dislike and suspicion shown in all Keltic-speaking
countries for their avatar—the hoodie crow.”

In Pennant’s _Tour in Scotland_ (1771) is described a curious ceremony
in which offerings were made by Scottish herdsmen to the hooded crow,
eagle and other enemies of sheep to induce them to spare the flocks. A
Morayshire saying in old times ran thus:

              The guil, the Gordon, and the hoodie crow,
              Were the three worst things Murray ever saw.

(The guil, Swann explains, is an obnoxious weed, the Gordon refers to
the thieving propensities of a neighboring clan, and the crow killed
lambs and annoyed sickly sheep.) “It is interesting,” says Wentz,[62]
“to observe that this Irish war-goddess Morrigu, the _bodb_ or
_babd_, ... has survived to our own day in the fairy-lore of the chief
Celtic countries. In Ireland the survival in the popular and still
almost general belief among the peasantry that the fairies often
exercise their magical powers under the form of royston crows; and for
this reason these birds are always greatly dreaded and avoided. The
resting of one of them on a peasant’s cottage may signify many things,
but often it means the death of one of the family or some great
misfortune, the bird in such case playing the part of a _bean-sidhe_
(banshee).” In the western Highlands “the hoody crow plays the same
rôle; and in Brittany fairies assume the form of the magpie.”

Under the influence of Christian teaching Odin gradually became
identified throughout northern Europe with Satan: so the raven and all
the Corvidae are now “Devil’s birds” in the folklore of the North. Even
the magpie is said to have devils’ blood in its tongue, and its
chattering is ominous of evil, requiring various rustic charms to
counteract its harm—in fact, if the farmer-folk are correctly informed,
virtually all the birds of this family was naturally tainted with
deviltry. It is not surprising then to hear that European crows go down
to hell once every year, when they must appear before Old Nick and give
him a tribute of feathers. The time of this visit coincides with their
moulting-season in midsummer, when the crows retire and remain
inconspicuous and silent for a time—so maybe it’s true!

An extraordinary survival of this last notion—unless it be original—is
found among the negroes of some of our Southern States, who say that the
“jaybird” (bluejay) is never to be seen on Friday, because on that day
he is carrying sticks to the Devil in hell; that in general this bird is
the Devil’s messenger and spy; and that the reason he is so gay and
noisy on Saturday is that he is so glad to get back to earth. An old
Georgia darky explained the matter a follows:

  “Some folks say Br’er Jay takes a piece er wood, des a splinter,
  down to de bad Place ev’y Friday fer ter help out Mister Devil, so’s
  to let him ’n’ his wife, ole Aunty Squatty, have good kindlin’ wood
  all de time.... But some folks tell de tale ’nother way. Dey say he
  make dat trip ever’ Friday ter tote down des a grit er dirt. He make
  de trip sho’. Ever’body knows dat. But for what he goes folks tells
  diffunt tales. You sho’ly can’t see a jay bird in dis worl’ on
  Friday fum twelve o’clock twel three—hit takes ’em des dat long ter
  make de trip.... Some folks say Bre’r Jay and all his fambly, his
  folks, his cousins, and his kin, does go dat way and d’rection, ev’y
  one totin’ dey grain o’ sand in der bill an’ drappin’ hit in—des one
  teeny weeny grit—wid de good hopes er fillin’ up dat awful
  place.”[2]

Louisiana negroes are of the opinion that the jay is condemned to this
weekly trip as a punishment for misbehavior at Christ’s crucifixion, but
what dreadful deed he did has been forgotten. Every reader of “Uncle
Remus,” or of the stories of Mrs. Ruth McEnery Stuart, Mr. Harry
Stillwell Edwards, and other Southern writers, knows how largely the
“jaybird” figures in the plantation-tales of the negroes, especially of
the coastal districts, where the bluejay is one of the most conspicuous
and interesting of resident birds.

The coming of Christianity, as has been said, swept away the images of
Odin and of his Pagan familiars Hugin and Munin out of both Teutonic and
Keltic Europe, but it did not sweep away the birds themselves, nor
discolor their sable wings, nor silence the baleful croak; and the
impression left by the old tales lingered long in the minds of the
people. To the horror of the raven and his kind among the natives of
Britain, as a symbol of the northern marauders from whom they had so
long suffered, was now added the anathema of pious missionaries who
condemned everything pagan as diabolic, and all things black—except
their own robes—as typifying the powers of darkness. Truly, remarked St.
Ambrose, all shamelessness and sin are dark and gloomy, and feed on the
dead like the crow. A Chinese epithet for the raven is “Mongol’s
coffin.”

The people were sincere enough in this, for behind them was not only the
Devil-fearing superstition of the Middle Ages but a long line of parent
myths and folklore that made the bird’s reputation as black as its
plumage, and added to this was the new and terrifying idea of prophecy.
You get a hint of the feeling in Gower’s _Confessio Amantis_:

                    A Raven by whom yet men maie
                    Take evidence, when he crieth,
                    That some mishap it signifieth.

In Greece and Italy ravens were sacred to Apollo, the great patron of
augurs, who in a pet turned this bird from white to black—and an ill
turn it was, _for black feathers make black birds_; and in this
blackness of coat lies, in my opinion, the root of their sinister
repute.

The “jumbie-bird,” or “big witch,” of the West Indian region, for
example, is the dead-black ani, a kind of cuckoo. Spenser speaks of “the
hoarse night-raven, trompe of doleful dreer,” but his “night-raven” was
not a raven at all, but the bittern.

It is only in an earlier day and under a brighter sky that we find these
corvine prophets taking a more cheerful view of the future. Of course
they are among the “rain-birds”:

                    Hark
              How the curst raven with his harmless voice
              Invokes the rain.

So the “foresight of a raven” became proverbial, as Waterton[73]
illustrates by an anecdote: “Good farmer Muckdrag’s wife, while jogging
on with eggs to market, knew there was mischief brewing as soon as she
had heard a raven croak on the unlucky side of the road:

                   “That raven on the left-hand oak,
                   Curse on his ill-betiding croak,
                       Bodes me no good!”

“She had scarcely uttered this when down came her old stumbling mare to
the ground. Her every egg was smashed to atoms; and whilst she lay
sprawling ... she was perfectly convinced in her own mind that the raven
had clearly foreseen her irreparable misadventure.”

If one alighted on a church-tower the whole parish trembled, and when a
cottager saw one perched on his roof-tree he made his will; or if it
happened that a man or woman was ill in his house the death of that
person was regarded as certain. The more learned would quote for you how
Tiberius, Plato, Cicero and other great men of the past had been
similarly warned, and doubtless many a person has died in these
circumstances of nervous fright and discouragement. It is to this dread
that Marlowe refers in his _Jew of Malta_:

              Like the sad presaging raven that tolls
              The sick man’s passport in her hollow beak,
              And, in the shadow of the silent night,
              Does shake contagion from her sable wing.

The last line contains a new and heinous calumny widely credited. So
Shakespeare makes Caliban threaten Prospero and Ariel with

               As wicked dew as e’er my mother brushed
               With raven’s feather from unwholesome fen.

I wonder, by the way, who first spoke—the simile is, at any rate, as old
as Chaucer’s time—of the wrinkles that gather about the corners of our
eyes when we get on in life, as “crow’s feet”? Frederick Locker sings of
his grandmother:

                     Her locks as white as snow,
                     Once shamed the swarthy crow;
                         By-and-by
                     That fowl’s avenging sprite
                     Set his cruel foot for spite
                         Near her eye.

The expression of course is a suggestion of the radiating form of the
wrinkles at the outer corner of the eye to a crow’s track; and this
reminds us of the fact that when soon after the Norman conquest in
England there was a vast popular interest in royal genealogy, people
spoke of the branching form of a family tree, when drawn on paper, as a
“crane’s foot” (_pied de grue_), whence our term _pedigree_.

Omens are deduced from the flight and cries of ravens, crows, magpies,
and certain other corvine species, especially as regards their direction
relative to the inquirer. Horace, for example, in his _Ode to Galatea_
on her undertaking a journey, tells her that he, as a “provident augur,”

           Ere the weird crow, re-seeking stagnant marshes,
           Predict the rainstorm, will invoke the raven
           From the far East, who, as the priestlier croaker,
               Shall overawe him.

That is to say, Horace will make the raven, appearing or heard from the
eastward (the lucky direction), over-rule the bad omen of the crow.

There is also grave meaning in the number visible at one time, as
Matthew Lewis knew when he wrote the ballad _Bill Jones_:

             “Ah, well-a-day,” the sailor said,
                 “Some danger must impend,
             Three ravens sit in yonder glade,
             And evil will happen I’m sore afraid
                 Ere we reach our journey’s end.”

             “And what have the ravens with us to do?
                 Does their sight betoken us evil?”
             “To see one raven is luck, ’tis true,
             But it’s certain misfortune to light upon two,
                 And meeting with three is the devil.”

Quoting Margaret Walker:[39]

  The belief in his power of divination was so general that knowledge
  of the whereabouts of the lost has come to be known as “raven’s
  knowledge.” To the Romans he was able to reveal the means of
  restoring lost eyesight even. In Germany he was able to tell not
  only where lost articles were, but could also make known to
  survivors where the souls of their lost friends were to be found. In
  Bohemia he was assigned the task usually performed by the stork in
  other lands, while in some parts of Germany witches were credited
  with riding upon his back instead of on the conventional broomstick.

Regular formulas regarding magpies are repeated in rural Britain, where
magpies are numerous—they are common in our American West, also, but
nobody is superstitious about them there—of which a common example runs:

                 One for sorrow, two for mirth,
                 Three for a wedding, four for a birth.

Many variations of these formulas are on record, some carrying the rimes
up to eight or nine pies seen at once; and folklore has many quaint ways
of dissipating the evil effects feared from their presence.

Now all this is but the ragtag and bobtail, as it were, of the _science_
of the ancient Oriental world that has come down to us in frayed and
disconnected fragments, to be now a matter more of amusing research than
of belief or practice among most of us. It was old even at the beginning
of the Christian era, but all the ornithomancy of the Greek and Roman
soothsayers was inherited in its principle, if not always in its forms,
from the remotely antique “wisdom” of the East, in which the
consultation of birds appears to be the basis of divination.

In the Far East the raven has been regarded from time immemorial with
dread interest, and where that species was rare the crow—equally black,
destructive, and cunning—took its place. To the primitive philosophers
of Persia and India the raven was a divine bird, of celestial origin and
supernatural abilities, and was the messenger who announced the will of
the Deity. A German commentator on the _Vedas_, H. Oldenberg, concludes
that the animals sent by the gods, as pictured in the myths, were those
of a weird, demoniacal nature, and were for this reason themselves
deified, but subsequently became mere stewards to divine mandators. “In
the belief of the Persians,” says Lauffer, “the raven was sacred to the
god of light and the sun.” Moncure D. Conway,[56] when discussing the
Biblical legend of the Deluge, suggests that the raven sent out of the
Ark may typify the “darkness of the face of the deep,” and the dove the
“spirit of God” that “moved upon the face of the waters.”

In China, Dr. Williams[76] tells us, “the sun is signalized by the
figure of a raven in a circle.” I have seen Chinese drawings of it in
which the raven (or a crow) stood on three legs, as does the toad that
the Taoists see in the moon—but why three legs? Mrs. Ball answers this
question thus:

  The crow—known in China as _wuya_, and in Japan as _karasu_—is most
  intimately related to the sun. Ch’un Ch’iu in an ancient poem says:
  “The spirit of the sun is a crow with three legs”; while again Hwai
  Nan Tse, an ancient philosopher, explains that this crow has three
  legs because the number three is the emblem of _yang_ [light, good]
  of which the sun is the supreme essence.... The Chinese, it would
  appear, actually believed in the existence of a three-legged crow,
  for in the official history of the Wei dynasty—3d century A. D.—it
  is related that “more than thirty times, tributes consisting of
  three-legged crows were brought from the neighboring countries....
  The principal of sun-worship [in Japan] was Amateresu no Ohokami,
  from whom the imperial family traces its descent. This divinity ...
  had as her messenger and attendant ... a red bird having three
  legs.”

Based on the fears and philosophy indicated above, the soothsayers of
India contrived a most elaborate scheme of judging meanings from the
actions of ravens and crows, for little attention seems to have been
paid to ornithological distinctions; and this spread in very early times
to China and Thibet. It is a wonderful monument of priestcraft, which
has been elucidated by several students of early Oriental manuscripts;
and I am indebted to a profoundly learned discourse on the subject by
Dr. Berthold Lauffer.[52] Briefly the scheme was as follows:

A table or chart was constructed containing ninety squares, each square
holding an interpretation of one or another sound of a raven’s or crow’s
voice; but his utterances were separated into five characters of sound,
and the day divided into five “watches,” while the direction from which
the bird’s voice came may be from any one of eight points of the
compass, or from the zenith, making nine points in all. Multiplying
these together gives the ninety squares of the mystic table, and the
intersection of two conditions gives you the square where the
appropriate interpretation or prophecy is written.

Thus if in the first watch (_i.e._, early in the morning) you hear a
raven in the east say _ka-ka_, your wish to obtain more property will be
fulfilled; but if in the fourth watch you hear a bird off in the
southeast say _da-da_ you may be sure that a storm will arise in seven
days. Five different tones of the cawing were recognized as significant.
Just where and what you see a raven do when you are travelling foretells
some sort of a fortunate or unfortunate incident of the progress or
outcome of your journey; yet these omens differ according to whether you
are moving and the bird is stationary, or you are standing still and the
bird is flying, or both or neither are motionless!

There was also a settled rule for taking prognostications from the nests
of these birds. “When a crow has built its nest on a branch on the east
side of a tree,” according to Donacila’s translation of a Thibetan
manuscript, “a good year and rain will be the result of it. When it has
built its nest on a southern branch the crops will then be bad. When it
has built its nest on a branch in the middle of a tree, a great fright
will then be the result of it. When it makes its nest below, fear of the
army of one’s adversary will be the result of it. When it makes its nest
on a wall, on the ground, or on a river, the [sick] king will be
healed.”

Whenever it appears that the omen observed portends harm, offerings of
food and so forth must be made to the bird in order to avert the evil,
and these offerings vary according to prescribed rules. It is no wonder
that an extensive priesthood was needed to aid in this intricate
guarding against danger or the foretelling of benefits to come; and one
suspects that the whole thing was a clever invention by the sacerdotal
class to provide priests with a good living. Nor have the practices, and
much less the superstitious notions behind them, become wholly obsolete,
for not only in India and China are the movements of birds now watched
with anxiety, and offerings made to them in the temples and individually
by the peasantry, but similar ideas and practices prevail in all Malayan
lands, as readers of such books as Skeat’s _Malay Magic_[7] may learn.

Perhaps learned students of ancient ways of thinking may be able to
explain why the _direction_ of a prophetic bird from the listener was an
essential element in its message: for example, why is the cawing of a
crow east of you a more favorable portent than cawing from the west?
Lord Lytton studies this question briefly in the Notes to his
translation of the _Odes_ of Horace, who, in his Ode to Galatea,
exclaims:

                     May no chough’s dark shadow
             Lose thee a sunbeam, nor one green woodpecker
             Dare to tap leftward.

Why should “leftward” (_lævus_) signify ill-luck in this case, when the
left was considered lucky by the Romans, although unlucky by the Greeks?
“It is suggested,” is Lytton’s comment, “that the comparison may have
arisen from the different practice of the Greeks and Romans in taking
note of birds—the former facing north, the latter south [an attitude
connected with migration?] I believe, however, it was the tap of the
woodpecker, and not his flight, that was unlucky. It is so considered
still in Italy, and corresponds to our superstitious fear of the beetle
called the death-watch. If, therefore, heard on the left, or heart side,
it directly menaced life.”

I leave the solution of the general problem of the value of direction in
ancient ornithomancy to the Orientalists, advising them that a hint of
subtile and half-forgotten reasons for such distinctions may be found in
the ideas prevailing among the shamans, or “medicine men,” of our
southwestern village-Indians; among the Hopi (miscalled Mokis), for
example, North is represented in their mystical ceremonies by yellow,
West by blue, South by red, and East by white.

Religious interest in black-hued birds is not confined to the Old World,
as was tragically illustrated in that remarkable excitement among the
Indians of the Upper Missouri region in 1890, known as the Ghost Dance,
of which the crow was the honored symbol. James Mooney,[77] of the
United States Bureau of Ethnology, investigated this outburst of
sentiment very thoroughly, and explained it at length in the 14th Annual
Report of that Bureau, from which I extract the information as to the
crow’s part in the matter. Dr. Mooney reminds us in advance that the
crow was probably held sacred by all the tribes of the Algonquian race.
Roger Williams, speaking of the New England tribes, says that although
the crow did damage to the corn, hardly an Indian would kill one,
because it was their tradition that this bird had brought them their
first grain and vegetables, “carrying a grain of corn in one ear and a
bean in the other from the field of their great god Cautantouwit in
Sowwaniu, the Southwest, the happy spirit-world where dwelt the gods and
the souls of the great and good.”

The so-called Ghost Dance meant to the Plains Indians generally a
preparation for the coming of a superhuman Messiah who would restore the
old order of things when the redman was supreme in the land, and free
from the restraint of an alien and encroaching civilization; and
primarily it contained no special hostility toward white neighbors.

Among the western redmen the eagle for its general superiority, the
magpie (particularly by the Paiutes), the sagehen because connected with
the country whence the Messiah was to come, and some other birds, were
revered in certain subsidiary ceremonies; but the central bird-figure in
this excitement was the crow, for it was regarded as the directing
messenger from the spirit-world, because its color is a reminder of
death and the shadow-land. I have seen the figures of two upward flying
crows and two magpies in a “medicine shirt” made to be worn in the Ghost
Dance. The raven shared in this devotional respect, but is rare on the
northern plains, where its humbler relative was an abundant substitute.
Some understanding of this supreme position of the crow in the
Ghost-dancing—the equivalent of our “revival” meetings—may be had by
examining the Arapahoe version of the belief on which the anticipated
advent of a red Messiah was based. Dr. Mooney expounds it[77] as
follows:

  In Arapahoe belief the spirit world is in the west, not on the same
  level with this earth of ours, but higher up, and separated also
  from it by a body of water.... The crow, as the messenger and leader
  of the spirits who had gone before [i.e. the dead] collected their
  armies on the other side and advanced at their head to the hither
  limit of the shadow-land. Then, looking over, they saw far below
  them a sea, and far out beyond it toward the east was the boundary
  of the earth, where lived the friends they were marching to rejoin.
  Taking up a pebble in his beak, the crow then dropped it into the
  water and it became a mountain towering up to the land of the dead.
  Down its rocky slope he brought his army until they halted at the
  edge of the water. Then taking some dust in his bill the crow flew
  out and dropped it into the water as he flew, and it became a solid
  arm of land stretching from the spirit world to the earth. He
  returned and flew out again, this time with some blades of grass,
  which he dropped upon the land thus made and at once it was covered
  with a green sod. Again he returned and again flew out, this time
  with some twigs in his bill, and dropping these also upon the new
  land, at once it was covered with a forest of trees. Again he flew
  back to the base of the mountain, and is now [that is, at the time
  of the Ghost dancing] coming on at the head of all the countless
  spirit-host.



                               CHAPTER IX
                        THE FAMILIAR OF WITCHES


I fear no one would admit that a book of this character was anywhere
near complete did it not include at least one chapter on the observances
and superstitions connected with owls. Nevertheless I doubt whether I
should not have taken the risk of the reader’s displeasure had I not
been able to avail myself of essays by several men who have handled this
large and intricate phase of bird-lore in a way that discourages any
rivalry.

_The Atlantic Monthly_ for September, 1874, contained an article by
Alexander Young on “Birds of Ill omen,” in which one may find treated
not only the historic dread of owls, but many similar facts and fears
connected with ravens, crows, magpies, and their fellow-craftsmen in
alleged diabolism. “Most birds,” Mr. Young remarks, “were considered
ominous of good or evil according to the place and manner of their
appearance.... It is noticeable that this stigma has been affixed only
to those birds whose appearance or voice is disagreeable, and whose
habits are somewhat peculiar.” The nocturnal owls perhaps fulfil these
conditions as well as any bird could. “Their retired habits,” to quote
Broderip,[78] “the desolate places that are their favorite haunts, their
hollow hootings, fearful shrieks, serpent-like hissings and
coffin-maker-like snappings, have helped to give them a bad eminence,
more than overbalancing all the glory that Minerva and her own Athens
could shed around them.”

The little Grecian owl—it is a foreign replica of our own small screech
owl, which, as a matter of fact, gurgles rather melodiously instead of
screeching—was well thought of in Athens in its prime, and was the
special cognizance of the wise and dignified goddess of her citizens,
Pallas Athene—Minerva of the Romans. De Kay,[18] indeed, reasons her out
an owl-goddess, and it is said that statues of her have been found with
an owl’s instead of a human head. If she was a humanized expression for
the moon, as some interpret her, this little lover of moonlight is most
suitable as her symbol. Therefore one need not speculate on the reputed
“wisdom” of the owl, any owl—said to be proved wise by its being the
only bird that looks straight before it—for that reputation is merely a
reflection from the attributes of its patron, the stately goddess. Homer
makes Athene the special protector of those, chiefly women, engaged in
textile crafts; and there is an old saying that the owl was a weaver’s
daughter, spinning with silver threads. When, therefore, in the midst of
the momentous naval battle of Salamis an owl alighted on the mast of the
flagship of Admiral Themistocles, as tradition attests, it was received
as an assurance from Pallas Athene herself that she was fighting with
and for the harassed Greeks. The bird is displayed as large as space
permits on Greek coins of the period.

When the Romans took over Athene as Minerva her owl came with her, but
its symbolic importance quickly faded. The Italians cared nothing for
their little “strix”—had no use for it except to eat it or make it a
lure for their bird-catching nets, and even charged it with sucking the
blood of children; and they had no respect at all for the rest of its
tribe. The language applied to them by the Latin poets reveals the
detestation and dread with which owls were held among the Romans.
Derogatory references abound in books of the classical era, and similar
sentiments might be quoted from authors down into medieval times. Even
the elder Pliny, called a naturalist, but really hardly more than a too
credulous compiler, condemns the tribe in very harsh words—especially
the big-horned species; yet he only reflected the general belief that
they were messengers of death, whence everybody trembled if one was seen
in the town or alighted on any housetop. One luckless owl that made a
flying trip to the Capitol was caught and burnt, and its ashes were cast
into the Tiber. Twice Rome underwent ceremonial purification on this
account, whence Butler’s jibe in _Hudibras_:

                The Roman senate, when within
                The city walls an owl was seen,
                Did cause their clergy with lustrations
                (Our synod calls humiliations)
                The round-faced prodigy t’ avert
                From doing town and country hurt.

The deaths of several Roman emperors, among them Valentinian and
Commodus Antoninus, were presaged by owls alighting on their residences,
and it is recorded that before the death of the great Augustus an owl
sang on the Curia.

In central India the owl is now generally regarded as a bird of ill
omen. “If one happens to perch on the house of a native, it is a sign
that one of his household will die, or some other misfortune befall him
within a year. This can only be averted by giving the house or its value
in money to the Brahmins, or making extraordinary peace-offering to the
gods.” It is easy to calculate the origin of that particular form of
superstition. In southern India, according to Thurston (quoted by
Lauffer), the same dread prevails; and there the natives interpret the
bird’s cries by their number, much as they did those of crows. “One such
screech forebodes death; two screeches, success in any approaching
undertaking; three, the addition by marriage of a girl to the family;
four, a disturbance; five, that the hearer will travel. Six screeches
foretell the coming of guests; seven, mental distress; eight, sudden
death; and nine signify favorable results. The number nine plays a great
rôle in systems of divination.”

In view of this Oriental and Greco-Latin history, which spread with the
imperial civilization into all western Europe, and in view of the bad
associations of these birds in the Old Testament, where they are
pronounced “unclean,” and relegated to the desert as companions of a
dreadful company (_Isaiah_, xxxiv, II), it was natural that owls should
be regarded with almost insane fear and aversion in the Middle Ages, as
the record shows they were. In Sweden even yet, the owl is considered a
bird of sorcery, and great caution is necessary in speaking of any of
them to avoid being ensnared; moreover it is dangerous to kill one, as
its associates might avenge its death. Nuttall,[79] the English-American
ornithologist, notes that he often heard the following couplet when he
was a child in the old country:

               Oh!—o-o-o—o-o!
       I was once a king’s daughter, and sat on my father’s knee,
       But now I’m a poor hoolet, and hide in a hollow tree.

This is explained in the northern counties of England by a legend that
Pharaoh’s daughter was transformed into an owl, and when children hear
at night the screams of one of these nocturnal hunters they are told the
story of its strange origin—but why _Pharaoh’s_ daughter? Then there is
that cryptic “little ode” quoted from the memory of his childhood by
Charles Waterton[73] in reference to the barn-owl, and explained
elsewhere in this book, which runs thus:

 Once I was a monarch’s daughter, and sat on a lady’s knee,
 But now I’m a nightly rover, banished to the ivy-tree,
 Crying hoo, hoo, hoo, hoo, hoo, hoo, hoo, hoo, hoo, hoo, for my feet are
    cold
 Pity me, for here you see me, persecuted, poor and old.

If the delvers into Indo-European mythology are right, the dread of owls
existed long before the Romans colonized among Gauls and Britons, and
were in turn overrun by Teutonic hordes. It exists among the wildest
savages in every part of the world where owls prowl with ghostly silence
and stealth and hoot in the darkness, startling men’s nerves, and it
survives in all peasantries. In that delightful Sicilian book by Mrs.
John L. Heaton,[80] we have a narrative of a journey after dark with
some village-women. “A screech-owl [_cuca_] hooted. Gra Vainia crossed
herself, and Donna Ciccia muttered: ‘Beautiful Mother of the Rock,
deliver us!’ Donna Catina touched something [a gold cross] in the bosom
of her dress.” On another occasion: “The silence that fell again was
broken by the hoot of the cuca. ‘Some one must die,’ shuddered Donna
Catina.”

Owls have always been regarded as the familiars of witches, sometimes
bearing them through the night on noiseless wings to some unholy tryst,
sometimes contributing materials to their malignant, magic-brewing
recipes. It was by meddling in such matters that the hero of that fine
old romance, _The Golden Ass_ of Apuleius, fell into his ridiculous and
painful predicament.

British poets, and especially the dramatists from Chatterton down, have
taken advantage of the black repute of owls to enhance any scene of
horror they want to depict, Ben Jonson’s _Masque of Queens_ furnished
excellent examples; and my friend J. E. Harting,[42] of London, has
gathered into his admirable _Ornithology of Shakespeare_ many
owl-extracts from the great master’s play. “The owlet’s wing,” Mr.
Harting finds, “was an ingredient in the cauldron wherein the witches
prepared their ‘charm of powerful trouble’ (_Macbeth_, iv, I); and with
the character assigned to it by the ancients, Shakespeare, no doubt,
felt that the introduction of an owl in a dreadful scene of tragedy
would help to make the scene come home more forcibly to the people who
had from early times associated its presence with melancholy, misfortune
and death.... Its doleful cry pierces the ear of Lady Macbeth while the
murder is being done:

                    Hark! Peace!
            It was the owl that shrieked, the fatal bellman
            Which gives stern’st good-night.

“And when the murderer rushes in immediately afterwards, exclaiming ‘I
have done the deed. Did thou not hear a noise?’ she replies ‘I have
heard the owl scream.’ And later on: ‘The obscure bird clamored the
live-long night!’... Should an owl appear at a birth, it is said to
forebode ill luck to the infant. King Henry VI, addressing Gloster,
says: ‘The owl shrieked at thy birth, an evil sign’; while upon another
occasion its presence was supposed to predict a death or at least some
dire mishap.... When Richard III is irritated by the ill news showered
thick upon him, he interrupts the third messenger with ‘Out on ye, Owls!
Nothing but songs of death.’”

It is not surprising on turning to the medieval pharmacopœia, where
there was quite as much magic as medicine, that the owl was of great
potency in prescriptions. “Thus the feet of the bubo, burnt with hard
plumbago, was held to be a help against serpents. If the heart of the
bird was placed on the left breast of a sleeping beauty, it made her
tell all her secrets: but the warrior who carried it was strengthened in
battle.” A modern relic of this bit of superstitious therapeutics was
found by me in _The Long Hidden Friend_, a little book printed at
Carlisle, Pennsylvania, in 1863, which was a crude translation by George
Homan of a German book published at Reading, Penn., in 1819. It consists
of a long series of remedies and magic arts to be followed, and which
were actually in use in that region in cases of disease. Some of them
introduced birds, one of which is reminiscent of the “sleeping beauty”
mentioned a moment ago, and reads thus: “If you lay the heart and right
foot of a barn-owl on one who is asleep, he will answer whatever you ask
him, and tell what he has done.” This should be known to our chiefs of
police, whose detectives appear to be wasting much time in applying the
extractive process called the Third Degree.

The owl tribe, among the most innocent and serviceable, in its relation
to mankind, of avian groups, has been as outrageously slandered south of
the Mediterranean as north of it. “The inhabitants of Tangier,” as
Colonel Irby tells us[81] in his book on the ornithology of Gibraltar,
consider the barn-owls, numerous there, “the clairvoyant friends of the
Devil.”

The Jews believe that their cry causes the death of young children; so,
in order to prevent this, they pour a vessel of water out into the
courtyard every time they hear the cry of one of these owls, the idea
being that thus they will distract the bird’s attention, and the infant
will escape the intended malice. The Arabs believe these owls can cause
all kinds of evil to old as well as young, but they content themselves
with cursing the bird whenever it is seen or heard. The Mohammedans say:
“When these birds cry they are only cursing in their own language; but
their malediction is harmless unless they know the name of the
individual to whom they wish evil, or unless they have the malignity to
point out that person when passing him. As the Devil sleeps but little
when there is evil work to be done, he would infallibly execute the
commands of his favorite, if one did not, by cursing him, thus guard
against the power of that enemy.”

It is a pleasure to have this long record of misdemeanors and diabolism
relieved by at least one good deed in history. Having read in
Watters’s[57] curious little volume that the Tartars attribute to the
barn-owl the saving of the life of their great commander Genghis Khan, I
searched far and wide for the particulars of what seemed likely to be an
entertaining incident, and at last I came upon the facts in the eleventh
volume of _Purchase His Pilgrims_. It appears that Changius Can, as the
old historian spells it, had his horse shot under him in a certain fight
that was going against him, and he ran and hid in a thicket of
shrubs—which is a novel view of the “Tartar Terror.” “Whither, when the
enemies were returned, with purpose to spoil the dead Carkass, and to
seek out such as were hidden, it happened that an Owle came and sate
upon those little trees or shrubs which he had chose for his court,
which when they had perceived they sought no further in that place,
supposing that the said bird would not have sat there if any man had
been hidden underneath.”

A very similar legend in China accounts for the use of peacock plumes as
insignia of rank and is related as follows by Katherine M. Ball[68]: In
the Chin dynasty a defeated general took refuge in a forest where there
were many peacocks. When the pursuing forces arrived, and found the fowl
so quiet and undisturbed, they concluded that no one could possibly have
come that way, and forthwith abandoned the search. The general—who later
became the ancestor of five kings—was thus able to escape, and so
grateful was he that later, when he came into power, he instituted the
custom of conferring a peacock feather as an honor for the achievement
of bravery in battle.

Japan has a similar mythical legend.

Frenchmen call the common brown owl of Europe _chouette_; and when in
1793 disgruntled smugglers and Royalist soldiers were carrying on
guerrilla warfare in Brittany and Poitu against the new order of things,
they came to be called Chouans, “owls,” from the signal-cries they made
to one another in their nocturnal forays as appears so often in Balzac’s
novel _The Chouans_.

Not much of this spookish and legendary lore seems to have been imported
into the United States, or else it has disappeared, except that which
still lingers among the superstitious negroes of the South. A writer in
one of the early issues of _The Cosmopolitan_ (magazine) related that to
the black folks of the Cotton Belt forty years or so ago the quavering
“song” of our small mottled screech-owl spoke of coming death; but the
birds were considered sensitive to countercharms put upon them from
within the house over which they crooned their tremulous monologue.
“Jest jam de shevel inter de fire, en time hit git red-hot dee ’ll hesh
dere shiverin’!” If you don’t like that, sprinkle salt on the blaze, or
turn a pair of shoes up on the floor with the soles against the wall.
“Perhaps this faint semblance to a laid-out corpse will pacify the
hungry spirit; the charm certainly, according to negro belief, will
silence its harsh-voiced emissary.”

The darkies warn you that you must turn back on any journey you are
making if a screech-owl cries above you. An old “hoot-owl,” however, may
foretell either good or bad fortune according as its three hoots are
given on the right or left hand. This is an unfailing sign, and is
especially heeded in ’coon or ’possum hunting, at night, when three
hoots from the left will send any hunter home hopeless.

All these indications and charms bear the familiar marks of the Old
World fears and formulas, but it is surprising to meet them on the
fields of Dixie-land.

Owls were too well understood by our native redmen to be regarded with
much superstition, and the smaller ones were well liked. Prince
Maximilian mentions in his _Travels_ (about 1836) that owls were kept in
the lodges of the Mandans and Minnitarees, who lived in permanent
villages in the upper Missouri Valley, and were regarded as
“soothsayers,” but I think they were no more than pets, as they are now
in Zuñi houses. Yet in the American Museum of Natural History in New
York is a stuffed owl mounted on a stick, labeled as an object
“worshipped” by the sorcerers among the Menominee Indians (eastern
Wisconsin), “who believe they can assume the shape of an owl, and can in
this disguise attack and kill their enemies”—that is, they try to make
others believe so. The owl is chosen for their disguise, of course,
because it typifies the sly, unseen method of attack in darkness with
which they sought to terrify the people.

Mr. Stuart Culin tells me that in Zuñi owls, of which four kinds are
recognized by names, are not considered sacred, and are killed for their
feathers, which are used on ceremonial masks, and, once a year, to
decorate long prayer-sticks. The people, he says, think that a certain
big gray owl lives in a house like a man, and if any Indian goes to its
house and the owl looks at him he will surely die. When the headmen go
out at night for some ceremony, and this owl is heard, it is a sign that
rain will come very soon. This large owl and the small burrowing-owl are
kept in houses as pets. Children are afraid of them, and they are
utilized by parents to make the youngsters behave themselves.

The Ashochimi, a mountain tribe of Californian Indians now extinct, as
described by Powers,[19] feared certain hawks and owls, regarding them
as malignant spirits which they must conciliate by offerings, and by
wearing mantles of feathers, thus:

  When a great white owl alights near a village in the evening, and
  hoots loudly, the headman at once assembles all his warriors in
  council to determine whether Mr. Strix demands a life or only
  money.... If they incline to believe that he demands a life, someone
  in the village is doomed and will speedily die. But they generally
  vote that he can be placated by an offering, and immediately set out
  a quantity of shell-money and pinole, whereupon the valorous
  trenchermen fall to eat the pinole themselves, and in the morning
  the headman decorates himself with owl-feathers, carries out the
  shell-money with solemn formality and flings it into the air under
  the tree where the owl perched.

A somewhat more spiritual view was taken by the Pimas of old times in
the southwestern deserts. Their ideas of the destiny of the human soul
varied, but one theory was that at death the soul passed into the body
of an owl. “Should an owl happen to be hooting at the time of a death,
it was believed that it was waiting for the soul.... Owl-feathers were
always given to a dying person. They were kept in a long, rectangular
box or basket of maguey leaf. If the family had no owl-feathers at hand
they sent to the medicine-man who always kept them. If possible, the
feathers were taken from a living bird when collected; the owl might
then be set free or killed.”[83]



                               CHAPTER X
                       A FLOCK OF FABULOUS FOWLS


We are pretty sure to hear of the phenix every time a tailor or
soap-maker announces that he will rebuild his shop after it has been
burned; and its picture is a favorite with the advertising department of
fire-insurance companies. The world first learned of this remarkable
fowl when Herodotus brought back to Greece his wonder-tales from Egypt,
some 400 years before Cleopatra made so much trouble by mixing love and
politics. It will be well to quote in full the account by the great
Greek traveller as it is found in the translation by Laurent:

  There is another sacred bird, called the “phenix;” which I myself
  never saw except in a picture, for it seldom makes its appearance
  among the Egyptians—only every five-hundred years, according to the
  people of Heliopolis. They state that he comes on the death of his
  sire. If at all like his picture, this bird may be thus described in
  size and shape. Some of his feathers are of the color of gold;
  others are red. In outline he is exceedingly similar to the eagle,
  and in size also. This bird is said to display an ingenuity which to
  me does not appear credible: he is represented as coming out of
  Arabia, and bringing with him his father to the temple of the Sun,
  embalmed in myrrh, and there burying him. The manner in which this
  is done is as follows: In the first place he sticks together an egg
  of myrrh, as much as he can carry, and then tries if he can bear the
  burden. This experiment achieved, he accordingly scoops out the egg
  sufficiently to deposit his sire within. He next fills with fresh
  myrrh the opening in the egg by which the body was inclosed; thus
  the whole mass containing the carcase is still of the same weight.
  Having thus completed the embalming, he transports him into Egypt
  and to the temple of the Sun. (_Euterpe_, Book II.)

Herodotus seems to have been most interested in the odorous embalming,
quaintly referred to in a 17th-century song—

                 Have you e’r smelt what Chymick Skill
                 From Rose or Amber doth distill?
                 Have you been near that Sacrifice
                 The Phoenix makes before she dies?

And it will be noticed that this observant reporter says nothing of the
quality that has given the bird its present popularity as a type of
recovery from disaster—its ability to “rise from its ashes,” which,
indeed, appears to have been a later conception.

Greeks of that day probably accepted this story from Herodotus without
much demur or criticism, for they had their own traditions of wonderful
birds—the Stymphalids, for example. These were gigantic and terrible
fowls that lived along the river Stymphalus, in northern Arcadia—a
region of savage mountains that the Athenians knew little about. They
were believed to be man-eating monsters with claws, wings, and beaks of
brass, and feathers which they shot out like arrows. “Heracles scared
them with a brazen rattle, and succeeded in killing part and in driving
away the rest, which settled on the island of Artias in the Black Sea,
to be frightened away after a hard fight by the Argonauts.” So Seyfert
summarizes their history; and an illustration on an antique vase in the
Metropolitan Museum of Art shows a flock of them looking much like
pelicans.

Pausanias visited the curious River Stymphalus and found it rising in a
spring, flowing into a marsh, and then disappearing underground—a good
setting for strange happenings, and he refers to the legend in his usual
bantering way, thus:

  “There is a tradition that some man-eating birds lived on its banks,
  whom Hercules is said to have killed with his arrows.... The desert
  of Arabia has among other monsters some birds called Stymphalides,
  who are as savage to men as lions or leopards. They attack those who
  come to capture them, and wound them with their beaks and kill them.
  They pierce through coats of mail that men wear, and if they put on
  thick robes of mat the beaks of these birds penetrate them too....
  Their size is about that of cranes and they are like storks, but
  their beaks are stronger and not crooked like those of storks. If
  there have been in all time these stymphalides like hawks and
  eagles, then they are probably of Arabian origin.”

The Greeks knew also of half-human Harpies, of web-footed Sirens, of the
Birds of Seleucia, and of various other ornithological monstrosities, so
that the tale of an Egyptian one was easily acceptable to their minds.
The ugliest of the ugly flock were the Harpies, bird-women, on whom the
ancients expended the direst pigments of their imagination, and whom
Dante makes inhabitants of the gnarled and gloomy groves wherein
suicides are condemned to suffer in the nether world—

          There do the hideous Harpies make their nests
          Who chased the Trojans from the Strophades
          With sad announcement of impending doom;
          Broad wings have they, and necks and faces human,
          And feet with claws, and their great bellies fledged
          They make lament upon the wondrous trees.

The Romans liked Herodotus and his story as well as they pleased the
Greeks, and Pliny heard or invented additional particulars. He insists
that only one phenix exists at a time, clothed in gorgeous feathers and
carrying a plumed head; and at the close of its long life it builds a
nest of frankincense and cassia, on which it dies. From the corpse, as
Pliny asserts, is generated a worm that develops into another phenix.
This young phenix, when it has grown large enough, makes it its first
duty to lay its father’s body on the altar in Heliopolis; and Tacitus
adds that its body is burned there. The implication in most accounts is
that the bird is male (the Egyptians are said to have believed all
vultures female), and doubtless the whole conception is a primitive
phase of the nature-worship out of which developed the more formal
Osiris-legend.

But the picture has many variants. One is that the phenix subsists on
air for 500 years, at the end of which, lading its wings with perfumed
gums gathered on Mt. Lebanon (!) it flies to Heliopolis and is
burned—_itself_ now, not its parent—into fragrant ashes on the altar of
the Sun temple. On the next morning appears a young phenix already
feathered, and on the third day, its pinions fully grown, it salutes the
priest and flies away. Here we come to the best remembered feature of
the mystery, caught and kept alive for us by the poets, such as John
Lyly,[49] who in 1591 reminded the world that—

          There is a bird that builds its neast with spice,
              And built, the Sun to ashes doth her burne,
          Out of whose sinders doth another rise,
              And she by scorching beames to dust doth turne.

De Kay[18] discourses on these notions in his _Bird Gods_:

  “In the oldest tombs, discovered lately on the upper Nile by Jacques
  de Morgan and others, the phenix is seen rising from a bed of
  flames, which may well mean the funeral pyre of the defunct. The
  inscriptions in question are so early that they belong to a period
  when the ceremonial of the mummy had not become universal in Egypt,
  and the conquerors of Egypt, probably a swarm of metal-using
  foreigners from the valley of the Euphrates, who crossed from Arabia
  and the Red Sea, were still burning the bodies of their chiefs and
  kings. The phenix of these inscriptions may indicate the soul of the
  departed rising from its earthly dross as the soul of Herakles,
  according to the much later legend in its Greek form, rose from his
  funeral pyre to join the gods of Olympus.”

Now, whether or not the priests of Heliopolis encouraged their
worshippers to believe that such a creature really existed, they
themselves knew well that it was a mere symbol of the sun; and it is
easy to identify it with the bird “bennu” spoken of in the Book of the
Dead and other Egyptian sacred texts, which unquestionably was a
picturesque representative of the sun, rising, pursuing its course, and
at regular intervals expiring in the fires of sunset, then renewing
itself on the morrow in the flames of sunrise over Arabia. Plentiful
evidence that this was perfectly understood in Greece and Italy of the
classic age may be read in the works of their essayists and poets.
Claudian (365–408), wrote, and Tickell, a British poet, translated into
verse, a long poem on the phenix. Petrarch carried their wisdom onward
when he declared there could be only one phenix at a time because there
was only one sun.

When the Arabs succeeded the Romans in the Nile Provinces they picked up
from the people remnants of the legend, and confused it with their own
ancient belief in a creature that resisted burning, by whose existence
they accounted for the incombustible property of asbestos, a mineral
known to them, but the origin of which was a mystery. It came from the
Orient, and some said it was a vegetable product, others the hair of a
rat-like animal: the western Arabs, however, mostly believed it to be
the plumage of a bird, so that naturally they identified it with the
fire-loving phenix. Arabian authors of the 10th century and onward
describe this bird, under the Greek name “salamandra,” as dwelling in
India, where it lays its eggs and produces young in fire. Sashes, they
say, are made of its feathers, and when one of them becomes soiled it is
thrown on a fire, and comes out whole, but clean.

This is an excellent example of the mingling of fact and fancy by which
a student of these old matters is constantly perplexed. It is probable
that small woven articles had long been known to the Arabs and Moors as
Eastern curiosities, for the people of southern China since very ancient
times had been collecting and preparing fibrous asbestos, and weaving it
into fire-proof cloth. Such fabrics had, no doubt, a rough, fuzzy
surface, not unlike fur or the down of birds, and might easily be
supposed to be the latter. Hence the assertion that asbestos was the
skin of a bird indestructible by fire, the identification of the phenix
with the salamandra (as a bird—it had other legendary forms), and the
trade-name “samand” given to asbestos cloth when the Arabs themselves
began to manufacture and sell it. So our proverbial idea of the
salamander goes back to a remote antiquity; but how it came to be
represented among us as a newt instead of a bird belongs to another
book.

Meanwhile on the northern shore of the Mediterranean, where the legend
of the phenix was popular, it had been introduced into Christianity as a
symbol, as we know from memorial sculpture, and from the writings of St.
Clement, who was the second pope after Peter. Its special meaning was
immortality, which in that period meant the physical resurrection of the
dead; and the peacock came to be used in the same sense, as
representing, if not virtually merged with, the phenix. The image in
men’s minds at that time appears to have been that of an eagle, a bird
closely identified with the sun, clothed in the plumage of the peacock,
another sun-bird (as representative of the gorgeous clouds at sunset);
and the very name confirms these solar associations, for our “phenix” is
the Greek word _phoinix_, crimson red. How large a place the peacock in
this aspect fills in the art and mythology of China and Japan appears in
Chapter VII.

Hulme informs us that Philippe de Thaum writes in his _Bestiary_ of the
mystic bird: “Know this is its lot; it comes to death of its own will,
and from death it comes to life: hear what it signifies. Phoenix
signifies Jesus, Son of Mary, that he had power to die of his own will,
and from death come to life. Phoenix signifies that to save his people
he chose to suffer upon the cross.” “God knew men’s unbelief,” St. Cyril
laments, “and therefore provided this bird as evidence of the
Resurrection.” St. Ambrose also declares that “the bird of Arabia
teaches us, by its example, to believe in the Resurrection.” Passages of
like tenor might be quoted from Tertullian and other expositors of the
early Christian church, all showing the most unsuspicious faith in the
real existence of such a bird.

The symbolic connection of this fabulous creature with the idea of
immortality may have been an inheritance from Jewish traditions.
According to the Talmud Eve, after eating the terrible fruit in the
Garden of Eden, tried to force it, and its consequences, on all the
animals, but the bird “chol” (the phenix) would not eat, but flew away
from temptation, and thus preserved its original gift of perpetual life.
“And now the phenix ... lives a thousand years, then shrivels up till it
is the size of an egg, and then from himself emerges beautiful again.”
In the Middle Ages this deathless bird was supposed to inhabit the
sacred garden of the Earthly Paradise.

Peacocks carved on early Christian sarcophagi are perched on a palm tree
(the conventional sign of martyrdom in primitive Christian iconography),
and hence eloquent of that rapturous belief in immortality
characteristic of the catacombs, as Mrs. Jenner expresses it.
Representations of the bird rising from a flaming nest and ascending
toward the sun are less common, but do occur in medieval heraldry, by
which pictorial path, it is probable, the notion has come down to our
own day and become the cognizance of one of the oldest American
insurance companies.

The association with the palm mentioned above recalls another line of
legendary, for some etymologists say that the name “phenix” should be so
written (not _phoenix_), and that it is the older name of the date-palm.
This tree was regarded in ancient Egypt as the emblem of triumph,
whence, perhaps, our modern symbolic use of its fronds; and Pliny was
informed that “in Arabia the phenix nested only on a palm,” and that
“the said bird died with the tree and revived of itself as the tree
sprang again.”

Now, Arabic authors of the Middle Ages had much to say of a mythical
bird, “anka,” that lived 1700 years; and they explained that when a
young anka grows up if it be a female the old female burns herself, and
if it be a male the old male does so. This is very phenix-like, but the
anka is distinguished by huge size, the Arabic writer Kazweenee, as
quoted by Payne,[87] describing the anka as the greatest of birds. “It
carries off the elephant,” he says, “as the cat carries off the mouse”;
and he relates that in consequence of its kidnapping a bride God, at the
prayer of the prophet Handhallah, “banished it to an island in the
circumambient ocean unvisited by men under the equinoctial line.”

I find in Miss Costello’s _Rose Garden of Persia_[88] some interesting
notes quoted from M. Garcin de Tassy, relative to the anka, which, De
Tassy says, has become a proverbial symbol in Persia for something
spoken of but not seen—and not likely to be! Here he seems to be using
the Arabic name for the bird the Persians call “simurgh,” the
signification of which, as Professor A. V. W. Jackson tells me, is “the
mythical,” and which is derived from the avestan word for
“eagle”—another link in our chain. De Tassy explains:

  It [the anka] is known only by name, and is so called from having a
  white line round the neck like a collar; some say because of the
  length of the neck.... It is said that the inhabitants of the city
  of Res ... had in their country a mountain called Demaj, a mile
  high. There came a very large bird with a very long neck, of
  beautiful and divers colors. This bird was accustomed to pounce on
  all the birds of that mountain, and eat them up. One day he was
  hungry and birds were scarce, so he pounced on a child and carried
  it off. He is called ankamogreb because he carries off the prey he
  seizes.... Soon after this he was struck by a thunderbolt.

  Mohammed is reported to have said that at the time of Moses God
  created a female bird called anka; it had eight wings like the
  seraphs, and bore the figure of a man. God gave it a portion of
  every thing, and afterwards created it a male. Then God made a
  revelation to Moses that he had created two extraordinary birds, and
  had assigned for their nourishment the wild beasts around Jerusalem.
  But the species multiplied, and when Moses was dead they went to the
  land of Nejd and Hijaz, and never ceased to devour the wild beasts
  and to carry off children till the time when Khaled, son of Senan
  Abasi, was Prophet, between the time of Christ and Mohammed. It was
  then that these birds were complained of. Khaled invoked God, and
  God did not permit them to multiply, and their race became extinct.

This characteristic Bedouin camp-fire novelette reminds us at once of
the famous roc, or “rukh,” to adopt the more correct spelling, with
which we are familiar from the story in the _Arabian Nights_ of Sinbad
the Sailor. Let me quote it succinctly from Payne’s edition.[87] Sinbad
had sailed on a commercial venture from his home in Basra, a port on the
Persian Gulf, and the ship had stopped at a very pleasant island,
situation unrecorded. Sinbad went ashore with others, wandered in the
lovely woods, fell asleep, and awoke to find the ship gone and himself
the only person on the island. As he was exploring the place rather
timidly he came to a great shining dome, but could see no doorway. “As I
stood,” he relates, “casting about how to gain an entrance, the sun was
suddenly hidden from me and the air became dark....”

  So I marvelled at this, and lifting my head looked steadfastly at
  the sun, when I saw that what I had taken for a cloud was none other
  than an enormous bird whose outspread wings, as it flew through the
  air, obscured the sun and veiled it from the island. At this sight
  my wonder redoubled, and I bethought me of a story I had heard
  aforetime of pilgrims and travellers, how in certain islands dwells
  a huge bird, called the roc, which feeds its young on elephants, and
  was assured that the dome aforesaid was none other than one of its
  eggs. As I looked ... the bird alighted on the egg and brooded over
  it, with its wings covering it and its legs spread out behind it on
  the ground, and in this posture it fell asleep, glory be to Him who
  sleepeth not!

  When I saw this I arose, and unwinding the linen of my turban
  twisted it into a rope with which I girt my middle, and bound myself
  fast to his feet.

Sinbad’s purpose was to get himself carried away to some better place,
but when, next morning, the roc did bear him aloft and afar, and finally
alighted, the sailor found himself in a horrid desert. After many
further adventures and voyages Sinbad revisits his island yet does not
recognize it until the men with whom he is strolling bade him look at a
great dome. Not knowing what it was they broke it open with stones,
“whereupon much water ran out of it, and the young roc appeared within;
so they pulled it forth of the shell and killed it, and took of it great
store of meat.” Dreadful misfortune followed this inconsiderate act.

This was a well-known Arabic wonder-tale. The author of one of their
popular old books of “marvels,” several of which exist, tells almost
exactly Sinbad’s story as happening to himself, and at least two other
Arabic works are said to contain the tale with picturesque variations.
In later times the home of the monster was placed in Madagascar. Marco
Polo, the adventurous Italian, who in the 13th century wandered overland
to China, and whose _Travels_[89] are a fine mixture of fact and fancy,
had a fair idea of where Madagascar was, and recorded much that he was
told about it—mostly erroneous. He relates that the people of that
island report “That at a certain season of the year ... the rukh makes
its appearance from the southern region.... Persons who have seen this
bird assert that when the wings are spread they measure sixteen paces in
extent.” Marco says that he heard that the agents of the Grand Khan took
to him a feather ninety spans long. It is explained in Yule’s edition of
Polo’s _Travels_ that the supposed roc’s feather was one of the gigantic
fronds of the raphia palm “very like a quill in form.”

Such wonder-tales have a truly phenix-like quality of indestructibility.
As late as the time of Charles I of England there lived in Lambeth, on
the Surrey side of London, John Tradescant, renowned as traveller and
florist, who accumulated an extensive “physic-garden” and museum of
antiquities and curiosities. He was a man of science, but to satisfy the
popular taste of the time, as Pennant explains, his museum contained a
feather alleged to be of the dragon, and another of the griffin. “You
might have found here two feathers of the tail of the _phoenix_, and the
claw of the _rukh_, a bird capable to _trusse_ an elephant.” This
collection after the death of Tradescant’s son in 1622, became the
property of Elias Ashmole, and it was the nucleus of the Ashmolean
Museum founded at Oxford in 1682.

But phenix, rukh, anka, simurgh, garuda, feng-huang and others that have
not been mentioned, such as Yel, the mythical raven of our Northwest,
and those of Malaya described by Skeat,[7] are all, apparently, members
of the brood hatched ages ago in that same sunrise nest and still flying
amid rosy clouds of prehistoric fable.

The first glimpse of them is on the seals and tablets recovered from
Mesopotamian ruin-mounds. In the mystic antiquity of the Summerian
kingdom of Ur and its capital-city Lagash, a gigantic eagle, “the divine
bird Imgig” was the royal cognizance. In those days, as Dr. Ward[23]
discloses from his study of the oldest Babylonian cylinders, people told
one another tales of monstrous and fantastic birds of prey that could
fly away with an antelope in each talon, and which fought, usually
victoriously, against huge winged and feathered dragons with bodies like
those of crocodiles, and sometimes with human heads. Such
representations of demons were the prototypes of the grotesque
combinations of animal features, and of men and animals, more familiar
to us in the Egyptian Sphinx, the classic centaurs, and medieval angels
and devils.

When the elders in Babylon expounded the reason for faith in these
antagonistic supernatural creatures, they explained that the “divine”
eagle symbolized beneficence and protective power in the universe, while
the feathered monsters stood for the baffling forces of malignancy and
harm. In this philosophy, probably, is the underlying relationship that
connects all this Oriental flock of fabulous fowls—visionary
flight-beings in varying forms and phases that seek to portray the
powers of the air, mysterious, uncontrollable, overwhelming, capable of
all the mind of primitive man could conceive or his gods perform. All of
them became endowed in time with the luxuriant colorings of Eastern
poetry and fiction, and appear now heroic and picturesque, as one
expects of everything in the dreamy Orient of tradition.

In the cold and stormy North, however, where the sun is a source of
comfort rather than of terror, and movements of the atmosphere are more
often feared than blessed, the similar conception of a gigantic sky-bird
is far more definite. When the native of the Russian plains, struggling
homeward against driving snow, hears the shrilling and howling of the
tempest he knows Vikhar, the Wind-Demon, is abroad. Norsemen represent
him as Hraesvelg, the North Wind, an eagle: he does not “ride on the
wings of the wind,” he _is_ the wind, and the blast from the arctic sea
that beats upon your face is the air set in motion by the wings of this
colossal, invisible bird flying southward. That it is big enough to stir
the atmosphere into a veritable hurricane is plain:

                 From the East came flying hither,
                 From the East a monstrous eagle,
                 One wing touched the vault of heaven,
                 While the other swept the ocean;
                 With his tail upon the waters,
                 Reached his beak beyond the cloudlets.

And such an eagle as this one, described as a reality in the _Kalevala_,
the legendary epic of the Finns, possessing beak and talons of copper,
once seized and bore away a maiden to its eyrie, thus showing itself
true to the “form” of the East whence it came.

Most of our North American Indians typified the winds, especially those
from the north, as birds, and many tribes identified the storm-bringing
ones with their thunder-birds, which was very natural. The Algonkins
believed that certain birds produced the phenomena of wind and created
waterspouts, and that the clouds were the spreading and agitation of
their gigantic wings. The Navahos thought that a great white swan sat at
each of the four points of the compass and conjured up the blasts that
came therefrom, while the Dakotas believed that in the west is the
residence of the Wakinyjan, “the Flyers,” that is, the breezes that
develop into occasional storms.

It was in the Orient, however, where, by the way, both simurgh and
garuda serve as storm-bringers in several myths, that the conception of
gigantic bird-beings was expanded and elaborated with the picturesque
details that have been suggested in an earlier paragraph.

A very old Persian tale, with many fanciful embroiderings, runs as
follows: There are, or were, two trees—one the Tree of Life, and the
other the Tree Opposed to All Harm, the tree that bears the seeds of all
useful things; which is like the two trees in the Garden of Eden, over
in Babylon. In the latter tree sits and nests the chief of all the
mythic birds, the simurgh (called in the _Avesta_ “saena-meregha”),
which is said to suckle its young, and to be three natures “like a bat.”
“Whenever he arises aloft a thousand twigs will shoot out from that
tree, and when he alights he breaks off the thousand twigs and bites the
seeds from them. And the bird cinamros [second only to the simurgh]
alights likewise in that vicinity; and his work is this, that he
collects those seeds that are bitten from the tree of many seeds, which
is opposed to harm, and he scatters them where Tishtar [angel that
provides rain] seizes the water [from the demons of drought]; so that,
while Tishtar shall seize the water, together with those seeds of all
kinds, he shall rain them on the world with the rain.” Such is the
language of the sacred books.[26]

The simurgh figures in Firdausi’s[93] legendary epic as the
foster-parent of Zal, father of Rustam, the national hero of Persia.
When Rudabah’s flank was opened to bring forth Rustam her wound was
healed by rubbing it with a simurgh’s feather. Rustam himself, once
wounded unto death, was cured in the same manner, and other cases are
recorded in great variety. Firdausi explains that the simurgh had its
nest on Mt. Elburz, on a peak that touched the sky in a place no man had
ever seen; and that it was to that eyrie that it carried the princely
baby Zal, whence it was recovered by its parents. In the ancient Avestan
ritual it is stated of the vulture varengana: “If a man holds a bone of
that strong bird ... or a feather, no one can smite or turn to flight
that fortunate man. The feather of that bird brings him help ...
maintains him in his glory.” According to De Kay[18] the simurgh was a
“god-like bird that discussed predestination with Solomon, as the eagle
of Givernberg held dialogues with King Arthur.... The simurgh was a
prophet.”

But of all the fabulous birds that infest ancient Persian mythology none
is held so important as the falcon-like “karshipta,” which brought the
sacred law into the Paradise of Jamshid. “Regarding the karshipta they
say that it knew how to speak words, and brought the religion to the
enclosure which Yim made, and circulated it: there they utter the Avesta
in the language of birds.”

We read also of a gigantic bird in Iran, the “kamar,” “which
overshadowed the earth and kept off the rain till the rivers dried up.”

In the Hindu mythology Vishnu is the sun-god, while Indra represents the
lightning and storm, and the two are in general opposites, rivals,
enemies. Vishnu rides on an eagle of supernatural size and power called
garuda. In the Pahlavi translation of the stories the simurgh takes the
place of the eagle, for their characters as well as their names are
interchangeable. Garuda was born from an egg laid by Vinata, herself the
daughter of a hawk and the mother of the two immense vultures that in
Persian myths guard the gates of hell, and elsewhere figure boldly in
Oriental fables; it is a mortal enemy, now of the serpent and now of the
elephant, and now of the tortoise—all three connected with Indra. This
bird carries into the air an elephant and a tortoise in order to devour
them, and in one of the various accounts leaves them on a mountain-top
as did the simurgh and the rukh their iniquitous “liftings.”

Garuda also appears in Japanese legendary art as gario, or binga, or
bingacho, or karobinga, half woman, half bird, a sort of winged and
feathered angel with a tail like a phenix and legs like a crane. This
reminds us of the harpies of Greece. The Malays recognize the image, and
when a cloud obscures the sun Perak men will say: “Gerda is spreading
his wings to dry.”

The Chinese, and after them the Japanese, had a phenix-like bird in
their mythical aviary, which persists in the faith of the more
simple-minded of their peoples, and as a fruitful motive in the
decorative art of each. It was one of the four supernatural creatures
that in ancient Chinese philosophy symbolized the four quarters of the
heavens. The Taoists, whose religious ideas are older than Confucianism
and prevailed especially among the humble and unlearned, called it the
Scarlet Bird, and associated it with the element Fire, and with their
mystic number 7. Archaic pictures show a crested bird with long
tail-feathers—a figure that might well be meant for a peacock. The
creature itself is said not to have been seen by mortal eyes since the
time of Confucius, but it has by no means been forgotten, for it is the
fung-whang, or feng-huang (which is the names of the male and the female
of the species conjoined); and it lives even now on embroidered screens
and painted vases, or proudly distinguishes royal robes, from the
Thibetan mountains to the Yellow Sea.

A recent writer on Eastern art[68] describes the proper fung as a
gorgeously colored bird with a long tail. Its feathers are red, azure,
yellow, white, and black, the five colors belonging to the five
principal virtues; and the Chinese ideograms for uprightness, humanity,
virtue, honesty, and sincerity, are impressed on various parts of its
body. Its cries are symbolic, its appearance precedes the advent of
virtuous rulers. As in the other cases this bird carries something
away—this time an eminent philosopher, Baik-fu, was translated. In Japan
the peasantry, at least, still hold to the reality of the same bird
under the name ho-ho, and artists and symbolists have beautifully
utilized the conception.[90] The belief is that the sun descends to
earth from time to time in the form of the ho-ho, as a messenger of
love, peace, and goodwill, and rests on one or another of the torii. It
appears to have become a badge of imperial rank in China before the time
of the Ming dynasty, and, in Japan it became the symbol of the empress,
and in old times, as we are told, only empresses and royal princesses
could have its likeness woven into their dress-goods.

It will be noticed that this last-considered member of our fabulous
flock, the fung-whang or ho-ho, is the only one not of gigantic size or
distorted or terrifying aspect. This indicates to me its comparatively
recent origin, and its beneficent disposition shows that it is the
creation of men accustomed to peace under kindly skies. It is an
interesting fact that when the Mongolian felt called upon to portray
demoniac beings he exaggerated to the extent of his ability _human_
expressions of rage, villainy and ferocity, instead of using for his
purpose animals of Titanic size, or in horrifying combinations, as did
magicians south of the great mountains.

The explanation seems not far away. The territory that apparently always
has been the home of the homogeneous “yellow” race is essentially a vast
plain extending from the mountains of central Asia westward to the
Pacific and meridianally from southern China to the border of
Kamptchatka. It includes the spacious valleys of China, proper, the
plains and deserts of Mongolia, and the broad prairies that stretch
across Manchuria, making together the widest area of fairly level and
tillable land on the globe. Much of it was never forested, and from a
large part of the remainder the scanty growth of woods had been cleared
before written history began. The climate as a whole is temperate and
equable, and rarely disturbed by startling and destructive
meteorological phenomena. Furthermore, except the tigers of the jungly
southeastern border, no dangerous animals are to be feared or to be
idealized into mythical things of terror. Two evils of nature remain to
disturb the inhabitants of this favored region—annual spring-floods,
often fatally widespread; and, second, frequent earthquakes. The floods
are perfectly understood in their cause as well as in their effects, and
afford little material for superstition. As for the earthquakes, the
people long ago found a sufficient explanation in the invention of a
burrowing beast of prodigious size and strength, which they called an
“earth-dragon,” and whose movements as it stirs about heaves the ground
beneath our feet. The wave-like character of the earth-shocks showed
that the dragon must be elongated and reptile-like; and now and then a
landslide or diggings disclosed long and massive bones that evidently
were those of these subterranean monsters, although foreigners said they
were fossil remains of Mesozoic reptiles or something else. The whole
idea, in fact, is so plausible and logical, that it really belongs to
scientific hypothesis rather than to mythology.

The reaction of this tranquil geographical situation and history has
been to produce, or mould, a people gentle, self-contained and averse to
strife. This is not particularly to their credit or their discredit. It
is as natural for a race developed in the valley of the Hoang Ho to be
peaceable as for one bred along the Danube or the St. Lawrence to be
belligerent.

In such an unterrifying situation as his the Mongolian felt no impulse
to coin the manifestations of nature, elemental or animated, into
malignant demons, but rather impersonated them, if at all, as beings
with kindly intentions and of beautiful form. That such impersonations
are few, and that Chinese mythology furnishes a comparatively small
contribution to the world’s store of specimens of that primitive stage
in human mentality, is, I think, another evidence of the equable
physical environment in which the people of the Flowery Kingdom have
been nurtured, which, while it contributed to their sanity, did little
to stimulate their imaginations.

On the other hand, men and women who endured, day by day, the blistering
heat and drouth of the desert; or who knew the awe-inspiring mountains,
where gloomy glens alternate with cloud-veiled heights, the thunders of
unseen avalanches shock the ear, and appalling fires that no man kindles
rage against the snows; or who night and day must guard his or her life
in the jungle against lurking perils from tooth and claw and
poison-fang—such persons were aroused to mental as well as physical
alertness for safety’s sake, and saw in almost every circumstance of
their lives visions of unearthly power. Unable in their narrow, slowly
developing knowledge and meagre intellection, to comprehend much of what
confronted them, yet understanding some small sources and agencies of
power, what more natural than that they should picture the often
tremendous exhibitions of nature’s force as the product of enormously
_greater_ powers. Hence not only the bigness attributed to the mythical
birds we have sketched but their supernatural abilities, and also—in
accordance with constant experience of the general antagonism between
nature and human purposes—the malignancy characterizing most of them.

For, as has been said, Garuda, Simurgh, Phenix, Fung-Whang and all the
others are only visions woven out of the sunshine, the clouds and the
winds, in the loom of primitive imagination. It is quite a waste of
time, therefore, to try as some have done (notably Professor Newton[55])
to connect any one of them with some living or extinct reality, as, for
example, the Rukh with the epiornis or any other of the big extinct
ratite birds of Madagascar. Eagles and vultures and peacocks have served
as suggestions for fantastic creations of a vagrant fancy, and that is
all the reality they ever had. We do not know, probably never can know,
the ultimate source of these stories and images, so varied yet so alike;
nor whether all have spread from one source, or have in some instances
arisen independently, as would seem probable in the case of those told
about American aboriginal campfires; but we may be sure that their
conception was in the morning of civilization (more likely far back of
that) as products of the uncultured, nature-fearing, marvel-loving fancy
of prehistoric mankind.



                               CHAPTER XI
               FROM ANCIENT AUGURIES TO MODERN RAINBIRDS


The pagans of primitive times along the shores of the Mediterranean
believed in personal gods and their guidance in human affairs. With the
approval of these gods, or of that departmental god or goddess having
charge of the matter in mind, one’s project would prosper, whereas their
disapproval meant failure and very likely some punishment under divine
wrath. The human difficulty was to learn the will of said gods.

Equally well settled was the doctrine that birds—which seemed to belong
to the celestial spaces overhead where the gods lived and manifested
their variable moods, now in sunshine and zephyr, now by storm-clouds,
and rainfall—were inspired messengers of the gods, and required reverent
attention. This, however, did but throw the difficulty one step further
back, for how could human intelligence comprehend the messages birds
were constantly bringing?

At any rate the principal and most numerous omens in the pre-Christian
centuries were drawn from birds; and this kind of divination gained so
much credit that other kinds were little regarded. It was based, as has
been indicated, on the theory that these creatures, by their actions,
wittingly or unwittingly, conveyed the will of the gods. This
super-avian attribute was by no means confined to the prominent raven
and crow, whose prophetic qualities have been portrayed in another
chapter, for various birds came to be considered “fortunate” or
“unfortunate,” from the point of view of the seeker after supernal
guidance, either on account of their own characteristics or according to
the place and manner of their appearance; hence the same species might,
at different times, foretell contrary events. Let me quote here a
succinct statement from _The Encyclopedia Londonensis_, published in the
early part of the 18th century:

  If a flock of various birds came flying about any man it was an
  excellent omen. The eagle was particularly observed for drawing
  omens; when it was observed to be brisk and lively, and especially
  if, during its sportiveness, it flew from the right hand to the
  left, it was one of the best omens that the gods could give.
  Respecting vultures there are different opinions, both among the
  Greek and the Roman authors; by some they are represented as birds
  of lucky omen, while Aristotle and Pliny reckon them among the
  unlucky birds. If the hawk was seen seizing and devouring her prey,
  it portended death; but if the prey escaped deliverance from danger
  was portended. Swallows wherever and under whatever circumstances
  they were seen were unlucky birds; before the defeat of Pyrrhus and
  Antony they appeared on the tent of the former and the ship of the
  latter; and, by dispiriting their minds, probably prepared the way
  for their subsequent disasters. In every part of Greece except
  Athens, owls were regarded as unlucky birds; but at Athens, being
  sacred to Minerva, they were looked upon as omens of victory and
  success. The swan, being an omen of fair weather, was deemed a lucky
  bird by mariners.

  The most inauspicious omens were given by ravens, but the degree of
  misfortune which they were supposed to portend depended, in some
  measure, in their appearing on the right hand or the left; if they
  came croaking on the right hand it was a tolerably good omen; but if
  on the left a very bad one.... The crow appearing [at a wedding]
  denoted long life to the married pair, if it appeared with its mate;
  but if it was seen single separation and sorrow were portended.
  Whence it was customary at nuptials for the maids to watch that none
  of these birds coming singly should disturb the solemnity.

It was hardly to be expected that the comprehension of all this science
of soothsaying should belong to ordinary mortals; and therefore there
arose early in its development certain clever “wise men” who declared
themselves endowed with magical power to understand the language of
birds, and to interpret both their chatter and their actions. Thus
originated the profession of _augury_, a word that spells “bird-talk” in
its root-meaning, with its later product _auspices_, or “bird-viewers.”
The augur originally was a priest (or a magician, if you prefer that
term) who listened to what the birds said; and the auspex was another
who watched what they did, or examined their entrails to observe
anything abnormal that he might construe as an answer to prayer, or
interpreted something else in the nature of an omen from this or that
divinity, or from all the gods together.

I need not describe the elaborate rites and ceremonies that came to be
associated with the practice of this kind of divination (ornithomancy),
especially under the revered and powerful College of Augurs that
practically ruled the Roman Republic, even in the Augustan age, for it
will suffice to direct attention to a few features.

Birds were distinguished by the Roman augurs as _oscines_ or _alites_,
“talkers” and “flyers.” The oscines were birds that gave signs by their
cry as well as by flight, such as ravens, owls and crows. The alites
included birds like eagles and vultures, which gave signs by their
manner of flying. The quarter of the heavens in which they appeared, and
their position relative to that of the observer, were most important
factors in determining the significance of the supposed message, as has
been extensively explained in an earlier chapter of this book.

This science or business of bird-divination, for it was both, was of
prehistoric antiquity. Plutarch[94] records that Romulus and Remus, the
fabled founders of the Latin race began their eventful life under a wild
fig-tree, where a she-wolf nursed them, and a woodpecker constantly fed
and watched over them. “These creatures,” Plutarch remarks, “are
esteemed holy to the god Mars—the woodpecker the Latins still especially
worship and honor. Romulus became skilled in divination, and first
carried the _lituus_, or diviner’s staff, a crooked rod with which
soothsayers indicated the quarters of the heavens when observing the
flight of birds.”

                Among the Romans not a bird
                Without a prophecy was heard.
                Fortunes of empire often hung
                On the magician magpie’s tongue,
                And every crow was to the state
                A sure interpreter of fate.—_Churchill._

The peculiar province of the auspices, or bird-inspecters, was to seek
the will of the gods as to some contemplated act or policy by watching
the behavior of the sacred chickens, cared for by an official called
_pullarius_. “If the chickens came too slowly out of the cage, or would
not feed, it was a bad omen; but if they fed greedily, so that some part
of their food fell and struck the ground, it was deemed an excellent
omen.”—and so forth and so forth.

It is rather engaging to inquire why the humble barnyard fowl was used
for so momentous a function. Partly, no doubt, because it was the most
convenient kind of bird to keep and propagate in captivity, and
therefore would always be at hand when wanted (and in case the
prophecy-demand was light an occasional pullet for the official pot
would not be missed!), but also because its witlessness made it
dependable. A devotee of this way of omen-catching would explain that of
course the bird was unconscious of the part it played; that its mind was
a mere receptacle of divine impulses to act in a certain way, the
significance of which the auspex understood and reported. If that theory
is true, it follows that the more empty-headed the “medium” is the
better, for it would then have fewer ideas of its own to short-circuit
the inspired impulses. This view has, in fact, influenced ignorant folks
everywhere in their conclusion that men who were witless, or crazy, or
had lost their mentality in a trance, were “possessed,” mostly by devils
but sometimes by good “spirits” which had found a mind “swept and
garnished,” as St. Luke said, and had become vocal tenants; whence, it
was argued, no human rationality interfered with the transmission of the
message, and men must accept what the tongues uttered as inspired words.
“Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings came forth praise” that was
praise indeed, because the infants knew not what they said. That was the
reason Balaam listened with so much respect to the warning spoken by his
ass; and many a preaching ass since has had a similar reward for
articulate braying.

One more consideration suggests itself. The ominous flock kept by the
pullarius contained both cocks and hens; and the cock, as a bird of the
sun, has been “sacred” from prehistoric antiquity in that primitive
nature-worship from which the Greco-Romans were by no means free. “It is
not improbable,” we are assured by Houghton[95] “that the sacrificial
rites and consultation by augury, in which cooks figured among the
Romans, came originally from Babylonia.... I think that the figure [in a
seal] of a cock perched on an altar before a priest making his
offerings ... represents the bird in this capacity as a soothsayer.” In
fact, a whole department of the science of augury was known as
alectromancy, in which a barnyard cock was the agent or medium of
inspiration.

These practices—which were entirely void of morality—are a curious index
of the mental barbarism of the early Greeks and Romans, for they are
quite on a level with the ideas and doings of savages now.

With the advance in knowledge and enlightenment culminating in the
philosophy of Cicero and his skeptical contemporaries, both faith and
practice in this childish consultation of chickens and crows
disappeared, or descended to be merely a political sop for the credulous
populace. Even this passed away when superstitious paganism faded out of
the religion of mankind in Europe, or, more exactly, it became changed
into a faith in weather prophecy by noticing the behavior of birds and
other animals; but these prognostications are based not on a supposed
message from the gods but on deductions from observation and experience.
Let us see how far this modern method of augury is of service as a sort
of homemade Weather Bureau—we will, as it were, study the genesis of the
Rain-bird. It began early. Aristophanes tells us, of the Greeks:

              From birds in sailing men instruction take
              Now lie in port, now sail, and profit make.

The proprietor of Gardiner’s Island, at the eastern end of Long Island,
New York, where fish-hawks then abounded, and always since have been
under protection, told Alexander Wilson[46] many facts of interest
respecting their habits, among others the following:

  They are sometimes seen high in the air, sailing and cutting strange
  gambols, with loud vociferations, darting down several hundred feet
  perpendicularly, frequently with part of a fish in one claw, which
  they seem proud of, and to claim “high hook,” as the fishermen call
  him who takes the greatest number. On these occasions they serve as
  a barometer to foretell the changes of the atmosphere; for when the
  fish-hawks are thus sailing high in air, in circles, it is
  universally believed to prognosticate a change of weather, often a
  thunder-storm in a few hours. On the faith of the certainty of these
  signs the experienced coaster wisely prepares for the expected
  storm, and is rarely mistaken.

It would be hard to find a better epitome of the “signs” given by birds
to the weather-prophet. Similar behavior in sea-gulls is interpreted in
the same way: but in most cases high flight is said to denote
continuance of fine weather, and in general there is good sense in that
view, because, as a rule, bad weather descends upon us from the higher
strata of the atmosphere, and birds up there would be the first to feel
its approach. Hence the joyous greeting, “Everything is lovely and the
goose honks (not ‘hangs’) high.” Sailors have a rhyme—

       When men-of-war-hawks fly high, ’tis a sign of clear sky;
       When they fly low prepare for a blow.

This point is made in particular in respect to swallows of various
kinds, which are regarded in most countries as presaging rain when they
all go skimming along close to the ground; but it was pure fancy that
expanded this warning into the senseless couplet

                     When the swallow buildeth low
                     You can safely reap and sow.

That is, I suppose, the season will then furnish rain enough for a good
crop. The same thing is sung of swans. But even the swallows cannot be
depended on as indicators, for in late summer and autumn they are more
likely to skim along the ground and over ponds than to go anywhere else;
and, as showing the uncertainty in men’s minds in this matter, or else
how signs change with locality, it may be mentioned that in Argentina
swallows are held to indicate coming storms not by low but by elevated
flight. Thus the naturalist Hudson[44] writes of the musical martin
(Progne), familiar about Buenos Ayres: “It is ... the naturalist’s
barometer, as whenever, the atmosphere being clear and dry, the progne
perches on the weathercock or lightning-rod, on the highest points of
the house-top, or on the topmost twig of some lofty tree, chanting its
incantation, cloudy weather and rain will surely follow within
twenty-four hours.”

None of the host of sayings, of which you may read hundreds in the
publications of the United States Weather Service, and in such
collections of odd lore as _Gleanings for the Curious_,[96] that pretend
to foretell the character of a whole season from what birds do, are
worth credence. For example, some declare that “a dry summer will follow
when birds build their nests in exposed places,” on the theory, I
suppose, that the builders will have no fear of getting wet; and

                   If birds in the autumn grow tame,
                   The winter will be cold for game.

One important exception to this kind of nonsense may be made, however,
for in certain circumstances it is fair to accept from our American
birds a broad hint as to the character of the approaching winter.
Experience convinces us that an unusually early arrival of migratory
birds from the north indicates an extra cold winter to follow. Several
northwestern sayings about ducks and geese tell us that whenever they
leave Lake Superior noticeably earlier than is their wont; or fly
southward straight and fast, not lingering near accustomed
halting-places, then a severe season is to be anticipated. In the sum
this is logical, for this reason:

Birds whose home is in the far North—and several species go to the
extreme limit of arctic lands to make their nests—must quit those
desolate coasts as soon as chilling rains, snow-storms, and frost begin
to kill the insects, bury the plants and freeze the streams, thus
cutting off food-supplies; and they must keep ahead of those
famine-producing conditions as they travel southward toward their
winter-resorts in a more hospitable zone. On the average, their arrival
in the United States will be nearly on the same date year after year.

It sometimes happens, however, that winter will pounce upon the arctic
border of the continent days or weeks earlier than usual, and the cold
and snowfall will exceed the normal quantity. In such circumstances the
birds must make their escape more hastily than ordinarily, and will come
down across the Canadian border in larger and more hurrying companies,
very likely accompanied by such species as snow-birds, crossbills, pine
finches and evening grosbeaks, which in general pass the winter somewhat
to the north of our boundary. Excessive cold in the far North is almost
certain to influence southern Canada and the northern states, and it is
therefore safe to conclude, when we witness this behavior of migratory
birds, that a winter of exceptional severity has set in at the north and
is in store for us. But the prophets are ourselves—not the birds! They
are dealing with dangerous conditions, and leave it to us to do the
theorizing.

One feature of the behavior of the fish-hawks in Wilson’s story was
their restlessness, taken by fishermen to betoken a rising storm. There
may be some value in this “sign,” since it is noted in many other cases.
Dozens of proverbs mention as indications various unusual actions
noticeable in poultry, such as crowing at odd times, clappings of the
wings, rolling in the dust, standing about in a distraught kind of way,
a tendency to flocking, and so forth. Many popular sayings tell us that
both barnyard fowls and wild birds become very noisy before an
unfavorable change in the weather.

                 When the peacock loudly bawls
                 Soon we’ll have both rain and squalls,

is one such. Virgil’s statement that “the owl” screeches unduly at such
a time is supported by modern testimony.

A reasonable explanation of this uneasiness is that it is the effect of
that increased electrical tension in the atmosphere that often precedes
a shower, to which small creatures are perhaps more sensitive than are
men and large animals. It will not do, then, to reject _all_ the
weather-signs popularly alleged to be given by animals.

At the same time, as has been suggested, much of the current
weather-prophecy relating to animals is silly, such, for example, that
a solitary turkey-buzzard seen at a great altitude indicates rain;
that blackbirds’ notes are very shrill before rain; that there will be
no rain the day a heron flies down the creek; that when woodpeckers
peck low on the tree-trunks expect a hard winter. These, and many
other nonsensical maxims, are in fact spurious. Most of them, no
doubt, were uttered originally in jest, or as a whimsical answer to
some inquisitive child, then repeated as amusing, and finally quoted
seriously. Others have been brought to us from the old world by early
farmer-immigrants—French in Canada, Louisiana and New England, Dutch
in New York, Swedish and German in New Jersey and Pennsylvania,
Spanish in the Southwest, and so on—and have been applied to our
native birds, where often they fail to fit. A saw that perhaps had
some value when told of the European robin or blackbird, is
ludicrously inappropriate when said of our blackbirds and robins,
which are totally different in nature and habits.

One of the most venerable of these worthless prognostics, and one that
very likely is a relic of Roman auspices, twenty-five centuries ago, is
that of the goose-bone:

  “To read the winter of any year take the breast-bone of a goose
  hatched during the preceding spring. The bone is translucent, and it
  will be found to be colored and spotted. The dark color and heavy
  spots indicate cold. If the spots are of light shade, and
  transparent, wet weather, rain or snow, may be looked for.

                 “If the November goose-bone be thick,
                 So will the winter weather be;
                 If the November goose-bone be thin,
                 So will the winter weather be.”

One need not wonder at the indignant refusal of hard-headed commanders
of old who refused to let their strategy or tactics to be interfered
with by alarmed priests who reported unfavorable auguries from dissected
hens. Eusebius records the legend that a bird was presented to Alexander
the Macedonian when on the point of setting out for the Red Sea, in
order that he might read the auguries according to custom. Alexander
killed the bird by an arrow, saying, “What folly is this? How could a
bird that could not foresee its death by this arrow, predict the
fortunes of our journey?” The shocked bystanders might have replied, of
course, that the poor creature had no such knowledge in itself, but was
merely the blank on which divine intelligence was written; but the
chances are that they held their tongues! Plutarch mentions many a case
in which commanders construed the “omens” in a way contrary to the
priestly interpretation, in order to carry out some plan that could not
be delayed, and yet conciliate the superstitious soldiers.

It will have been noticed that most of the prophecies learned from birds
relate to coming rain or bad weather, and winter rather than summer. In
_The Strange Metamorphosis of Man_ (1634), as quoted by Brewer,[34]
speaking of the goose, we read: “She is no witch or astrologer, ... but
she hath a shrewd guesse of rainie weather, being as good as an almanac
to some that beleeve in her.” Men generally seem more desirous of
ascertaining the evil than the good that may be in store for them. The
feeling is, perhaps, that if we knew of dangers ahead we might prepare
for them, but that in fair days we can take care of ourselves. Almost
every country has some particular “rain-bird” whose cry is supposed to
foretell showers. In England it is the green woodpecker, or yaffle; in
Malaya a broadbill; in some parts of this country the spotted sandpiper,
or tipup; but _everywhere_ some sort of cuckoo is called “rain-bird” or
“rain-crow,” although the various cuckoos of America, Europe, and the
Orient, differ widely in appearance, habits and voice.

Why should peoples so dissimilar and widely scattered attribute to this
very diverse cuckoo family the quality of “rain-birds” more than to
another family? I can only believe that it denotes the survival of a
very ancient Oriental notion, whose significance was very real in a
symbolic way to the primitive people among whom it originated locally,
but has now been utterly forgotten.

Plunging into the thickets of comparative mythology, hoping to pluck a
few fruity facts for our pains, we find that in Hindoo myths the cuckoo
stands as a symbol of the sun when hidden behind clouds, that is, for a
rainy condition of the sky; furthermore that this bird has a reputation
for possessing exceeding wisdom surpassing that of other birds, all of
which are fabled to be supernaturally wise: and that it knew not only
things present but things to come. It was, in fact, in the opinion of
the ancient Hindoos, a prophetic bird of unrivalled vatic ability. The
Greeks thought their own cuckoo had inherited some of these qualities,
for they made it one of the birds in the Olympian aviary of Zeus, who,
please remember, was the pluvial god.

Plainly this rainy-day character was given to the bird through the
circumstance that in southern Asia, as in southern Europe, the cuckoo is
one of the earliest and quite the most conspicuous of spring-birds—and
the spring is the rainy season. In early days farmers had little
knowledge of a calendar. They sowed and reaped when it seemed fitting to
do so. The coming of the cuckoo coincided with experience, and came to
be their almanac-date for certain operations—_a signal convenient in
advice to the young, or to a newcomer_; and as a rule hoped-for showers
followed the bird’s advent. In the same way old-fashioned Pennsylvania
farmers used to connect corn-planting time and the first-heard singing
of the brown thrasher.

Hesiod instructed his rural countrymen that if “it should happen to rain
three days in succession when the cuckoo sings among the oak-trees, then
late sowing will be as good as early sowing”—doubtless good agricultural
counsel. Not more than a century ago English farmers thought it
necessary to sow barley when the earliest note of the cuckoo was heard
in order to insure a full crop. Mr. Friend[11] reasons thus about this:
“As the cuckoo only returns to our shores at a certain time, it has been
customary to predict from his appearance what kind of season will
follow; and farmers have in all ages placed great reliance on omens of
weather and crops drawn from this source.... In Berwickshire those oats
which are sown after the first of April are called ‘gowk’s’ [cuckoo’s]
oats....

                     Cuckoo oats and wood cock hay
                     Make a farmer run away.

If the spring is so backward that the oats cannot be sown until the
cuckoo is heard, or the autumn so wet that the hay cannot be gathered in
until the woodcocks come over, the farmer is sure to suffer great loss.”

So much for these old maxims; and when British or Italian immigrants
became colonists in America, and found cuckoos here, they continued the
sayings, regardless of difference in climate and other circumstances.
Our species are not early migrants in spring, are poor guides for
planters, and seem to have no prophetic gift, yet they are rain-birds
because their ancestral relatives in India were such 3,000 years ago.



                              CHAPTER XII
               A PRIMITIVE VIEW OF THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES


If anyone should ask you how a particular bird came to be blue or red or
streaked, or how it happened that birds in general differ in colors and
other features, “each after its kind,” in other words how specific
distinctions came about, you, a liberal-minded and well-read person,
would undoubtedly answer that each and all “developed” these specific
characteristics. You might go on to explain that they resulted from the
combined influences of natural and sexual selection, to the latter of
which birds are supposed to be especially susceptible, and thereby show
yourself a good Darwinist.

But primitive thinkers, like children, are not evolutionists but
creationists. They believe that things were made as they are: if so,
somebody made them. They are convinced that no person like themselves or
any of their acquaintances could do it, so they attribute the feat to
some being with superhuman powers. This being is almost always the
mythical ancestor, pristine instructor or “culture-hero,” of the nation,
tribe or clan to which the thinker belongs; and it is perfectly natural
and a matter of course to assume that he had magical functions and
supernatural powers. Next, some genius invents a story to fit the case,
and as anything is possible to such a being as the hero it is adopted
and passed into the tribal history that the elders recount by the
evening fire, and that everybody accepts without suspicion or criticism.
The Hebrews, for example, said that Adam, their “first man,” “gave names
to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the
field; ... and whatsoever Adam called every living creature that was the
name thereof.” As to his reasons for giving this name to one creature
and another to that, it has been whimsically explained that he called
the raccoon that because “it looked like a ‘coon’”—quite as good a
reason as the legend requires.

Now the two questions at the beginning of this chapter were, in fact,
asked by a great variety of our aboriginal Americans, the red Indians,
and undoubtedly by the aborigines of most other countries; but for the
present let us stick to North America.

When some bright-witted, inquisitive Iroquois youngster, hearing and
seeing many birds on a soft June morning, asked his mother how it
happened that they wore such a diversity of plumages, she told him this
story: In the beginning the birds were naked, but some of them became
ashamed, and cried for coverings. (In those days, of course, birds
talked with one another, and even with the wiser sort of men.) They were
told that their suits were ready but were a long way off. At last the
turkey-buzzard was persuaded to go and get them. He had been a clean
bird, but during the long journey had to eat much carrion and filth,
hence his present nature. Guided by the gods he reached the store of
plumages, and selfishly chose for himself the most beautifully colored
dress, but as he found he could not fly in it he was forced to take his
present one, which enables him to soar most gracefully. Finally he
brought their varied suits to the other birds.

The Iroquois lad would be quite satisfied with this account of the
matter; but a boy on the opposite side of the continent would get a very
different explanation. He would be told that Raven did it. Raven—or the
raven—was the mythical ancestor or culture hero, as ethnologists would
say, of the foremost clan of the Tlingit tribe, whose territory was in
southern Alaska. He was present at the making of the world and its
people, and did many marvellous things. While he was at Sitka arranging
affairs in the new world he assigned to all the birds, one by one, the
place of their resort and their habits, and his good nature is shown by
the fact that to the robin and the hummingbird he assigned the duty of
giving pleasure to men, the former by its song and the latter by its
beauty. By and by the birds dressed one another in different ways, so
that they might easily be recognized apart. They tied the hair of the
bluejay up high with a string, put a striped coat on the little
woodpecker, and so on. The Kwakiutl coastal Indians of British Columbia
deny this, however. They say the birds did not select their own
costumes, but that one of their ancestors painted all the birds he found
at a certain place. When he reached the cormorant his colors were
exhausted and he had only charcoal left, hence the cormorant is wholly
black.

George Keith,[99] who in 1807 was a fur-trader on the Mackenzie River,
gathered and recorded much valuable material as to the customs and ideas
of the Beaver Indians of that region, who belonged to the Ojibway
family. In one of his stories Keith gives the Indians’ explanation of
how certain birds got their colors: it was during the time of a great
flood. At that period all birds were white, but l’épervier (the
sharp-shinned hawk), l’émerillon (the goshawk), and l’canard de France
(mallard) agreed to change to a plumage in colors—how it was to be done
the Indians were unable to say. The story proceeds:

  Immediately after this event the corbeau [raven] made his
  appearance. “Come,” says l’épervier to the corbeau, “would you not
  wish to have a coat like mine?” “Hold your tongue!” rejoined the
  corbeau. “With your crooked bill is not white handsomer than any
  other color?” The others argued with the corbeau to consent, but he
  remained inflexible, which so exasperated l’épervier and the others
  that they determined to avenge this affront, and each taking a burnt
  coal in his bill they blacked him all over. The corbeau, enraged at
  this treatment, and determined not to be singular, espied a flock of
  étourneaux [blackbirds] and, without shaking off the black dust of
  his feathers, threw himself amongst them and bespattered them all
  over with black, which is the reason for their still retaining this
  color.

Further south, on Puget Sound, once lived the tribe of Twanas, who held
that in former times men painted themselves in various hues, whereupon
Dokblatt, their culture-hero, who notoriously was fond of changing
things, turned these men into birds, which explains the present
diversity in avian plumage.

The Arawaks of Venezuela, however, account for this matter by saying
that the birds obtained their gay feathers by selecting parts of a huge,
gaudily colored water-snake that the cormorant killed for them by diving
into the water; yet the cormorant, with great modesty, kept for himself
only the snake’s head, which was blackish.

Most explanatory stories concern single kinds of birds, and inform us
how they got the peculiar features by which we identify them with their
names; and here we get back to the nearctic raven. A history of the
exploits of this personage—bird, bird-man or bird-god—who is the hero of
more tales than any other of the giants that flourished in the formative
period of the northern Indian’s world, would fill a big book. “The
creator of all things and the benefactor of man was the great raven
called by the Thlingit Yel, Yeshil or Yeatl, and by the Haida
Ne-kilstlas. He was not exactly an ordinary bird but had ... many human
attributes, and the power of transforming himself into anything in the
world. His coat of feathers could be put on or taken off at will like a
garment, and he could assume any character whatever. He existed before
his birth, never grows old, and will never die.” So Mr. (now Admiral)
Niblack, U. S. N., characterized this supreme magician;[100] and Dr. E.
W. Nelson[101] adds that this creation-legend is believed by the Eskimos
from the Kuskoquim River in southern Alaska northward to Bering Strait,
and thence eastward all along the Arctic Coast. The purely mythological
relation of this widely revered northwestern raven is thus summarized by
Brinton[27]:

  This father of the race is represented as a mighty bird, called Yel,
  or Yale, or Orelbale, from the root [Athabascan] _ell_, a term they
  apply to everything supernatural. He took to wife a daughter of the
  Sun (the Woman of Light), and by her begat the race of men. He
  formed the dry land for a place for them to live upon, and stocked
  the rivers with salmon that they might have food. When he enters his
  nest it is day, but when he leaves it it is night; or, according to
  another myth, he has two women for wives, the one of whom makes the
  day, the other the night. In the beginning Yel was white in plumage,
  but he had an enemy ... by whose machinations he was turned black.
  Yel is further represented as the god of the winds and storms, and
  of the thunder and lightning.

It is plain that in studying the deeds and accidents attributed to this
American member of the sun-born “fabulous flock” described in another
chapter, it is often difficult to separate Raven the demigod, from the
sable, kawing, cunning bird so conspicuous all over northern Canada; and
in this respect Yel differs from Rukh, Simurgh, and the other similar
figments of Oriental fancies, in that he is modelled upon a real bird,
rather than on something utterly unknown to earthly ornithology.

A favorite tale with many variants describes how the cormorant lost its
voice. As the Haidas of Queen Charlotte Islands tell it, Raven once
invited the cormorant to go a-fishing with him. The cormorant went, and
naturally caught many fish, while the Raven took none. Then Raven, angry
made the cormorant stick out its tongue. “There is something on it,”
quoth Raven, and pulled the tongue out by the roots; and that is why
cormorants have no voice.[C]

Footnote C:

  The cormorant was once a wool-merchant. He entered into a partnership
  with the bramble and the bat, and they freighted a large ship with
  wool. She was wrecked and the firm became bankrupt. Since that
  disaster the bat skulks about until midnight to avoid his creditors,
  the cormorant is forever diving into the deep to discover its
  foundered vessel, while the bramble seizes hold of every passing sheep
  to make up the firm’s loss by stealing the wool. This is an ancient
  European story quite as silly as the Haida one.

Here Raven is plainly the supernatural, irresponsible being of Totemic
importance, who often presented himself as a man or in some other form,
for he could assume any shape he liked. Thus the Hudson Bay Eskimos
relate that Raven was a man who loudly cautioned persons when moving a
village-camp not to forget the deer-skin under-blanket called “kak”: so
he got that nickname, and ravens still fly about fussily calling _kak!
kak!_ The Tlingits also have a story in which Raven begins the action as
a man, and ends plain bird—an outwitted one at that. Raven was in a
house and played a trick on Petrel, then tried to get away by flying up
through the smoke-hole in the roof, but got stuck there. Seeing this
Petrel built a birchwood fire under him, so as to make much smoke. The
raven was white before that time, but the smudge blackened him forever.

The Greenland Eskimos account for the change in the raven from white to
black by the story of its vexing the snow-owl, which was its fast friend
in the ancient days before marvels became marvellous. One day the raven
made a new dress, dappled black and white (the summer plumage), for the
owl, which in return fashioned a pair of whalebone boots for the raven,
and also a white dress, as was proper for ravens at that time; but the
raven would not stay quiet while it was tried on. The owl shouted
angrily, “Sit still or I shall pour the lamp over you!” Nevertheless the
bird kept hopping about until the owl, out of patience, picked up the
soapstone saucer-lamp and drenched him with the sooty lamp-oil. Since
then the ever-restless raven has been black all over.

The Haidas say that the crow likewise was originally white, and that on
one occasion Raven turned it black as a spiteful sort of joke.

It is interesting to recall that in classic myth ravens were once as
white as swans and as large; but one day a raven told his patron,
Apollo, that Coronis, a Thessalian nymph whom he passionately loved, was
faithless, whereupon the god shot the nymph with his dart, but hating
the telltale bird

             ... he blacked the raven o’er
             And bid him prate in his white plumes no more,

as Ovid sings in Addison’s translation. Some accounts say that one of
Odin’s messenger-ravens was white. To this day the peasants about
Brescia, in Italy, speak of January 30 and 31, and February 1, as
“blackbird days,” and explained that many years ago the local blackbirds
were white; but in one hard winter it was so cold these thrushes were
compelled to take refuge in chimneys, and ever since have worn a sooty
plumage.

This belief that the sable brotherhood of the crow-tribe was once white
seems to be universal, and perhaps arises in the equally general, albeit
somewhat childish, feeling that nothing is as it used to be; and coupled
with this is the similarly common feeling that every event or condition
ought to be accounted for. Thus we get a glimpse at the psychology in
these primitive stories of the reason why this and that animal is as we
see it. Skeat[7] found among the Malays, for example, a legend that in
the days of King Solomon the argus pheasant was dowdily dressed, and it
besought the crow to paint its plumage in splendid colors. The crow
complied and gave the pheasant its present beautifully variegated
costume; but when the artist asked for a similar service toward itself
from the pheasant the latter not only refused but spilt a bottle of ink
over the crow.

To return to the erratic, and usually mischievous career of Yel, the
Northwestern (raven) culture-hero, it is remembered that often, kindly
or unkindly, he changed sundry birds besides owls from something else
into their present form. For example, he sent a hawk into the Tlingit
country after fire. Previously the hawk’s bill had been long, but in
bringing the fire this long beak was burned short, and has ever remained
so. Nelson[101] learned from Alaskan Eskimos why the short-eared owl has
so diminutive a beak, nearly hidden in the feathers of the flat face.
This owl, it appears, was once a little girl who lived in a village by
the lower Yukon. “She was changed by magic into a bird with a long bill,
and became so frightened that she sprang up and flew off in an erratic
way until she struck the side of a house, flattening her beak and face
so that she became just as the owls are seen to-day.”

Raven made woodpeckers (red-shafted flickers) out of the blood that
gushed from his nose after he had bruised it; and Haida fishermen now
tie scarlet flicker feathers to their halibut hooks “for luck.” Their
neighbors, the Clalams, thought it better to use a piece of kingfisher
skin—and in my opinion their reasoning was the sounder of the two.
Perhaps it was Raven whom the Tshimshian Indians of Nass River meant
when they spoke of “Giant’s” treatment of the gulls. The Giant, as
Professor Boaz heard it designated, had some oolachans (smelts) and
stuck them on sticks to roast by his fire. “When they were done a gull
appeared over the Giant. Then the Giant called him ‘Little Gull.’ Then
many gulls came, which ate all the Giant’s oolachans. They said while
they were eating it _qana, qana, qana!_ Then he was sad. Therefore he
took the gulls and threw them into the fireplace, and ever since the
tips of their wings have been black.”

The culture-hero of the Twana Indians of the Puget Sound region was
Dokibat, as has been mentioned, who had a habit of changing things,
turning men into stones or birds, and so forth. A boy hearing that he
was coming, and fearing some unpleasant transformation, ran away,
carrying with him a water-box (used in canoe-journeys by sea) with water
in it. The water shaking about sounded somewhat like _pu-pu-pu_ when
repeated rapidly; but as the boy ran wings came to him and he began to
fly, and the noise in the box sounded like the cooing of the wood-dove,
which the Twans called “hum-o.” A man was pounding against a cedar-tree.
Dokibat came along and asked him what he was doing. “Trying to break or
split this tree,” was the answer. Dokibat said: “You may stop and go
away, and I will help you.” As the woodman went wings came to him, also
a long bill and a strong head, and he became a woodpecker.

How the woodpecker got the red mark on the back of its head, which is a
characteristic of most species, is explained by the Algonkins thus,
according to Schoolcraft:[102] Manabozho, the renowned culture-hero of
the Ojibways and their relatives, made a campaign against the Shining
Manito, and at last, finding him in his lair, a mortal combat began. At
length Manabozho had left only three arrows, and the fight was going
against him. Ma-ma, the woodpecker, cried out: “Shoot him at the base of
the scalp-lock; it is his only vulnerable spot!” (The Indians have many
stories turning on this point, and reminding us of that of Achilles.)
Then with the third and last arrow Manabozho hit the fatal spot, and
taking the scalp of the Shining Manito as a trophy he rubbed blood from
it on the woodpecker’s head, which remains red in his descendants. That
the redheaded species (_Melanerpes torquatus_), abundant in summer in
the Ojibway country, is meant here is evident from the further statement
that its red feathers were thereafter regarded as symbols of valor, and
were chosen to ornament the warriors’ pipes, for no other woodpecker of
the region could furnish enough such feathers to answer the purpose.

The Menominees, of southern Wisconsin, had a different story relating to
the scarlet crest of another kind of woodpecker. They say that
Ball-carrier, who was a bad-tempered sort of fellow among their
demigods, promised the logcock, or big black woodpecker of the forest,
that if he would kill a certain Cannibal-Woman he should have a piece of
her scalp with its lock of red hair. So the bird rushed at her and drove
his chisel-like beak into her heart. Then Ball-carrier gave her red
scalp-lock to the logcock, which placed it on his own head, as one may
see now. In Indo-European mythology woodpeckers figure among
lightning-birds, and the red mark on their heads is deemed the badge of
their office.

The need of accounting for notable features like this in animals seems
to have appealed to all sorts of people, all around the world, in each
case according to local ideas. Thus an Arabic tradition current in
Palestine accounts for the fork in the tail of swallows by the fact that
a bird of this species baffled a scheme of the Old Serpent (Eblis) in
Paradise, whereupon the serpent struck at it, but succeeded only in
biting out a notch in the middle of its tail. Another example: Nigerian
negros say that the vulture got its bald head by malicious transference
of a disease with which a green pigeon had been suffering—a native guess
at the filth-bacteria to which modern zoologists attribute the
nakedness! Oddly enough, a folk-tale in Louisiana, related by
Fortier,[106] similarly explains the baldness of our turkey-buzzard by
saying it came from a pan of hot ashes thrown at the vulture’s head in
revenge for an injury it had committed on a rabbit—and “buzzards never
eat bones of rabbits.”

The Iowas account for the peculiar baldness of this bird by a long story
recounted by Spence[12] in which their mythical hero Ictinike figures.
Ictinike asked a buzzard to carry him toward a certain place. The crafty
bird consented, but presently dropped him in a tall hollow tree.
Ictinike was wearing ’coonskins, and when presently some persons came
along he thrust their tails through cracks in the trunk. Three women,
thinking that raccoons had become imprisoned in the tree, cut a hole to
capture them, whereupon Ictinike came out and the women ran away. Then
Ictinike lay down wrapped in his furs as if asleep, and an eagle, a
crow, and a magpie came and began pecking at him. The buzzard, thinking
this meant a feast, rushed down from the sky, and Ictinike jumped up and
tore off its scalp, since which the buzzard has been bald.

But many explanations of why birds are now so or so make no mention of
Ravens or Ictinikes, but just tell you the fact. Thus the Eskimos of
northwestern Alaska relate that one autumn day very long ago the cranes
prepared to go southward. As they were gathered in a great flock they
saw a beautiful girl standing alone near a village. Admiring her
greatly, the cranes gathered about her, and lifting her on their
wide-spread wings bore her far up and away. While the cranes were taking
her aloft their brethren circled about below her so closely that she
could not fall, and with hoarse cries drowned her screams for help. So
she was swept away into the sky, and never seen again. Always since that
time the cranes have circled about in autumn, uttering loud cries.

The Hudson Bay Eskimos tell their boys and girls when they see the funny
little guillemots by the sea-cliffs and ask about them, that once a lot
of children were playing near the brink of such a precipice. Their noisy
shouts disturbed a band of seal-hunters on the strand below; and one of
the men exclaimed, “I wish the cliff would topple over and bury those
noisy children!” In a moment the height did so, and the poor infants
fell among the rocks below. There they were changed into guillemots and
dwell to this day on the crags at the edge of the sea.

Another juvenile story explains that the swallows became what they are
by a change from Eskimo children who were making “play-house” igloos of
mud on the top of a cliff. To this day the swallows come every summer
and fix their mud nests to the rocks, recalling their childish joy in
the previous state of their existence. Hence the Eskimo children
particularly love to watch these birds in their “igluiaks,” which are
said not to be molested by the predatory ravens.

Once a long war was fought between the brants and the herons, according
to a Tlingit legend, but at last the swans intervened and a peace was
arranged. To celebrate it the herons indulged in much dancing, and have
been dancers ever since. I am inclined to think this another crane
legend, because the few herons known in the Tlingit country do not
indulge in such antics, whereas the cranes do “dance” a great deal in
the mating-season. These Indians, by the way, say that they learned the
use of pickaxes by watching a heron strike the ground with its beak; and
the suggestion of snowshoes was caught from the ptarmigan, on whose feet
grow in winter expansions of the toes that serve to make it easier for
the bird to walk on snow.

The ruffed grouse, the Ojibways declare, was marked with eleven spots on
its tail to remind him of the time when he wouldn’t do as he was told,
and had to fast eleven days as a punishment. On the other hand Manabozho
rewarded the kingfisher for some useful information by hanging a medal
(in color) about its neck; but in bestowing the medal Manabozho snatched
at the kingfisher’s head, intending to twist it off—a very
characteristic dodge of these treacherous old culture-heroes—but only
rumpled the bird’s crest, so that it has been a ragged sort of headdress
ever since.

The extinct Chitimacha Indians of northern Louisiana had a tale that a
man set the marshes on fire, and a little bird uprose through the smoke
and remonstrated. The man was angry and threw a shell at the bird, which
wounded its wings and made them bleed, and thus the red-winged blackbird
got its scarlet shoulders.

A familiar and active little shrike of the northern border of South
America is the kiskadee, with a conspicuous white mark on its head. The
Arawaks say that this radiant little songster, which has the same sort
of fierce hostility to hawks and other large birds as distinguishes our
doughty kingbird, got tired of a war that was going on among the
animals, put a white bandage around its head and pretended to be sick.
The war halted long enough to expose the fraud of the little malingerer,
and kiskadees were sentenced to wear the white bandage perpetually.

Arawak story-tellers also relate that the trumpeter (Psophia) and a
kingfisher quarrelled over the spoils of war, and knocked each other
into the ashes, which accounts for the gray of their plumage. The
nakedness of the trumpeter’s legs is owing to his stepping into an ant’s
nest, and getting them picked clean. The owl discovered a package among
the spoil of the war that contained only darkness, since which that bird
cannot endure daylight. It is interesting to compare with this the
adventure of the trumpeter current among the Maquiritares, which is
related elsewhere.

So the stories go on. The Pimas, for example, believe that the mountain
bluebird was originally an unlovely gray, but acquired its present
exquisite azure coat by bathing in a certain lake of blue water that had
neither inlet nor outlet. It bathed in this regularly for four mornings.
On the fourth morning it shed all its plumage and came out with the skin
bare; but on the fifth morning it emerged from its bath with a coat of
blue.

This tradition is somewhat sentimental, as befits the sweetly warbling
and beloved bluebird, which is not only a favorite, but has a certain
sacredness in the southwest; but often, in the majority of cases
perhaps, a rough humor tinges the history. Thus Manabush, a mythical
ancestor of the Menominees, once assembled all the birds by a
subterfuge, and then killed several. The little grebe, or “hell-diver,”
was one of those chosen for death, and as it was a poor runner it was
easily caught. Manabush said contemptuously, “I won’t kill you, but you
shall always have red eyes and be the laughing-stock of all the birds.”
With that he gave the poor bird a kick, sending it far out into Lake
Michigan and knocking off its tail, so that the hell-diver is red-eyed
and almost tailless to this day.

I have restricted this chapter mainly to examples from the folklore of
the American Indians, but, were there not danger of becoming tedious,
many more might be quoted from the fireside tales of other countries,
especially Africa. African traditions, however, can hardly be held to
account for the following explanations by some Southern darkies as given
by Martha Young[2]:

  The bluejay was yoked into a plow by the sparrow, and the
  necklace-like mark on his breast is the mark left by the yoke worn
  in this degrading service.

  The buzzard originally had a “fine plume sweepin’ from de top of his
  head,” but lost it in a quarrel with a dog. “Sense dat day Buzzard
  don’t never miss fust pickin’ out de eye of ev’thing that he gwine
  eat,” so that it cannot see to resist if it is not quite dead.

  Darkies say that the hummingbird lost her voice—“she choke her voice
  clean out of her wid honey”—through being so greedy when she first
  discovered the honey in flowers, by reason of contracting a
  “swimmin’ in de head” by incessant whirling, as her poising on wings
  seems to the negroes. “She hav a notion now that she los’ her voice
  ... deep in some flower. She’s al’a’rs lookin’ fer dat los’ voice.
  Flash in dis flower! Dash in dat flower! But she’ll nuvver, nuvver
  fin’ it.”

Charles G. Leland quotes in his _Etruscan Roman Remains_[97] a note
given him by Miss Mary Owen, of St. Joseph, Missouri, that the negroes
and half-breeds in southern Missouri consider the redheaded woodpecker a
great sorcerer, who can appear as either a bird or as a redman with a
mantle or cloak on his arm. He is supposed to be very grateful or very
vengeful as his mood requires. He sometimes bores holes in the heads of
his enemies, while they sleep, and puts in maggots which keep the
victims forever restless and crazy. He made the bat by putting a rat and
a bird together.



                              CHAPTER XIII
                        BIRDS AND THE LIGHTNING


Nothing in nature, except perhaps the rising and setting of the sun, has
impressed mankind more than the fearsome phenomena of a thunder-storm.
Such a storm in the Rocky Mountains, or among the Californian Sierras,
is truly terrifying in its magnificence, and it is none the less so in
the Alps or Himalayas or on the volcanic summits of Central Africa. The
lightnings dart about the darkly clouded peaks, and the thunder-crashes
leap from cliff to cliff in echoes that stun one, for they seem like
vast iron missiles hurled by Titanic strength, and rebounding from crags
that are falling in prodigious ruin—perhaps on your head.

On the plains, too, such a storm may be fearfully grand, for amid
rolling thunders and a tremendous downpour of rain come an incessant
flash and sparkle of lightnings that illuminate the prairie with a
violet flame almost blinding in its glare. A person who did not
comprehend the physical meaning of such a display might well be excused
for trembling in awe and terror—moreover, the danger is real.

I believe that almost from the first there were wise men, the
philosophers of their time, who understood that the clouds were fleeting
masses of fog, that rain was the water pressed out of them, and that the
lightning and its associated rumble were somehow as natural as the
blowing of the wind. The mass of wondering and terrified people,
however, could not think of the rush and noise and glare of stormy
weather otherwise than as something produced by living beings of huge,
mysterious and usually destructive power; and they were as real to them,
although invisible, as are the electric currents and tremendous
air-vibrations to us. Among the aboriginal Chinese electricity was
represented as residing on the mountains in the form of birds, and their
Thunder-god is pictured with a bird’s beak and claws, and armed with a
drum and hammer.

“The drama of mythology,” De Gubernatis tells us, “has its origin in the
sky; but the sky may be either clear or gloomy; it may be illumined by
the sun or by the moon; it may be obscured by the darkness of night, or
the condensation of its vapors into clouds.... The god who causes rain
to fall, who from the highest heaven fertilizes the earth, takes the
form now of a ram, now of a bull; the lightning that flies like a winged
arrow, is represented now as a bird, now as winged horse; and thus, one
after another, all the shifting phenomena of the heavens take the form
of animals, becoming at length now the hero himself, now the animal that
waits upon the hero, and without which he would possess no supernatural
power whatever.”

To the minds of the redmen in the eastern part of the United States the
violent storms frequent in summer were somehow produced by vague
supernatural beings spoken of as Thunder-gods; but on the open prairies
and plains of the West, where even more terrific electric disturbances
occur, and also along the Northwest Coast and in Alaska, they were
attributed to birds of enormous size, who darkened the rain-clouds with
their shadows and produced thunder by flapping their wings and lightning
by opening their eyes, shooting flaming arrows, and so forth. Some
tribes believed in one such bird only, others in a family or flock of
them variously colored, while still others declared that the agent was a
giant who clothed himself in a huge bird-skin as a flying-dress.

If one asked what any one of these creatures was like, the answer
usually was that it resembled a colossal eagle. The Comanches and
Arapahoes described it to Dr. Mooney as a big bird with a brood of small
ones, and said that it carried in its claws a quantity of arrows with
which it strikes the victims of lightning. This reminds us of the bird
of Jove in classic fable, clutching the javelins of his master, the
Thunderer; and a comic touch is that these southern Indians called the
eagle stamped on our coins by their thunder-bird’s name, innocently
supposing that our national emblem was their “baa,” the lightning-maker!

The Mandans, a Dakotan tribe, say that the thunder-bird has two toes on
each foot—one before and one behind; and the Algonquian Blackfeet
represent it on their medicine-lodges by simply drawing four black
bird-claws on a yellow shank. When it flies softly, as is usually its
way, according to the Mandans, it is not heard by mankind, but when it
flaps its wings violently a roaring noise is produced. It breaks through
the clouds to force a way for the rain, and the glance of its fiery eyes
appears in the lightnings. “We don’t see the thunder-birds,” a Winnebago
Indian explained. “We see their flashes only.”

This terrifying creature dwelt on a remote mountain, or on some rocky
elevation difficult of access, and built a nest as big as a village,
surrounded by the bones and horns of the great animals on which it
preyed. Every tribal district seems to have had at least one pair. The
Indians about Lake Superior believed that theirs were at home on the
beetling heights of that bold promontory on the northern shore of the
lake long celebrated as Thunder Cape. This is, for natural reasons, a
theatre of electric action, which the Chippeways accounted for by the
fiction of a magic bird—quite as natural in its way as is the
meteorology. At any rate the redmen feared to climb the mountain and
prove their theory, for they said men had been struck by lightning there
in impious attempts at investigating the bird-god—the old story of
religious interference with scientific curiosity. These same people held
that their thunder-bird sat on her eggs during fair weather, and hatched
out her brood in the storm—which hatching _was_ the storm.

“A place,” says the ethnologist Mooney,[77] “known to the Sioux as
Waqkina-oye, ‘the Thunderer’s nest’—... is in eastern South Dakota in
the neighborhood of Big Stone Lake. At another place, near the summit of
the Coteau des Prairies, in eastern South Dakota, a number of large
round boulders are pointed out as the eggs of the thunder-bird.
According to the Comanches there is a place on upper Red River where the
thunder-bird once alighted on the ground.... The same people tell how a
hunter once shot and wounded a large bird which fell to the ground.
Being afraid to attack it alone on account of its size, he returned to
camp for help, but on again approaching the spot the hunters heard the
thunder rolling and saw flashes of lightning shooting out from the
ravine where the bird lay wounded. On coming nearer the lightning
blinded them so that they could not see the bird, and one flash struck
and killed a hunter. His frightened companions then fled back to camp,
for they knew it was a thunder-bird.”

In contrast to this the Eskimos of the lower Yukon Valley tell of a
former man of their race who dared, after others had failed, to raid the
lair of and kill a gigantic fowl that for a long time had preyed as a
“man-eater” on the village of their ancestors; and they have held this
man in high honor as a hero to this day.

This conception of a thunder-and-lightning-producing bird has a
prominent place among the notions of the native inhabitants of the
northwestern American coast-country, where the attributed
characteristics and deeds vary with local surroundings and tribal
peculiarities. In one place a storm was supposed to result from its
activity in catching whales; and a Chehalis legend has it that
Thunderbird sprang from a whale killed by South Wind. As soon as it was
born South Wind followed it, and Ootz-Hooi, the giantess, found its nest
and threw the eggs down a cliff. From these eggs sprang the Chehalis
people. The Tlingit, of the Southern Alaskan coast-region, account for
the great amount of rain that falls in a thunder-shower by explaining
that the thunder-bird carries a lake on its back. A conventional
representation of the thunder-bird as it appears to the Haidas of this
Northwest Coast decorates the title-page of this book.

The Salish Indians of the Thomson River region, in southern British
Columbia, believe that the thunder-bird uses its wings as bows to shoot
arrows, _i.e._, lightnings. “The rebound of his wings in the air, after
shooting, makes the thunder. For this reason the thunder is often heard
in different parts of the sky at once, being the noise from each wing.
The arrowheads fired by the thunder are found in many parts of the
country. They are of black stone and of very large size.” The last
statement may refer to meteoric stones, or it may be purely fanciful. A
common belief among the farmer-folk of Europe is that the smooth,
chisel-shaped tools or weapons of prehistoric (Neolithic) men,
frequently turned up by the plow, and known technically as “celts,” are
thunderbolts; but this is only incidental to the present theme.

The raven is a hero-bird among the Cherokees, who say that he became
black by attempting to bring fire from a hollow tree that had been set
on fire purposely by “the Thunderer” by means of lightning. The bird did
not succeed, and blackened its plumage forever.

In Japan the ptarmigan, a dweller on mountain-tops, is called _rai-cho_,
“thunder-bird,” and is “sacred to the God of Thunder,” as Weston
expresses it, adding that “pictures of them are often hung up in
farmers’ cottages as a charm against lightning.”

Thunderstorms are usually accompanied by much wind, and the common
conception of birds as the agent of wind, or the wind itself, has been
exhibited briefly in another chapter; it prevailed not only among our
American Indians but in various other parts of the world, including
South Africa—or did, when men were less skeptical of such ideas than
now. In ancient Sanskrit mythology the delicate white cirrus cloud
drifting overhead was a fleeting swan, and so also was it in the creed
of the early Scandinavians and to our wild Navahoes—a good illustration
not only of independent and parallel images for an idea, but of the
likeness of human minds under great diversity of race and conditions.
Black clouds were thought of by the Norse folks as “ravens coursing over
the earth and returning to whisper the news in the ear of listening
Odin,” as Baring-Gould expresses it. The immemorial resemblance traced
between bird and cloud is not far-fetched: and recurs to the modern poet
as it did in olden times to the Psalmist when he spoke of the wings of
the wind. “The rushing vapor is the roc of the _Arabian Nights_, which
broods over its great luminous egg, the sun, and which haunts the
sparkling Valley of Diamonds, the starry sky.... If the cloud was
supposed to be a great bird, the lightnings were regarded as writhing
worms or serpents in its beak.... The lightning-bolt, shattering all it
struck, was regarded as the stone dropped by the cloud-bird.”[54]

In the _Kalevala_ Puhuri, the North Wind, father of Pakkanen, the Frost,
is sometimes personified as a gigantic eagle.

These facts and considerations prepare the way for legends that began to
be told in the very beginning of things, because then, and until
yesterday, all ordinary folks thought them true as well as interesting;
and they are repeated even now as curiosities of primitive faith—stories
of birds and plants called “openers.”

The oldest, perhaps, is the Rabbinical legend of Solomon, who desired to
obtain a stone-breaking “worm” (so the idea was even then ancient!) in
possession of Asmodeus, the Demon of Destruction. Asmodeus refused to
fetch it, and told Solomon that if he wanted this magic creature (whose
name was _schamir_) he must find the nest of “the,” not “a,” moorhen and
cover it with a plate of glass so that the mother-bird could not get
access to her young. This was done. When the moorhen returned and saw
the situation she flew away, brought the schamir from its hiding-place,
and was about to lay it on the glass, which it would break; but Benaiah,
Solomon’s agent, who lay in wait, shouted, and so frightened the bird
that she dropped the schamir, whereupon Benaiah picked it up, as he had
planned to do. It was by aid of this “worm,” which shaped the stone-work
for him, that Solomon was able to build his Temple without sound of
hammer or saw. Other versions assert that a raven or an eagle was the
bird, and that the magic glass-breaker was a stone brought from the
uttermost East.

The story travelled to Greece, and there became attached to the hoopoe,
a small crested bird that figures largely in south-European and African
wonder-tales. A hoopoe, runs the Greek story, had a nest in an old wall
in which was a crevice. The proprietor, noticing the rent in his wall,
plastered it over; thus when the hoopoe returned to feed her young she
found that the nest had been covered so that she was unable to enter it.

  Forthwith she flew away in quest of a plant called poa (the
  springwort?), and having found a spray returned and applied it to
  the plaster, which at once fell off from the crack and gave her free
  access to her nest. Then she went forth to seek food, but during her
  absence the master again plastered up the hole. The object was again
  removed by means of the magic poa, and a third time the hole was
  stopped and opened in the same way.

  The springwort and several other flowering plants were credited in
  old times with a magical property in opening locks. “Pliny records
  the superstition concerning it almost in the same form in which it
  is now found in Germany. If anyone touches a lock with it the lock,
  however strong, must yield.... One cannot easily find it oneself,
  but generally the woodpecker [according to Pliny, also the raven; in
  Switzerland and Swabia the hoopoe; in the Tyrol the swallow] will
  bring it under the following circumstances: When the bird visits its
  nest the nest must be stopped up with wood. The bird will open it by
  touching it with a spring-wurzel. Meantime a fire or a red cloth
  must be placed near by, which will so frighten the bird that it will
  let the magic root fall.”

The English antiquary Aubrey (1626–97) records an anecdote of a keeper
of a baronial park in Herefordshire who “did for exprinent’s sake drive
an iron naile thwert the hole of the woodpecker’s nest, there being a
tradition that the damme will bring some leafe to open it. He layed at
the bottom of the tree a cleane sheet, and before many houres passed the
naile came out, and he found a leafe lying by it on the sheet. They say
the moonwort will do such things.” The moonwort is a fern which was
formerly reputed to have power to draw nails out of horseshoes.

From such roots as these grew the superstitions and legends innumerable
of plants that would cure a snake (another lightning-symbol) or other
animal of wounds, or even restore the dead. A tradition of the Middle
Ages is that two little birds were seen fighting till one was exhausted.
“It went away and ate of a certain herb and then returned to renew the
battle. When the old man who witnessed the encounter had seen this done
several times he took away the herb on which the bird was wont to feed,
whereupon the little bird, unable to find its plant, set up a great cry
and died.” It is a foolish little story, but illustrative.

One reads of magic crystals, and of gems with marvellous properties that
would open mountains in which princes or glittering treasures were
hidden. A curious example of this is related by Leland[97] anent the
constant and ordinarily fruitless hunt for treasure in ancient Etruscan
tombs, which went on in Italy for centuries. “When one would find a
treasure,” the peasants told Leland, “he must take the door of the house
in which he dwells and carry it forth into the fields at night until he
comes to a tree. Then he must wait till many birds fly over him, and
when they come he must throw down the door, making a great noise. Then
the birds in fear will speak with a human voice, and tell where the
treasure is buried.”

Much of this tinctures the mental life of many uneducated persons to
this day. They will tell you now at Rauen, in Germany, that a princess
is entombed alive in the Markgrafenstein, and that she and her wealth
can be released only by one who will go there on a Friday at midnight
carrying a white woodpecker—which would seem to make an albino of that
species well worth searching for! The woodpecker of old was a
“lightning-bird” because, among other reasons, it was supposed to get
fire by boring into wood, as did primitive savages by means of the
fire-drill; and its red cap was not only a badge of its office, but a
lightning-symbol in general.

Let me illuminate this matter still more by quoting the comments of John
Fiske[98] on the mythical conceptions of this character that are so old,
and so cherished among the unlearned:

  Among the birds enumerated by Kuhn [author of _The Descent of Fire_]
  and others as representing the storm-cloud, are likewise the wren or
  kinglet (French _roitelet_); the owl, sacred to Athenæ; the cuckoo,
  stork and sparrow; and the red-breasted robin, whose name Robert was
  originally an epithet of the lightning-god Thor. In certain parts of
  France it is still believed that the robbing of a wren’s nest will
  render the culprit liable to be struck by lightning. The same belief
  was formerly entertained in Teutonic countries with respect to the
  robin....

  Now, as the raven or woodpecker, in the various myths of schamir, is
  the dark storm-cloud, so the rock-splitting worm, or plant or pebble
  is nothing more or less than the flash of lightning carried and
  dropped by the cloud....

  The persons who told these stories were not weaving ingenious
  allegories about thunder-storms, or giving utterance to
  superstitions of which the original meaning was forgotten. The old
  grannies who, along with a stoical indifference to the fate of
  quails and partridges, used to impress upon me the wickedness of
  killing robins, did not add that I should be struck by lightning if
  I failed to heed their admonitions. They had never heard that the
  robin was the bird of Thor: they merely rehearsed the remnant of the
  superstition which had survived to their own times, while the
  essential part of it had long since faded from recollection. The
  reason for regarding a robin’s life as more sacred than a
  partridge’s had been forgotten; but it left behind, as was natural,
  a vague recognition of that mythical sanctity. The primitive meaning
  of a myth fades away as inevitably as the primitive meaning of a
  word or phrase; and the rabbins which told of a worm which shattered
  rocks no more thought of the writhing thunderbolts than the modern
  reader thinks of oyster-shells when he sees the word _ostracism_, or
  consciously breathes a prayer when he writes the phrase _Good-bye_.



                              CHAPTER XIV
                    LEGENDS IN A HISTORICAL SETTING


It is not easy in preparing a book devoted mainly to fable and folklore
to sort out material for a separate chapter on “legends.” A legend may
be defined as a narrative of something thought of as having actually
happened in connection with some real purpose or place, but which is
unsupported by historical evidence. In many cases such narratives are
quite incredible, but even so they may have a historically illustrative,
a literary, or at least an amusing interest. Stories of a considerable
number of well-known kinds of birds are in this way connected with
actual persons, or with verifiable incidents of the past, and hence may
be said to be “legends in an historical setting.” A fair example of them
is the incident of the Capitoline geese.

Early in the third century before the Christian era a horde of Gaulish
invaders under Brennus over-ran central Italy, and in 388 B.C. captured
all of Rome itself except the lofty citadel called the Capitol, where a
Roman general officer, Marcus Manlius, held out with a small garrison on
the point of starvation. One night the besieging Gauls, having
discovered an unguarded by-path, crept up the rocky steep, intending the
surprise and capture of the almost worn-out defenders. “But,” says
Plutarch,[94] in Dryden’s translation, “there were sacred Geese kept
near the Temple of Juno, which at other times were plentifully fed, but
at this time, by reason of the Corn and all other Provisions were grown
strait, their allowance was shorten’d and they themselves in a poor and
lean condition. This Creature is by nature of quick sense, and
apprehensive of the least noise; so that besides watchful through
hunger, and restless, they immediately discovered the coming of the
Gauls; so that running up and down, with their noise and cackling they
raised the whole camp.”

Manlius sprang from sleep, aroused a body of soldiers and repelled the
attack. It was the beginning of an ultimate victory over the enemy. Rome
was saved, and in recognition of it Manlius was given the honorary title
Capitolinus, and for a long time afterward the incident was celebrated
annually by a procession to the Capitol in which a golden goose was
carried. Livy also tells us in his history that the prototype of this
golden symbol was a single sentinel goose never seen before, hence a
divine aid sent to Rome for the purpose by the gods. It is interesting
to note that

                  These consecrated geese in orders
                  That to the capitol were warders
                  And being then upon patrol
                  With noise alone beat off the Gaul,

as _Hudibras_ has it, were “sacred” to Juno, for this was before the
time when she, having changed from the status of simple wife to Jupiter
(and a model to human wives), had become the imperious and
trouble-making empress of later days, and had discarded the motherly
goose for the exotic, proud, and royally splendid peacock. This is a
capital example of the adaptive character of the assignment of birds to
the various demigods of the Roman pantheon; and it suggests the query
whether in some principal cases reverence for the bird itself did not
precede the conception of the divinity it afterward typified.

Another tale of birds acting as sentinels explains how the wren came to
be so mortally hated by the Irish, whose cruel “hunting of the wren” is
described in another chapter. According to Lady Wilde,[60] a student of
Irish folklore, this hatred is owing to the fact that once when Irish
troops were approaching to attack a part of Thomas Cromwell’s army
(about 1650) “wrens came and perched on the Irish drums, and by their
tapping and noise aroused the English soldiers, who fell on the Irish
troops and killed all of them.” This is a variant of a legend far older
than Cromwell’s campaigning; and it is not the true explanation of the
antipathy the cruder Irish and Manxmen still feel toward this innocent
little songster, while at the same time they have a peculiar tenderness
for the robin.

A third parallel is found in the annoyance caused the Scottish
Covenanters. Many a meeting of pious Presbyterians in some hidden,
heathery glen of the misty hills was discovered and roughly dispersed
“because of the hovering, bewailing plovers, fearful for their young,
clamoring overhead.” The poet Leyden alludes to the long-remembered
grudge against this suspicious bird when, speaking of the religious
refugees on the moors, he writes:

          The lapwing’s clamorous whoop attends their flight,
          Pursues their steps where’er the wanderers go,
          Till the shrill scream betrays them to the foe.

Returning to ancient history, two bird-stories of Alexander the Great
are delightful as illustrating how an independent and masterful
intellect, even in that early day above the Pagan superstitions of the
time, might with ingenuity and boldness bend the sanctions of religion
to his own ends without destroying them. The first one is an incident
recorded of Alexander’s campaign in Asia Minor in 334 B.C. His fleet
was anchored in the harbor of Miletus, and opposite it lay the fleet
of the Persians. Alexander had no desire to disturb this situation,
for he meant his army, not the navy, to do the work in view. One day
an eagle, Jove’s bird, was seen sitting on the shore behind the
Macedonian ships, and Parmenion, chief of staff, found in this fact
convincing indication by the gods that victory was with the ships.
Alexander pointed out that the eagle had perched on the land, not on
the ships, giving thereby the evident intimation that it was only
through the victory of the troops on land that the fleet could have
value. As Alexander was commander-in-chief, this was evidently the
orthodox interpretation.

Two years later Alexander was one day laying out on its site the plan of
his foreordained city of Alexandria, in Egypt, and was marking the
course of the proposed streets by sprinkling lines of flour in the lack
of chalk-dust. “While the king,” says Plutarch, “was congratulating
himself on his plan, on a sudden a countless number of birds of various
sorts flew over from the land and the lake in clouds, and settling on
the spot in clouds devoured in a short time all the flour, so that
Alexander was much disturbed in mind at the omen involved, till the
augurs restored his confidence, telling him the city ... was destined to
be rich in its resources, and a feeder of nations of men.”

The straight face with which Plutarch[94] recites these and similar
stories of hocus-pocus in the matter of inconvenient omens is
delightful; but the faith of the common people was not so easily shaken.
For example: When the Sicilian-Greek army of Agathocles, Tyrant of
Syracuse in the third century, B. C., was facing near Times a more
powerful Carthaginian force, Agathocles let loose a number of owls among
his men, “who suddenly took great courage as the birds sacred to Pallas
settled blinking upon their helmets and shields”—and they routed the
bigger enemy. That was true religious inspiration—as true as ever blazed
in the heart of Christian crusader; but it was a sacrilegious trick on
the part of Agathocles!

Just across the strait from Sicily, at Regium (Reggio), was the home of
the celebrated cranes of Ibycus. Ibycus, a local poet, was being
murdered by robbers when he called on the cranes fluttering near by to
give witness of his death. Later, the murderers were one day at the
theatre, when they saw a flock of cranes, and in fright whispered to one
another: “The cranes of Ibycus!” They were overheard, arrested and
executed, whence the proverb “the cranes of Ibycus” to express crime
coming unexpectedly to light.

_The Wonderful Magazine_, an amazing periodical issued in London from
1793 to 1798, contained a story that in 1422 a “Roman” emperor besieging
Zeta took all the sparrows his men could catch, and, tying lighted
matches to their feet, let them go toward the town. But the citizens
made a great noise, and the frightened sparrows flying back set the
Roman camp on fire and so raised the siege. The reader may put his own
estimate on this bit of historical lore; and may discover, if he can,
where and what was Zeta.

Arabs in Palestine tell how a bird was involved in David’s sin of
coveting Uriah’s wife. David, they say, had shut himself up in a tower
for meditation, when, happening to look up, he saw just outside the
window a bird of amazing beauty—a pigeon whose plumage gleamed like gold
and jewels. David threw some crumbs on the floor, whereupon the pigeon
came in and picked them up, but eluded David’s attempt to capture it. At
last, to escape his efforts, it flew to the window and settled on one of
the bars. He pursued, but it departed. It was then, as David followed
the bright creature with longing eyes, that he caught sight of Madame
Uriah in the bath—and was done for!

Among other excellent things in Hanauer’s _Tales from Palestine_[43] is
the following report of Solomon’s contest with a dove:

“In the southern wall of the Kubbet ’es-Sakhra [at Jerusalem], the
mosque that now stands near the site of the ancient Temple, on the right
side of the door as one enters there is a gray slab framed in marble of
a dark color. It contains a figure, formed by natural veins in the
stone, which is distinct enough to be taken for a picture of two doves
perched facing each other on the edge of a vase. With this picture is
connected a tale....

“The great king Solomon understood the language of beasts, birds and
fishes, and, when he had occasion to do so, would converse with all of
them. One day, soon after he had completed the Temple, as he was
standing at a window of the royal palace, he overheard a conversation
between a pair of birds that were sitting on the housetop. Presently the
male, who was evidently trying to impress the female with his
importance, exclaimed: ‘Solomon is a conceited fool! Why should he be so
vain of this pile of buildings he has raised? I, if I wished, could kick
them all over in a few minutes.’

“The king, greatly enraged by this pompous speech, summoned the offender
into his presence and demanded what he meant by such an outrageous
boast. ‘Your majesty,’ replied the bird, ‘will, I am sure, forgive my
audacity, when I explain that I was in the company of a female; since
your majesty doubtless knows from experience that in such circumstances
the temptation to boast is almost irresistible.’ The monarch, forgetting
his anger in his amusement, said with a smile: ‘Go your way this time,
but see that you do not repeat the offence,’ and the bird, after a
profound obeisance, flew away to rejoin his mate.

“He had hardly alighted before the female, unable to repress her
curiosity, eagerly inquired why he had been summoned to the palace.
‘Oh,’ said the impudent boaster, ‘the king heard me tell you that if I
chose I could kick down all his buildings in no time, and he sent for me
to beg me not to do it.’

“Solomon, who, of course, heard this remark also, was so indignant at
the incorrigible vanity of its author that he at once turned both birds
into stone. They remain to this day as a reminder of the saying: ‘The
peace of mankind consists in guarding the tongue.’”

But the stories of Solomon and his bird-friends are many. He was
evidently a jolly old soul, and tradition says that when he travelled
across the desert clouds of birds formed a canopy to protect him from
the sun. The hoopoe, a high-crested bird that figures largely in other
fanciful tales of the East, tells wise Solomonic stories, and is still
regarded by Saharan nomads as possessed of peculiar virtues. The great
Jewish king, whose reality is almost hidden under the legendary mantle,
is said to have chosen the hoopoe, the cock and the pewit: the first
because of its wit, the second in admiration of its cry, and the third
because, says Hanauer, it can see through the earth, and could tell him
where fountains of water could be found. The last preference is natural
in an arid region, the pewit being a water-bird, the familiar
lapwing-plover; and as it annually migrates through Palestine into
Ethiopia it is reasonable that it should be fabled to be the means of
bringing Solomon and the Queen of Sheba together, as is described in
Chapter XXVII of the Koran. It should be noted that all of these birds
are crested.

The veneration given to doves by the Mohammedans at Mecca is accounted
for elsewhere; but swallows are held in almost equal reverence by both
officials and pilgrims at that great shrine of Islam, and build their
nests in the haram. This respect is explained by Keane[14] as the result
of a belief that they were the instruments by which Mecca was saved from
the Abyssinian (Christian) army that is known to have invaded Arabia in
the year of Mohammed’s birth, and to have been disastrously expelled.
The tradition is that God sent flocks of swallows, every bird carrying
three small stones in its beak and two in its claws, which were dropped
on the heads of the Abyssinians, and miraculously penetrated the bodies
of men and elephants until only one of the invaders was left alive. He
fled back to his country, and had just finished telling of the disaster
to the king when one of the swallows, which had followed him from Mecca,
dropped its pebble and killed him too. The kernel of this dramatic story
is in the nineteenth section of the Koran:[59] “And he sent against them
birds in flocks (ababils), claystones did he hurl down at them.” The
historical explanation is that the Abyssinian invaders were destroyed by
small-pox, the pustules of which are called in Arabic by a word meaning
“small stones.”

Of a piece with these traditions and the Rabbinical tales of the Jews
are the monkish legends preserved in early British chronicles, such as
that by the Venerable Bede or by William of Malmesbury. The orthodox as
well as dissenters had trouble with birds. Among the traditions of the
celebrated Scotch-Irish missionary Columba (Latinized from his baptismal
name Colum, “dove”) is one that once in his ardent youth Colum was
trying to make by stealth in a church a copy of the psalter in
possession of the selfish king, Finian of Donegal, who had refused the
young enthusiast that privilege. A meddlesome stork, confined within the
church, informed the sacristan, and Colum was arrested. Nevertheless by
divine aid he got his copy, helpful to him afterward in his beneficent
work in the Scottish highlands.

One of the prettiest of these old stories is that of St. Kenneth and the
gulls.[22] One day about A. D. 550 the blackheaded gulls, flying as
usual along the coast of Wales, and scanning the sea sharply for food or
anything else interesting to a gull, found floating in a coracle—a
round, wickerwork canoe—a human baby a day or two old, contentedly
asleep on a pallet made of a folded purple cloth. Several gulls seized
the corners of this cloth and so carried the child to the ledge of the
Welsh cliff where they nested, plucked feathers from their breasts to
make a soft bed, laid the baby on it, then hastened to fly inland and
bring a doe to provide it with milk, for which an angel offered a brazen
bell as a cup. There the blessed waif lived for several months; but one
day, in the absence of all the gulls, a shepherd discovered the infant
and took him down to his hut and his kind wife. The gulls, returning
from the sea, heard of this act from the doe. They at once rushed to the
shepherd’s cottage, again lifted the babe by the corners of its purple
blanket, and bore him back to the ledge of their sea-fronting crag.
There he stayed until he had grown to manhood—a man full of laughter and
singing and kind words; and the Welsh peasants of the Gower Peninsula
revered him and called him Saint Kenneth.

Somewhat similar is the legendary history of Coemagen, or Saint Kelvin,
an Irish monk of the eighth century, into whose charge was committed the
infant son of Colman, a Leinster noble. “Coemagen fed the child on the
milk of a doe which came from the forest to the door of his cell. A
raven was wont, after the doe had been milked, to perch on the bowl, and
sometimes would upset it. ‘Bad luck to thee!’ exclaimed the saint. ‘When
I am dead there will be a famous wake, but no scraps for thee and thy
clan!’ When very old St. Kelvin moved into a forest hermitage, where the
birds came to him as companions. Once, while praying, his supplicating
palms outstretched, a blackbird (thrush) dropped her eggs into the
hollow of his hands, and he held his arms rigid until the chicks
hatched.”

A curious parallel to the last incident is quoted by the Baroness
Martinengo-Caesaresco[20] “from an industrious translator” of the book
_Tatchi-Lou-Lun_, describing how when a bird laid her eggs on the head
of the first Buddha, which she mistook for the branch of a tree, he
plunged himself into a trance so as not to move until the eggs had
hatched and the young were flown.

St. Bede the younger, a contemporary of Coemagen, had a dove that used
to come at his call; and an Irish monk, Comgall, would bid the swans
near his residence come and cluster devotionally around his feet. Many
saints, the legends declare, had authority over birds, and one, St.
Millburg, abbess of Wenlock, in Shropshire, kept them out of the
farmers’ crops by telling them it was naughty to despoil the grain. Of
old, according to Canon Kingsley, St. Guthlac in Crowland said, as the
swallows sat upon his knee, “He who leads his life according to the will
of God, to him will the wild deer and the wild birds draw more near.”

The religious “hermits,” so prevalent at that period, were men who chose
a more or less solitary life, quite as much, I suspect, on account of
their love of nature as from purely devotional motives, and this was
particularly true of those in Great Britain, exhibiting the
characteristic British fondness for animal life. There was an early St.
Bartholomew, for example, who in the sixth century or thereabout dwelt
in seclusion on one of the Farne Islands off the northeastern coast of
England, and made friends of the gulls and cormorants of the place. One
of these he had tamed to eat out of his hand, and once, when Bartholomew
was away fishing, a hawk pursued this poor bird into the chapel and
killed it. Brother Bartholomew came in and found the hawk there with
bloody talons and a shame-faced appearance. He caught it, kept it two
days without food to punish it, then let it go. At another time, as he
sat by the shore, a cormorant approached and pulled at his skirt, then
led him to where one of its young had fallen into a crevice of the rocks
whence the good man rescued it.

One of these rocky islets in the North Sea became so famous during the
next century that it has been known ever since as Holy Isle, and the
ruins of its monastery and cathedral still remain and may be seen from
the railway train as it passes along the brink of the lofty coast a
little south of Berwick-on-Tweed. This was the seat of the renowned
Bishop Cuthbert of whom many quaint stories are told, apart from the
record of his religious work. They attribute to his influence the
extraordinary gentleness and familiarity characteristic of the eider
duck, which is known to this day in Northumbria as Cuthbert’s bird. It
was he, according to a narrative of a monk of the 13th century, who
inspired these ducks with a hereditary trust in mankind by taking them
as companions of his solitude when for several years he resided alone on
Lindisfarne. There is good reason to accept this and similar traditions
as largely true, for a like ability in “gentling” birds and other wild
animals is manifested to-day by some persons of a calm and kindly sort.

Early in the eighth century a monk of intensely ascetic disposition,
named Guthlac, retired to a solitary hermitage on an island in the
dismal morasses of Lincolnshire, which afterward, if not then, was
called Croyland or Crowland. He was sorely tempted by the Devil we are
informed, and had many battles with “demons”—native British refugees
hiding in the fens; but in the intervals of his fasting and fighting he
got acquainted with the wild creatures about him. “The ravens, the
beasts and the fishes,” says the record, “came to obey him. Once a
venerable brother named Wilfred visited him, and ... suddenly two
swallows came flying in ... and often they sat fearlessly on the
shoulders of the holy man Guthlac, and then lifted up their song, and
afterward they sat on his bosom and on his arms and his knees.... When
Guthlac died angelic songs were heard in the sky, and all the air had a
wondrous odor of exceeding sweetness.”

St. Kentigern, when a schoolboy, was wrongly accused of having twisted
off the head of his master’s pet robin. He proved his innocence by
putting the head and body together, whereupon the robin came to life and
attended Kentigern until he became a great and good man. His master was
St. Servan, and the robin was one that used to eat from his hand and
perch on his shoulder, where it would twitter whenever Servan chanted
the Psalms.

Here we encounter the mystical kind of story with which those old
chroniclers like to embellish their biographies of holy men, and there
was no limit to their credulity. Such is the tale of Carilef, a French
would-be hermit of Ménàt, in Auvergne, who thought he was guided to set
up a religious station because a wren had laid an egg in a hood that he
had left hanging on a bush—a very wrenlike proceeding; and that was the
foundation of the monastery about which the city of St. Calais grew in
later times. Several other incidents of this kind are on record, showing
that the value placed on any action by a bird that could be construed as
a divine message. It is written that Editha, one of the early queens of
England, persuaded her husband to found a religious house near Oxford on
account of the omens she interpreted from the voice and actions of a
certain magpie. Similarly the site for the abbey of Thierry, near
Rheims, in France, was indicated to St. Theodoric, in the sixth century,
by a white eagle circling around the top of the hill on which it
subsequently was erected; and this miraculous eagle was seen year after
year in the sky above it.

About that time Kenelm, son and heir of Kenulph, king of Wessex, was
seven years old. His sister, who wanted to succeed to the throne in his
place, procured his murder. The instant this was accomplished the fact
was notified to the Pope, according to the _Chronicles_ of Roger de
Wendover, by a white dove that alighted on the altar of St. Peter’s,
bearing in its beak a scroll on which was written

                 In Clent cow-pasture, under a thorn,
                 Of head bereft lies Kenelm, king-born.

The Pope sent word to England, the body was found in a thicket over
which hung a pillar of supernal light, and was taken to Winchelcumb, in
Gloucestershire, for burial; and at the spot near Halesowen, in
Shropshire, where he was killed, Kenelm’s Chapel was erected.

But the most mystical legend in which birds are a part, is one familiar
in Brittany. It is related of St. Leonore, a Welsh missionary who went
to Brittany in the sixth century, to whom many fabulous powers and deeds
are attributed, the most comprehensible of which Baring-Gould has put
into verse. Leonore, with a band of followers, had decided to settle in
Brittany on a desolate moor; but they had forgotten to bring any
seed-wheat, and were alarmed.

              Said the abbot, “God will help us
                In this hour of bitter loss.”
              Then one spied a little redbreast
                Sitting on a wayside cross.

              Doubtless came the bird in answer
                To the words the monk did speak,
              For a heavy wheat-ear dangled
                From the robin’s polished beak.

              Then the brothers, as he dropped it
                Picked it up and careful sowed;
              And abundantly in autumn
                Reaped the harvest where they strewed.[21]

Greater poets than Baring-Gould or even Bishop Trench have found
literary material in these monastic tales. Witness Longfellow’s _Golden
Legend_, where he sings of good St. Felix, the Burgundian missionary who
crossed the Channel, and in A.D. 604 converted to Christianity the wild
king of the East Saxons; and who listened to the singing of a milk-white
bird for a hundred years, although it had seemed to him but an hour, so
enchanted was he with the music. No doubt myth-mongers might discourse
very scientifically on this and some other of these episodes in the
penumbra of history, but we will leave the pleasure of it to them.

None of these traditions of early bird-lovers and teachers of kindness
are so pleasant as are those inspired by the gracious life of St.
Francis.[22] A familiar classic is his sermon to the birds when

                 Around Assisi’s convent gate
                 The birds, God’s poor who cannot wait,
                 From moor and mere and darksome wood
                 Came flocking for their dole of food.

One of the prettiest Franciscan stories is that of the saint and the
nightingale as presented by Mrs. Jamieson;[105] and, by the way,
antiphonal singing with birds is related of several holy men and women
of old:

  As he was sitting with his disciple Leo, he felt himself penetrated
  with joy and consolation by the song of the nightingale ... and
  Francis began to sing, and when he stopped the nightingale took up
  the strain; and thus they sang alternately until the night was far
  advanced and Francis was obliged to stop for his voice failed. Then
  he confessed that the little bird had vanquished him. He called it
  to him, thanked it for its song, and gave it the remainder of his
  bread; and having bestowed his blessing upon it the creature flew
  away.

Longfellow has preserved in melodious verse that legend of the Spanish
Charles V and the swallow that chose his tent as a site for its nest at
a time when the emperor—

                  I forget in what campaign,
                  Long besieged in mud and rain
                  Some old frontier town of Flanders.

                  Yes, it was a swallow’s nest,
                    Built of clay and hair of horse’s
                  Mane, or tail, or dragoon’s crest,
                  Found on hedgerows east and west
                    After skirmish of the forces.

The headquarters staff were scandalized by the bird’s impudence, but
Charles forbade their malice:

                   “Let no hand the bird molest,”
                   Said he solemnly, “nor hurt her!”
                 Adding then, by way of jest,
                   “Golondrina is my guest,
                   ’Tis the wife, of some deserter!”

                 So unharmed and unafraid
                   Sat the swallow still and brooded,
                 Till the constant cannonade
                 Through the walls a breach had made,
                   And the siege was thus concluded.

                 Then the army elsewhere bent
                   Struck the tents as if disbanding,
                 Only not the Emperor’s tent.
                 For he ordered as he went,
                   Very curtly, “Leave it standing.”

                 So it stood there all alone,
                   Loosely flapping, torn and tattered,
                 Till the brood was fledged and flown,
                 Swinging o’er those walks of stone
                   Which the cannon-shot had shattered.



                               CHAPTER XV
                       SOME PRETTY INDIAN STORIES


Not many of the stories about birds now or formerly current among the
American aborigines are of a pleasing character. They are fantastic
myths for the most part, as appears from many of the incidents given
elsewhere in this book; and often they are so wildly improbable,
incoherent, and unbirdlike as to disgust rather than interest us. That
is partly owing, no doubt, to our difficulty in taking the native point
of view, and our ignorance of the significance the half-animal,
half-human characters in the tales have to the redmen, with whom, in
most cases, the startling narratives pass for veritable tribal history.
Their stories are as foreign to our minds as is their “tum-tum” music to
our ears. Now and then, however, we come across an understanding and
pleasing legend, of purely native origin, and touched with poetic
feeling.

A favorite story among the central Eskimos, for instance, is that of
their race-mother Sedna, who was the daughter of a chief, and was wooed
by a fulmar (a kind of northern petrel) who promised her, if she would
marry him, a delightful life in his distant home. So she went away with
him. But she had been ruefully deceived, and was cruelly mistreated. A
year later her father went to pay her a visit; and discovering her
misery he killed her husband and took his repentant daughter home. The
other fulmars in the village followed them, mourning and crying for
their murdered fellow, and fulmars continue to utter doleful cries to
this day.

Another Eskimo tale relates that a loon told a poor blind boy that he
could cure him of his affliction. So the boy crept after the bird to a
lake, where the loon took him and dived with him into the water. Three
times they repeated their submergence, the last time staying a long time
under the water, but when the boy came to the surface after the third
diving he had good eyesight. This seems one of the rare examples of a
tale told simply for its own sake, and free of any esoteric
significance.

A very pretty legend, current among the Eskimos of western Alaska, has
been preserved for us by Edward W. Nelson,[101] who spent several years,
late in the 19th century, in studying the ornithology and ethnology of
the Bering Sea region. It relates to the redpolls, the most abundant and
entertaining land-birds of Alaska, where it would be a surprisingly hard
heart that was not touched by their companionship as winter closes down
on a dreary landscape of snow-drifts. Let me quote Mr. Nelson’s words:

  At this season the stars seem each to hang from the firmament by an
  invisible cord, and twinkle clear and bright overhead. The sharp,
  querulous yelp of the white fox alone breaks the intense stillness.
  A white, frosty fog hangs in the air—the chilled breath of
  nature—which falls silently to the ground in the lovely crystal
  handiwork of northern genii. In the north a pale auroral arch moves
  its mysterious banners, and the rounding bosom of the earth, chill
  under its white mantle, looks dreary and sad. After such a night the
  sun seems to creep reluctantly above the horizon, as though loath to
  face the bitter cold. The smoke rises slowly and heavily in the
  fixed atmosphere, and warm rooms are doubly appreciated.

  Soon small troops of these little redpolls come ... flitting about
  the houses on all sides, examining the bare spots on the ground,
  searching the old weeds and fences, clinging to the eaves, and even
  coming to the window-sills, whence they peer saucily in, making
  themselves continually at home, and receiving a hearty welcome for
  their cheering presence. The breast is now a beautiful peach-blossom
  pink, and the crown shining scarlet. How this bird came to bear
  these beautiful colors is told in one of the Indian myths ... which
  begins thus:

  Very long ago the whole of mankind was living in cheerless
  obscurity. Endless night hid the face of the world, and men were
  without the power of making a fire, as all the fire of the world was
  in the possession of a ferocious bear living in a far-off country to
  the north. The bear guarded his charge with unceasing vigilance, and
  so frightful was his appearance that no man dared attempt to obtain
  any of the precious substance. While the poor Indians were sorrowing
  over their misfortunes the redpoll, which at that time was a plain
  little wood-sparrow, dressed in ordinary dull brown, heard their
  plaint—for in those days men and beasts understood one another,—and
  his heart was touched. He prepared himself for a long journey and
  set out toward the lodge of the cruel bear. After many adventures
  ... he reached the place, and by a successful ruse stole a living
  ember from the perpetual fire which glowed close under the breast of
  the savage guardian, and flew away back with it in his beak. The
  glow of the coal was reflected from his breast and crown, while his
  forehead became slightly burned. Far away he flew, and finally
  arrived safely at the home of mankind, and was received with great
  rejoicing.

  He gave the fire to the grateful people and told them to guard it
  well; and as he did so they noticed the rich glow on his breast and
  brow, and said: “Kind bird, wear forever that beautiful mark as a
  memento of what you have done for us;” and to this day the redpoll
  wears this badge in proof of the legend, as all may see, and mankind
  has ever since had fire.

One might gather a considerable collection of historical anecdotes
relating to birds that in one way or another aided the Indians of old to
obtain or to preserve fire, and some of them are noted incidentally
elsewhere in this volume; but few are as poetic and entertaining as Mr.
Nelson’s contribution.

The late Charles G. Leland found among the Algonkins of Maine and
eastward a great number of tales that he put into his books. One or two
of them are about birds, and these he threw into verse and published
them in a volume entitled _Kuloskap the Master_.[91] The longest and
most romantic of these is the love-story of the Leaf for the Red Bird
(scarlet tanager), quoted in part below:

            In the earliest time on the greatest mountain
            Lived merry Mipis, the little leaf ...
            Listens all day to the birds and the breezes,
            And goes to sleep to the song of the owl.

            Merry Mipis on a bright May morning
            Was stretching himself in the warm sunshine
            When he heard afar a wonderful music,
            A sound like a flute and the voice of a maiden,
            Rippling melodies melting in one.
            Never before had he heard such singing.
            Then looking up he beheld before him
            A beautiful merry little bird-girl,
            Dressed in garments of brilliant scarlet,
            Just like his own in the Indian summer.
            “O fairest of small birds,” said merry Mipis,
            “Who are you, and what is your name?”
            Thus she answered: “I am Squ’tes,
            The Little Fire....
            I have lived in the deep green forest,
            Even as you have for many ages,
            Singing my songs to K’musom’n,
            Unto our Father the mighty mountain;
            And, because he well loved my music,
            For a reward he sent me hither
            To seek a youth whose name is Mipis,
            Whom he wills that I should wed.”

This unexpected and rather unmaidenly avowal rather startled Mipis, and
made him suspicious of some trickery, despite the attraction of her
charm; but Squ’tes, “never heeding what the leaf thought,” began again—

               Pouring out in the pleasant sunshine
               Her morning song. As Mipis listened
               To the melodious trill he melted;
               For the sweet tune filled all the forest,
               Every leaf on the tree was listening....
               And as the music grew tender and stronger,
               And as in one long soft note it ended,
               Little Leaf said to her: “Be my own.”
               So in the greenwood they lived together.

One day both go to the Mountain and thank him for their happiness; and
in the course of the visit the grandsire warns them not to go away from
the Mountain, for dangers fill the outside world, thus:

             The little Indian boy Monimquess,
             Who, armed with a terrible bow and arrows,
             Shoots all of the little birds of the forest;

and—

               Aplasemwesit, the Little Whirlwind,
               Who never rests. He is always trying
               To blow the leaves away from the branches.

So they built their nest on the great tree that grew “in the safest
place in all the mountain,” and for a time continued in bliss; but Mipis
could see from their lofty home a far, beautiful country, and wanted to
visit it. So Red Bird took the discontented Little Leaf in her bill and
bore him away into the delightful lowland, where again they built a
home; but here the Indian boy heard the wonderful singing, and shot the
singer, and Little Whirlwind seized Mipis and took him to his grandsire,
the Storm, who resolved to keep Mipis as a prisoner. That night the
Mountain dreamed of this, and sent his son to demand Mipis, and the
Storm gave him up, so that soon Little Leaf was back on his safe
mountain-tree—but he lived in lonely grief.

               His life was gone with the Little Fire,
               And the fire of his life was all in ashes.

How then had it fared with the lost Red Bird? When she fell under the
boy’s arrow she was not killed but sorely wounded; and when the young
Indian carried her home, very proud of his prize, his grandsire said
truly that the bird must be kept captive. Red Bird recovered rapidly,
and one morning Monimquess was dismayed to hear her singing as loudly as
possible, “like a brook to sunshine,” as he thought, for he knew she was
trying to make herself heard by the Mountain, and that if she succeeded
destruction would be hurled upon the wigwam. At last, wearied with
anxious thinking—

         Down by the fire he lay on a bearskin
         Smoking himself into silent sleep.
         The door was closed, nor was there a crevice
         Through which the Red Bird could creep to freedom,
         When all at once she thought of the opening
         Through which the smoke from the fire ascended,
         Ever upward so densely pouring
         Nobody dreamed she would dare to pass it.

         As the head of Monimquess drooped on his shoulder....
         Softly the Red Bird rose, and taking
         A birchen bucket filled it with water.
         Dipping her wing in the water she sprayed it
         Little by little upon the fire.
         Little by little the fire, like Monimquess,
         Sank to sleep, and the bright red flame
         Lay down to rest in the dull gray ashes.
         Out of the smoke-hole, in careful silence,
         Flitted Squ’tes....

So the lovers were reunited. Then

             ... Squ’tes and Mipis
             Lived all the summer upon the mountain,
             Sung in its shadows and shone in the sunshine.
             Still as of yore they are singing and shining;
             And so it will be while the mountain is there.

A very curious feature of this delicate romance, which reminds one of
the love-story of the Nightingale and the Rose, is the transposition of
sex. To our minds it would seem natural that the bird, as the most
active of the two characters, should take the male part and the leaf the
other; and it is false to fact that Red Bird, as a female, should
_sing_. The Indians must have known that this was unnatural, yet their
poetic sense arranged it otherwise, just as the poets have pictured the
nightingale pressing _her_ breast against a thorn, yet singing, as only
male birds do!

Elsewhere I have shown how important a part the loon plays in the
mythology and fireside tales of the redmen of the Northeastern region of
our country and that of the Great Lakes. To the Algonkins of Maine and
eastward this bird was the messenger of their great hero Glooscap, or
Kuloskap, as Leland spells it with careful accuracy when writing in the
language of the Pasamaquoddies; and he has told in verse the story of
how this service was accepted by the willing bird. One day when Kuloskap
was pursuing the gigantic magician, Winpe, his enemy, a flock of loons
came circling near him, and to his question to their leader: “What is
thy will, O Kwimu?” the loon replied: “I fain would be thy servant, thy
servant and thy friend.” Then the Master taught the loons a cry, a
strange, prolonged cry, like the howl of a dog when he calls to the
moon, or when, far away in the forest, he seeks to find his master; and
he instructed them to utter this weird summons whenever they required
him.

  Now it came to pass long after, the Master in Uktakumkuk
  (The which is Newfoundland) came to an Indian village,
  And all who dwelt therein were Kwimuuk, who had been
  Loons in the time before. And now they were very glad
  As men to see once more the Master, who had blessed them
  When they were only birds. Therefore he made them his huntsmen.
  Also his messengers. Hence comes that in all the stories
  Which are told of the mighty Master the loons are ever his friends;
  And the Indians, when they hear the cry of the loons, exclaim:
  “Kimu elkomtuejul Kuloskapul”—the Loon is calling
  Kuloskap, the Master.

Leith Adams[103] says: “Stories are told”—among the Micmacs in New
Brunswick—“how the snowy owl still laments the Golden Age when man and
all animals lived in perfect amity until it came to pass that they began
to quarrel; when the great Glooscap, or Gotescarp, got disgusted and
sailed across the seas to return when they made up their differences. So
every night the owl repeats to this day his _Koo, koo, skoos_. ‘Oh, I am
sorry, Oh, I am sorry.’”

A quaint little legend comes from the Tillamooks, whose home was
formerly on the Oregon coast, where the tides do not rise very much. In
the beginning of the world, it teaches, the crow had a voice like that
of the thunder-bird, and the thunder-bird the voice of a crow. The
latter proposed to exchange voices. The crow agreed to this, but
demanded that in return the thunder-bird give her low water along the
seashore, so that she might more easily gather the clams and other
mussels, which was a part of a Tillamook woman’s daily task. The
thunder-bird therefore made the water draw back a very long distance.
But when the crow went out on the waste of sea-bottom she saw so many
marine monsters that she was frightened, and begged the thunder-bird not
to make the waters recede so far; and that is the reason that now but
little ocean-bottom is exposed at ebb tide on the Oregon coast.

The Gualala Indians were a tribe of the great Pomo family that half a
century ago dwelt happily in the northwestern corner of Sonoma County,
California, and their staple food was the flour of crushed and filtered
acorns of several kinds of oaks. In their country, as elsewhere in that
State, the California woodpecker (_Melanerpes_) is a very common bird,
which has the habit of drilling numerous small holes in pines and other
soft-wooded trees, and fixing in each an acorn—a method of storing its
favorite food against a time of famine. The Indians understood this very
well, and in times of scarcity of food in camp they would cut down the
small trees and climb the big ones, and rob the cupboards of the far
more provident birds. “And here,” says Powers,[19] “I will make mention
of a kind of sylvan barometer.... These acorns are stored away before
the rainy season sets in, sometimes to the amount of a half-bushel, and
when they are wetted they presently swell and start out a little. So
always, when a rainstorm is brewing, the woodpeckers fall to work with
great industry a day or two in advance and hammer them in all tight.
During the winter, therefore, whenever the woods are heard rattling with
the pecking of these busy little commissary-clerks heading up their
barrels of worms, the Indian knows a rainstorm is certain to follow.”

The Chippeway Indians, as Schoolcraft noted, account for the friendly
spirit of the robin by relating that he was once a young brave whose
father set him a task too cruel for his strength, and made him starve
too long when he had reached man’s estate and had to go through the
customary initiation-ceremonies. He turned into a robin, and said to his
father: “I shall always be the friend of man and keep near their
dwellings. I could not gratify your pride as a warrior, but I will cheer
you by songs.”

This pretty fiction is noteworthy, when one recalls the many instances
in Greek and European myths and poetry of men and women transforming
themselves into birds.

The Cherokees had an interesting story about the wren, always a
busybody. She gets up early in the morning, they say, pries into
everything, and goes around to every lodge in the settlement to get news
for the birds’ council. When a new baby is born she finds out whether it
is a boy or a girl, and reports to the council. If it is a boy the birds
sing in mournful chorus: “Alas! The whistle of the arrow! My shins will
burn,” for the birds know that when the boy grows older he will hunt
them with his blowgun and arrows, and roast them on a stick. But if the
baby is a girl they are glad, and sing: “Thanks! The sound of the
pestle! At her home I shall surely be able to scratch where she sweeps,”
because they know that after a while they will be able to pick up stray
grains where she beats the corn into meal.[104]

In the myths or folklore of the Pawnees a character in several tales, as
related by Grinnell,[105] is a little bird, smaller than a pigeon. “Its
back is blue, but its breast white, and its head is spotted. It flies
swiftly over the water, and when it sees a fish it dives down into the
water to catch it. This bird is a servant or a messenger for the
Nahurac.” The Nahurac are an assemblage of imaginary animals by whom
many wonderful things are done; and it communicates to living men their
wishes or orders, and acts as a guide when men are summoned to come or
go somewhere. But this is perilously near the purely mythical, and it is
mentioned only as an example of the widespread conception of birds as
messengers and interpreters.

I hope I may be pardoned if I add to this group of Indian bird-stories
one or two told in the Negro cabins of North Carolina, and probably
elsewhere, and written down in Volume XI of the American _Folk-Lore
Journal_, among many other tales of the out-door creatures to which the
rural darkies like to attribute human attributes, and to use as puppets
in their little comedies of animal life, which are likely to be keen
satires on humanity. The one to be quoted is a parable of how Ann Nancy
(a spider) got caught in a tight place by Mr. Turkey Buzzard, and how
she escaped, for Mr. Buzzard was going to eat her.

“But,” says the narrator, “she beg so hard, and compliment his fine
presence, and compare how he sail in the clouds while she ’bliged to
crawl in the dirt, till he that proudful and set up he feel mighty
pardonin’ spirit, and he let her go.”

Ann Nancy, however, did not enjoy the incident, and “jess study constant
how she gwine get the best of every creeter,” and particularly of the
tormenting bird.

“She knew Mr. Buzzard’s weak point am he stomach, and one day she make
it out dat she make a dining, and ’vite Mr. Buzzard an’ Miss Buzzard an’
de chillens. Ann Nancy she know how to set out a dinin’ fo’ sure, and
when dey all got sot down to the table, an’ she mighty busy passin’ the
hot coffee to Mr. Buzzard an’ the little Buzzards, she have a powerful
big pot o’ scalding water ready, and she lip it all over poor ol’ Mr.
Buzzard’s haid, and the po’ ol’ man done been baldhaided from that day.

“An’ he don’t forget on Ann Nancy, ’cause you ’serve she de onliest
creeter on the topside the earth what Mr. Buzzard don’t eat.”



                       LIST OF BOOKS REFERRED TO


 1. HALLIDAY, WILLIAM R. Greek Divination. (London, 1913.)

 2. YOUNG, MARTHA. Plantation Bird Legends. (New York, 1902.)

 3. WORCESTER, DEAN. The Philippines. (New York, 1901.)

 4. BRINTON, DANIEL G. The Religions of Primitive Peoples. (New York,
  1897.)

 5. DORSEY, J. OWEN. Report U. S. Bureau of Ethnology, 1884–5.
  (Washington, 1888.)

 6. MCGEE, W. J. The Seri Indians, in Report U. S. Bureau Ethnology,
  1895–6, Part I.

 7. SKEAT, WILLIAM W. Malay Magic. (London, 1900.)

 8. GAY, JOHN. Poems. The Shepherd’s Week. (Boston, 1854.)

 9. HIGGINSON, THOMAS W. Army Life in a Black Regiment. (Boston, 1870.)

10. SWANN, JAMES G. The Northwest Coast. (New York, 1857.)

11. FRIEND, HENRY. Flowers and Flower Lore. (London, 1883.)

12. SPENCE, LEWIS. Myths of the North American Indians. (London, 1914.)

13. DOUGHTY, CHARLES M. Wanderings in Arabia. (London, 1908.)

14. KEANE, JOHN F. T. Six Months in the Hejaz. (London, 1887.)

15. LAYARD, EDWARD L. The Birds of South Africa. (London, 1875–6.)

16. CANDLER, EDMUND. The Unveiling of Lhasa. (London, 1905.)

17. TYLOR, EDWARD B. Primitive Culture. (New York, 1920.)

18. KAY, CHARLES DE. Bird Gods of Ancient Europe. (New York, 1898.)

19. POWERS, STEPHEN. The Tribes of California. (Washington, 1877.)

20. MARTINENGO-CAESARESCO, COUNTESS E. L. The Place of Animals in Human
  Thought. (London, 1909.)

21. BARING-GOULD, SABINE. Curious Myths of the Middle Ages. (London,
  1867.)

22. BROWN, ABBIE F. Book of Saints and Kindly Beasts. (Boston, 1900.)
  Consult also “Lives” of St. Francis of Assisi.

23. WARD, WILLIAM HAYES. Seal Wonders of Western Asia. (Carnegie
  Institution, No. 100.)

24. BAYLEY, HAROLD. The Lost Language of Symbolism. (London, 1913.)

25. DALTON, EDWARD T. Byzantine Art and Architecture.

26. Sacred Books of the East, Pahlavi Texts, Vol. XXIV, 112.

27. BRINTON, DANIEL G. Myths of the New World. (New York, 1868.) See also
  his American Hero Myths (1882).

28. OSWALD, FELIX. Zoological Sketches. (Philadelphia, 1883.)

29. ROTHERY, G. C. A B C of Heraldry. (Philadelphia, 1915.)

30. MALLET, PAUL H. Northern Antiquities. (London, 1890.)

31. GROSVENOR, EDWIN A. Constantinople. (Boston, 1895.)

32. GOLDSMITH, OLIVER. A History of the Earth and Animated Nature.
  (London, 1774.)

33. BROWNE, SIR THOMAS. Inquiry into Vulgar Errors. (London, 1846.)

34. BREWER, E. C. Handbooks, particularly “Phrase and Fable.”

35. WALLACE, ALFRED RUSSEL. The Malay Archipelago. (New York, 1869.)

36. LEE, HENRY. Sea Fables Explained. (London, 1884.)

37. COOK, ARTHUR B. Zeus. (Cambridge, Eng., 1914.)

38. HULME, F. EDWARD. Natural History Lore and Legend. (London, 1895.)

39. WALKER, MARGARET C. Bird Legends and Life. (New York, 1908.)

40. WALTON, ISAAK. The Compleat Angler. (London, 100th Edition, 1888.)

41. ARISTOTLE. History of Animals. (London, Bohn, 1862.)

42. HARTING, J. E. The Ornithology of Shakespeare. (London, 1871). Compare
  Thiselton-Dyer’s Folk Lore of Shakespeare.

43. HANAUER, J. E. Tales Told in Palestine. (Cincinnati, 1904.)

44. HUDSON, W. H. Birds of La Plata. (London, 1920.)

45. WHITE, GILBERT. Natural History of Selborne.

46. WILSON, ALEXANDER. North American Ornithology. (New York, 1853.)

47. SWANN, H. KIRKE. A Dictionary of English and Folk Names of British
  Birds. (London, 1913.) It contains a useful bibliography, and quotes
  largely from the Rev. C. Swainson’s Folk Lore and Provincial Names of
  British Birds (English Dialect Society, 1886.)

48. ST. JOHNSTON, LT.-COL. T. R. The Islanders of the Pacific. (London,
  1921.)

49. LYLY, JOHN. Euphues, or the Anatomy of Wit. (London, 1868.)

50. COUES, ELLIOTT. Birds of the Northwest. (Washington, 1874.)

51. CRUDEN, ALEXANDER. A Complete Concordance to the Holy Scriptures.

52. LAUFER, BERTHOLD. Bird Divination among the Thibetans. (Leiden, 1914.)

53. MILLER, LEO. In the Wilds of South America. (New York, 1918.)

54. GUBERNATIS, ANGELO DE. Zoological Mythology. (New York, 1872.)

55. NEWTON, ALFRED. Dictionary of Birds. (London, 1896.)

56. CONWAY, MONCURE D. The Wandering Jew. (New York, 1881.) See also his
  Solomonic Literature (Chicago, 1899.)

57. WATTERS, JOHN J. The Birds of Ireland. (Dublin, 1853.)

58. SYKES, ELLA. Through Deserts and Oases of Central Asia. (London,
  1914.)

59. SALE, GEORGE. The Koran (Alcoran of Mohammed.) (London, 1825.)

60. WILDE, LADY JANE F. Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms and Superstitions
  of Ireland. (London, 1902.)

61. SMITH, HORATIO. Festivals. (New York, 1836.)

62. WENTZ, W. Y. The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries. (London, 1911.)

63. JENNER, MRS. HENRY. Christian Symbolism. (London, 1910.)

64. O’CONNOR, VINCENT C. Travels in the Pyrenees. (London, 1913.)

65. BASSETT, FLETCHER S. Legends and Superstitions of the Sea. (Chicago,
  1888.)

66. ELWORTHY, F. T. The Evil Eye. (London, 1895.)

67. GOSTLING, FRANCES M. P. Rambles about the Riviera. (New York, 1914.)
  See also her books about the French chateaux, and the Bretons.

68. BALL, MRS. KATHERINE M. Decorative Motives in Oriental Art. In _Japan_
  (magazine), New York, 1922.

69. DRYDEN, JOHN. Ovid’s Metamorphoses: “Transformation of Syrinx.”
  (Boston, 1854.)

70. BENDIRE, MAJOR CHARLES. Life Histories of North American Birds, Vol.
  I. (Washington, Smithsonian Institution, 1892.)

71. MACBAIN, ALEXANDER. Celtic Mythology and Religion. (Stirling, 1917.)

72. FRAZER, SIR J. G. Golden Bough (series). The Scapegoat (1913).

73. WATERTON, CHARLES. Essays (London, 1870). Also Wanderings in South
  America. (New York, 1910.)

74. SQUIRE. Mythology of the British Isles. (London, 1905.)

75. LANCIANI, RODOLPH A. Pagan and Christian Rome. (Boston, 1893.)

76. WILLIAMS, SAMUEL W. The Middle Kingdom. (New York, 1883.)

77. MOONEY, JAMES. Report U. S. Bureau of Ethnology, Vol. XIV, 1892–3.

78. BRODERIP, W. J. Zoological Recreations. (London, 1849.)

79. NUTTALL, THOMAS. Manual of the Ornithology of the United States and
  Canada. (Cambridge, 1832.)

80. HEATON, MRS. JOHN L. By-Paths in Sicily. (New York, 1920.)

81. IRBY, COL. HOWARD L. Ornithology of the Straits of Gibraltar. (London,
  1875.)

82. JONES, W. Credulities Past and Present. (London, 1877.)

83. SWANTON, JOHN R. Report U. S. Bureau Ethnology, Vol. XXVI, 1904–5, p.
  454.

84. HAZLITT, WILLIAM C. Dictionary of Faiths and Folklore. (London, 1895.)

85. STEVENSON, HAMILTON S. Animal Life in Africa. (London, 1912.)

86. MANAT, JAMES I. Ægean Days. (London, 1913.)

87. The Arabian Nights: Payne’s edition (London, 1901.)

88. COSTELLO, LOUIS S. The Rose Garden of Persia. (London, 1899),
  including “Flowers and Birds” by Azz’ Eddin Elmocadessi, “Jamshid’s
  Courtship” by Firdausi, and prose notes.

89. POLO, MARCO. Travels: Yule’s edition. (London, 1875.)

90. DAVIS, F. H. Myths and Legends of Japan. (N. Y., 1912.) Consult also
  Joly, Henri L. Legend in Japanese Art. (London, 1908.)

91. LELAND, CHARLES G. Kuloskap, the Master. (New York, 1902.)

92. THISELTON-DYER, THOMAS F. English Folklore. (London, 1878.) Consult
  also his Folk-lore of Plants, and his Folk Lore of Shakespeare.

93. FIRDAUSI. The Shah Nameh: Atkinson’s Translation. (London, 1886.)

94. PLUTARCH. Lives: Camillus, Romulus, Alexander, Etc.

95. Transactions of the Society of Biblical Archeology, Vol. viii, p. 80.

96. BOMBAUGH, C. C. Gleanings from the Harvest-Fields of Literature.
  (Baltimore, 1873.)

97. LELAND, CHARLES G. Etruscan Roman Remains in Popular Tradition.
  (London, 1892.)

98. FISKE, JOHN. Myths and Myth-Makers. (Boston, 1872.)

99. KEITH, GEORGE. Letters: in Les Bourgeis de la Compagnie du Nord-Ouest.
  (Quebec, 1889.)

Footnote 100:

  NIBLACK, ALBERT P. Report U. S. National Museum, 1888.

Footnote 101:

  NELSON, EDWARD W. Birds of Bering Sea and the Arctic Ocean.
  (Washington, 1883.)

Footnote 102:

  SCHOOLCRAFT, HENRY G. Algic Researches. (New York, 1839.)

Footnote 103:

  ADAMS, A. LEITH. Field and Forest Rambles. (London, 1873.)

Footnote 104:

  MOONEY, JAMES. Report U. S. Bureau Ethnology, Vol. XIX, 1897–8, p.
  401.

Footnote 105:

  GRINNELL, GEORGE BIRD. Pawnee Hero-Stories and Folk-Tales. (New York,
  1889.)

Footnote 106:

  FORTIER, ALCE. Stories and Folk-Tales. (New York, 1889). Also,
  Louisiana Folk-Tales. (Boston, 1885.)

Footnote 107:

  JAMESON, MRS. ANNA B. History of our Lord as Exemplified in Works of
  Art. (London, 1872). See also her Legends of the Monastic Orders
  (1872), and her Sacred and Legendary Art (1911).

Footnote 108:

  VERRALL, MARGARET DE G. Mythology and Monuments of Ancient Athens.
  (London, 1890.)

Footnote 109:

  DIODORUS SICULUS. Historical Library.

Footnote 110:

  VILLARI, PASQUALE. The Barbarian Invasion of Italy. (New York, 1902.)

Footnote 111:

  FOX-DAVIES, ARTHUR C. Complete Guide to Heraldry. (London, 1909.)

Footnote 112:

  PERROT AND CHIPIEZ. History of Art in Antiquity: Vol. IV, Sardinia and
  Judea.

Footnote 113:

  Seal of the United States: How it was Developed and Adopted.
  (Washington, Department of State, 1892.)



                                 INDEX


 Abbey, founded by birds, 269

 Adjutant Stork, stone in head of, 96

 Aetites, or eagle-stone, 96

 Albatross, raft-nest of, 76

 Alectorius, a magic stone, 95

 Alectromancy, 217

 American eagle, 36

 Ani, or Black Witch, see _Jumbiebird_.

 Anka, mythical bird, 198

 Arabian mythical birds, 193, 196

 Ark, messengers from the, 99

 Arthur, King, becomes a raven, 163

 Arvenus, legend of Lake, 78

 Asbestos, a bird’s skin, 195

 Augury and Auspice defined, 214


 Babes in the Wood, story, 116

 Bennu, a sun-symbol, 195

 Bestiaries described, 58

 Bird-myths, origin of, 226, 253

 Bird-of-Paradise, legends of, 63

 Bird-superstitions rare in United States, 7

 Birds, alleged hibernation of, 89

 Birds as “Openers,” 249–253

 Birds as pilots, 161

 Birds as spirits, 10, 25, 189

 Birds associated with monks and hermits, 262–271

 Birds becoming gods, 18

 Birds changing into other birds, 92

 Birds connected with Lightning, 242–253

 Birds, fabulous, explained, 202, 208, 226

 Birds, lucky and unlucky, 25

 Birds of Assyrian seals, 202

 Birds of the Bosphorus, 16

 Birds riding on bigger birds, 81

 Birds transport souls, 190

 Birds, variety of accounted for, 226–241

 Bittern, breast-light of, 79

 Blackbird, red-winged, 239

 Blackbirds blackened by Raven, 229

 Blackbirds once white, 233

 Bluebird, mountain, 23, 240

 Blue jay, legend of, 240

 Bluejay visits the Devil, 166

 Brahminy duck, sacred in Thibet, 18

 Buffon denies song to American birds, 78

 Bulbul, Persian nightingale, 48

 Butcher-bird, alleged trick of, 79

 Buzzard, turkey, features of, 227, 236, 241, 284


 Chickens as weather-prophets, 221

 Chickens used in augury, 216, 223

 Chimney swift, Josselyn’s account of, 62

 Chouans, named from owl’s cry, 187

 Cinamros, Persian myth, 205

 Cock, alectorius of, 96

 Cock, as Gaulish emblem, 44

 Cock, barnyard, a sun-bird, 218

 Cock, Christian legends of, 109, 151

 Cock, stoned on Shrove Tuesday, 123

 Cormorants, legends of, 228, 231

 Cranes carry away girl, 237

 Crane’s foot, origin, 170

 Cranes transport small birds, 83

 Cranes war with Pygmies, 94

 Crocodile-bird, legend of, 60

 Crossbill, Christian legend of, 113

 Crow, Chinese three-legged, 172

 Crow, formerly white, 233

 Crow, hooded, dread of, 165

 Crow in Ghost Dance, 176

 Crow, omens from, 213

 Crows’-feet at eyes, 170

 Crows visit the Devil, 166

 Cuckoos as rain-prophets, 223

 Cupid of the Gaels, 3

 Curassow, legend of, 170


 David beguiled by a pigeon, 259

 Deluges, birds connected with, 98–108

 Demonic birds, 52, 205

 Devil’s birds, 166

 Direction, element in divination, 8, 175, 213

 Divination by birds, 212–217;
   trifled with, 257, 258

 Dove and the Holy Grail, 137

 Dove as bird of peace, 140

 Dove, Christian legends of, 113, 139

 Dove guides Cortez’s ship, 138

 Dove instructs Pope Gregory, 133

 Dove of St. Remi, 133, 137

 Dove, revered in Islam, 135

 Dove saves Genghis Khan, 141

 Dove sent from the Ark, 101

 Dove, symbol of Holy Ghost, 133, 134, 138

 Dove, symbol of Ishtar, 127–132

 Doves at Dodona, 130

 Doves in Jewish sacrifice, 140

 Doves in Solomonic legends, 259

 Doves, prophetic, 5–9


 Eagle, double-headed, 29, 33, 52

 Eagle, emblem of St. John, 149

 Eagle, golden, or war, 24, 35

 Eagle, imperial, 30

 Eagle-lecterns, origin of, 149

 Eagle, legends of, 97

 Eagle, Mexican harpy, 38

 Eagle, myths about, 68, 73, 76

 Eagle of Lagash, 28

 Eagles, omens from, 213

 Eagle-stone, or aetites, 96

 Easter eggs, customs explained, 124

 Eggs in mosques and churches, 54

 Eskimo bird-tales, 273, 274


 Fairies traced to Morrigu, 165

 Falcon, symbolism of, 150

 Feng-whang. See _Fung-whang_.

 Fish-hawk, legend of, 80

 France, popular emblem of, 41–46

 Franklin compares eagle and turkey, 37

 Fung-whang, Chinese myth, 207


 Garuda, Hindoo myth, 206

 Gaul, name explained, 41

 Genghis Khan saved by owl, 186

 Ghost Dance explained, 177

 Goatsuckers, cries of dreaded, 6, 15

 Goldfinch, Christian legend of, 113

 Goose and golden eggs, 66

 Goose-bone fable, 222

 Goose, golden Capitoline, 255

 Goose growing on trees, 64

 Goose in Buddhist myth, 67

 Grebe, legend of, 240

 Green fowl, Mohammedan, 15

 Grouse, marks on ruffed, 238

 Guan, legend of, 107

 Guatemala, emblem of, 39

 Guillemots, origin of, 237

 Gulls offend Giant, 234


 Hair, superstitions about, 9

 Halcyon days, meaning of, 22

 Harpies, Sirens, etc., 193

 Hibernation of birds, 89

 Ho-ho, Japanese myth, 208

 Hoopoe, legends of, 153, 250, 261

 Hornbill, superstitions about, 16

 Hummingbird, hibernation of, 90

 Hummingbird, riding a crane, 81

 Hummingbird, voice lost, 241


 Indian poetic story, 275–279


 Jackdaw of Rheims, 157

 Jay, Canada, gives warning, 4

 Jumbie-bird, Ani, or Black Witch, 189


 Kamar, Persian myth, 206

 Karshipta, Persian myth, 206

 King, choice of by birds, 82, 206

 Kingbird, riding a hawk, 81

 Kingfisher, halcyon myth, 20, 234–239

 Kingfisher, sent from the Ark, 102

 Kiskadee, legend of, 239

 Kite, Egyptian legend of, 151


 Lapwing and Covenanters, 256

 Lark, Laverock, funereal, 115

 Legend, definition of, 254

 Lightning attributed to birds, 243–253

 Loon, origin of its cry, 279

 Lucky birds, 25


 Macaw as fire-bird, 41

 Magpie, portents by, 171

 Mexico, national emblem, 38

 Migrating birds carried by others, 81–88

 Migration to the moon, 91

 Moccasin flower legend, 6

 Monks, medieval and birds, 262–271

 Morrigu and her crows, 165


 Nightingale, myths and legends, 48, 50

 Number, important in divination, 8, 171

 Nuns of Whitby, 88


 Odin’s ravens, 150

 Omens trifled with, 257, 258

 Ornithomancy, origin of, 5

 Osage Indians, bird ancestry, 11

 Osprey, legend of, 80

 Ostrich eggs, use of, 54

 Ostrich, errors pertaining to, 54

 Ostrich plumes, symbolism, 153

 Owein’s ravens, 162

 Owl, a Baker’s daughter, 121

 Owl a monarch’s daughter, 183

 Owl, Athenian, 180

 Owl in medieval medicine, 185

 Owl once a singer, 112

 Owl once an Eskimo girl, 233

 Owl saves heroes, 186, 258

 Owls, Christian legends of, 121

 Owls, superstitions about, 181, 187, 213, 258

 Oystercatcher, why blessed, 112


 Palm, associated with phenix, 198

 Paradise-birds, 63, 64

 Peacock feathers, indicate rank, 144

 Peacock, feathers, superstitions, 148

 Peacock, saves Chinese general, 187

 Peacocks, legends of, 141–147

 Pelican, errors pertaining to, 58

 Pelican, Seri ancestor, 11

 Pelican, symbolism of, 147

 Pharaoh’s chicken, 34

 Pheasant, Argus, painted, 233

 Phenix as a Christian symbol, 196

 Phenix described, 191

 Pigeons in church feasts, 125

 Pigeons of Venice, 125

 Pigeon shrine near Yarkand, 136

 Polynesian bird-gods, 19


 Quails, Israelitish legend, 93

 Quetzal-bird, 39


 Rabbit and Easter eggs, 124

 Rain-birds described, 223

 Rara avis (swan), 46

 Raven as culture-hero, 228–234

 Raven, characteristics of, 134

 Raven, Dickens’s “Grip,” 156

 Raven dresses the birds, 228

 Raven feeds Elijah, 158

 Raven feeds hermits, 164

 Raven flag of Danes, 159

 Raven, ghostly, 164

 Raven, Mosaic view of, 158

 Raven, myths concerning, 72, 105, 248

 Raven once white, 168, 232

 Raven, portents by, 169, 173, 213

 Raven saves body of St. Vincent, 164

 Raven sent from the Ark, 100

 Raven’s Hill and Barbarossa, 163

 Ravens, Odin’s messengers, 150

 Redbreast, Christian legends of, 114

 Redbreast covers corpses, 116

 Redpoll, bringing fire, 274

 Rhea, errors concerning, 55

 Robin, American, singing, 282

 Robin, European. See _Redbreast_.

 Roc (Rukh), Sinbad’s discovery, 200


 Sacred birds explained, 16, 24

 Sagehen, Paiute story of, 106

 Salamander as a bird, 196

 Scapegoats among birds, 25

 Scarlet bird of Taoists, 207

 Schamir, Solomonic legend, 249

 Seal of United States, 36

 Semiramis, story of, 128

 Sentinel-birds, stories of, 254, 256

 Seven Whistlers, 13, 89

 Shrike, errors regarding, 79

 Shrove Tuesday customs, 123

 Simurgh, Persian myth, 205

 Smell, sense in birds, 75

 Snow-owl blackens raven, 232

 Souls brought by birds, 12

 Souls carried away by birds, 13, 139, 148

 Sparrow in Christian legends, 112

 Speech by birds, 3, 10, 13

 Stones possessed by birds, 95

 Stork, as a migrant, 92

 Stork, legends of, 112, 153

 Stymphalia, birds of, 192, 194

 Swallow, Eskimo origin of, 238

 Swallow in Christian legends, 112

 Swallow, omens from, 25, 213, 218

 Swallow restores blindness, 96

 Swan, black (rara avis), 47

 Swan, death song, 76

 Swan, omens from, 213

 Symplegades, legend of, 131


 Thibetan divination, 174

 Thunder-birds described, 243–248, 281

 Thunder Cape, name explained, 245

 Trochilus legend, 60

 Trogon, or quetzal-bird, 39

 Trumpeter, legends of, 107, 239

 Tulare, legend of lake, 108

 Turkey, Franklin’s preference, 37

 Turkey, Indian legend of, 106


 Vulture, baldness explained, 227, 236, 241

 Vulture, omens from, 213

 Vulture revered in Egypt, 151

 Vultures, Persian, 207

 Vulture, Turkey. See _Buzzard_.


 Wagtail, Ainu legend of, 103

 War-eagle, American Indian, 35

 Weathercocks explained, 151

 Weather prognostics by birds, 217, 219, 282

 Whippoorwill as a prophet, 5, 6

 Winds as birds, 203, 206, 249

 Woodpecker, Californian, 281

 Woodpecker, magical powers of, 250

 Woodpecker, redheaded, 23, 106, 235, 241

 Wren, Cherokee story of, 282

 Wren, hunting of in Ireland, 118


 Yel, culture-hero, 230

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                          TRANSCRIBER’S NOTES


 1. P. 229, changed “l’epervier” to “l’épervier”.
 2. Silently corrected typographical errors and variations in spelling.
 3. Retained anachronistic, non-standard, and uncertain spellings as
      printed.
 4. Footnotes have been re-indexed using letters.
 5. Enclosed italics font in _underscores_.





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