Created By: Generality on June 8, 2017 Last Edited By: triton on October 5, 2017
Troped

Divine Birds

Birds can be associated with divinity

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trope
http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/ibis_5.jpg

The logic is pretty simple: the gods, as everyone knows, live somewhere up in the sky. Birds also inhabit the sky, or at least spend more time there than any other creature in common experience. Therefore, birds have a special connection with the divine. Many cultures see birds as bearers of omens, whether good or bad depending on the type of bird, and some go even farther, with myths and tales depicting them as messengers proffering instructions and advice to mortals, or even providing services of some sort. Angels, additionally, are often depicted as winged and are seen mainly as messengers of God in scripture.

Specific species of bird can be associated with certain gods. Eagles are particular favorites and often serve the Top God of a particular pantheon; however, note that eagles are also used to represent mundane values and so are not always part of this trope. Gods of death or the underworld have their own preferred representatives which would best be avoided: see Creepy Crows and Owl Be Damned. Vultures are another popular choice. Other flighted creatures are sometimes seen in the same way: see Butterfly of Death and Rebirth and Macabre Moth Motif. Birds being seen as sinister in general are Feathered Fiends. See also The Phoenix, which is at least awe-inspiring if not actually divine.


Examples:

Art
  • Medieval, Gothic, and Baroque religious art tended to represent the Holy Spirit/ Holy Ghost aspect of the Christian Holy Trinity (Father, Son, & Holy Ghost) as a dove, often with a halo around it. One of the most famous examples can be seen in the small window at the altar end of St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican, showing the dove of the Holy Spirit surrounded by a writhing mass of gilded putti and other figures ecstatically gesturing towards it.

Anime and Manga
  • In the anime adaptation of Shaman King, energy flowing to or from the Great Spirit (which is both The Lifestream and God)) is depicted in the form of glowing birds.

Literature
  • Parodied in the Discworld with Blind Io, the Top God of the local pantheon and a standard sky/lightning god like Zeus, Thor, Indra, etc. His defining characteristic is that he has no eyes in his head, instead having a myriad of disembodied floating ones that observe the world for him. Like other sky gods, he uses birds as divine messengers, which is unfortunate because his bird of choice is ravens, which tend to cause trouble with all the floating eyeballs.
  • In Tolkien's Legendarium, the Top God Manwae is associated with air and sometimes sends birds with tidings, particularly eagles. In The Hobbit, the eagles are independent yet prefer the forces of good over evil, whereas in The Lord of the Rings they are specifically ordered to help Gandalf and appear as Divine Intervention in the climax to help the army of Men and to rescue Frodo and Sam from Mount Doom.

Religion, Mythology and Folklore
  • Judeo-Christian beliefs:
    • Regarding Angels: Although Medieval and later art consistently portrays them as having birdlike wings, they are seldom if ever described so in original scriptures, and the properties they are given tend to be pretty bizarre. When they are described as winged the nature of the wings is not described, so their being birdlike is simply a natural assumption. Angels have also been described with other birdlike properties, such as in Ezekiel where they have four faces, one being that of an eagle.
    • The dove is often used in The Bible as a symbol of divinity. Perhaps the most famous is the dove, released by Noah after spending forty weeks upon the Ark; when it returned, carrying an olive branch, it was a symbol that the Flood was over (i.e., God's wrath had subsided). In the New Testament, Luke describes the Holy Spirit descending "in the form of a dove" when Jesus was baptized.
    • In Europe there's this folk tale about the European Robin - that the bird got its bright red breast because it was offering Jesus support when Jesus was carrying the cross towards his crucifixion, and wearing the crown of thorns. The bird, when alleviating Jesus, pricked itself on Jesus' crown of thorns, and thus got its red breast. Maybe not a bird literally spelled out to be divine, but if you can offer comfort to Jesus himself... In any case, the bird is now regarded to have the mark of Christ. If nothing else, this justifies their otherwise illogical appearance on British Christmas cards (which were originally a reference to postmen, who were known as "robin redbreasts" for wearing red uniforms).
    • In medieval legend, the pelican is a symbol of Jesus, as it was believed to tear its own flesh to feed its young.
  • In Egyptian mythology, the ibis was the sacred bird of Thoth, god of knowledge.
  • Greek Mythology
    • Eagles were considered animals sacred to/ emblematic of the god Zeus in Ancient Greece. Because Zeus was the king of the gods, the eagle was considered the king of birds. Peacocks were considered sacred to the goddess Hera. As well, Athena (goddess of wisdom) had the owl, Aphrodite (Love Goddess) had doves, Ares (War God) had woodpeckers.
    • There are also the harpies, sometimes regarded as servants of Zeus, who would carry off the wicked and deliver them to Hades.
  • In Japanese Mythology, the Yatagarasu ("eight-span crow") aka the Three-Legged Crow is apparently the messenger bird for Amaterasu, the sun goddess.
  • Tenochtitlan, capital of the ancient Mexica empire (a.k.a. Aztecs), was founded by settlers following a prophecy: they were told to look for an eagle perched on a cactus, holding a snake. They found exactly this on an island that proved to be a fine defensive location for the capital of a militaristic empire, until Spanish conquistadors vanquished and razed it.
  • In Norse Mythology Odin is associated with ravens, having two ravens who routinely bring him news of events in the world, and their appearance is seen as a sign of his awareness, which isn't necessarily good news.
  • One of the oldest traditions of Ancient Rome is the Augury, which involves observation of the flights of birds to predict the future, and in particular see whether the gods approve of a course of action.

Video Games
  • In the Dark Souls series, crows are strongly associated with the mysterious goddess Velka, so whenever you spot a crow (especially a giant one), you can be sure that she has her fingers in the surrounding events.
  • Many entries in The Legend of Zelda feature birds which offer Link some help in either direct or indirect form, from the bird statues in Link's Awakening and A Link to the Past which dispense advice, to the live bird in the latter game who serves as a Warp Whistle, to the owl-shaped save points in Majora's Mask, to the Loftwings (based on shoebills) in Skyward Sword. Even the royal crest of Hyrule, which was founded by the avatar of the goddess Hylia, features a pair of stylized wings.
  • Played with in Touhou, where a Yataragasu (see religion above) was eaten by an ordinary hell raven youkai, who gained the power of nuclear fusion from it. This was orchestrated by the goddess Kanako, as part f her plan from shifting her worship from lakes and mountains to technology.

Webcomics
  • The Phoenix Oracles from Dan and Mab's Furry Adventures are avians charged with being Lawful Neutral overseers of the realm, which is loosely based on the multiplayer online game Furcadia. There is nothing that they don't know or cannot divine; however queries from adventurers result in very cryptic answers. In fact, when one party comes to Lost Lake Inn seeking the one responsible for the demise of Merlitz, their statement that a Phoenix Oracle told them plainly that a cubi at the inn killed him, Pyroduck is rightfully dubious.

Real Life
  • Birds-of-paradise derive their name in part from this trope. When the first specimens were obtained from New Guinea natives, their legs had been removed in the process of preserving their bodies for decorative purposes. The European explorers, not knowing this, assumed the birds had no legs while they were alive, and thus could not land. This belief, combined with the beauty of the birds themselves, led Europeans to assume these birds lived in paradise (hence the name), spending their whole lives flying through the heavens and only landing upon death.

Community Feedback Replies: 31
  • June 8, 2017
    Getta
    I think The Phoenix would be a subtrope?

    • In Japanese Mythology, the Yatagarasu ("eight-span crow") aka the Three-Legged Crow is apparently the messenger bird for Amaterasu, the sun goddess.
  • June 9, 2017
    LB7979
    Real Life

    • Eagles in particular are regarded as, if not divine, at least as very noble. Many countries have the Eagle as their symbol - not only the U.S., but also Germany and Turkey, amongst others.

    • Storks are used, when one is shying around having The Talk about the Birds and the Bees with kids, to explain how humans are born. Think about it - that would actually make them creators of life, which is divinity.
  • June 9, 2017
    Koveras
    I take an issue with the laconic "Birds are associated with divinity", as it does not reflect what this trope is about. The proposal is about birds that are associated with the divine, but the laconic is about entire settings where all birds are associated with divinity. The simple addition of "are" without any further quantifiers twists the entire meaning of the sentence. Please, please remove the "are" and never use such imprecise laconics again.

    • In the Dark Souls series, crows are strongly associated with the mysterious goddess Velka, so whenever you spot a crow (especially a giant one), you can be sure that she has her fingers in the surrounding events.
  • June 9, 2017
    Boston
    The dove is often used in the Bible as a symbol of divinity. Perhaps the most famous is the dove, released by Noah after spending forty weeks upon the Ark; when it returned, carrying an olive branch, it was a symbol that the Flood was over (i.e., God's wrath had subsided). In the New Testament, Luke describes the Holy Spirit descending "in the form of a dove" when Jesus was baptized.
  • June 9, 2017
    Getta
    ^^ it's like tropes that says "all X are Y" or "X is always Y" that are asking for aversions. The titles that sound like statements when the trope isn't supposed to be. Right?
  • June 9, 2017
    LB7979
    Folklore

    In Europe there's this folk tale about the European Robin - that the bird got its bright red breast because it was offering Jesus support when Jesus was carrying the cross towards his crucifixion, and wearing the crown of thorns. The bird, when alleviating Jesus, pricked itself on Jesus' crown of thorns, and thus got its red breast. Maybe not a bird literally spelled out to be divine, but if you can offer comfort to Jesus himself...
  • June 9, 2017
    LB7979
    Addition to the previous:

    In any case, the bird is now regarded to have the mark of Christ.
  • June 9, 2017
    Leporidae
    Mythology

    • Eagles were considered animals sacred to/ emblematic of the god Zeus in Ancient Greece. Because Zeus was the king of the gods, the eagle was considered the king of birds. Peacocks were considered sacred to the goddess Hera.

    Art
    • Medieval, Gothic, and Baroque religious art tended to represent the Holy Spirit/ Holy Ghost aspect of the Christian Holy Trinity (Father, Son, & Holy Ghost) as a dove, often with a halo around it. One of the most famous examples can be seen in the small window at the altar end of St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican, showing the dove of the Holy Spirit surrounded by a writhing mass of gilded putti and other figures ecstatically gesturing towards it.
  • June 9, 2017
    Chabal2
    • Also from Greek myth: Athena (goddess of wisdom) had the owl, Aphrodite (Love Goddess) had doves, Ares (War God) had woodpeckers.
    • In Egyptian mythology, the ibis was the sacred bird of Thot, god of knowledge.
    • In medieval legend, the pelican is a symbol of Jesus, as it was believed to tear its own flesh to feed its young.
    • Averted in Touhou, where a Yataragasu was eaten by an ordinary hell raven youkai, who gained the power of nuclear fusion from it. This was orchestrated by the goddess Kanako, as part f her plan from shifting her worship from lakes and mountains to technology.
  • June 10, 2017
    Generality
    Okay, a few issues have appeared:

    • The Phoenix deserves a mention, but I don't think it's a subtrope. Phoenixes are generally regarded as independent mythological beings, and though impressive, are not usually seen as emissaries of the gods.
    • Eagles as symbols of nobility is a separate trope, although as eagles are also frequently given religious prominence, there's a lot of overlap. I'm not aware of any real religious connection with storks, although the idea seems to be that they deliver babies on God's behalf, which would make them divine messengers.
    • For me, this trope is definitely about settings where birds generally, or at least certain species, are regarded as divine. You rarely see examples where it's one individual out of many, although they still probably count. The main text of this was written in haste, and definitely needs improvement (as does the title), but I'm content with the laconic.
    • I don't see how the Touhou example is an aversion. It seems like a straight example to me.
  • June 10, 2017
    LB7979
    Well, people have many different interpretations of "Divine" - only organized religions? Any religion? Mythology, too? Folklore? Fairy tales? So it would help if this was better defined in the description. Also, whether or not this Trope only can apply to birds that exist in Real Life? (I'd say yes to that, and that the Phoenix example doesn't apply, being a mythological, rather than Real Life creature that has religious associations).

    Also, the Eagles example, on 2nd thought, is more a psychological association than a religious one, so yeah wouldn't apply.
  • June 10, 2017
    Koveras
    @Getta: Yes, exactly.

    @Generality: Your current laconic reads "Birds are associated with divinity." Without further quantifiers, this means "All birds are associated with divinity." None of the examples you have included so far are from settings where every single species in the aves class is considered divine in some way, and, in fact, your own remark of "at least certain species" contradicts the laconic you are content with. What I am saying is that good trope definitions and trope flexibility don't work that way: you don't start with an extremely broad blanket statement like "all birds are associated with the divine" and then add examples that scale it down, because none of those examples then conforms with the given definition, immediately invalidating them. Instead, you start with a concise and clear definition like "birds that are associated with the divine" and then, if you do eventually find an example where all birds actually are associated with divinity, it still fits the narrower definition but without invalidating all the other examples.
  • June 10, 2017
    Getta
    ^ tl;Dr change the laconic to "birds that are divine". There are good reasons for birds being depicted as divine, but not all of them are.

    And by the way
    • Suzaku aka Vermilion Bird is one of The Four Gods of the directions; it specifically covers the south.
  • June 15, 2017
    LB7979
    Put in an image as a suggestion: the ibis, which was divine in ancient Egypt.

    My first thought was to use the dove as a symbol for the holy spirit in Christianity, but haven't been able to find an image of it that better represents the idea than the ibis above, except maybe this one: http://imgur.com/nxpWeOe
  • June 15, 2017
    Prime32
    • In the anime adaptation of Shaman King, energy flowing to or from the Great Spirit (which is both The Lifestream and God) is depicted in the form of glowing birds.
  • June 16, 2017
    Generality
    Honestly, the picture looks like the guy is begging the bird not to eat him, so that might be problematic.

    Regarding the laconic, I accept that it can be read as too broad, though I don't agree that's the most likely reading. However, I have a problem with the suggested replacement: "birds that are associated with divinity" is an incomplete sentence, and so inappropriate for a laconic description.
  • June 16, 2017
    Getta
    Please add The Four Gods example
  • June 17, 2017
    Koveras
    ^^ Laconic.Laconic Wiki reads "Concise descriptions." What about these two words is a "complete sentence", and wherever have you found the rule that a laconic must be one?
  • June 17, 2017
    LB7979
    ^^^ ... the person is worshiping the bird; I don't understand how their posture can be confused for something else since the way they hold their hands together, is universal for prayer in all religions whether those from the past or present, whether those from the West or other parts of the world.

    However, another take on the ibis worship is here (in full color instead of black-and-white, so better in that regard; but the human is so small compared to the bird that the point probably doesn't come across).

    Another suggestion for an image for the dove from the holy trinity is here: [1], though it might be too abstract.

    ^^ Getta, please add a link, or at the very least a Title Drop, to which work your example comes from, then it might be added. Right now the example only links to "The Four Gods", which is a Main Namespace page, but where does it come from—Film?, Literature?, Anime?
  • June 21, 2017
    Generality
    ^ I'm mostly just playing devil's advocate here, but in truth, the pose used is one of supplication, and the gesture, with the palms outward toward the bird, could be construed as warding it away. Without context it's potentially confusing. I don't think it's a bad picture per se, but it's not necessarily the best representation of the trope.

    ^^ I'm not applying a specific rule with the laconic, just common sense. A fragment looks incomplete and suggests that information is missing. For now, I'm going to go with a different wording.
  • June 21, 2017
    Getta
    The Four Gods is mainly Mythology.
  • June 21, 2017
    oneuglybunny
    Webcomics
    • The Phoenix Oracles from Dan And Mabs Furry Adventures are avians charged with being Lawful Neutral overseers of the realm, which is loosely based on the multiplayer online game Furcadia. There is nothing that they don't know or cannot divine; however queries from adventurers result in very cryptic answers. In fact, when one party comes to Lost Lake Inn seeking the one responsible for the demise of Merlitz, their statement that a Phoenix Oracle told them plainly that a cubi at the inn killed him, Pyroduck is rightfully dubious.
  • June 27, 2017
    Getta
    I think Pokemon would have an example of this.
  • August 31, 2017
    Arivne
    • Examples section
      • Corrected spelling (Thot, settles -> settlers).
      • Corrected illegal Example Indentation in the Greek Mythology example.
      • Corrected punctuation (added missing commas and parentheses).
  • September 27, 2017
    celican
    Anime And Manga
    • In Maria The Virgin Witch, Archangel Michael sends his subordinate Ezekiel to keep an eye on Maria, usually taking the form of a dove in order to blend in.
  • September 27, 2017
    Theriocephalus
    {Mythology and folklore, probably best filed under Judeo-Christian beliefs}

    • Birds-of-paradise derive their name in part from this trope. When the first specimens were obtained from New Guinea natives, their legs had been removed in the process of preserving their bodies for decorative purposes. The European explorers, not knowing this, assumed the birds had no legs while they were alive, and thus could not land. This belief, combined with the beauty of the birds themselves, led Europeans to assume these birds lived in paradise (hence the name), spending their whole lives flying through the heavens and only landing upon death.
  • September 27, 2017
    Generality
    ^ I went with real life, as birds of paradise are real creatures with a semi-mythical backstory, rather than a mythic ascription of mystical properties.

    Anyway, I figure I ought to launch this soon.
  • September 27, 2017
    Theriocephalus
    • Chinese Mythology: The fenghuang is a large, multicolored bird strongly associated with the heavens, especially the sun. It is associated with a number of strongly positive concepts, chiefly things such as good fortune and prosperity. happiness, virtue, grace and the balance of yin and yang. It is also commonly depicted alongside dragons, and when this happens the two creatures are also associated with ideal marital relationships. As a result, since the dragon is already traditionally associated with the emperor, the fenghuang also came to represent the empress.
  • September 27, 2017
    Snowy66
    • Pokemon has several birds that are Legendary Pokémon, including: Ho-Oh, Articuno, Zapdos, and Moltres.
  • September 28, 2017
    Theriocephalus
    • Exalted: Garda Birds are a species of fire elementals resembling giant birds with brilliant plumage. They are immortal — if one dies, it is reborn in flame nine days later without fail — and as such are extremely wise and knowledgeable. They are often sought out for their wisdom, but this is complicated by their habit of leading ascetic lives in very remote places and their tendency towards a haughty and superior attitude towards petitioners, which they take even towards spirit courts and minor deities.
  • October 5, 2017
    LB7979
    @Generality, Just Launch It Already ? :-) This certainly looks ready enough to be launched and get its proper page.
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