Divine Birds

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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:

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    Art 

  • Medieval, Gothic, and Baroque religious art tended to represent the Holy Spirit/Holy Ghost aspect of the Christian Holy Trinity (Father, Son and 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 Manwë 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.
    • In The Silmarillion, they are stated to have originated as spirits in Valinor who took the shapes of enormous raptors and were charged by Manwë to head to Middle-Earth in order to keep and eye on both the mortal peoples living there and Morgoth and his forces. They appear numerous times in the stories, keeping watch of dangerous foes, rescuing heroes from danger and fighting against Morgoth's dragons for dominance of the skies.

    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.
  • 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 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.
  • Pictured above, 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.

    Tabletop Games 

  • 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.

    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 of her plan from shifting her worship from lakes and mountains to technology.
  • Pokémon: There are a number of Legendary Pokémon based off of birds:
    • The main Kanto legendaries are the Legendary Birds, a trio of birdlike Pokémon with immense power over the weather. These are Articuno, the bird of ice, who leaves snow falling in its wake and appears before travellers lost in the mountains; Zapdos, the bird of thunder, who summons storms and lighting and inhabits thunderclouds; and Moltres, the bird of fire, whose arrival ends winter and begins spring.
    • Ho-oh resembles an enormous bird with red and gold feathers, and seems to draw inspiration from both the phoenix and the fenghuang. It is associated with both rainbows (one follows it as it flies, and it is said to nest at the foot of a rainbow) and fire (its signature move is in fact called Sacred Fire). Its Pokédex entries and in-game lore credit it with a number of divine attributes and acts, including only showing itself to pure-hearted trainers, having the ability to bring eternal happiness to those who see it or find its feathers, and the resurrection of three unnamed Pokémon who died in a fire to create the Legendary Beasts Entei, Raikou and Suicune.

    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.It's later revealed that phoenix was dead when that happened.

    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.

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