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Divine Birds

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Thoth. Because the bird is the word.

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 further, 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. If the writer is feeling more fantastically inclined, mythical birds such as phoenixes might get used. Gods of death or the underworld have their own preferred representatives which would best be avoided: see Creepy Crows and Ominous Owl. 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. A Sub-Trope of this is Doves Mean Peace.


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    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.

  • 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.
  • Raphael Rooms: "Disputation of the Holy Sacrament", per tradition, depicts the Christian Holy Spirit as a dove with wings spread as if to welcome all of humanity into Heaven. Peculiar to the "Disputation" is that the Spirit's dove is directly below the Father and Christ, making visible the belief that all of them are the same Top God.

  • For the Kesh in Always Coming Home, the birds are intermediaries between the Earth Houses and Sky houses. For the Dayao, a Condor is the sacred bird after which they are named.
  • 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.
    • Patina is a Discworld goddess of wisdom and Athena expy who parodies this trope—her accompanying divine bird was supposed to be the classic owl, but due to a sculptor who misinterpreted the work order, it's a penguin.
  • Raybearer: The highest god in the Aritsar religion, Am the Storyteller, is portrayed in stories and artwork as a pelican, and pelicans are subsequently held as the most sacred birds in the empire.
  • 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 an 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, though they do have wings, albeit covered with eyes. 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 idea of winged divine beings does have a precedent in Mesopotamian Mythology, where gods such as Ishtar are often depicted with bird wings; later this would go on to influence greco-roman art as well.
    • 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 describing how 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.
    • The Vermillion bird is one of The Four Gods.
    • Crows are uniquely symbolic of the sun. Unfortunately, their best-known myth was when the archer Houyi had to shoot several of them to save the earth from their light and heat.
  • Egyptian Mythology has a few:
    • Per the page picture, the ibis was the sacred bird of Thoth, god of knowledge.
    • The falcon is symbolic of Horus (literally "falcon"). Because Horus was originally the royal god and remained the god of kingship pretty much throughout Egyptian history (not one but two parts of the Egyptian five-part royal titulary invoke Horus), several other gods that syncretized with Horus and could use the falcon as their symbol. Chief among these is Ra, the god of the Sun, and to a lesser extent Osiris, god of the underworld and of fertility. Conveniently, the standard theology (developed at Iunu/Heliopolis) made Ra, Osiris, and Horus a dynasty of rulers—Ra the senior god who abdicated to defend the overall order of the Universe, Osiris his successor who was killed and resurrected to rule the underworld, and Horus, the perpetual king of Egypt on Earth. However, many other royal deities not directly linked to the Heliopolitan dynasty also use the symbolism, including Montu (a War God originally worshiped at Armant south of Thebes who was the subject of especial devotion from the kings of the Eleventh and Eighteenth Dynastiesnote ) and Khonsu (the son of Amun, worshiped at Thebes).
    • A bird called the "Bennu" was also associated with Ra, being said to be his ba (one part of the soul in the very complex Egyptian conception). This was in addition to his association with falcons; but where the falcon association emphasized Ra as a royal deity associated with kingship and rule, the Bennu emphasized his solar aspects, as it was somehow associated with the Sun. It also symbolized rebirth, and therefore gained association with Osiris. Weirdly, the exact bird the Bennu was depicted as changed over time; in the Old Kingdom is was some kind of songbird, but by the New Kingdom, the standard representation was as a rather large grey heron.
    • The vulture was long associated with Nekhbet, the protector goddess of Upper (i.e. southern) Egypt. It later became associated with Isis, as her cult took on aspects of Nekhbet's starting in the New Kingdom (the Nineteenth Dynasty couldn't get enough of Isis and that had a profound impact).
  • Greek Mythology:
    • Numerous gods were symbolized by specific birds, which were held sacred to them. Eagles were sacred to Zeus and, because Zeus was the king of the gods, the eagle was considered the king of birds. Additionally, peacocks were considered sacred to Hera, the goddess of marriage; owls to Athena, the goddess of wisdom and craft; doves to Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty; and woodpeckers to Ares, the god of war.
    • There are also the harpies, sometimes regarded as servants of Zeus, who would carry off the wicked and deliver them to Hades.
    • In some traditions birds as a species are a preeminent form of life, born from primordial chaos in flight before there ever was land to rest on. In some way this goes to explain why observing them can be performed to divine the future.
  • 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. The patron god of the Aztecs, Huitzilopochtli, is consequently associated with eagles and hummingbirds.
  • In Mande Mythology the swallow is the messenger of Faro the water deity. Said to never land on impure ground, it spreads the seeds of the rejuvenating Ngoyo tomato for humans.
  • 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. Eagles are also strongly associated with Odin, probably because of their scavenger habits; one of his names is "eagle head".
  • 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.
  • The crowned crane was known as the messenger of the river goddess Harakoy Dikko in Songhai Mythology. Her son the hunter god Musa Nyori rode it home to rescue his family after they’d been defeated by the Zins.
  • The huma is a bird from Iranian myth that, being legless, spends its entire life in flight. Humas are symbols of happiness and omens of good things: someone who catches a glimpse of a huma or of its shadow will lead a joyous life thereafter, and if a huma lands on someone's head then that person will become a king. Killing a huma is an evil deed, and such a killer will die forty days after the death of the bird.
  • The sun is heavily associated with birds in Aboriginal Australian Myths. Several cultures hold that the kookaburra's laugh makes the sun rise (there's an entire book about it too) and in Southeast cultures it is believed that the sun is an emu's egg. Emus are also associated with the sky gods such as Altjira, which has emu legs. Meanwhile, the black duck is the sacred animal of the Yuin.
  • At the Turn of the Millennium, an emailed story began circulating about a then-three-year-old boy who was injured in an accident and was clinically dead. He was revived, and described seeing "birdies." Some of the "birdies" were free, others were in cages, and they were more like Winged Humanoids dressed in green and white. The boy was allegedly told to "tell everyone about the birdies." In the unabridged version, the child is from a Mormon family, and the "birdies" are not birds, or even angels as most people would think of them, but rather the souls of the dead, and of children yet to be born. The ones in the cages are awaiting their families on Earth to perform specific "Temple ordinances" so they can be free (which is why the boy was charged with telling everyone about them).

    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.
  • Warhammer Fantasy:
    • Tzeentch, Chaos god of sorcerers, mutants, and traitors, is known as the Raven God by Norscans. His counterpart Nurgle, god of disease, decay, and love (yes, really) is also known as the Crow God. The fact that ravens and crows are the same bird doesn't seem to have occurred to Norscans.
    • Vultures were sacred in Nehekharan mythology, believed to carry the souls of warriors to fight demons in the afterlife. Huge vultures are often mummified and entombed in Nehekharan tombs, from which they emerge to attack invaders.

    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.
  • Both Fairune Origins and 1 have Hope Girl's armor and weapons disintegrate into glowing doves heading for the sky in the ending, leaving her in her original wear of a white dress with red trimmings.
  • 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 The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening and The Legend of Zelda: 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 The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, to the Loftwings (based on shoebills) in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. Even the royal crest of Hyrule, which was founded by the avatar of the goddess Hylia, features a pair of stylized wings.
  • 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.
    • Yveltal is a black and red bird Pokémon that is said to be the bringer of death. It’s the dark counterpart of the deer Pokémon Xerneas. Even its signature move Oblivion Wing is evil-sounding, with it being Death Wing in Japan.
  • The Avian race (Spirit Bird in Japanese) of Shin Megami Tensei consists of divine birds like the Phoenix and Garuda, but not every divine bird is one. Horus is part of the Deity race but appears as a white-gold falcon rather than a man with the head of a falcon.
  • Played with in Touhou Project, 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 to shift her worship from lakes and mountains to technology.

  • 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.