Bird Folklore of Healing and Death

By Phoenix the Elder –  Birds have been my helpers, my animism souls and my bringers of prophecy my whole life. In Etymology, Avis in Arabic means to fly away in reference to a “bird” and in Greek and Roman Latin it means “Bird”. The more correct Latin is Avis Praeda which means “Bird of Prey”.

The basic theme and meaning of this Avis bird, which has several different names in different cultures is that it can sure and bring death equally. There is a bird known as the Iterus, from its peculiar color; if the patient looks at it, he will be cured of jaundice, they say, and the bird will die. This is the same bird that is known in Latin by the name of Galgulus.

In Roman Mythology the caladrius is a snow-white bird that lives in the king and queen’s house. It is said to be able to take the sickness into itself and then fly away, dispersing the sickness and healing both itself and the sick person. The caladrius legend formed part of medieval bestiary materials.

Before humans fell asleep, the bird women were the highest level of shamans and usually the leaders of clans and societies. This is because birds represent the soul, the freedom of the soul and mystery of rebirth (reincarnation) and also heaven or the nether worlds that didn’t have an association with the underworld. Thus, there were classification according to each bird, each size of bird, their habits of birds and rituals that birds teach us of those who have bird souls (animism).

white bird mythology.jpg

This part of the legend is from “The Caladrius and its Legend By George C. Druce (1860-1948), Royal Archaeological Institute of London 1912, giving us some insights about this legendary bird. It seems the Unicorn of the middle ages took more presidence and popularity than this bird which was a mystical bird in the traditions of Sirens, Alkonosts and the Phoenix.

There are references to it in classical writers, which show that it was well known. Aelian (third century ce) mentions the Caladrius twice, and gives an account of the cure in book of his work De natura animalium. He says:

Now this is the natural power of the Charadrius, which by Zeus it is not right to despise. If a man has his body full of jaundice and then looks keenly at the bird, and the bird looks back at him very inflexibly, as though being made angry with him in return, then this mutual gaze cures the man of the aforesaid complaint.

Jaundice was known to the ancients as “The Royal Disease,” as used by classical writers, led the bestiaries to say that the Caladrius bird was found in the courts of kings. It will be remembered that Alexander finds it in the palace of Xerxes. Suidas 32 (twelfth century), quoting from earlier writers in his Lexicon, says that jaundice is a disease arising from bile:

Avis Bird, Apus Avis constellation.jpg

They say that this is a disease producing paleness, which arises from anger, so that it makes the eyes of those who are overpowered by it pale and sometimes black, like (the eyes) of kites, from which also it takes its name (ϊκτΐνος a Kite). They say too “that those who suffer from jaundice are easily cured by looking at a bird, the charadrius.”

The charadrius is a bird of such nature that if those who are suffering look at it, they more easily get rid of that disease. For which reason also the sellers (of the bird) hide it, lest those who are suffering from jaundice should be cured for nothing. “Why, he is hiding it: like a man with a charadrius to sell,” as Hipponax says; whence has arisen the proverb:

“Imitating the charadrius,” said of those who hide anything. He also quotes Euphronius to the same effect: Since the gaze of the charadrius alleviates the jaundice, the sellers of it conceal the bird, lest any man, before buying one, may look at it as he passes and get cured, and he adds, “Others, however, say that it is not those who look at the charadrius who are cured of the jaundice, but those who eat it.”

The reference in Hipponax (546-520 bce) is the earliest that I can find. He was a writer of iambics, but the remains of his works are scanty. Some commentators have preferred to see the origin of the proverb in The Birds of Aristophanes, in the passage where the
hoopoe goes into the thicket, “imitating the charadrius.”

Gesner expresses his opinion thus: “It seems more fitting that ‘imitating the charadrius’ should be taken for ‘lying hid or hiding himself’ like the charadrius, not for hiding (anything). For the charadrius is wont to lie hid in holes by day and to come out at night; and when they are sold they lie hid, and are concealed by the vendors.”

If then the “sympathetic” power of the Bird did not lie in its color, it did in its gaze.

The Caladrius is a snow-white bird in Roman and medieval mythology
The Caladrius is a snow-white bird in Roman and medieval mythology

How was that understood by the ancients, and what was its nature? Its what shamans know of the power of any animal or bird that looks you in the eye, is the animism soul of a person or shaman. In witches lore its called a fetch. Upon this question we have some valuable evidence in Plutarch (80 ce). In his Symposiacon, he discusses in a long chapter the mysteries of fascination, and alludes to the charadrius.

Whether the Caladrius or Avis was ever actually used in heraldry I cannot say, but if so, it would be the bird alone. It is included in book iii of the Libellus de Officio Militari of Nicholas Upton (died 1457) which treats “De animalibus et de avibus in armis portatis.” Under the heading “De caladrio” he gives an illustration of a bird upon a shield and what is practically a repetition of the text of the bestiary; but he adds a paragraph at the end which implies that the caladrius is mentioned in the legend of St. Brendan:

Concerning these Birds then and others like them, which the blessed Brendan found in a certain lofty and beautiful tree, one of which replied to him that they were spirits working out their penance there in the form of birds, whether it is true or an impossibility we leave to the present reader to decide.

This story is related in the Golden Legend as an incident in the voyage of St. Brendan and his companions. The birds are stated to be “as white as any snow.” One of them tells the saint what will be the course of events in the future for him, and this circumstance combined with its whiteness may have suggested to some person that it was the caladrius.

From the archaeological point of view the caladrius is a satisfactory subject, because the chain of evidence can be carried back from the sculpture at Alne through the bestiaries to classical sources without break. It would be better still if it could be traced to its  original source, which is perhaps in the East.

The reference to Hipponax is of respectable antiquity, the sixth century B.C. but it must be noted that he only mentions the sale of the bird, not the cure. The scholastic and other commentators, however, interpreted this as meaning that it was sold for curing jaundice, and probably they are right.

I have already remarked on the scarcity of examples in ecclesiastical architecture. It is possible that the subject may exist in a modified form, as so much detail was left out in carved work. Bestiary subjects are frequent on misericords as well as in twelfth century sculpture, and it is principally to them that attention should be directed.

Avis Bird, Rare Avis, White Bird Mythology

White bird before writing, in our ancient dreaming languages represented death but not transitional deaths of struggle, but the final death. Even today the bird in the gilded cage are usually white, showing the fear that humans have around death and loss of a loved one.

White bird, in a golden cage, on a winter’s day, in the rain.
White bird, in a golden cage, alone. The leaves blow,
across the long black road, to the darkened skies,
in its rage. But the white bird just sits in her cage,

White bird, dreams of the aspen trees, with their
dying leaves, turning gold. But the white bird just
sits in her cage,
growing old. White bird must fly
or she will die.

The sunsets come, the sunsets go.
The clouds roll by, and the earth turns old.
And the young bird’s eyes do always glow.
She must fly or she will die.

Medieval interpretations focused on the diagnostic potential of the Bird: if it looks into the face of a sick person, the person will live; if it looks away, the person will die. This is compatible with the idea that the caladrius’ look draws the sickness into itself; the bird is then said to fly up to the sun, where the disease is burned up and destroyed.

Alexandra Oancea .png
Alexandra Oancea

The ancient shamans women of old did the same things, they took some of the sickness of those they helped, today we call this a real empathic healer and that combination did not exist before 1993 and did exist before the patriarch.

The caladrius also represents Christ in modern patriarchal times, who is pure white without a trace of the blackness of sin. The bird shows how Christ turns away from unrepentant sinners and casts them off; but those to whom he turns his face to, he makes whole again.

The white blackbird and the black swan are a rare Avis and are ancient expressions that serve to express the rarity and scarce or exceptional existence of a being, person, animal, object and even idea and thought.

We can affirm the antiquity of the expression “rare avis” (rare bird, strange bird) by the antiquity of its language, Latin, but also “black bird” and “black swan” and even “white crow” are used from the Greco-Roman antiquity to our days.

Chinese Mythology Bird.pngFrom the point of view of “Stylistics” we can speak of examples of the rhetorical figure called adýnaton or impossible, in the plural adýnata or impossibilia, with which we refer to impossible beings or facts because they contradict the laws of Nature. ἀδυνατον (adynaton, “an impossibility”), from α- (a-, “without”) + δύναμαι (dynamai, “I am powerful, I am able”)

The Greeks already used as proverbial expression “to see a white crow”, λευκὸν ἰδεῖν κόρακα as something impossible or adýnaton; This is attested by Palatine Anthology.

On an Elderly Woman annoying a Young Man. Shake the acorns off another oak, Menesthion; for I do not accept wrinkled apples past their season, but have ever desired fruit in its prime like myself; so why try to see a white crow? English Translation by. W. R. Paton. London. William Heinemann 1926

They say that in Cyllene in Arcadia the blackbirds are white, but not in any other place, and that they have harmonious voices and come out into the moon; and that if one were to try by day, they are very hard to catch. Pliny the Elder (23 – 79 ce), the naturalist who died during the eruption of Vesuvius, collects this peculiarity of some blackbirds in his work Natural History (Naturalis Historia):

The blackbird is found in the vicinity of Cyllene, in Arcadia, with White plumage; a thing that is the cause nowhere else. The ibis, in the neighborhood of Pelusium only is black, while in all other places it is white.

“Rara avis” is a well-known Latin expression as a proverb, which Horace (65 – 8 bce) who does not use the phrase in the same sense that we are commenting here, but he uses the phrase “rara avis” as such. Horace says in Satires:

Yet after all you’ll hardly deign, I, fear, To dine on pullet when a peacock’s near; By vain caprice or empty show cajoled; Because forsooth the scarce bird fells for gold, And strutting forth elate with beauty frail Expands the gaudy glories of his tail. But do you eat that plumage you adore? Or is she, cook’d, as beauteous as before?

Perrsius (Aulus Persius Flacus, AD 34 – Rome, AD 62) is a Latin satirist poet who died very young when he was just 28 years old said:  “Whoever you are, my imaginary opponent, I am not the man, if in writing I chance to hatch anything good – for that is a Phoenix indeed – but if I do hatch anything good, I am not the man to shrink from praise – no, my heartstrings are not of horn.”

The book Hallow Earth (2012) by John and Carole Barrowman, in the first book of the Hollow Earth Trilogy, the Caladrius is a Mythical Bird that can see the future.

White Thunderbird

Elder Mountain Article on the Legend of the White Eagle of Poland 

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