Of Birds, Angels, and Tidings of Great Joy by Carol P. Christ


carol p. christ 2002 colorA link to a video of a European Hooded Crow sliding down a snow-covered rooftop on a mayonnaise-lid sled appeared on my Facebook timeline a few days ago. For me this crow expresses the “spirit of the season” as aptly as anything I can think of.  She brings a smile to my face on a grey and cold morning.  She makes me want to climb up on the rooftop and slide down with her.  She reminds me that we humans are not alone–we share the world with a vast multitude of other intelligent creatures.  She tells me that there is nothing more sacred than the joy of life.

crow

The ancient Cretans believed that the capacity to enjoy life was not limited to human beings–they believed that animals  enjoy life as much as we do, and they expressed this sensibility in their art.  They also celebrated birds because their  arrival in spring announces the beginning of the growing season. This early pot in the shape of a bird or duck opening its mouth to–as we kids used to say–“drink the rain” cannot help but evoke a smile.

prepalatial bird pitcher

The image of a happy bird that both drinks water and pours water from its bill or beak was so beloved by the Cretans that even after their pottery became far more sophisticated, they pointed the pouring spouts of their pitchers upwards and put bird eyes on them.

kamares jug

On a pitcher from Santorini, the eye and beak of the bird are combined with paintings of the exuberant flight of swallows.  The artist added a necklace and bejeweled nipples.  Here we see the multivalent symbolism of Old Europe: the pitcher is both bird and woman, the image of the Bird Goddess. She is holds the life-giving waters that nourish both birds and human beings in her rounded belly.

Theran swallow pitcher

The Bird Goddess has come down to us as the Christmas angel.  As a child I loved angels because, along with fairies who were also winged, they were the only symbols of the sacred as female that I ever saw.

christmas card angel

Now I know that angels are not the only, but rather the most recent in a long line of sacred female images.  What are angel wings but the wings of birds? What songs can be sweeter than the songs of birds?

We have been taught that birds cannot feel and think. We have been taught that angels are not birds. But what if birds can feel and think? And what if angels are birds?

“Behold I bring you glad tidings of great joy!”

Is there any greater glad tiding of joy than the singing of birds on their arrival in spring, as each day dawns, and just before the sun sets each night? And is not joy shared among all creatures great and small?

Don’t forget to watch the video of the joyful and intelligent crow.

Happy Holidays!

Carol P. Christ was born on Winter’s Solstice. Her mother loved to tell her that songs about angels were being sung in the hospital while she was being born and that was why she was named “Carol.” Learn more about the Bird Goddess on the Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete.

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Categories: animals, Archaeology, Art, Earth-based spirituality, Feminism and Religion, General, Goddess, Goddess Spirituality

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

13 replies

  1. How wonderful to have been born on Winter’s Solstice, and to be named for the song of an angel! I love the idea of angels as singing birds, and the sledding crow is just terrific! Thanks, Carol!

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  2. On the Solstice: I had downloaded a copy of an essay by Jacqueline da Costa, from the Feminist Theology journal, focusing on your life and work. And so there I was on the darkest day of the year, deep in a pitch black cave in Crete, and I was struck by this thought where you say: “Without thinking of the possible danger, I began to slide in.” And then da Costa’s says: “Upon reaching the center of the cave, Christ felt as if she had reached the womb of the Goddess. She sat there in complete darkness, later commenting that she didn’t know which was more powerful, the place or conquering her fear to get there.” Fantastic insight, Carol!!! On angels and birds enjoying themselves, there’s a delightful insight by Emily Dickinson in one of her poems, where she says that birds sing to entertain “nobody but their seraphic self.”

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  3. Brava. I think birds are miracles with wings, incredibly beautiful and smart miracles. Angels, I’m not so sure about. As far as I know, all the named angels (in all nine levels of the angelic hierarchies) are male. But birds sing and fly and build nests. Love it!

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  4. Carol- You’ve captured the essence! I wonder who trained that bird…
    Overlapping symbols systems are delightful to unpack. You do it so well here.
    Thanks and good wishes for your natal day and the New Year. MEH

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  5. (a bit belated) Many happy returns of the day!

    At our house, birds have elevated status because they are “descended from the dinosaurs!” (we have a bit of dinosaur fascination here).

    Angels are traditionally thought of as conveying information about future events, but didn’t some of the Greeks use birds for divination purposes- something about their flock formations?

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  6. To answer your question, the word “omen” comes from the Greek word for “bird of prey,” the usual carrier of bird divinations in ancient Greece. For the Greeks, flight patterns, bird cries, their sympathies and antipathies were all part of bird divinations. Calchas, the famous Greek seer of the Odyssey and Illiad, supposedly augured by noting the flight of birds.

    There are many bird divinations all over the world. If you’re interested, here’s a short passage from my forthcoming book, “The World is Your Oracle,” about some of them:

    “Are you wondering if it’s an auspicious time for a wedding, a party, or some other affair? Then ask the birds. They gave their name to the word auspicious, which comes from the Latin “avis spex,” meaning “blessed by a bird sighting.” If you want to select the right day for your event, you can perform an augury, also of Latin derivation, meaning “bird telling.” As these terms indicate, the Romans held bird oracles in high esteem, so much so that Julius Caesar apppointed himself head of this group when he came to power.

    Avian divinations comprise some of the most ancient oracular practices known to humanity. Many people studied flying patterns for divinatory advice. Germanic tribes watched the flight of birds in an attempt to determine their paths in life. Other communities that performed bird sightings included the Aymara Indians in South America, the ancient Slavs, the desert Arabs during Mohammed’s time, and people in northwest China today. The ancient Incas listened attentively to bird song, as did the Yakut Indians and Hurons in North America, the aborigines in Australia, and the Iban people of Borneo. In fact, in many cultures today, shamans adorned with birds’ feathers and claws still “fly” during their divinations to receive healing guidance for their people.”

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  7. Carol, I LOVED the crow video and sent on to my close friends and family. And I love your visuals. They bring home some of the ancient lineage of angels (although I think biblical angels come more by way of the Egyptian and Middle Eastern winged deities, a la Raphael Patai’s “The Hebrew Goddess,” etc.)

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  8. Thanks to all of you on this Christmas morning in Greece!

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  9. A belated Happy Birthday. I had seen the video of the crow. They are actually that intelligent. And it is wonderful to observe one at play. I often believe that we do not give animals enough credit for their sentience.

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