The Bird Goddess by Judith Shaw


Judith Shaw photoBirds soaring high above the earth reaching for the heavens have long inspired humans as links to the divine realm. Birds fulfill various functions in world cultures and religions – from playing a central role in creation, to birth, to healing, to death; from messenger to trickster to oracle. Some birds are associated with shape shifting and transformation.

In the very ancient days, when humans had first learned how to sow, how to reap, and how to herd, the Bird Goddess was worshiped. Marija Gimbutas’  groundbreaking archeological work uncovered a culture in which the Bird Goddess and the Snake Goddess, sometimes depicted individually but often together, were supreme. She is the Gimbutas Bird GoddessDivine embodied in the feminine.

By the time the Old European civilization reached its cultural peak around 5000 BC very sophisticated representations of the Bird and Snake Goddess emerged. Many of the statues of Bird Goddesses found by Gimbutas have arm stumps with perforations which would have allowed wings or feathers to be attached.

All stories, ceremonies and names associated with this ancient Neolithic goddess are long lost to us. But from the great quantity of statues found and the symbolic marks carved on them it is easy to believe that The Bird Goddess was seen as a divine being who nurtured and protected the world. The meander, most likely symbolic of the waters of life, is pervasive on these figures together with the triangle, universal symbol of the Goddess and Her life giving nature.

Since the Paleolithic period the human longing to understand our place in the cosmos opens us to a language of symbols. Certainly the culture of Old Europe, which had only recently transitioned from the precarious life of hunting and gathering into one of settled agriculture, was grateful for the abundance provided by their new knowledge of earth’s secrets. Our Sumerian Lilith ancestors, still deeply connected to the natural world, must have listened with delight to the morning bird song and gazed in amazement at birds in flight. Surely that delight and amazement would have stimulated a symbolic understanding of birds. It’s easy to see how a Bird Goddess could become supreme.

This Bird/Serpent Goddess of Old Europe was eventually known to the Sumerians as Lilith. She is depicted on a Babylonian clay plaque from 2000-1600 BCE as a beautiful winged woman with bird’s feet and claws.

As time moved on and cultures developed, the Bird Goddess became a variety of different goddesses associated with birds.  The Egyptian Goddess, Isis is often depicted with wide open winged isis imagewings.  Many considered her to be a Bird Goddess. In early Egypt, Isis and Her sister Nephthys were either shown as birds or as women headed kestrels or kites. In later Egyptian representations of Isis she was depicted with huge outstretched wings attached to her arms. She used her wings to fan renewed life into Osiris. The Old European world view of the Bird Goddess as nurturer and protector continued on in the Egyptian world view.

Minoan Bird GoddessIn the temples of Knossos In Minoan Crete, bell-shaped goddesses with bird heads or birds on their heads were found. Both Minoan and Mycanean ceramic art reveal a wealth of birds on figurines and on pottery. Depictions of the Bird Goddess continued into the pantheon of the ancient Greeks. Athena was occasionally winged and the bird is associated with her. Aphrodite also retained some Old European features of the Bird Goddess.

Celtic Goddess, Rhiannon, was associated with birds and horses.  TheRhiannon painting by Judith Shaw birds of Rhiannon were with her always. Her birds could heal on the soul level. When healing was not possible Rhiannon’s birds sang so sweetly that the dying went gladly to their deaths.

The ancient Bird Goddess ruled over life and death. In the ancient world The Morrigan, Celtic War and Fertility Goddess, painting by Judith Shawview the two were seen as completely connected.  Life gives way to death which in turn gives way to life.  Similarly various later representations of Bird Goddesses connected them to death.  Chlíodhna, Celtic Goddes of Beauty often took the form of a seabird, symbol of the Celtic Otherworld. The Morrigan, Celtic Dark Goddess was the gateway to life and to death. She was known to shape shift into a raven or crow. In this form she either warned of battle or feasted on the remains of battle.

Many, many more cultures, too numerous to site here, have associated birds with the life giving and life taking powers of the Goddess. Artist today continue to explore the theme.  Here are a few of my paintings which have been inspired by birds and the Bird Goddess.

21st Century Bird Goddess by Judith Shaw

21st Century Bird Goddess by Judith Shaw

women-flying72
At this point in our collective journey through time the world is fraught with the dark side of human nature, – the hatreds, the fears of others, the desires for power over and the violence. Let us learn from the wisdom of Old Europe which all evidence indicates to have been a culture of peace, a culture which honored life in all its cycles, a culture whose supreme being was the Bird Goddess – protector, nurturer and giver of life.

bird-goddess-72

Sources:  The Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe by Marija Gimbutas, Myths Encyclopedia, Isiopolis,

Judith Shaw, a graduate of the San Francisco Art Institute, has been interested in myth, culture and mystical studies all her life.  Not long after graduating from SFAI, while living in Greece, Judith began exploring the Goddess in her artwork.  She continues to be inspired by the Goddess in all of Her manifestations. Originally from New Orleans, Judith now makes her home in New Mexico where she paints and sells real estate part-time.  She is currently hard at work on a deck of Goddess cards. Give yourself the gift of one of Judith’s prints and paintings, priced from $25 – $3000.

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Categories: Divine Feminine, Earth-based spirituality, General, Goddess Spirituality, Goddess Spirituality, Goddess Spirituality, Paganism, Spirituality

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12 replies

  1. I am reminded of Sara Wright’s blog that I just read bout finding solace in witnessing sandhill cranes flying as one … quoting her in part:
    I listen to the sandhill cranes cry out

    as one holy body in flight.

    United in purpose

    they know their destination

    cannot be reached in isolation,

    by splitting parts from the whole.

    Birds know betrayal by name

    and do not choose it.

    Oh, where are the women with wings?

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  2. Hi Judith, I read your post with interest. Might you have a connection to dance, for which you would be interested writing a piece for our special issue on the Goddess in the Journal of Dance, Movement, and Spiritual Practices? The deadline is 30/11 so that is quite fast, but perhaps you have something available. Another option would be if you and I co-authored a piece, I could add some specific dance experiences to the text. Please let me know what you think. My email is eline.kieft@coventry.ac.uk.

    Here is the information on the journal/special issue: http://www.intellectbooks.co.uk/MediaManager/File/DMAS_CFP_Goddess.pdf

    Would be great to hear from you!
    Best wishes, Eline

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  3. So beautiful, Judith. Love this sentence especially: “Our Sumerian Lilith ancestors, still deeply connected to the natural world, must have listened with delight to the morning bird song and gazed in amazement at birds in flight.” Many of us still do listen and gaze in amazement. Thank you!

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  4. Thanks for this post to take out mind off……well, you know. It’s good to read about Old Europe this morning and be reminded of the beauty and majesty of birds and goddesses. My first year in graduate school at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale (Illinois), I lived less than a mile from Crab Orchard Lake, a stop for many kinds of birds on their migrations north and south. I can still remember the Canadian geese flying about ten feet above my front door. They were magnificent. No wonder our foremothers associated birds and goddesses!

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    • Barbara – yes no wonder indeed. I admit that I am taking solace in the wisdom of the ancients and the stories of the Goddesses in these days of insanity and rule by bigots and bullies. In particular Branwen, Celtic Goddess of Love and Beauty, speaks to me about the power of love to unite and the patience needed to endure suffering while holding onto the light.

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  5. I live right next to a bird sanctuary! :-) How great is that! Now I’ll have a whole new vision and enjoyment in listening and watching my neighbours with wings. Thank you Judith.

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    • Barbara I’d say that’s super great. We have a wonderful sanctuary south of Albuquerque, the Bosque del Apache, where thousands of sand hill cranes and snow geese winter. Your comment reminds me that I need to get down there this season to experience the majesty.

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  6. Beautiful post and exquisite images, great work and share, thank you, regards, Barry

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