Crane – Guide to Royalty, Longevity and Balance by Judith Shaw


judith shaw photoCranes, seen gliding over the water, searching for food in muddy wetlands and flying overhead in beautiful formations, are graceful, elegant birds – masters of three worlds – air, land and water.

Crane is truly prehistoric with Miocene fossil evidence dated back 10 million years ago. Cranes, with their long necks and legs, are the world’s tallest flying birds. Fifteen species of crane found everywhere except for Antartica and South America live mainly in wetlands, marshes and swamps. Some make a permanent home whereas most migrate almost 10,000 miles from far north to more temperate areas for the winter.

Crane Spirit Guide

Royalty, Grace, Patience, Balance

chinese robe Crane rank badge

Chinese robe rank badge

The Chinese revered Crane as lord of feathered beings, believing that the souls of wise ancestors rode in crane-drawn chariots. Crane images on robes of top-ranking officials reflected importance. The Anishinaabe tribe of North America believed Crane to be a great orator – symbolic of leadership.

Unlike many birds who flit from perch to perch, Crane lives peacefully, walking gracefully or standing balanced on one leg. Crane can maintain this stance for hours, patiently peering into the water waiting for prey – then pouncing. Crane’s beautiful dancing also speaks to its balance and grace.

Longevity, Vigilance

The average lifespan of cranes is 15 – 30 years. However, a Siberian crane lived for 83 years in captivity.

In Ireland it was believed that a solitary crane had lived on Inis Kea since the beginning of time. The Japanese believed that Crane lives for 1000 years. They gift 1000 paper origami cranes to newlyweds, wishing them 1000 years of prosperity.

2 vigilant cranesTo the Chinese Crane is the embodiment of longevity. Its wings were used as a talisman for endurance and perseverance.

Cranes, fierce defenders and skillful predators, are very territorial and will fiercely protect their homes. Yet they do not rush into conflict preferring privacy and security over aggression.

Lugh of Celtic myth, used a crane-prayer (corrghuineacht) to inspire his troops and curse his enemies. To do this he imitated a crane’s pose – standing on one leg with one eye closed. The Celtic War Goddess, Badb also took this stance. 

Call on Crane for protection from your adversaries and for the gift of endurance.

Fidelity, Communication, Wisdom, Secret Knowledge

Cranes are monogamous, choosing their mate between three – five years old. Before mating, juvenile cranes travel together in “bachelor flocks.” In India they believe that if one of a crane couple dies, the other will starve itself to death.

Crane loves to dance and dancing is important to its pair bonding. Its exuberant dance is a response against aggression, relieves tension and strengthens the couple. Cranes of both sexes and all ages dance.

Crane builds its nest on shallow wetlands. Both sexes gather the materials but the female builds it alone. Both share equally in the incubation process. Known to paint themselves with mud for nesting, thus becoming less visible – they are ever secretive when nesting.

With a reputation for being noisy, cranes employ a full vocabulary of calls. Their richly evolved communication system is used to keep the family together, to strengthen the pair-bond and to signal danger.

The Greek Hermes and Roman Mercury were inspired to create their alphabets by watching cranes in flight.

Wisdom comes with age and with wisdom comes esoteric knowledge. Crane, symbol of secret knowledge, was attributed supernatural qualities by the Celts. It was believed that through watching the bending of Crane’s legs, Celtic Ogma created ogham – the sacred alphabet of druidic tradition. Druidic teachings are often called “crane knowledge.” St Columba, a famous 6th century Irish monk whose early training was in Druidry was called a crane cleric.

Crane calls you to stay loyal to and to protect your family, to maintain good communication with loved ones, to keep your affairs to yourself and to call on the wisdom of experience to guide you in both worldly and otherworldly matters.

Happiness, Good Fortune, the Sun
Crane, who soars high in a sun-filled sky, stands peacefully in wetlands, and dances with abandon, must have seemed like the essence of happiness to ancient people.

The Chinese have many paintings depicting cranes gliding through the sky, symbolizing happiness and good fortune. Some Native American tribes also associate Crane with good fortune.

The Red-crowned Crane of Japan is depicted with the sun – symbol of life and abundance.

Renewal/Rebirth, the Otherworld
Cranes of Europe and Asia fly higher than any other bird – up to 32,800 ft. This ability connects Crane to the divine – the eternal realm of spirit.

Crane was sacred to early Celts. Albeit most associated with women and goddesses, Annwn, King of the Celtic Underworld, could shape-shift into Crane – three cranes guarded the entrance to his Underworld.

Though the Celts often associated Crane with treachery, war and evil women, Celtic mythology places Crane as guardian of Otherworld secrets.

Goddess Aoife, in mortal guise, was transformed by a jealous rival’s curse into a crane. There upon she flew to the underwater realm of Manannan mac Lir in which form she lived for 200 years. When she died, returning to the eternal, Manannan created the crane bag with her crane skin, hiding his magical talismans there.

Where there is death there is rebirth. The items in the crane bag were most likely mystical tools of transformation – tools hidden within the crane bag – the body of the Goddess.

With one foot in the temporal and one in the eternal the “corrghuineacht,” (cursing stance) was possibly also used for blessing.

Several cultures practiced the Crane Dance as rituals of rebirth and renewal.

In Japan the 1000 year old Crane Dance is held every April to honor the belief that cranes who lived on the Isles of the Bless transported souls to the Western Paradise. Many still believe cranes carry their spirits to heaven.

The Greeks recorded their first performance of the Crane Dance (Geranos) as being by Theseus and his companions after their escape from King Minos. He received it from Ariadne whose thread led him out of the labyrinth, freeing him from the Minotaur. The Minoans must have performed the Crane Dance for centuries before. Crane and the Labyrinth were associated with rebirth.

Crane, who flies far and high during both day and night, is associated with both the Sun – the bright abundance of day – and the Otherworld- the twinkling of spirit. Crane knows the way to the Otherworld – threading the path between the mundane and the divine. Crane sounds the call when a change is in the air, a new beginning is around the corner – offering assistance during life transitions.

When Crane enters your life you are being called to recognize your own worth, to learn patience, to focus and move forward with knowledge and wisdom, to keep your secrets, to remain a loyal protector with good communication and to seek balance.

Crane offers protection from adversaries and the gifts of endurance, happiness and good luck. Crane draws your focus upward and inspires you to trust spirit to provide.

Sources: Mystieurious, Exemplore, Japanese Mythology and Folklore,  Independent.ie, Lewellyn- 2010 Calendar, Maryland Zoo, Le Origini della Danza, ALISSAACSTORYTELLERA Druid’s Cave,

Judith’s deck of Celtic Goddess Oracle Cards is available now.  Celtic-Goddess-Oracle-cards-by-judith-shawYou can order your deck on Judith’s website – click here. Experience the wisdom of the Celtic Goddesses!

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 art. She continues to be inspired by the Goddess in all of Her manifestations. In recent years Judith became very interested in the Goddesses of her own ancestors, the Celts, resulting in her deck of Celtic Goddess Oracle cards. She is now working on her next deck of oracle cards – Animal Spirit Guides. Originally from New Orleans, Judith makes her home in New Mexico where she paints as much as time allows and sells real estate part-time. Give yourself the gift of one of Judith’s prints or paintings, priced from $25 – $3000.



Categories: animals, General, Goddess Spirituality, Paganism

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16 replies

  1. We sometimes see cranes here in Long Beach, CA. They occasionally nest, or at least land and rest during their migrations, along the shores of a couple of our rivers. I once saw a parody divination card (some system outside the tarot pretending to be Chinese) that showed a crane–a tall, construction crane, all angles and iron and smoke rising from the machine powering the crane. I thought it was hilarious. The PBS documentary Earthflight (2012) has an episode showing cranes flying over Venice and other European cities. Their flight is breathtakingly beautiful.

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    • I know what you mean about the construction crane. When I googled images of crane I learned that I had to stipulate “crane bird” or all I got were images of construction cranes – LOL – what a world!

      Here in New Mexico we have a wildlife refuge, the Bosque del Apache which was created in the 1940’s (I believe) to help the sandhill cranes recover from near extinction. Today they are very numerous – thank Goddess. The refuge is about an hour south of ABQ and I’ve been a number of times and created a educational video on the sandhills back in the early 2000’s when I was doing video production. That was a fun project.

      It is an amazing experience to visit that place. They will be arriving soon from their northern breeding grounds. We can also see them along the Rio Grande and in fields in the North Valley here in ABQ. Their flight is truly beautiful and I also love how they land – so graceful! And of course the dancing…! They are in full dancing form in the Bosque del Apache in February – height of mating season before leaving for their summer breeding lands.

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  2. Thank you for this abundance of lore and natural history that apparently attends cranes wherever they go. I hope to see them one day, standing, dancing, and in flight. Thank you for the images and especially for your gorgeous painting!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. thanks, Judith, for this world tour of crane lore. Here in Wisconsin, we have the International Crane Foundation, with pairs of all 15 species available for viewing. We also see sandhill cranes, hear their amazing rattle, croak, and bugle of their cry, but I’ve never seen them dance. That would be wonderful. And thanks for the picture of the Japanese crane dancers. What a costume!

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  4. Oh Judith, I just love these crane paintings – you caught something of their spirit in them. The Sandhill cranes are my beloveds… I am looking forward to seeing them again before too long. I learned some new information about cranes from this reading… There is something about them that calls to us. Thank you for this lovely and informative post and – oh, those paintings!

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    • Sara, I am really glad to hear that you feel my painting has caught something of their spirit – that is always my intention but one never knows it it will really happen or not. I’m not really sure why we are so drawn to cranes but we surely are. I really love the Sandhill cranes too though those Japanese ones are truly beautiful and look more delicate. I’ve only seen Sandhills.

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      • Your paintings are beautiful – and I too wonder why we are so drawn to cranes. I think there is an ancient mythical connection between women and cranes that we tap into

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        • Sara I agree — for sure in the Celtic tradition cranes are strongly associated with women. Looking at the crane bag story it is most surely (to me) a container made of/by Goddess for transformation and rebirth. And then there are all of the early neolithic Bird Goddess statues (maybe not cranes but maybe..) and figurines found in abundance. In Japan Cranes were often associated with shape-shifting women – i.e. as crane who in gratitude for a good deed would transform into a woman and marry the good deed doer.

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  5. I especially loved your painting of the standing & flying cranes. And what vast lore you’ve gathered. (I never knew there was such a Celtic connection)

    FYI, I have a friend who goes to a lake inTexas to see the cranes who go there every yea! I also drink tea from a mug which depicts two lovely cranes on it. I(had no other reason to choose that one except for its beauty; I knew nothing else about them at the time:)

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    • Sharon, I fell in love with cranes after my first visit to the Bosque del Apache wildlife preserve back in 2000 or 2001. They are so amazing plus having been living on the Earth for over 10 million years is just so astounding. I also just learned of the Celtic connection in my research for this piece. I knew about the cursing/blessing stance but didn’t realize it comes from Crane. Cranes actually never lived in Ireland or the British Isles whereas heron has and does. Folks think that the similarity between the two led the Celts to identify mythically with crane.

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