Wren, the first bird to sing at dawn, is known as the Herald of Dawn. It calls out its joy as each day begins.
There are 88 species of wren found in the Americas. The house wren, who is fond of nesting near human homes, is the most common. Only the Eurasian wren – called “wren” in English speaking lands – is found in Europe and Asia .
This tiny bird has been successful in navigating the millennia as wren fossils have been discovered dating back to the last Ice Age, 10-120,000 years ago.
Though we are all familiar with wrens’ songs, they are elusive birds and very hard to actually see. Small in stature and quick in movement – Wren is symbolic of activity and agility. Also associated with determination – wren will fiercely protect its nest against threats of all sizes.
Wren’s scientific name , Troglodytidae, derives from the word “troglodyte”, meaning “cave-dweller.” Wrens scurry through the undergrowth, scramble over brambles, root for food in dark crevices and hide from cold in holes.
Wren’s industrious determination is seen in the male’s attempt to mate with a female. He builds several nests, hoping she choses one of his. She then finishes it off with feathers and soft mosses.
The Celts honored Wren’s diligence which reminded them to make progress each day in their own endeavors.
Wrens are relatively harmless, friendly birds. They are in constant communication with each other with their chirping songs – songs to attract a mate, to scare off predators, to warn others of danger and simply songs of joy.
Free-spirited wrens are restless creatures, on the move from sun-up to sun-down.
Most wrens are migratory, some flying up to 1500 miles between winter and summer grounds.
As weather gets colder non-migratory wrens in the UK get even friendlier. Communal roosts are established for warmth on cold winter nights. There are records of several dozen wrens roosting together.
The Celts believed that wren’s song was a greeting to their friends and that a wren’s feather worked as protection against drowning.
Wren was associated with Chlíodhna, Celtic Sea Goddess, who often appeared as a woman on the seashore. Men, seduced by her beauty, chose to return with her to the Otherworld island of Tir Tairngire, only to never be seen again in this world. One man tried to kill her but she transformed into a wren and escaped.
Centuries later another legend emerged of a mermaid who lured sailors to their death, only to transform into a wren if pursued. The sailors complained so the gods commanded her to appear every New Year’s Day as a wren to be hunted and killed. A feather from that hunted wren was believed to give protection from drowning.
Manx fisherman believed that a dead wren brought luck. But others believed that killing a wren would result in bad luck.
Wren, sacred to the Celtic poet, Taliesin, inspired bards and was associated with poetry, art and song
Wren reminds you of the importance of expressing yourself, of sharing your thoughts, and to look for inspiration and luck, floating light as a feather, on the winds of change.
Tiny wrens are bold and fast, rarely taking a direct route. Migrating wrens fly higher than most birds.
The Welsh word for wren ‘ “drwy” – derives from “Druid.” The Irish called wren “Drui-en” – the Druid bird. Like the Druids, Wren was known for its cunning – its ability to navigate the heights, the hedges – and though small, to win out over larger predators.
Wren’s quick-wittedness and cunning is how it won the title “King of the Birds.” The story goes that all the birds decided to have a contest among themselves – whoever flew the highest would become “King of Birds.” The race began and Eagle took the lead. High in the sky, he slowed to claim his title. But then Wren, who was hiding in Eagle’s feathers, emerged, flew higher and won the tile.
Greek philosopher, Plutarch, interpreted this story as a lesson that clever use of another’s skills can be a positive way to reach a goal.
Scholars believe that wren’s first association with kings goes back to the Greeks. The Greek word “basilikos,” means “little king.” In English the first reference to Wren as King doesn’t appear until around 1220. Interestingly in this tale the cunning wren was raised by humans – not in the wild.
And then another English tale grew, one in which the wren’s song supposedly revealed where St. Stephen was hiding. St Stephen, the first Christian martyr, was actually stoned to death in Jerusalem while defending his faith before a rabbinic court in 36 CE. Christianity did not begin to be prominent in Britain until the 4th Century CE.
After this story took hold, Wren Day, whose origins are unknown, began to be practiced in many parts of the British Isles on December 26, St Stephen’s Day.
It became the custom for a group of boys called Wren Boys to capture and sometimes kill a wren who they paraded around town at the end of a pole while asking for alms and singing the Wren Song.
But perhaps Wren Day’s origin lies in pre-Celtic midwinter celebrations and sacrifices. Historical sources recount that the “cult of the Wren” pre-dates agriculture and arrived in the British Isles during the Bronze Age by megalith builders. Celtic myth associates Wren with the old year. It is believed they hunted wren in mid-winter for a ritual sacrifice, assuring the return of light and fertility.
From ancient times when nature was sacred, when Mother Earth ruled supreme, to the ongoing conquests of patriarchal ideologies and the resulting layering of patriarchal beliefs, Wren has become one of the animals with contradictory symbolic associations – lucky, unlucky – good, bad – all determined by cultural point of view and influenced by women’s place in society.
Wren was sacred to the Druids who associated Wren with wisdom. On New Year’s, apprentice Druids went into the forest alone in search of hidden wisdom, a difficult task indeed. Sighting a fleeting wren was a sign that the apprentice would receive inner knowledge in the coming year.
Wren was associated with Bran the Blessed, mythic Welsh King, who after being killed in battle, instructed his men to cut off his head and bring it to London where its prophetic powers would protect the land. Still today Wren is called “Bran’s sparrow” by the folks of Devonshire.
Druids predicted the future using Wren’s intricate song. The Druid’s house was called the wren’s nest and wren’s nest was protected by lightning.
Wren was sacred to Taranis, Thunder God to the Celts of continental Europe. Lightning was his weapon – oak trees were his home. Ancient legends recounts that stealing wren eggs would result in lightning striking your home and your hands shriveling up.
When you hear Wren’s song remember that even in the darkest times there is reason to rejoice.
Wren gifts you with the ability to stay active and persistent, making daily progress toward your goals. As Wren scrambles around without preconceived routes you too are urged to find new ways.
Wren teaches how to be heard while at the same time remaining hidden from danger, how to enter the quiet, stillness in search of inner wisdom. Wren, sacred to the gods, brings prophecies and foretells new beginnings.
Wren’a appearance might be a warning to avoid the negative side of cunning – don’t let it become an exploitation of others skills.
Tiny Wren sings loudly about the beauty of small things, the power of humility, subtlety and cunning, and the importance of a happy heart on the path to self-realization.
Sources: Sottish Wildlife Trust, Wikipedia, Wonderful Wrens, The White Goddess, Spirit Lodge, Celtic Art Studio, Old Moore’s Almanac, FresnoState.edu, The Spiritual Centre, What’s Your Sign, Old European Culture,
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, which are found everywhere in the natural world. She is now working on her next deck of oracle cards – Animal Spirit Guides, and on a modern folktale of the Reindeer Goddess. 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.