Hawk – A Soaring Visionary by Judith Shaw

Hawk, beautiful and deadly, soars high in the air –  circling and circling –  its piercing eyes focused below. Spotting Hawk, one is amazed by its elegance and power while feeling a strange and ancient connection to this magnificent bird. Yet it strikes fear in the hearts of small animals.  


Power, Energy, Strength, Courage, Partnership, Protection

Human’s connection to Hawk began millennia ago through the practice of falconry or hawking – the training of wild raptors to hunt prey for us. Historians date falconry to 10,000 years ago in Iran. Used solely for subsistence, it was widely practiced in Asia and the Middle East by 2,000 BC. From there it moved westward to Europe, eventually becoming a sport. From the 6th century through the Middle Ages hawking was the sport of royalty until the advent of guns replaced the raptors.

Falconry classifies all raptors as “hawks” – including falcons, hawks, eagles, and buzzards. Each bird that forms such a hunting partnership with a human must be trained. And though it might roam far, once the bond is established a hawk most often returns to its trainer. The hawk, imbued with regal strength and independence, chooses to continue the bond.

There are more than 200 species of hawks found worldwide. Exhibiting a wide variety of sizes, they all posses excellent vision, speed, and sharp talons.

Symbolically falcons and hawks are used interchangeably.  

Hawk has long symbolized power, strength and courage. With the ability to fly up to 120 miles/hour when diving for prey and sharp talons for capturing, Hawk represents the strength and courage of a warrior

Hawks mate for life yet they remain fiercely independent. Except for migration, they rarely flock together. Once a mated couple has raised their chicks they go their separate ways until the next mating season. As the trained hawk voluntarily returns to its trainer, hawks choose to return to the same partner season after season. Hawk teaches the value in partnership while maintaining ones own independence.

The Moche of Peru pictured hawks carrying weapons, believing they brought luck during battle.

Hawk represented military skill and victory in many parts of the Far East and were viewed as mighty warriors – ruthless and merciless.

In Japan hawks represented the samurai, the elite military class which arose in the 10th century. Symbolizing power, Hawk is commonly depicted on men’s kimonos. 

Native North Americans view Hawk as a protector. The Hopi of the American Southwest have a legend which illustrates this well.

It goes like this – Long ago, a mother who loved her little son greatly made him a beautiful shirt and embroidered moccasins.

One day while dressed in his new clothes, he wandered from their village – as boys are wont to do. A group of Navaho warriors kidnapped him. Taking him back to their camp, his shirt and moccasins were stripped away and given to their Chief’s son. Then he was forced to work long and hard and given very little food. The boy grew weak and sickly.

But rescue was near as a kind-hearted Hawk who lived nearby on a high cliff saw the boy’s plight. 

One day Hawk acted –  diving down to the boy, who was terrified. Hawk spoke kindly, reassuring him to trust. He climbed on Hawk’s back who soared off to his cliff, gently setting him there and telling him to wait for his return.

Next Hawk flew back to the Navajo camp, where he plunged down to the Chief’s son, removed the beautiful shirt and moccasins and returned them to the boy waiting on the cliff.

Hawk then fed the boy back to health. Finally Hawk flew him back to his mother and soared away without waiting for thanks. 

Vision, Focus, Observation, Clarity, Intuition

Freyja pendant –
Brisingamen viking age, Statens histariska museum

Hawk’s visual acuity contributes to its success as a hunter. Having binocular vision, Hawk can see eight times better than humans with 20/20 vision. and has the ability to focus quickly while diving. Red-tailed hawks can spy small prey from 100 feet away.

Norse goddess, Freyja, is associated with hawks or falcons. Freyja loved to travel. Most known for traveling the skies in her chariot pulled by cats, she also used a magical cloak of hawk feathers. Donning this cloak she transformed into a hawk, allowing her to fly through the sky anonymously and observe all that passed below.

Hawk represents the ability to see situations from a higher perspective. Hawk wisdom guides you to follow your intuition and use your powers of observation and focus in problem solving. 

Intelligence, Leadership

In Australia the Aborigines have long observed hawks grabbing burning branches from both wildfires and cooking fires, then setting fire in new places to flush out prey. Though many raptors use natural wildfires to capture prey, only Hawk intentionally starts fires to pick off their prey. They are considered among the most intelligent birds

Horus Spearing the Enemy

In ancient Egypt Hawk was associated with their creator gods, Ra and Horus. Both were depicted with a hawk (or falcon) head on a man’s body or as a hawk, wearing a crown. The hieroglyphic representation of the name, Horus, looks like a hark.

Spirit Messenger/Awareness, Transformation/Rebirth, Wisdom, Prophecy

Hawk soars to dizzying heights while keeping its sharp eyes focused on Earth below. Probably this ability led to the view of Hawk as a spiritual messenger, guiding you toward spiritual growth.

Egyptian god, Horus had many titles – Sun God, Hunter’s God, God of the Dawn and Keeper of Secret Wisdom – to name a few. But he is alway represented by a hawk or falcon. He is strongly connected to the afterlife through his father Osiris, Lord of the Afterlife. 

Sokar, Egyptian God of the Underworld

Hawk is connected to Egyptian death ceremonies. Historical accounts record that a hawk was released at the time of the Pharaoh’s burial, illustrating the soul’s flight through afterlife realms. The “ba” – a principal aspect of the soul in Egyptian theology – was represented by a man-headed hawk hovering over the mummies of both kings and commoners.

Sokar, God of Rebirth, was worshiped as a personified hawk or falcon. He aided in the metamorphosis of the body after death, overseeing funerary rites and providing safe passage into the afterlife. Sokar guided the sun to rebirth every morning. 

Various indigenous North American tribes also viewed Hawk as spiritual messengers.

The Arawak of South America and the Caribbean believed that red-tailed hawks, North America’s most numerous, traveled between the earthly and spirit realms, bringing back messages from the Creator. 

Another divine messenger is found in the Hindu Vedas in the story of Shyena, a hawk who soars to the Heavens and brings back soma – a divine nectar – meant to revitalize life on Earth. 

Hawk is associated with Greek god, Hermes, known as the messenger of the gods.  Hermes also guides souls on their journey through the Underworld. 

Both the Celts and the Vikings viewed Hawk as a spiritual messenger. In Nordic mythology an eagle is shown perched on the World Tree which connects Earth to Heaven. A hawk sits between the eagle’s eyes. They believed that this hawk brought messages from spirit to the eagle. 

The Nordic Valkyries, ever present on battlefields as helpers of Odin, were believed to transform into hawks, swoop into the ongoing action and carry fallen warriors to Valhalla – Hall of the Slain.

Irish mythology tells of Fintan mac Bóchra, member of the ancient migration to Ireland fleeing the flood prophesied by Noah. Ultimately the flood came and everyone except for Fintan drown. He survived by transforming over the course of centuries – first into a salmon, then an eagle, next a hawk and finally back to human. In this way he lived for 5,500 years, gaining immense wisdom.  A magical hawk was born at the same time as him. Toward the end of their lives they met and shared their wisdom, finally deciding to leave Earth together, sometime in the 5th century. 

Christianity views wild hawks as symbolic of an untamed soul. But if domesticated, hawk becomes symbolic of a cleansed soul.


Hawk calls you to courage and teaches the value of partnership while maintaining ones own identity and independence.

Hawk brings clear vision and the ability to perceive the whole picture. Hawk reminds you to take a step back from emotional responses which can cloud understanding – instead to use your intellect for problem solving. Hawk aides you in mastering the power of focus. and encourages you to step into leadership. 

Hawk gifts you with messages from spirit, bringing information for both spiritual growth and to manifest positivity in the material world. Hawk guides you in accessing psychic abilities and your intuition and aides in spiritual transformation toward wisdom.

Sources: First People, National Geographic, Nordic Culture, John Hopkins Archaeological Museum, What’s Your Sign, Myth and Symbolism, Wikipedia, Britannica, Ancient Egypt, the Mythology, Just Fun Facts, The Raptor Trust, PBS, Nature

Judith’s deck of Celtic Goddess Oracle Cards is available now. You can order your deck from 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. She is now working on her next deck of oracle cards – Animal Wisdom. 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.

Categories: animals, Folklore, General, Myth, Paganism

Tags: , , , , , ,

8 replies

  1. Another beautiful painting and post full of fascinating information! I was especially struck by the story of the hawk as protector, turning the skills that make it a successful hunter towards protection of those who are vulnerable and in peril. Definitely a lesson for our time! Your post also reminded me of the wonderful film The Eagle Huntress about a young woman training an eagle. Thank you for sharing your work!


    • Carolyn,
      The more I learn about animals and their symbolism the greater grows my respect for Native American cultures. They have the wisdom to view all aspects of the nature of animals, while focusing on many of the animal’s positive (from a human point of view) aspects.

      I have not seen that film but would love to. When I was researching Eagle I did not find any info about them being trained to hunt for us, only to learn that while researching Hawk. Hawks are big but Eagles are bigger. Imagine holding such a bird on your wrist!


  2. As usual so much wonderful information!

    My understanding of hawks comes out of my personal experience with them – for me they are messengers of the dead. When people I loved died hawks flew into my windshield, turned up dead on the side of the road, flew around me in circles, – I could go on here.

    My understanding also comes from my keen observations of their behavior – They are skilled predators – silent killers – except for mating/ migrating they travel alone so the partnership element is missing here for me.

    I see them (as so many mythologies do) as being associated with war and power and yes, death. Hawk’s messenger aspect seems almost universal in native parlance.

    I think it’s always important to marry the personal with the mythological – and to pay close attention to how these animals manifest in our lives to understand the meaning behind their presence.


  3. Fascinating! As I have read your numerous posts, I have learned so much. I think that when you start doing research, your goal must be to learn–and teach–more than anyone else on each bird or animal. And your art is always beautiful. Brava!

    For the past two nights, I’ve been watching Earthflight, a BBC documentary (2012) about bird migrations in North and South America, Europe, Africa, and Asia and Australia. It’s truly wonderful. As geese and macaws and storks and cranes and pigeons and every other bird flies across the world, their primary predators are hawks and eagles. Those hawks strike fear into nearly every bird. Maybe into everyone who’s watching the documentary and rooting for the migratory birds. Your post today is an excellent corrective because you show the hawk as more than a hunter. Hawk is a hero! Bright blessings to your work. And to all birds.


  4. Barbara,
    Thanks for your kind words. I have been drawn to mythology all my life. It has always been a large part of my art even before i began working with the goddesses and the animals and using words in addition to images. For me, myth and story is a path to understanding the worlds of body and spirit and their intersection.

    Both the predators and the dark goddesses have been difficult for me to approach – i suppose because of my own desire for a world built around love and peace. But I am coming to see that good and evil are human judgements that we put on everything, whereas the Great One from which we come has no judgement values. All of these thoughts are still whirling around in my head – hope to make sense of it ( at least to myself) soon and put that all into words.

    The interesting thing about predators is that without them the prey species can become too numerous and then destroy the very environment which supports them by their huge numbers.


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