Celtic Animal Symbols: Birds
Note: The animal meanings below are based on Celtic animal symbols. Please see our article entitled Animal Symbols: Traditional Meanings for traditional western meanings of animal symbols and our article on Chinese animal symbolism to compare with eastern meanings.
Introduction to Celtic Bird Symbols
The Celts were originally a diverse group of tribes stretching from Ireland in the west to Scotland in the north to modern Turkey in the east and the Iberian Peninsula in the south. The ancient Celts had a complex, polytheistic religion emphasizing the power of nature. Eventually many of them fused their ancient beliefs with the practices and symbolism of Christianity.
The Celts flourished from 500BC to 400AD and were later reduced in numbers and geographic spread by both the Roman expansion and Germanic immigration. Their rich Iron Age culture continues to influence the art and culture of the modern world. Among the most utilized Celtic symbols were those based on animal forms, including the bird symbols delineated below:
Celtic Symbols: Crane
The crane has a remarkable position in Celtic lore. The crane is believed to be the messenger of the gods and to have a high degree of wisdom. The crane represents higher states of consciousness. In addition, both the male and female crane incubate their eggs and protect their young. For this reason, they are also symbolic of parenthood. Cranes avoid direct confrontation whenever possible, and exhibit a complex array of threatening behaviors when necessary to prevent battles. Thus, they are symbolic of peace-keeping.
Celtic Symbols: Duck
The duck is a migratory bird, representing adaptability and instinctual drive necessary for survival. In Celtic art and beliefs, ducks are also symbols of honesty and simplicity. They are also sensitive and graceful while in their natural element, which is water, representing the emotions and indicating their comfort in the world of feelings. (Photo by David Wilmot, Wikimedia Commons)
Celtic Symbols: Goose
Geese are also migratory birds, but return each year to the same spot in the spring. They are symbols of home and loyalty to one's home, including nationalism and patriotism. The goose is in the same family as swans and ducks. The word gander is often used for a male goose. (Photo by Michael Maggs, Wikimedia Commons)
Celtic Symbols: Hawk
Like many birds, the hawk is considered to be a messenger between the physical and spiritual worlds. The hawk is a keen hunter and symbolizes skill, boldness, strength (for one's size), clarity of purpose, decisiveness and nobility. To be compared to a hawk is the highest of complements. (Photo by Dori, Wikimedia Commons)
Celtic Symbols: Heron
The heron is noted for intelligence and solitude. As a Celtic symbol, the heron represents patience, independence and longevity. Herons are also known as egrets and bitterns. They are sometimes confused with storks, but fly with their necks retracted rather than outstretched. (Photo by US Fish and Wildlife Services, Wikimedia Commons)
Celtic Symbols: Magpie
As a Celtic symbol, the magpie is associated with prophecy and omens of life and death. The magpie is common throughout Europe, Asia and northwest Africa. The magpie is often associated with unhappiness, trouble and bad luck. If respect is shown to a magpie, especially through a proper greeting whenever seen, misfortune may be avoided. (Photo by S. Shankar, Wikimedia Commons)
Celtic Symbols: Owl
The owl has long been associated with the spiritual and the magical. In Celtic symbolism, the owl is noted for wisdom, keen sight, and patience. The owl is a guide in the underworld and an effective hunter. The owl can help to reveal those who would take advantage of another or deceive others. (Photo by Brian Clift, Wikimedia Commons)
Celtic Symbols: Raven
The raven is often viewed as a symbol of destruction and despair and as the harbinger of bad news. For the Celts, however, the raven could be a symbol of vision, power and healing since challenging events often clear the way for new life and new opportunities. (Photo posted by Marcin Klapczynski, Wikimedia Commons)
Celtic Symbols: Roosters
In Celtic lore, the rooster has the ability to chase away ghosts, demons and night terrors. The rooster symbolizes safety and protection. A rooster is a male chicken, with the female referred to as a hen. A rooster is highly territorial and protective. Roosters not only crow at dawn, but also at any time during the day and have been known to crow at the moon at night. (Photo by Andrzej Barabasz, Wikimedia Commons)
Celtic Symbols: Seagulls
The seagull is associated with Lir, a Sea-God in Celtic lore. Like many birds, the seagull flies between the earth and the heavenworld, bringing messages to mortals. Gulls are highly intelligent with a complex social structure developed partly to ward off predators. Gulls live in colonies and sometimes utilize tools. (Photo by , Wikimedia Commons)
Celtic Symbols: Sparrow
The sparrow is a Celtic symbol of memory, remembrance and ancestral knowledge. Sparrows often nest in and around buildings and can be found in large numbers in cities. Sparrows are indigenous to Europe, Africa and Asia and were imported to America by settlers. They now live throughout the United States and in South America. (Photo by US National Park Service, Wikimedia Commons)
Celtic Symbols: Swan
The swan is a symbol of grace, beauty, elegance, divinity and radiance. The swan is a mystical bird with a deep connection to music. Swans aid in the interpretation of dreams and assist in the process of spiritual development. The feather of swans are considered to have mystical properties and have been used to decorate ceremonial robes. (Photo by Maga-chan, Wikimedia Commons)
Celtic Symbols: Wren
The wren is a sacred bird viewed by the Celts as the king of all birds. According to legend, the wren flew further than the eagle in a race to the sun. This gave the wren a special place in the traditional role of birds as messengers of the gods.
The wren is particularly associated with the god of thunder. Some species forage in dark crevices, and the name comes from "cave-dweller". Most species are non-migratory and build dome-shaped nests. Wrens often live in close association with humans. (Photo by Mark Wagner, Wikimedia Commons)
Learn More About Celtic Symbolism
Learn more about Celtic symbolism in these recommended books from Amazon:
Please see the sites below. These are some of the best resources I've found.
Learn More About Ireland and Irish Culture
Try the following recommended books from Amazon on Ireland:
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