Why Work with the Ancestor Birds?

Alca_Impennis_by_John_Gould

The Great Auk, a bird that was once accused of witchcraft.

Why would someone, as a devotional polytheist, or as a spirit worker, want to form a relationship with the Ancestor Birds? Believe it or not, I hadn’t given this an awful lot of thought before, because in my case, it’s an assignment, at the soul level, rather than something I set out to do. In this article, however, I’d like to consider the question from the perspective of someone who is just learning about the Ancestor Birds, but already has an established polytheistic practice of some kind. Why might you choose to make the Ancestor Birds a part of your path?

The first answer that comes to mind is that the Ancestor Birds have access to a tremendous amount of wisdom. Their long perspective, both from the ancient birds who have seen the evolution of their descendants, and from the fact that these spirits once existed in our world and now exist only in theirs, gives them remarkable insights. They view life, death, and all the issues in between, very differently than we do. If you’re looking for a new level of insight on life’s challenges, the Ancestor Birds can definitely offer it!

Hawaii Mamo, Drepanis pacifica

The Hawaii Mamo, Drepanis pacifica, a sacred bird to Hawaiian royalty.

I have yet to come across a modern polytheist tradition that includes work with extinct species of any kind. But consider this: our ancestors had relationships with these beings, on spiritual and physical levels, long before we were ever born. Passenger Pigeons were hunted for meat, but were also sacred in several Native American traditions. One such tribe was the Cherokee, who had rules about when and how the bird could be harvested, based on their understanding of its life cycle. Great Auks were valued for the warmth of their down feathers, but their bones and skulls have been found in ancient burials, and their skins were used in ceremonial cloaks. The Hawaii Mamo was a sacred bird in native Hawaiian culture, and its feathers were used in the capes of royalty. These are just a few examples. There are many species that human beings connected to, and learned the spiritual secrets of, before their extinction. We can learn more about our own history and ancestors by reconnecting with these ancient allies.

There are also many species that went extinct before humans were around, or worse, were driven to extinction by humans before we could forge a positive relationship with them. Fortunately, and very importantly, their spirits are still here, and we can still connect with them, build relationships, and learn from them.

Just as living animal species have their individual gifts and teachings when you work with

Audubon Carolina Parakeet

John James Audubon’s famous image depicts a flock of Carolina Parakeets eating the poisonous cockleburrs they favored.

them as spirit allies, so too does each extinct species. The Passenger Pigeons I mentioned earlier lived in an incredible collective flock of over three billion individuals, travelling, feeding, and nesting together. What could they teach us about living and cooperating on a planet with billions of fellow human beings? Carolina Parakeets feasted on cockleburrs, which can be poisonous to other animals–what can we learn from them about turning toxic situations into beneficial ones, or finding opportunity in unlikely places? When you’re in need of protection, can you imagine calling on an ally like the great giant pterosaur Quetzalcoatlus, with a wingspan of over 10 meters and an enormous, viciously sharp beak? If they’re on your side, whoever’s against you should definitely reconsider their actions! Extinction doesn’t mean that the lessons and gifts these spirits have to offer aren’t still relevant for us today.

There are a lot of allies and knowledge to leave out if you only stick to the ones who are currently living! I don’t know about you, but in my life and my Work, I need all the allies and knowledge I can get.

Having experienced extinction themselves, the Ancestor Birds also hold a terrible and hard-won wisdom that we as human beings need. We are at risk of driving ourselves to extinction through the same destructive forces that are killing off other animals. Our over-use of the earth’s resources, our pollution, our ravaging of the land, and our wars are all threatening the survival of animals and humans alike. I believe the sobering insights of extinct spirit tribes can give us some of the perspective we need to stop…before it’s too late.

To work with the Ancestor Birds is to help bring humanity back into right relationship with the natural world. Our Sacred Duty to the spirits we rely on for life is being neglected, and the interactions between us are horrendously out of balance. While offerings to the Ancestor Birds can’t make up for the physical problems we need to solve now, in this world, it can start to redress some of the wrongs we as a species have done to those we drove into extinction. It can provide a model and mindset for interacting with the species we do still have, and now must rely on more than ever to stay alive. We can re-learn our Sacred Duty from the Ancestor Birds. I can’t think of a better reason to reach out to them today.

Passenger Pigeon Feather

 

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6 thoughts on “Why Work with the Ancestor Birds?

  1. The first issue of Walking the Worlds (1.1, Winter 2014) included an article by Virginia Carper called “‘That Which is Remembered Lives’: To Establish a Cultus for Extinct Animals.” You might find it interesting.

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  2. hi! This is a very interesting read. I’d read somewere (maybe in a comment you posted somewhere) about worshipping ancestor birds (if that is the correct term for your devotional practice?) and I was so confused. I was all “wtf? now we’re worshipping ancestors that might be birds or whaaaa?” and I have to say, you made it all make a whole lot of sense to someone who was very confused 🙂 as someone who is terrified of birds but is strongly linked to crows, i hope your practice thrives! You definitely seem to have a lot of wisdom crunched into this practice!

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    • Thank you! I’m glad that my post was useful for you. You know, a lot of people get tangled up about the word “worship” and I think it’s because we have cultural baggage around what that word means in the contexts of other religions, particularly Christianity, where debasing yourself is sometimes packaged along with worship. For me, it’s a loving and respectful relationship with Powers that are beyond my ability to fully understand. I fully acknowledge that They are beyond my scope and have gifted me (and the world) with many blessings, and I express gratitude and even awe, but that doesn’t mean that I’m devaluing myself. On a side note, I hope that Crow can help you to overcome your fears!

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      • Thank you for your well wishes! Yes, ‘worship’ can come with quite the baggage. I personally do like the word worship, it refers to a beautiful and benevolent relationship in my worldview. Thank you for giving me such a nice response! I look forward to reading your next posts!

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