On the Relationship between Birds and Spirits of the Dead

In: Society & Animals
Christopher M. Moreman California State University East Bay

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Birds have an ambiguous symbolic significance across cultures throughout human history, ubiquitously relating to both life and death. Birds are routinely seen as portents of impending calamity and death, while they are also often thought to bear away or steal spirits of the dead, sometimes even embodying those very spirits themselves. On the other hand, birds are also commonly associated with life, fertility, and longevity. This paper brings together cross-cultural evidence for the practically universal associations between birds and both life and death. This paper offers an explanation for this association as an expression of the deep-seated human ambivalence to mortality. As a form of Jungian archetype, birds reflect a fundamental aspect of human nature—the denial of death as finality through a desire for renewal, transformation, and rebirth.

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