Monday, September 4, 2017

Birds of Gothic Lore

So, I’m dedicating this post to those birds that give you that prickle along the back of your neck. And no, it’s not because they can poop bomb you from above, though that's certainly something you should look out for. I’m talking about the birds that have been inducted into the Gothic Hall of Fame (no, this doesn't exist, I wish), including some reasons why they are considered dark creatures. And as always, I hope to leave you with some resources to fuel your own inspirations.

Of course, just mentioning birds, I immediately think of Tippi Hedren being attacked by birds, in Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” based on a short story of the same title by Daphne Du Maurier.


I still get shivers. Or the crow tapping on a lover’s grave bringing him back to life to act his revenge in “The Crow”. And I would never leave out the iconic “The Raven” quothing Nevermore by Edgar A. Poe, least I’m burnt at the stake for such gothic sacrilege.


Let’s start with the Raven. It truly sits atop this pecking order. But long before this bird showed up rapping on the chamber door of Lenore’s lamenter, it was considered a bird of bad omens and death.

Photo by Tyler Quiring on Unsplash {My edit using tin type}

Ravens have appeared in ancient texts and folklore as dark figures and continue to peak the imagination of writers and artists. Their mythical association to death is due in part to their black feathers and their formidable caw. They are also scavengers who eat carrion (decaying flesh), which is a common trait amongst most birds of gothic lore.

But not all historical references are to its darker nature, there are some depictions of white ravens, mostly in indigenous tales, but also in mythology. For example, Appollo was said to have had a white raven messenger and after receiving bad news threw a fit of fire, blackening the raven's feathers. Others refer to white versus black themes, like the raven and the dove sent out by Noah.

My favorite ravens are Huginn (thought) and Muninn (memory), the ravens of the Norse god Odin. He would send them to gather information from every realm to report back to him, even from the underworld. Apparently, the dead are insufferable gossips.

An illustration from a 18th-century Icelandic manuscript
depicting Huginn and Muninn sitting on the shoulders of Odin.
{my edit using tin type}

Ravens have symbolically represented various things in different cultures, some are:
  • trickster, 
  • messenger, 
  • bad omens, 
  • malevolence, 
  • the three phases of day,  
  • the guardians of hermits, 
  • wisdom, 
  • prophecy, 
  • magic, 
  • facing one's fears, 
  • evil and death. 
I'm certain you could find a new spin on an old raven's tale, once you look in the different folk tales and myths of other cultures, as there are many.

If interested, a good place to start is here. You can also find more in-depth symbolic raven meanings here


The bird closely related to and often mistaken for a raven and vice versa is the Crow. 

Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

Much of the lore surrounding crows seems to be interchangeable with the raven, but there are some differences. Where the raven is mysterious, the crow is cocky and catty. The crow has a lot of secrets but not known for keeping them. But for all of that, crows are known for their intelligence. They are in the realms of chimpanzee and dolphin smart.

But back to their induction into the Gothic motifs. Black feathers, carrion eater, you know the drill. It's black, therefore, it must be evil, or at the very least, mysterious. And so it is associated with death and violence, among other nefarious things.

Here are few interesting Crow associations:

Counting Crows, and no I'm not referring to the rock band. Counting Crows is a form of fortune-telling, also known as augury, that dates back to Greek and Roman times. How many crows and which direction they were flying foretold everything from whether it was going to rain to misfortune to someone dying.
Eating crow is a saying attributed to these birds as someone having to eat their words or having to admit they were wrong, in other words, humility. May also be associated with literally eating crows, which was done during times of war and famine.

Crow and Pie is ballad from circa 1500's about a rape and was most likely a warning to women to be cautious and not let themselves be seduced because apparently in the 1500's rape was the woman's fault. This one ruffles my feminist feathers, but I will not digress.

The Crow can symbolize:
  • Intuition
  • Fearlessness
  • Wisdom
  • Messenger
  • Magic
  • Bad Omens
  • Death
  • Violent death
  • Trickster

Corbies are another name for Ravens and Crows. Our other black feathered friends are the Magpie, Jackdaws, Blackbirds, and Rooks.


When I think of Vultures, also known as Buzzards, I immediately think of old westerns. There is always a scene in the desert where they are circling the dead or dying. I would love to see a gothic story set in the old west, maybe set in a ghost town.  However, the Vulture is an even more ancient creature.

This bird was venerated in ancient Eygpt and is depicted in hieroglyphics as the letter "A". It is often referred to as the Pharaoh's Hen or Chicken.

Nekhebet is the goddess mostly tied to the Vulture, but it was also the favored bird of Isis, amongst others. Symbolically, the vulture represents the death and rebirth cycle, and thus immortality and associated with the feminine. Definitely, a figure to consider in a story that is rich with ancient Egyptian lore. You can find out more here.

The Egyptians weren't the only ones to recognize the vulture, as in Greek Mythology, Zeus turned two of his enemies, Aegypius and Neophron, into vultures. There are also several Native American and South American folk tales that depict or characterize this bird in some way.

We are most familiar with the bad connotations associated with the vulture, but actually, this bird has a lot of positive symbology, such cleanliness, rebirth, resourcefulness, and protection. More vulture symbology can be found here.


Okay, any bird that can turn its head 180 degrees like in "The Exorcist", warrants being on this list. And if you ever heard a barn or screech owl scream, you'd agree. I swear you'd think you heard a banshee.  

Photo by Massimo Mancini on Unsplash
{my edit using tin type}

Unlike the other birds of this post, this is a bird of prey, meaning it hunts living things for its food, and is nocturnal. However, its close relationship to magic, as well as, the night in general, I felt it warranted being here.

In mythology, the owl is best known for its association to the goddess Athena, and is thought to be wise, with such sayings as "Wise old owl”. It is also known as the guardian of souls and the protection from evil. However, the owl is the character of many folklores and superstitions. Some see the owl as a bad omen, but I much prefer its relationship to secrets and mysteries, like a crone witch.

It also serves as a prominent figure at Halloween, with its hooting haunting the spooky night.

There are many owl mythos and is rich with symbolism that I feel is worth exploring. If interested here is a great place to start.

How have you incorporated birds into your stories? Do you have any favorite books or movies that feature Gothic birds? Are there any other birds you would have added? If so, let me know in the comments.

Stay beautifully haunted!

♥ Shadow.