Monday, February 18, 2013

Mythical and Magical Birds

Birds - their flight, grace and beauty have captivated the human imagination since time immemorial.

Thus it is of no surprise that there are literally hundreds of bird-like creatures scattered through mists of mythology and legend.

Thanks to the wonderful Harry Potter series, Fawks the Phoenix is probably the most well known of the mythological birds. If you want to read the myths about the Phoenix click here, as I have a greater interest in the lesser known mythological beasts and for today's post will focus on them.

Due to time constraints, I couldn't possibly list all those that spark my interest and write detailed "Beastly Facts" on them , so I am going to introduce to a three of my favourites.

1. The Roc,
[Image: Link]

Beastly Facts
Name: Roc / Roc Bird / Rukh
Origin: Middle Eastern / Arabic / Persian
Creep Factor: 2/10
Religious Affiliation: Islam
Deadly Rating: 8/10
Cryptid: Yes
Shares similarity with: Jatayu, Thunder Bird.

The Roc is an enormous predominantly white, bird of prey that hails from Middle Eastern Legend. The Venetian traveller Marco Polo is said to have seen the birds of the island of Madagascar, and in the court of Kublai Khan. 
The Roc is said to look like an enormous vulture or eagle capable of carrying an elephant. 
The Roc is mentioned in The Book of One Thousand and One Nights (Arabian Nights). In which Sinbad the Sailor finds himself marooned on an island with a Roc egg. When the bird returns he ties himself to its leg with his turban and escapes. 

There is some suggestion that Roc may be a distorted misinterpretation of the extinct Elephant bird (Aepyornis maximus) of Madagascar. Which disappeared some time during the 17th Century.
[image reference:]

2. Lightening Bird

[image courtesy:DeviantArt]
 Beastly Facts

Name: Lightening Bird / Impundulu/ Thekwane/ Izulu/ Iyoni yezulu
Origin: African
Creep Factor: 1/10
Religious Affiliation: African animist
Deadly Rating: 3/10
Cryptid: undecided.

Shares similarity with: Jatayu, Thunder Bird. Halycon, Shangyang

The Lightning bird is a magical creature native to a number of African cultures (Pondo, Zulu and Xhosa).

The lightning bird appears as a lightning strike, except to women who can see the bird in its true form. The fat from the lightning bird contains a special component that is used in traditional African medicine.
The bird can only be captured at the moment lightning strikes the ground, or be dug up from an underground egg-laying cavity. The eggs of a lightning bird are said to be bad luck, are destroyed upon being found.
The Lightning bird is associated with rains and storms.  
On Wikipedia (reliable source of info that it is) suggests that the Lightning bird may have vampiric and shapeshifting tendencies. However, I can not confirm this. My Mythological Creatures Bible does not mention this aspect of the creature, and nor (as far as I am aware) do any other bestiary websites that I frequent.
The lightening bird is most commonly associated with the rather strange looking Hammerkop, due to its curved bill and long shaggy crest.

Those mythological birds, remarkably similar in nature to the Lightning bird are; thunderbirds, the Shangyang (Chinese mythology) - a one legged massive bird who blows out the rain. Folk law states that Chinese farms would once call upon the Shang Yang to water their fields and farms. They would do this by imitating the bird, hopp on one leg, wrinkle their foreheads and yell "It will thunder it will rain, because the Shang Yang's here again." (Rosen, 2010:pg164).
And the Halycon, hailing from Greek mythology. Unlike its counterparts, the Halycon is a small bird, no larger than a sparrow, sea blue with a rust coloured underside (often represented as a blue kingfisher).
  This bird is famed for its effects on the weather. The term "Halycon Days" is used to refer to the mid-winter calm on the ocean in the northern hemisphere. 

3. Thunderbird

 Beastly Facts
Name: Thunderbird / Wakį́, (Lakota) / Kw-Uhnx-Wa (Nuu Chah Nulth) / binesi         (Ojibwa)
Origin: Indigenous Norther American Nations.
Creep Factor: 1/10
Religious Affiliation: American Indigenous
Deadly Rating: 3/10
Cryptid: Yes

Step away from lip synching puppets, and meet the real mythological Thunder Bird. This Is a truly fascinating mythological beast, and one I first came across in Rachel Vincent's Shifter Series, (highly recommend them!)
Traditionally speaking, the Thunderbird is a mythical creature of immense power and strength. Like the African Lightning bird, it is capable of producing storms . Thunder follows in the wake of its wingbeats, and lightning is produced as it blinks. The cultures of the the Indigenous North American Nations have a rich oral history, in which the thunderbird may be found.

Interestingly, in researching this post I found references to a photograph from the 'wild west' of a captured thunderbird. However, there seems to be much dissention as to whether this image ever exisited - although many claim to have sighted it. Check out this blog for an interesting run-down this situation: The Butchers Floor.
Another interesting website is Paranormalis for general banter and opinions on crypids/mythological creatures.
Just a warning however, anything remotely mystical/paranormal/mythological tends to attract "interesting" types of people (like shit does flies) and I hold no liability for the weirdness that you may encounter there.

There has been some discussion that the thunderbird myths may relate back to the existence of the giant condor. Like megafauna all around the world, the Great Condor became extinct some 10,000 years ago. Some anthropologists suggest that the this bird was transformed into the legendary thunderbird after its extinction.

Cryptozoologists state that the 'sightings' of thunderbirds made in the modern day may  be sightings the few last remaining  Great Condors. I put this in the box with yetis being homo erectus, Nessy being a Pleisiosaur, and the beast of Gevaudan being a dire wolf - a nice idea and one to spark the imagination, but perhaps a little thin on the ground when it comes to reality - but none the less food for the muse of the paranormal romance writer!

Below are some interesting "ye olde worlde' pictures of alleged 'thunderbirds'.
Image: Link

Image link

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 Anyway, I must leave it here, I hope you have found this post as fascinating as I did! If you'd like to look more into mythological birds, here are some other interesting mythologies to google.

Garuda (Hindu/buddhist tradition)
 Swan Maidens (Norse)  
Bird Maidens (Middle Eastern)
Jatayu (Hindu from the Ramayana)
The 3 Legged Bird (Chinese, Japanese, Korean mythology)
Shang Yang (Chinese)
Halycon (Greek)   

On that note, enjoy your week :) 


  1. Speaking of the Thunderbird, there is a really great series by C.E. Murphy, the Walker Papers series, and the second book is called Thunderbird Falls. The main character is Native American/Irish and just happens to be a shaman so she runs into all sorts of interesting situations. I highly recommend it. The 8th book just came out today and the final book will be out at the end of the year.

    Fascinating post, as usual. Thanks for the insight into all of these awesome mythical creatures.

  2. Oh thank you for the book suggestion Danielle, I'll definitely look into that :)

  3. C.E. Murphy also has a series called the Old Races, and it follows: gargoyles, vampires, selkies, dragons, and djinn. It's really good as well.

  4. You may just have put me onto a new author thanks! :) I'm heading over to the book depository now!

  5. :) Excellent. Let me know what you think.

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