Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Many birds were believed to carry dead souls or were dead people incarnate. The belief in transmigration of human souls goes back to ancient times. Often these bird souls would come back with a message or warning.
The Storm Petral also known as ‘Mother Carey’s Chickens’ contained the souls of dead seamen who came to warn their brethren of approaching storms. Seagulls were regarded as the repositories of dead souls and were not to be harmed.
Back on land, when Sedge Warblers sang at night and particularly at midnight, their voices were believed to be those of dead babies who chose to return temporarily from the otherworld to sing, to soothe the hearts and minds of their poor grieving mothers.
Magpies were regarded as the repositories of the souls of evil minded or gossiping women.
Swans contained the souls of virtuous women and they had the capability of turning back into human form.
The Linnet was thought to contain an unhappy soul that was trapped in the other world.
The Seven Whistlers.
These were said to be seven birds, flying together by night, whose cries forebode disaster. Belief in them was fairly common among seamen this being a risky occupation where whistling was thought to be unlucky. Sometimes the Whistlers were said to be the spirits of the dead, especially those who had themselves been fishermen, returning to warn comrades of danger; when they were heard, one must at once stop work and return home, otherwise lives would be lost. Even those who knew the cries were in fact those of curlews and similar birds still dreaded the sound, and would not go out until the next day.
They were variations to this tale, they were said to be seven ghostly birds that presage death and disaster flying alongside the Bean sidhe.
Another variation suggested that the birds carry the grief stricken souls of unbaptised babies condemned to roam the skies forever (another one of those Christian stories).
Also known as the Sluagh. They were seen to fly in groups like flocks of birds, coming from the west, and were known to try to enter the house of a dying person in an effort to carry the soul away with them. West-facing windows were sometimes kept closed to keep them out. Some consider the Sluagh to also carry with them the souls of innocent people who were kidnapped by these destructive spirits.
The Lough Gur Hunt-Limerick.
This is a group of hounds that fly across the sky at night barking and howling. They presage death in the house of anyone who hears them. It’s possible that this story came about because the Barnacle/Canadian Geese flying overhead at night can make a sort of barking noise.
There are variations to this story across Europe, for example in England it is known as Gabriel’s Hounds. This is a spectral pack of hounds which travel across the sky at night led by a ghostly hunter. They are searching for the souls of people on their death beds.