Language of the birds

In mythology, medieval literature and occultism, the language of the birds is postulated as a mystical, perfect or divine language, or a mythical or magical language used by birds to communicate with the initiated.

History

Birds played an important role in Indo-European religion, used for divination by augurs, and according to a suggestion by Walter Burkert, these customs may have their roots in the Paleolithic when during the Ice Age, early humans used to look for carrion by observing birds. [cite book |title=In the Company of Crows and Ravens |last=Marzluff |first=John M. |coauthors=Tony Angell |year=2007 |publisher=Yale University Press |location=New Haven and London |isbn=0-3001-2255-1 |pages=284-287] In North America, ravens have been known to lead wolves (and native hunters) to prey they otherwise would be unable to consume. [cite book |title=The Encyclopedia of Tracks and Scats |last=McDougall |first=Len |year=2004 |publisher=Globe Pequot |isbn=1-5922-8070-6 |pages=296 ] [cite web |url=http://fwp.mt.gov/news/article_4663.aspx |title=Raven Myths May Be Real |accessdate=2008-02-08 |last=Tipton |first=Diane |date=2006-07-06 |format=HTML |publisher=Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks] In Africa, the Greater Honeyguide is known to guide humans to beehives.

From the Renaissance, it was the inspiration for some magical "a priori" languages, in particular musical languages. Whistled languages based or constructed on or articulated natural languages used in some cultures are sometimes also referred to, and compared with, the language of the birds.

Mythology

Norse mythology

In Norse mythology, the power to understand the language of the birds was a sign of great wisdom. The god Odin had two ravens, called Hugin and Munin, who flew around the world and told Odin what happened among mortal men.

The legendary king of Sweden Dag the Wise was so wise that he could understand what birds said. He had a tame house sparrow which flew around and brought back news to him. Once, a farmer in Reidgotaland killed Dag's sparrow, which brought on a terrible retribution from the Swedes.

The ability could also be acquired by tasting dragon blood. According to the "Poetic Edda" and the "Völsunga saga", Sigurd accidentally tasted dragon blood while roasting the heart of Fafnir. This gave him the ability to understand the language of birds, and his life was saved as the birds were discussing Regin's plans to kill Sigurd. Through the same ability Áslaug, Sigurd's daughter, found out the betrothment of her husband Ragnar Lodbrok, to another woman.

The 11th century Ramsund carving in Sweden depicts how Sigurd learnt the language of birds, in the "Poetic Edda" and the "Völsunga saga".
# Sigurd is sitting naked in front of the fire preparing the dragon heart, from Fafnir, for his foster-father Regin, who is Fafnir's brother. The heart is not finished yet, and when Sigurd touches it, he burns himself and sticks his finger into his mouth. As he has tasted dragon blood, he starts to understand the birds' song.
# The birds say that Regin will not keep his promise of reconciliation and will try to kill Sigurd, which causes Sigurd to cut off Regin's head.
# Regin is dead beside his own head, his smithing tools with which he reforged Sigurd's sword Gram are scattered around him, and
# Regin's horse is laden will the dragon's treasure.
# is the previous event when Sigurd killed Fafnir, and
# shows Ótr from the saga's beginning.

In an eddic poem loosely connected with the Sigurd tradition which is named "Helgakviða Hjörvarðssonar", the reason why a man named Atli once had the ability is not explained. Atli's lord's son Helgi would marry what was presumably Sigurd's aunt, the Valkyrie Sváfa.

Greek mythology

According to Apollonius Rhodius, the figurehead of Jason's ship, the "Argo", was built of oak from the sacred grove at Dodona and could speak the language of birds. The language of birds in Greek mythology may be attained by magical means. Democritus, Anaximander, Apollonius of Tyana, Tiresias, Melampus and Aesopus were all said to have understood the birds.

Celtic mythology

In Celtic mythology, birds usually represent prophetic knowledge or bloodshed (especially crows).
Morrigan adopted the shape of a bird to warn the Brown Bull.

Folklore

The concept is also known from many folk tales (including Welsh, Russian, German, Estonian, Greek), where usually the protagonist is granted the gift of understanding the language of the birds either by some magical transformation, or as a boon by the king of birds. The birds then inform or warn the hero about some danger or hidden treasure.

Religion

In Sufism, the language of birds is a mystical language of angels. "The Conference of the Birds" ("mantiq at-tair") is a mystical poem of 4647 verses by the 12th century Persian poet Farid ud-Din Attar [http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/safa/ho_63.210.67.htm] .

St. Francis of Assisi is said to have preached to the birds.

In the Talmud (Louis Ginzberg, "Legends of the Bible", 1909),
Solomon's proverbial wisdom was due to his being granted understanding of the language of birds by God.

Alchemy

In Kabbalah, Renaissance magic, and alchemy, the language of the birds was considered a secret and perfect language and the key to perfect knowledge, sometimes also called the "langue verte", or green language (Jean Julien Fulcanelli, Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa "de occulta philosophia").

Literature and culture

Compare also the rather comical and satirical "Birds" of Aristophanes and "Parliament of Fowls" by Chaucer.

In medieval France, the language of the birds ("la langue des oiseaux") was a secret language of the Troubadours, connected with the Tarot, allegedly based on puns and symbolism drawn from homophony, e. g. an inn called "au lion d'or" "the Golden Lion" is allegedly "code" for "au lit on dort" "in the bed one sleeps" [http://letarot.com/dossiers-chauds/langue-des-oiseaux/] (note that this particular pun cannot be medieval, since final "t" was pronounced until Middle French, c.f. e.g. the 14th century loanword "bonnet").

The artificial language zaum of Russian Futurism was described as "language of the birds" by Velimir Khlebnikov.

"The language of the birds" ("Die Sprache der Vögel") is a 1991 German movie.
Jean Sibelius composed a wedding march titled "The language of the birds" in 1911. The children's book author Rafe Martin has written "The Language of Birds" as an adaptation of a Russian folk tale; it was made into a children's opera by composer John Kennedy.

In Egyptian Arabic, hieroglyphic writing is called "the alphabet of the birds". In Ancient Egyptian itself, the hieroglyphic form of writing was given the name "medu-netjer" ("words of the gods" or "divine language").

In her first book, "Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell", Susanna Clarke, in her faux footnotes, refers to a book called, "The Language of the Birds." It is among other things a reference to the fictional Raven King.

ee also

*Ainulindalë
*Bird people
*Bird vocalization
*"Book of Ballymote"
*Confusion of tongues
*Divine language
*Glossolalia
*""
*Musical language
*Peleiades
*Whistled language

Notes

References

* [http://www-personal.umich.edu/~lars/rel375.html Animal Symbolism in Celtic Mythology] , by Lars Noodén (1992)
*Davidson, H.R. Ellis. "Myths and Symbols in Pagan Europe: Early Scandinavian and Celtic Religions." Syracuse University Press: Syracuse, NY, USA, 1988.
*Richard Khaitzine, "La Langue des Oiseaux - Quand ésotérisme et littérature se rencontrent" [http://www.france-spiritualites.com/PFPLalanguedesoiseaux.htm]
*René Guénon, "The Language of the Birds", Australia's Sufi Magazine "The Treasure" 2 (1998).
* [http://www.zanzibart.com/motus/poesie/verlan/index.htm LE VERLAN DES OISEAUX (The Verlan of the Birds) ] Collection "Pommes Pirates Papillons", Poèmes de Michel Besnier. Illustrations de Boiry, Editions Møtus (in French)
* Definition of Verlan English [http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Verlan (in French)]

External links

* [http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/ftr/chap03.htm Sacred Texts] - Russian folk tales
* [http://www.jhom.com/topics/birds/solomon.htm Jewish Heritage Online Magazine] - Ellen Frankel
* [http://letarot.com/dossiers-chauds/langue-des-oiseaux/pages/the-language-of-the-birds.html Le Tarot]
* [http://www.innerlight.org.uk/journals/Vol24No4/langbird.htm The Society of Inner Light]
* [http://www.findelmundo.com.ar/pajaros/introeng.htm Belén Gache]


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