"The Pious Bird of Good Omen"

By

Whenever I think of birds and superstition, I invariably think, firstly, of seafaring traditions, and the lovely albatross, in particular.

_Black-browed _Albatross (photo reproduced here with the very kind permission of Ispy member Spitfireman)

Although albatross were believed to be the re-incarnated souls of dead sailors, sighting one at sea was for long considered to be a good omen. An albatross following a ship was a sign that the vessel and crew were being watched over/protected, and that their safety was guaranteed. A bird circling a vessel, however, was considered to be a warning of very stormy weather ahead. Scraping albatross droppings from a ship was considered unlucky, but the worst thing that a sailor could do was kill or injure one.

This belief was “immortalised” in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s famous 1798 epic poem, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”. His ship is guided out of an icy fog following the arrival of an albatross, but the mariner shoots the bird with a crossbow. When the ship is becalmed, with no wind, under a searing,hot sun, and “With water, water, every where, Nor any drop to drink”, the crew blame this on the killing of the albatross. The mariner is forced to wear the dead bird, slung around his neck, as a punishment.

Ah! well a-day! what evil looks
Had I from old and young!
Instead of the cross, the Albatross
About my neck was hung.

!http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/8/88/Ancient_mariner_statue.jpg/449px-Ancient_mariner_statue.jpg" alt="File:Ancient mariner statue.jpg!

The Ancient Mariner statue, Watchet, Somerset. This location is said to have inspired Coleridge to write his classic poem. I visited here last year, but am unable to find my pics. This photograph is reproduced here from the public domain, in Wikimedia Commons.

The mariner, hallucinating a game of dice being played out by the figures of Death and Life-in-Death, watches, helplessly, as, one by one, the crew members die (of starvation and dehydration). He, however, is “saved”, only to be destined to wander the earth forever, recounting his tale, and to bear the burden of his guilt, like an albatross around the neck (the origin of this phrase).

You can read the entire poem by clicking on this link:- http://www.gutenberg.org/files/151/151-h/151-h.htm
In 1817, a revised version of the poem was published, with notes added by Coleridge. One of those notes reads:-

“The ancient Mariner inhospitably killeth the pious bird of good omen.”

This leads me, conveniently, to music. Do you remember the instrumental “Albatross” by Fleetwood Mac, which soared to the No.1 spot in the UK Singles Chart in 1969? (Yes, but seems like yesterday, doesn’t it?). In the same year, the group added it to an album, which they named “The Pious Bird of Good Omen”, after Coleridge’s note above.

I have posted a video link to this at the bottom of this blog, but would like to begin with a piece of wonderful piano music titled “Flight of the Albatross”, which I found a couple of months ago on Youtube. The lovely music is accompanied by stunning film of albatross, glaciers, ice floes, penguins, etc.So, turn up the volume, click on the link, and enjoy! :-))

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gTwR0BLc5LY&feature=related

PS. Here is another link, this time to an article on *Albert, *our very own, one and only, Black-browed albatross.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/highlands_and_islands/6641021.stmI

I have posted this blog to help “launch” the latest category to be added to Birdpedia. This was created by Peter and Ajay last week, following a wonderful idea by Ispy member Bonkersbon. It did not take much “arm twisting” for me to agree to be editor of “Birds in Art, History and Legend”. :-D

If you know of any traditions, superstitions or legends relating to birds, or can post pics of birds in paintings, sculpture, etc., please feel free to share them on Ispy. This could give us something to occupy our time on cold, wet days, or those dark winter evenings, when we can’t be out there enjoying our amazing birds and wildlife.

Glad that “Flight of the Albatross” has “gone down” well, lol! Had to find a version of the Fleetwood Mac guitar instrumental hit, and found a suitable one! Forget the long-haired, 2-legged species in the stills (they only make you feel older/worse, lol!). Some nice albatross pics in this one, and there is a fave of mine, here. It really “tickles” me – wonder if you will spot it?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QooCN5JbOkU

Have just found this video of tagging Atlantic albatross in the wild. Didn’t realise just how large these beautiful birds are!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DnQG4zeWDLg&feature=fvst

Comments

26 Sep, 2010
P1220732
bonkersbon said:

Wonderful David what a lot of thought and planning went into this , it links so well with the albatross photos .

Familiar with The Ancient Mariner but not some of the connections ..fascinating , makes me think that it was somewhat prophetic about mans treatment to all wildlife and may all suffer should we not heed the poems warnings.

Thanks so much for this off to enjoy those links now ..loved the Flight of the Albatross.

26 Sep, 2010
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robashfield said:

Thanks david,At first when I read the title,I thought you were going outta your mind!!lol having associated the title with,as you say,the Fleetwood mac album!(and what a great album it is!).so much info here thanks very much.Now as BB said going back to the links.Cheers!

26 Sep, 2010
Img_0138_1
robashfield said:

hey David,the biggest superstion must be the magpie.Depending on how many you see,depends on the luck you get! The original version was more sinister in the outcome.Having searched wikipedia,the version went as follows:1 for sorrow 2 for luck,3 for wedding 4 for death!5 for silver 6 for gold 7 for a secret,never to be told.8 for heaven 9 for hell 10 for the devils own sell. Think I prefer the childrens popular nursery rhyme version!

26 Sep, 2010
Dipper
david said:

Many thanks, Bb. I like your interpretation of the poem. Fishing lines and hooks still account for a large number of albatross injuries/fatalities. In the past, such catches became meals onboard (so not everyone shared the belief). Albatross feet were turned into tobacco pouches, and the long wing bones were considered to make good pipe stems. I read, somewhere, of a belief among some that the birds didn't require their feet as they soared forever across the sea, and never landed.

Thank You, Rob (good taste in music, btw), lol! Have never heard that magpie version before - that would scare the children, wouldn't it? I agree that the version we are used to is much cheerier. Many thanks for posting the sinister rhyme. :-))

26 Sep, 2010
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robashfield said:

Any time david!

26 Sep, 2010
P1150022_1
jane said:

Well...what can I say !!! Thank you for all this research David and whilst very familiar with the poem...not so familiar with many of the beliefs such as the scraping off of droppings !! Have found an intriguing link though.One of Coleridges early schoolmasters was William Wales ( no not Harrys brother ) who had in his youth sailed as astronomer and meteorologist with Captain Cook during his second voyage of 1772-1775. Could he have been inspired to write his poem based on teachings from him perhaps ??

Also,in the maritime folklore at the time of the " Tall Ships" (clippers racing from China to England with cargoes of tea ) one of the many myths that crop up is the belief that old sailors who die at sea are reborn as albatrosses !!

26 Sep, 2010
And_kids_057
mactumpshie said:

Folklore and Superstition -
Find a dead crow on the road is good luck-
Crows in a church yard are bad luck-
A single crow over a house meant bad news and often foretold a death within.A crow on the thatch,soon death lifts the latch.-
It was unlucky in Wales to have a crow cross your path,however if two crows crossed your path the luck reversed,Two crows I see good luck to me.-
In New England however,to see two crows flying together from the left was bad luck-
When crows were quiet and subdued during their mid-summer moult people believed that it was because they were preparing to go to the Devil to pay tribute with their black feathers-
Often two crows were released together during a wedding celebration,if the two flew away together the marriage would last a life time if they went their seperate ways the marriage was doomed.-
A spell for protection against magpies was to cross yourself,raise your hat to the bird,or spit three times over your right shoulder and say devil,devil,I defy thee.-
Magpies are accused of not wearing full mourning at the Crucifixion,because they wore white when they were supposed to be all black ,they have been cursed by God-
In Scotland magpies are thought to be so evil that
each has a drop of the Devils blood under its tongue.-
In Somerset locals used to carry an onion with them for protection from magpies and crows they also tipped their hats to ravens in order not to offend them.-
Ravens are associated with the Devil in many parts of the UK-
Yorkshire children were threatened with the great black bird which would carry them away if they were bad.-
It was thought that a baby would die if a ravens eggs were stolen.-
Ravens are considered royal birds,legend has it that king Arthur turned into one.-
Alexander the Great was supposedly guided over the desert by two ravens sent from heavan.-
The Tower of London has housed ravens for 900 years,if the ravens ever leave the tower England will fall-
If a raven perches on a roof in Wales it will bring prosperity to the family within.-
In Scotland if a raven circles a house a death is predicted in that house.-
Rooks feeding in the street or near their nests means storms or rain are due.-
Conversely,rooks flying far from their nests means fair weather.-
Rooks used to be told of a landowners death,the new landowner would stand under the rookery and shout out the news,adding the promise only he and his friends would be allowed to shoot the birds in future,If he neglected the ceremony the rooks would desert the rookery an evil omen in its self,this forecast the lose of land and the downfall of the family through poverty.-
The French have a saying that evil priests became crows and bad nuns became magpies.-
The Greeks say (go to the crows) the same way we would say (go to hell.)-
The Romans used the expression(to pierce a crows eye)
in relation to something that was almost impossible to do.-
An Irish expression(you,llfollow the crows for it)meant that a person would miss something after it was gone.-
The expression (I have bone to pick with you)used to be (I have a crow to pick with you)-
To protect seeds shoot rooks and carrion cows-
To protect young birds shoot jays,crows and magpies-
And for protection for weakling lambs,ravens should be shot-

I will let you decide which ones to believe,all the forementioned birds are some of my favourite birds.Its a shame they have this taint of fear and terror about them .
The one about the two crows and the wedding celebrations
I sometimes wish I had blinfolded one of the crows at my wedding.only kidding dearest wife.

26 Sep, 2010
Dipper
david said:

You're welcome, Jane. Interesting to read about the tea clippers and that this belief was held onboard them. That is interesting re William Wales. Perhaps you are right, there. Cook did repeatedly sail into Antarctic waters, and wonder if he did so on that voyage? Wales would certainly have a lot to speak about, would't he?

Lol, Mact, re your final sentence. Many, many thanks for this wealth of info, most of which I've not heard before. I'm afraid that all this great stuff will "get lost" as a comment here, so wondering if you would consider posting as a stand-alone blog? (you could simply copy and paste your comment in the blog text space), and give it its own title.

Rob, am also wondering if you would do the same with your magpie rhyme, please?

Many thanks, again, everyone! This was great fun to do.

26 Sep, 2010
Photo-0003_29
sixpence said:

Wonderful information you ve put into this blog as for the song its my favourite of Fleetwood Macs, play it in car and home got most of their songs even in my pc lol. It is also said if a bird touches the sail or the boat it won't sale as its a bad omen.

I will try to get my daughter next time in the town to get picutre if she can of the Pheonix for you David, as it is the symbol of my town here is a link.

http://www.coventry.gov.uk/ccm/navigation/council--government-and-democracy/lord-mayor/coat-of-arms/;jsessionid=ayam5SwVcpI4

It came about during the world war 2 as it was bombed to bits as in history you can read up, and then rose from the ashes, hence on my egyptain tapestry, it is also the symbol of coventry University too if you look that up. Also what a lot of people don't know is Coventry once was the capital of England as one Kings life was at risk, so moved here and made Coventry the capital. Also any thing sucessful in business in Coventry all has to do with a wheel , watch makers Rotherhams watch has a wheel, the man who owned it I know well, its now an engineering factory. Singer sewing machine , cycles, Cashs ribbons looms had wheels, Jaguar, Perguot, which use to be Humber then Roots making cars , all have wheels.

I know from past history and experience these myths are true if you come to my front door there is drawn by pencil by me when I first moved in is the all seeing eye. Even in priest dress breast plates there are designs to protect.

There is a lot of a Raven too even how they fly from right to left which way they are comming how low is either bad good comming to you. It is said if ravens desert the countryside and forests and settle in the neighbourhood of towns famine and pestulence are in store.

A Wagtail is a lucky sign esepecially if the cheery little bird is walking towards you from the left.

The sight of a wren is a promise of good luck but to kill or hurt or frighten a wren in any way or to take its eggs or young from the nest, is sure to be followed by a calmity of some kind.

The peacock Just as the eagle was the sacred bird of Jupiter, so the peacock, was associated by the ancients with Juno, queen of the heavens. To meet a peacock is a happy omen as might be imagined. If he spread out his tail before ones eyes, happiness and prosperity are promised. On the other hand , to bring a peacock s tail feather into a house is considered most unlucky by supersitiious people, for they are considerd to be representative of the evil eye.

Sparrow An unfortuante bird as general omen, but strangely lucky for lovers.

Swollows according to the acients, this bird was one fo the most fortunate. its the symbol of spring and regeneration, birth and awakening, and to see a swallow in the early springtime, before they have become abundant, is a very fortunate omen. If swallows build in the eaves of your house, succcess, happiness and good luck, are promised to all inmates. To kill a swallow especially one that has nested under the eaves of your house,may bring the gravest calamity to yourself or your family.

Which I know to be true I lived on a farm, the farmer killed them all and he shortly after lost all the farm, which now has been bulldozed, they built houses on the field to the right of the farm house but no building has been built where the house nor the side of the farm of which the eaves of the house where they were nesting its left barron. I always study life have done for years.
Lovely links beautiful filming of the albertros.

27 Sep, 2010
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robashfield said:

My wife always says"morning mr magpie,hows the wife and kids" when she sees 1 magpie on it's own!! An old wifes tale,that is supposed to keep sorrow at bay!Yet the chinese consider the magpie very lucky,thats why they call it"happy magpie" The manchu people of north china consider it sacred,they have a magpie in their legends.
David I will put the rhyme in a stand alone blog.This has been fascinating stuff thanks to all for their time ,its been great!!

27 Sep, 2010
P1150022_1
jane said:

That will be great Rob..then we can all add to it !!

27 Sep, 2010
Dipper
david said:

OMG, 6d - what a fantastic amount of info you have posted here!!! Have read through it a few times, now - fantastic!! Yes, the phoenix was the most apt bird for Coventry to choose as a symbol. ave been a few times, and to the Cathedral too, of course. I shall look at your link tomorrow, Many Thanks! You should also think about putting i all up as a blog of its own, so we can find it easily again for reference! :-))))

Rob, have just seen that you have posted the magpie verse as a blog. Many Thanks, it's great! And another nice one you have added above :-)))

28 Sep, 2010
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lincslass said:

Fascinating blog,thanks all,

28 Sep, 2010
Dipper
david said:

You're welcome, lincslass. Glad you enjoyed this.

Also, a huge "Thank You" to Ispyer,Spitfireman, who has PMd me to say that I can include the photo of a black-browed albatross he recently posted. Have inserted it close to the top of this blog. :-)))

Also, Many thanks, Mact, for re submitting your fascinating comment above as a blog. I keep reading it all, over and over. :-)))

28 Sep, 2010
P1150022_1
jane said:

The black-browed Albatross sits beautifully at the head of your blog David !

28 Sep, 2010
Dipper
david said:

Wasn't it good of Spitfireman to let me do so, Jane?

29 Sep, 2010
P1150022_1
jane said:

It was David :o) Following a stessful day at work I have just been listening again to the "Flight of the Albatross"...sheer bliss....thank you for the link......

29 Sep, 2010
Dipper
david said:

Sorry to hear about your day, Jane. :-((

I must have played this video at least 10 times after work on Monday night (full screen and highest volume) - love it! Hope tomorrow goes better! :-)))

29 Sep, 2010
P1150022_1
jane said:

Lol David...just had it on at highest volume and played it 5 times ! Has done wonders..love it too ! Feel better about tomorrow already !! :o)

29 Sep, 2010
Dipper
david said:

Good for you, Jane! I'm getting bad vibes about work tomorrow (know it will be bad already), so will shortly be doing same, lol! X

29 Sep, 2010
P1150022_1
jane said:

Dont blame you....wonderful isnt it! Hope its not as bad as you expect ! x

29 Sep, 2010
Dipper
david said:

Probably won't be half as bad as expected. I usually find, with work, that seeing in advance produces worst fears, which never materialise. It's when everything looks good on paper, all Hell breaks loose!!! Must stop "prediciting" tomorrow, as often go to work "with an albtross round me neck". Should go in with a "pirate" attitude - might go home with a parrot on me shoulder, instead!! LOL!!!

Have a good night, and great day, tomorrow!!! Signing off, now. Love to you both, from me 'n' ye motley crew (who are now well bunked-down). xxx

29 Sep, 2010
P1150022_1
jane said:

Aye aye Captain ! Nighty night to all !! xx

29 Sep, 2010
Dipper
david said:

Afore I go! Have added a link to a version of Fleetwood Mac's "Albatross" above. I really like it for the bird pics - se if you can spot my fave one!

Right - Lights Out!!!! X

30 Sep, 2010
P1150022_1
jane said:

Hello David ! Just taken a look (and listen of course ) ! Would your favourite photo by any chance be of the two on the nest....where one has bent its head way back so the other can "tickle" under the chin ??? Well I liked that one anyway !! Lol..:o)

30 Sep, 2010
015
aster said:

I like that one too Jane :) I never tire of listening to Fleetwood Macs 'Albatross' I never want it to end lol.

30 Sep, 2010
Dipper
david said:

You got it in one, Jane, lol!!! Love this pic, makes me smile! :-D) Glad you like it, too, aster (and the music) :-))

1 Oct, 2010
001_1_
janette said:

Wonderful blog David ,brought so many memories of my dad ,his favourite poem was The Ancient Mariner ,him being a salior in his younger days,many a night he would recite the whole poem to me and my brothers...
The link to the Flight Of the Albatross was beautiful ...I spotted your favourite photo as well ......

1 Oct, 2010
Dipper
david said:

Janette, what a great link to have with the poem. Glad you enjoyed the others, too. :-))

2 Oct, 2010
P1150022_1
jane said:

David...did you know that to the Maori people albatrosses represented beauty and power..and images were found depicted in cave drawings and meeting houses ??
Fact:
" Grandma,a Northern royal albatross raised chicks at Taiaroa Head for 50 years and reached the record age of 61 " !!! Bless.....

2 Oct, 2010
Dipper
david said:

Didn't know this, Jane - this is wonderful! Am off to find out more about Grandma (lovely name, and has got me thinking about Lady and Albert again). It is wonderful that "named" birds, like them, became legends in their own lifetime, but largely unsung ones, many of them remaining "local heroes". You have now set me me off on at least 3 tangents by posting this info - LOL!!! :-)))

3 Oct, 2010
P1150022_1
jane said:

Lol David..dont want to think of you getting bored with nothing to do !!! LOL.Will look forward to any news on Lady especially when you get it.

4 Oct, 2010
Dipper
david said:

:-D), Jane. Will do, nothing yet, though.

5 Oct, 2010
P1150022_1
jane said:

Thanks David !! :o)

13 Oct, 2010
Dipper
david said:

Found this video on tagging Atlantic albatross - didn't realise their size!! Have added to this blogpost, above. :-))

30 Oct, 2010
P1150022_1
jane said:

Just caught up with this tonight David...thank you for the link.They are amazing birds.....

31 Oct, 2010
Dipper
david said:

Aren't they masive, Jane?

1 Nov, 2010
P1150022_1
jane said:

Certainly are David....and they didnt seen too spooked by the tagging.Perhaps such a remote area they have not learned to fear man.......

17 Nov, 2010
Dipper
david said:

This is what I was thinking, too, Jane. I felt, in a way, ashamed by their ignorance/trust, when I see what mankind has done elsewhere through same.

17 Nov, 2010
P1150022_1
jane said:

I couldnt agree more David....after all just look what happened to the poor Dodo through trust.....and countless other species since.

11 Dec, 2011
P1150022_1
jane said:

Hi David....guess what brought me back here !! Yes....Bdb s latest blog...and I just had to listen to that fabulous track again.....x

11 Dec, 2011
Dipper
david said:

Was thinking of this blog, too, Jane, when reading his wonderful blog, with those amazing pics. :-))

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