Great Blue Heron – Bird of Symbolism and Myth – I
A Great Blue Heron stands staunch into the March wind. The golden eye, fierce and protective, is focused on the far reaches of its watery domain. Gusts of wind tear at its orderly array of blue-gray feathers so that back feathers, the long breeding neck plumes, and twin black head plumes are tossed about. Blue-gray wings , folded tight, are edged with contrasting white and dashes of rust feathers. Black and white patterns on the front of its long neck add to the complexity of feather detail and color of this magnificent creature! The overall texture and presence of this majestic bird is that of a powerful, self-reliant Seminole Indian Chief in his prime. The colors, the stance, the far-seeing gaze all combine to channel the spirit of the everglades and why this bird has been the subject of Native American myth over the years. It’s stern visage and regal posture has stubbornly stayed in my imagination and fueled my desire to design a Greeting Card of my Seminole Indian Chief Great Blue Heron!
In Native American lore the Heron embodies wisdom and patience. Supremely capable at fishing and hunting, the Iroquois felt that the sight of one before a hunt was a very good omen for success. The Heron appears in several Native American myths or stories showing how impressed the story tellers were with its importance and character.
The Hitchiti Tribe tells the story of The Heron and the Hummingbird. ” Heron and Humming Bird agreed to race. They said to each other, “We will race for four days, and whichever first on the fourth day reaches and sits down by a big dead tree standing on the bank of the river shall own all the fish in the water.” When the time for the race came, Heron started off, while Humming Bird went along or stopped as he chose. While he was going about tasting the flowers Heron overtook him and went on past, while Humming Bird when he got ready went on and overtook Heron. He passed him and when he got a considerable distance ahead tasted the flowers again. While he was flitting about, Heron kept on, reached him, and went past, but while he was going along Humming Bird overtook and passed him once more. When night came he stopped and slept. Humming Bird sat there asleep, but Heron traveled all night. He went on past and when day came Humming Bird chased him and again overtook him. They went on and the night of the fourth day Humming Bird also slept. He sat where he was until morning and then started on, but when he got to where the dead tree stood, Heron had reached it first and was sitting on it. When Humming Bird got there Heron said to him, “We agreed that whoever got to the dead tree first should own all of the water. Now all of the water is mine.” Because Heron said to Humming Bird, “You must not drink water but only taste of the flowers when you travel about,” Humming Bird has since merely tasted of the flowers.
This is how it has always been told.”
Another great version: http://americanfolklore.net/folklore/2010/09/heron_and_the_hummingbird.html
An Algonquin Indian story, Honeyed Words Can’t Sweeten Evil, describes why the Great Blue Heron and the Wolf do not get along. In this a Blue Heron rides two weasels across a river on its back because they spoke to it in a flattering, respectful way. Seeing that, Wolf comes along wanting to cross and speaks foolishly commanding the heron to lie down so it can cross. Realizing its error the Wolf then tries to speak flatteringly. Blue Heron agrees to ride Wolf on its back. Grinning from ear to ear Wolf thinks it has tricked the bird. “Friend Wolf,’ said Blue Heron, ‘ you made a mistake. I am not strong enough to carry you across. For that you need two herons. I can carry you only halfway. Now you must get another heron to carry you the rest of the way.” Twisting away, the heron lets the wolf plop and drop to the bottom. No wolf has trusted a heron since that day.
The Yaqui tribe also have a heron myth called , Heron and Fox:
“IN THE DAYS when animals talked proper Yaqui, a fox and a heron formed an intimate friendship.
The fox, in order to show her sharpness and wit, said to the heron one day, “Do come and visit me tomorrow.”
“I will,” answered the heron.
The following day the heron flew to the foot of a little hill where the fox had her cave. “Come in, my friend,” said the fox. “Sit down. I am going to serve you a little something,” and she brought out a flat stone which was very smooth, and spread a thin coat of atole on top of it.
“Eat with me,” said the fox. The heron began to peck at the rock, but could not get anything into her mouth. The fox licked the rock clean.
Pretending to be satisfied, the heron thanked her hostess. “Tomorrow I am expecting you at my home on the seashore,” said the heron.
“Good, I shall go there,” answered the fox.
“Well, good bye,” said the heron, and she flew away.
The next day the fox got up at dawn. By noon she arrived at her friend’s house. “Come in,” said the heron, “I am going to give you something.” She brought out a big bottle full of oysters and said to her friend, “Let us sit down and eat together.”
The fox could not reach a single oyster in the bottle. She could only lick the outside. Meanwhile, the heron put her beak into the bottle and ate all of the oysters.
When the meal was finished, the fox thanked her friend and went away. She was very ashamed”
One Seminole Creation myth from the Seminole Tribe Website shows the importance of Bird in the order of things:
“The Seminole recount that when the Creator, the Grandfather of all things, created the earth, he made all animals and birds and put them in a large shell. When the earth was ready, he set the shell along the backbone (mountains) of the earth. “When the timing is right,” he told the animals, “the shell will open and you will all crawl out. Someone or something will crack the shell and you must all take your respective places on the face the earth.” The Creator then sealed up the shell and left, hoping the Panther (his favorite animal) would be first to emerge.
Time passed, and nothing happened. Alongside the shell stood a great tree. As time passed, the tree grew so large that its roots started encircling the shell. Eventually a root cracked the shell. The Wind started enlarged the crack and reached down to help the Panther take its place on earth. Next to crawl out was the Bird. The Bird had picked and picked around the hole, and, when the time was right, stepped outside the shell. Bird took flight immediately. After that, other animals emerged in different sequences: Bear, Deer, Snake, Frog, Otter. There were thousands of others, so many that no one besides the Creator could even begin to count them all. All went out to seek their proper places on earth……..
……Meanwhile, as Bird was flying around looking for a place to live on earth, the Creator was watching. He watched each animal and did not intervene, but left the animals on their own. The Creator often allows things to happen along their own sequences. Sometimes a thing must happen on its own merits……..
……The Bird, for being able to take flight, will be ruler of the earth, said the Creator: “The Bird will make sure that all things are put in their proper places on earth.”…
So this is how the beginning was made. Some call it the Creation. Though there were many, many animals put on this earth by the Creator, all came to know their proper places on earth.”
Even though I have only touched lightly upon the Heron in Native American Myth in consideration of my Indian Chief Great Blue with these stories, many, many cultures down the ages have stories about this elegant, self-reliant bird. These stories show Bird to be steady and patient, clever, intelligent, and self-reliant. Wasn’t Bird the one who picked his way out of the shell on his own without the aid of Wind?
Happy Trails and Enjoy Florida’s Wilderness with its treasure of wild birds!
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