Let’s talk feathers. Light as a feather, feather in your cap, feathered pillows, feathered hair. I’ve been collecting bird feathers since 1984. I find them on long walks through the woods; I find them in the sidewalk cracks along city roads.
Feathers have been used in every culture since the beginning of time. In South American headdresses, feathers are a status-symbol, worn on ceremonial or ritual occasions. The head is to be protected and respected. It’s where the Soul or Spirit resides.
The Fool archetype in the Waite-Smith Tarot deck sports a red feather. In many Native American cultures, feathers are sacred, a universal symbol of Spirit and flight. And feathers adorned headdresses, Talking Sticks, and pipes.
Don’t be surprised if feathers are part of your history. They are common in heraldry, and tournament helmets were often ornamented with feathers, making the plume the family crest for many families. Ostrich feathers were commonly used which signified willing obedience and serenity. (Did you know “plume” is a term usually reserved for a grouping of five or more feathers?)
Quetzalcoatl, the god of human sustenance, penitent, self-sacrifice, and re-birth was portrayed as a snake covered with the iridescent-green feathers of the quetzal bird. These feathers also made up the insignias of Mexican kings. In some depictions, he wore a headdress made of black crow and red macaw feathers, a reference to the Night or Dead Sun. Each feather in the headdress signified an act of bravery.
In Wiccan culture, different colored feathers represent different magical qualities. Green feathers symbolize money, prosperity, and growth. Red are for vitality and courage. The eye on the end of the peacock tail feather stimulates clairvoyant vision. The rooster’s two prominent tail feathers (called sickles) are symbols of the God and Goddess.
It was pharaoh’s job to uphold Maat. When a pharaoh died, Maat was lost and the world was flung into chaos. Only the coronation of a new pharaoh could restore Maat.
The Egyptians believed Ieb, the heart, was the center of all consciousness, even the center of life itself. When someone died it was said that their “heart has departed.” It was the only organ that was not removed from the body during mummification. In the Book of the Dead, it was the heart that was weighed against the Feather of Maat to see if an individual was worthy of joining Osiris in the afterlife.
Many writers tells stories of feathers. In the children’s book Dream Feather by Viento Stan-Padilla, a little Indian boy hears a song drifting down from the sun. Ancient stone etchings on cave walls foretold that a feather would be his guide. If he followed it, he would return to the Source. And if you have read Mary Oliver’s book Owls and Other Fantasies: poems and essays, you have seen the delicate and detailed photographs of feathers taken by Molly Malone Cook.
What do feathers mean to you? Do you pick them up when you see them, recognize the polka dots of a Flicker feather, brush them away when they fly out of an old down comforter? Have you ever been in love and felt light as a feather?
Did your grandmother wear hats with feathers? Do you insist on sleeping on a feather pillow. Have you ever studied a feather’s design while holding it up to the sun, seen an ostrich feather in your family coat of arms, stuck a feather in your cap and called it macaroni?
Do three 15 minute Writing Practices on everything you know about feathers. Start each Writing Practice with:
The last time I saw a feather….
The first time I touched a feather…
The coolest feather I’ve ever seen…
If you get stuck, remember what a feather looks like floating on the wind. Go to one of the many feather links in this Topic post to jog your imagination. Or make a point to notice the cardinal at the afternoon feeder, pecking at a black oil seed. And the way her tufts blow in the winter wind.
Shield Of Courage, art by QuoinMonkey, all photographs Minneapolis, Minnesota, November 2007, photos © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.
Courage shield was created out of handmade paper, bent red willow, feathers, bone, brass, wood. I was told the skull was cormorant by the person who gave it to me. Feathers are Canadian Geese and Wild Turkey. The art was created in the early 1990′s for a papermaking class. The paper was made by hand out of the brown bladelike leaves left on Minnesota Day Lilies in the Fall.
-posted on red Ravine, Monday, February 11th, 2008