Mythical Birds: Albatross, Rara-Avis & Halcyon
Nature never ceases offering us wonders to us humans. In fact, for those whose heart is still like that of a child; full of curiosity and creativity, nature is always ready to offer her beauty and wonders. There are birds of indescribable beauty with vivid plumage; there are awe inspiring animals, rainbow in the sky in the aftermath of rain, thunder and lightning, beautiful brooks with purling water, impeccable cloudless azure sky which no one can believe in the season of rains when clouds run hither and thither in the skies. It seems that different types of gigantic animals have been unleashed by Him in the vast ground of skies. Then there are lush green woods, sometimes with scanty leaves in the form of deciduous trees and sometimes so thick foliage that sun cannot penetrate through and pines for a glimpse of earth which is considered as its daughter. The list is never ending.
It is no wonder that early humans worshiped nature and lived in complete harmony. Pressure of population explosion and shortage of resources was not known. As the humans evolved, their fear of nature also began to fade. By numerous hit and trials, they were able to identify the grasses whose seeds are edible. In this process, in the beginning, they were learning by paying a big price collectively. Many might have died from eating poisonous substances.
Still, there are fables in mythology all around in which there are stories of wonderful trees and birds. In this direction we will talk about three fabled birds namely:
Rara Avis and
Albatross is a large seabird belonging to the biological family called Diomedeidae. They are mostly found in southern ocean and north pacific. They are very efficient fliers despite being the largest birds.
This bird is considered both as a sign of good luck as well as a great burden or encumbrance. The origin of this meaning is an allusion to the travails of the sailors who are caught in the stormy weather in the cold sea. It is described in the poem called “The Rime of Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
In the poem, an albatross starts to follow a ship – being followed by an albatross was generally considered an omen of good luck. However, the titular mariner shoots the albatross with a crossbow, which is regarded as an act that will curse the ship which indeed becomes the case. His companions thinking that only way to avoid the curse induce him to wear the dead albatross around his neck indefinitely. They all die from the curse eventually. Thus the albatross can be both an omen of good or bad luck, as well as a metaphor for a burden to be carried (as penance).
The symbolism is described in the following lines of the poem
Ah ! well a-day ! what evil looks
Had I from old and young !
Instead of the cross, the Albatross
About my neck was hung.
Rara avis is a mythical bird. In the dictionary it is defined as an extraordinary or unusual thing. This is from Juvenal’s Satires: rara avis in terris nigroque simillima cygno which translates to “a rare bird in the lands, and very like a black swan” in English. This idiom is generally used as a compliment. if a person becomes elusive or have rare qualities, he or she is referred to as Rara Avis. Not much is known beyond this.
The genus name Halcyon comes from a bird in Greek legend generally associated with the kingfisher. There was an ancient belief that the halcyon nested on the sea, which it calmed in order to lay its eggs on a floating nest. The species’ name chelicuti derives from Chelicut in Ethiopia, the location at which Stanley’s type specimen was obtained.
Halcyon kingfishers are mostly large birds with heavy bills. They occur in a variety of habitats, with woodland of various types the preferred environment for most. They have great patience which we humans can learn from them. They can sit without any hurry or excitement for intermittent time and eat insects, rodents, fish and frogs.
This myth leads to the use of halcyon as a term for peace or calmness.