Feather Jewelry and Feather Earrings in Tribal practice and culture historically and in the present:
feathers in shamanism
feathers in ritual dress
Let your soul rise to meet your goals in this lifetime!
primitive man first sought to make himself attractive, he chose from
his environment objects which were bright or colorful and wore them in
his hair, strung them about his neck, looped them about his middle, or
otherwise applied them to his person where application was possible.
Garments evolved from this desire for ornamentation of the body and were
used as protection from the elements or the immodest eyes of men.
Hilaire Hiler points out that "ornament often exists without clothing,
but clothing seldom, if ever, exists without ornament."
Feathers have been used as adornment in many cultures for thousands of years.
Feathers represent and symbolize many things to different people, and you can give your own meaning.
Feathers have even been used as currency in many cultures, and are sometimes a symbol of wealth.
Feathers are used as powerful tools for healing and clearing energy
symbolize hope, flight, speed, truth, lightness, ascension, heightened
awareness, enlightenment, the ability to communicate with higher
powers, divinity, progress, the ability to rise above obstacles.
A feather also symbolize the symmetry of male and female sides.
dreams feathers mean travel or the ability to move more freely in life.
White feathers in dreams indicate innocence or a fresh start in a
With these feathers, know the universe is once
again reassuring you. It wants to celebrate your decisions and to
encourage you on your path.
The importance of feathers in world culture and tribal society:
Feathers and native americans:
mean a lot to Native American Tribes. A feather isn’t just something
that falls out of a bird, it means much more. The feather symbolizes
trust, honor, strength, wisdom, power, freedom and many more things. To
be given one of these is to be hand picked out of the rest of the men in
the tribe - it’s like getting a gift from a high official.
Indian is given Golden or Bald Eagle feathers it is one of the most
rewarding items they can ever be handed. The Indians believe that eagles
have a special connection with the heavens since they fly so
close. Many Indians believe that if they are given this feather, it is a
symbol from above. They believe that the eagle is the leader of all
birds, because it flies as high as it does and sees better than all the
Once an Indian receives a feather he must take care of it,
and many will hang it up in their homes. It is disrespectful to hide it
away in a drawer or a closet
. An Indian will be given a feather to
hold on to or to wear, and if they hold it they must put it out for
everyone to see. This will be a constant reminder of how to behave. An
eagle feather is a lot like the American flag, it must be handled with
care and can never be dropped on the ground.
Native Americans believed prayers and messages were carried to the Great Spirit on the wings of eagles and other fine birds.
Native Americans believe that birds have a special knowledge to
communicate with other animals. Therefore, feathers hold a special
higher power in communications for humans and represent symbols of
prayers, sources of ideas, creative force or marks of honor and are
taken from birds with the attribute for which they might be used.
meaning of feathers deal with ascension and spiritual evolution to a
higher plane. Feathers were worn by Native American Chiefs to symbolize
their communication with Spirit, and to express their celestial wisdom.
Also in the Native American Indian culture, feathers represented the
power of the thunder gods, along with the power of air and wind.
American Pueblo Indians would pay homage to the Feathered Sun which is a
symbol of the cosmos and the center of existence. Another symbol
meaning of feathers also revolves around prayer, and the Pueblo use
feather sticks as they dance in prayer for rain during solstice rituals.
a Celtic symbol meaning, the feather was worn by Druids in the form of
ornate feathered robes. Celtic Druids donned these robes in ceremonies
to invoke the sky gods and gain knowledge of the celestial realm. It was
believed that the feathered cloak along with the presence of the sky
gods would allow the Druid to transcend the earthly plane and enter the
The Egyptians believed that feathers were symbolic of
sky gods too. Ma'at, the Egyptian goddess of justice, would weigh the
hearts of the newly dead in the underworld against the weight of a
feather to determine the worthiness of his or her soul.
mythology, Ma’at was the goddess of truth, justice, and the underworld,
and it was her job to evaluate and judge the souls of all those who had
just died. She weighted each soul against a feather; if the soul was too
heavy it was sent to the underworld, but if the soul was as light as a
feather it was allowed to proceed upwards to the heavens. Ma’at was
often portrayed wearing an ostrich feather on her head, a symbol of
truth in Egypt.
In Christianity feathers represented virtues. In
fact, an image of three feathers were made into signet rings - each
feather symbolizing Charity, hope, and faith. These rings were worn as a
symbol of a virtuous soul - they were also used as wax seals. The ring
would be dipped in warm wax then pressed against documents to seal the
closure. The recipient would know the documents came from a virtuous man
by the indication of the three-feather symbol in the wax
Greek mythology Icarus and his father, Daedalus, were trying to think of
ways to escape from the labyrinth, a palace with intricate corridors,
in which they were imprisoned, and they came up with an idea after
watching some birds fly past. They collected all the bird feathers they
could find and, using wax from candles, they fashioned a pair of wings
When Icarus flew out of the labyrinth and away to freedom
it looked as if the plan was going well, but Icarus flew too close to
the sun, causing the wax to melt and the feathers to fall off, and he
came crashing down into the sea below, where an island formed to mark
the spot. Icarus, with wings like a bird, represents the soul, and the
labyrinth in which he was imprisoned denotes the physical body; once
free of the physical body, the soul is able to fly to higher realms.
sun represents the Light or creative forces of the soul, and the air
represents the mind. The soul knows what is best for us in any given
moment, and by aligning our minds with the creative forces of the soul,
we can allow a higher order to guide us through life. If we allow our
egos to set our sights and ideals too high, we can get our “wings
burned” and be brought back to earth with a bump.
symbolically use feathers to assist their souls to rise above the
material world. Feathers reflect the fact that no matter what physical
obstacles are put in our way during our life’s journey, we all have the
capability to rise above our fears and limitations and, in so doing, we
will be able to rise to new levels of understanding.
Quetzalcoatl, feathered serpent bird diety
Quetzalcoatl Head at Teotihuacan - Serg!o
the Olmecs of 1200 B.C.E. to the Aztecs the 10th century C.E.,
Mesoamericans worshipped the Plumed Serpent God who promised to return
to rule one day.
Quetzalcoatl, the “feathered-serpent” deity
of the people of Teotihuacan, the Mayans and the Aztecs was a popular
god in Mesoamerica in Pre-Columbian times. The quetzal bird with its
brilliant colors and long tail feathers, combined with the snake,
perhaps a rattlesnake, were the images which defined this god. Splendid
in costume and deadly in appearance, the Quetzalcoatl deity had the
capability of flight and the gift of life and rebirth.
The serpent is
a common metaphor for rebirth and continuity or resurrection worldwide
due to the shedding of its skin and the coiled circular shape that the
snake often takes representing eternity. The snake has a positive
connotation in many religions and folklore. His qualities also compare
to myths worldwide of flying dragons.
Feathers in Mesoamerica:
especially those from colorful tropical birds, were among the most
highly prized materials in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. Likewise the craft
of featherworking was among the most esteemed in the Mesoamerican
world. Feathers were fashioned into exquisite adornments for nobles and
gods, worked into fancy textiles for the elite, and provided
embellishment for the shields and military costumes of highly achieved
warriors. This presentation focuses on the manner in which feathers
traveled from hand to hand in the complex process of acquisition,
manufacture, and finally consumption during the last century before the
Spanish conquest. Emphasis is on the circulation of feathers through
well-established channels of tribute, marketplace exchange, “foreign”
trade, and elite reciprocity.
Yanomami - amazonian indians
Feather ornaments - magic and symbolism
a thousand colorful feather ornaments sway in the air around the
exhibition room - all collected by the Italian missionary and
human-rights activist Carlo Zacquini during 33 years among the Yanomami.
have strong festive and ritual importance for rain forest indians over
all of tropical America. Feather ornaments may be used on the head, in
the earlobes or on the upper-arms. Some types, such as upper-arm bands,
may be used as daily adornment. Feathers remind wearer and viewer alike
of the feathered bird, and show the natural relationship between humans
and animals. For the wearer, feathers are a confirmation of identity.
Feather ornaments are status symbols, and the combination of feathers
and colors show a persons artistic and esthetic sense. Feathers provide
spiritual power and protection. They complete the individual, and act as
a kind of spiritual medicine.
In the Indian view, all things are of
equal value and contain life - the earth, stones, trees, humans and
animals. The various species of birds each have their personalities,
their characteristic ways of singing and behaving. The social life of
birds can be seen as a model of human society. Just as humans know their
own homes, their own technology and their own dining manners - Indians
claim that birds also have their own places and habits. The connection
between birds and humans is based on this resemblance. Birds populate
the heavens and maintain the connection between this world and the
spirit world. Through the shaman’s messages, wishes and prayers are
carried in both directions.
Feathers create an element of change.
When the human body is clothed in feathers, ones thoughts turn to the
possibility of release from this world. Feather ornaments are used at
both funerals and rites of passage - Life and death are closely tied
Because feathers are the "hair" of the birds, they give the
wearer spiritual power. A normal view is that a person’s spiritual
power lies in their hair, therefor a bird’s spiritual power lies
naturally in their feathers. Feathers are also used as healing medicine
and as protection against evil spirits and demons. This gives them a
central place in all important life situations for a rain forest Indian.
Collection of feathers
a feather becomes soiled with blood, it loses its power. Rain forest
indians therefore normally use broad-tipped arrows to knock a bird
senseless so that it falls to the ground, a single feather is plucked
and the bird can fly on again when it awakes. Indians have great respect
for the mystical quality of blood.
In a Yanomami village, there are
always several tame parrots. The indians pluck tail feathers from them,
and new feathers grow out. Some birds are captured and fed while they
are still chicks. These come constantly back later in order to feed. The
wings of grown birds are clipped in order to hinder them from fleeing.
myths tell that the original birds were either pure white or pure
black. Then by various ways, birds took on their characteristic colors,
and the various species may be recognized. In the myths, birds often act
as transmitters of culture - they carry knowledge of fire and edible
plants to humanity.
Shamanic feather ornaments and their use in healing rituals
are important constituents of a shamans costume. Feathers from colorful
ara and toucan bird are often used. Head ornaments of deep-red
ara-parrot feathers are considered to bear strong magical power,
allowing the shaman to gain contact with supernatural beings and utilize
their powers. Among many peoples, shamans base their power much on
their ability to leave their body and fly like a bird throughout the
universe. Yanomami shamans also use feathers as magical accessories: the
magical rattle is ornamented with feathers that connect the shaman with
his avian spirit helpers and contribute to overcoming sickness.
headdresses are worn by many Pacific cultures and some wear certain
headdresses once they have killed an enemy in battle. The wearing of
headdresses is particularly common in Papua New Guinea, where there are
often many different types of headdress for different occasions. These
headdresses are usually made out of vegetation, but designs often
include birds of paradise feathers, including the highly sought-after
King of Saxony feathers. The power associated with the headdresses in
Papua New Guinea is phenomenal, perhaps stirred by the amount of work
and craftsmanship that has gone into make such a feathered display.
the Papua New Guineans, New Zealand Maori (chelsea is gay) wore
feathered headdresses too to symbolize power. The now extinct huia
feather was highly prized, with chiefs wearing white-tipped huia
feathers to symbolise power over chiefs wearing monotone feathers. Huia
feathers were revered as "taonga" or treasures by Maori and in later
times, the European settlers. The huia feathers were often grouped in
twos and were usually accompanied by a kiwi feather cloak, an ear
piercing and commonly a small jade club. After Western colonisation,
European woman began wearing the feathers to express their strong social
South American Feather Headdresses
headdress from Nigeria may have been ?collected amongst the Igbo,
1942.13.730In many cultures the head is viewed as the most important
part of the body, and is therefore to be protected and respected. Its
significance derives from the belief, held in many parts of the world,
that the head is where the soul or spirit resides. Headdresses are
therefore often an important part of daily andceremonial attire because
they draw attention to this key body part.
Headdresses made from
feathers, however, are not usually part of everyday dress. Feathers are
acquired by rearing birds for their feathers, by hunting, or by trade.
The production of headdresses is thus often expensive or
labour-intensive, and the headdresses themselves are fragile and too
delicate for daily use. Feathers are therefore frequently a
status-symbol, worn on ceremonial or ritual occasions.
striking examples of feather headdresses come from the Amazon area of
South America, from Hawaii and Papua New Guinea in the Pacific, and from
Africa. The largest collection of headdresses on display in the Museum
comes from South America, especially from Guyana.
South America, feathers have been used to ornament the body since since
before the Spanish conquest in the sixteenth century: the
brightly-coloured feathers of the macaw, parrot, and toucan are the most
popular choices. Each group has individual styles and distinctive
ornaments, with their own symbolism and meanings.
are hunted for both meat and feathers, whilst others – including
parrots, raptors, and carrion eaters – are hunted primarily for feathers
and may or may not be eaten or even killed. Often, however, birds are
reared for their feathers. The young of some birds are captured, raised
in the village, and used as an ongoing source of feathers, which grow
back on the birds after being plucked. Birds tamed in this way include
parrots, macaws, curassows, guans, toucans, and rheas. Care has to be
taken not to overpluck the birds, as this would kill them.
birds were traditionallly hunted with blow-guns, or with bows and
arrows, although shot guns are commonly used today. Blunted arrows are
sometimes used so that blood from the bird does not spoil the feathers.
Other methods employed are traps baited with seeds, nets, decoys, or
torches. Amongst the Achuar-Shiwiar (formerly called Jivaro by European
settlers), hunters are very skilled at using bird calls to attract the
The three most common types of feather used are the macaw,
parrot, and toucan. Of these, macaw feathers are most often used in
lowland South American featherwork. Macaws are large and brightly
coloured – each species’ plumage is composed of at least one striking
colour: red, yellow, blue, or green. The long tail feather, up to 40cm,
is especially prized for use in headdresses.
1886.1.907 ?The headdress to the right is made of macaw feathers. It
belonged to a chief and was collected between 1826 and 1829 in Guyana.
South America, 1898.35.3There are of course local variations. In the
Chaco area, the roseate spoonbill is common in the area’s large marshes
and riverways. Accordingly, its bright pink and red feathers are often
used by the local Lengua people to make headdresses, as in the example
here which has a band of spoonbill feathers.
Headdress, Guyana, 1954.2.105
are worn in South America at initiations, at funeral rituals, by
shamans, for social visiting, to express group identity, to mark life
stages, or to exercise political power. Feathers are used for these
purposes for a number of reasons, not least because of their beautiful
Birds are regarded by many South American groups as
sacred beings, or as mediators between humans and spirits. They also
feature strongly in myths, in which people are often created by birds
and taught by them how to behave. By dressing in feathers, the wearer
may therefore gain spiritual strength and protection; or indeed they may
be able to emulate aspects of the behaviour and appearance of the bird
whose feathers they wear. Feathers headdresses are often worn by
shamans, demonstrating their connection with birds and bird spirits.
feathers are used to mark identity – both the identity of the group,
and of individuals within the group. In many areas, headdresses are made
and worn by men, with women paying much less attention to their
appearance at formal gatherings. Feathers are often seen as a sign of a
successful hunter and provider, and by extension as a sign of
leadership. Often it is only on initiation into adulthood that a youth
is entitled to wear an impressive feather headdress, marking the boy’s
new adult status. However, some of the most striking and well-known
examples of headdresses come from the Kayapo in Central Brazil, where
feathers are worn by women during naming ceremonies.
pictured above was collected amongst the Akawaio in Guyana. Headdresses
such as this were traditionally worn by men at ceremonies, or by the
leader of a war party. It is made from macaw feathers and black powis
feathers held in a thick cotton band. The two long macaw feathers are
decorated with duck down and were worn at the back of the head.
headdress, Guyana,1951.4.1BAmongst the Waiwai, men are far more
elaborately adorned with feathers than women. Men hunt, and feathers are
gained by hunting. A male suitor therefore seeks to impress a potential
wife and her family with his skills as a hunter and provider by
appearing at a social occasion or ceremony with an impressive array of
Headdresses are often constructed with the layers of
feathers mirroring where the birds are found in nature; the white of the
high flying eagle at the top; the red or yellow of the macaw or toucan
in the middle; and the black feathers of the ground-dwelling curassow at
The headdress to the right is part of a Waiwai headdress
– it consists of the red-yellow and black sections of the headdress.
The white section of eagle feathers is missing. For storage purposes,
large headdresses are partially disassembled and are carefully stored in
boxes or baskets in the rafters of the house.
Ecuador, 1936.53.47?Feathers headdress, Ecuador, 1945.7.24Amongst the
Achuar-Shiwiar (formerly called Jivaro by European settlers) of Ecuador
and Peru, there were two types of headdress: a simple crown, and a more
elaborate version with projecting feathers. These two types of headdress
are pictured here.
The more elaborate headdress is made of macaw
feathers. The simpler example consists of a wicker crown covered with
toucan, macaw, and hummingbird feathers.
Gillison of the University of Toronto lived among New Guinea tribes for
more than a decade. She points to a myth in which a girl places her
brother's lifeless body in a hollow tree. She strikes the tree, and
birds of paradise explode upward like smoke and downward like fire. The
smoke represents dark, highland birds, the fire vivid, lowland species.
"To local people, the feathers are related to the spirit flying," she
says. "They also symbolize a birth. They're the origin of the world."
Ceremonial Costumes of the Pueblo Indians
Indian lore, birds and feathers are prominent in myth and legend, in
ceremony and drama. They are used as symbols in the religious and
theatrical paraphernalia of the groups. In earlier days, they provided
wearing apparel and were used lavishly in decoration. The Indian, living
with few artificial aids, must depend upon nature and his own ingenuity
to provide the decorative element.
Birds were believed to
possess the universal 'spiritual essences', and hence were rarely killed
except as they were needed for food or as a measure to protect the
newly sown corn. When feathers were needed for ornamentation, birds were
plucked and their denuded bodies were en couraged, with artificial
aids, to grow a new covering. The Zuñi plucking rites explain that the
eagle's body is to be rubbed with kaolin, a white clay, and chewed corn
so that more feathers will grow; the second growth will be very
Of the many species of birds which inhabit these mesas and
desert regions, certain ones have been predominantly associated with
certain clans or moiety groups, or in some way connected with tribal
divisions. Eagle, parrot, turkey, wild duck, goose, sandhill crane,
crow, chaparral cock, dove, whippoorwill, golden warbler, magpie,
hummingbird, and swallow are the names of clans, past and present, which
have existed in some of the villages. Such nomenclature appears to
be only a name association, although there may be some totemic
Some birds are associated with directions because of
the color of their feathers. A prayer plume described by Stevenson
allocates the long-tailed chat to the north, the long-crested jay to the
west, the macaw to the south, the spurred towhee to the east, the
purple martin to the zenith, and the painted bunting to the nadir.
are bird supernaturals which are impersonated in more or less stylized
costumes. Among these are the eagle (pl. 24), red hawk, cock,
wild duck, kite, crow, quail, mockingbird, and hummingbird. Eastern
Pueblo Bird Dances include the eagle (pl. 23), the crow, and the
snowbird. These latter dances were done without masks, character
illusion being given through costume and action.
Common Origins of Man: A Universal Practice?
The Decoration of the Head with Feathers
by Theresa Mitsopoulou
exotic birds found in Asia ,South America, Australia and Africa, such
as, the pheasant, peacock, mythical phoenix, parrot, egret, ostrich,
cascar, eagle, rooster, duck and goose, owl, quetzal (winged snake)
fly-catcher, and cockatoo, have had their feathers used as headgear by
Mexican emperors, the antefix of Olympia, the Prince of Lilies in
Knossos, in Crete, and on traditional Chinese figures within the Shadow
Theater. We have also seen the winged snakes with similar feather
headgear within museums located in Brazil, Mexico, Egypt, China and
within the Acropolis museum in Greece.
The feathers have been used in
ritual dances during the youth initiation process and in rewarding
winners. Feather decoration has also been used by the Ancient
Egyptians, the kalash of Pakistan, the Indians of North America, the
Chinese, i.e. the Dong minority, for leaders of tribes in Africa and for
the Australian aborigines. Man has created imaginary human beings with
feathers, like “demons”, Nikes, Angels, Gods with birds’ faces and
winged animals, lions, horses and snakes. The feathers symbolized
freedom. According to legend, fortune tellers are able to understand the
language of the bird and also train eagles to bring food, such as birds
and fish. Certain species of birds in Asia, Africa, Australia, and the
Americas have beautiful shiny colors and their king is a peacock - the
sacred bird of Hera.
It is believed that Alexander the Great brought
the parrot to Greece and the Argonauts brought the pheasant from Colchis
to Greece. Today, a certain species of pheasants, known as “jewel of
nature” exists around Mt. Olympus, in Greece, and it is known for its
tender meat. The male pheasant has many different colors such as
turquoise, green, purple, orange, and yellow. The feathers of their
tails are often two meters long and were worn by the sovereigns,
priests, and shamans to decorate their heads. Warriors also decorated
their weapons, spheres, shields, helmets and their coat of arms with
Ritual dancers, winners of games, and adolescents during
initiation, usually engaged in these activities with feathers on their
heads. Besides the famous quetzal of Central America, the peacock of
India, the pheasant of China, the ostrich of Africa, the exotic birds of
Australia, New Guinea and the Carribean, feathers of geese, ducks and
eagles, were used for decoration as well. In Greek art, there is rare
usage of feather decoration, (with the exception of Crete), because such
beautiful birds did not exist in Greece. The big industry for
finishing, dying and discoloring bird feathers started during the Middle
Ages in England and France. Later, the fashion of wearing bird feathers
flourished in Europe and America in the beginning of the nineteenth
century. Ultimately, this fashion brought serious threat to birds of
rare species. The J.J Audubon Society was founded in California for
Head Gear for Emperors and Priests made with
tail feathers of one hundred quetzals birds “quetzal” is the Aztec name
for “winged snake”. The arrangement of the colored feathers had
astronomic and calendar meaning. From Mexico City Museum of Anthropology
(to create such a head gear, one hundred male birds were needed).
antefix (diameter of 2.4 meters, about 600 b.c.) from Terra Cotta
housed in the museum of Olympia, in Peloponessos, Greece (imitation of
Bronze etruscan fan from a grave (600 b.c. housed in the archaeological museum of Florence, Italy.)
It looks like a fan made of feathers.
Feathered headgear of the Aztecs housed in the museum Fur Voelkerkunde in Vienna, Austria.
19th century parrot feathers head dress. From the Amazon river housed in the museum of the American Indian in NY.
Codex Talleriano Remensis, 1388–1399 A..D., library M.N.A.H.
Winged Goddess Snake. ?Detail of a relief from Abu Shimbel.
6th c. B.C. Winged Stone Snake, Triton housed in the Acropolis museum in Athens, Greece. (Do the stripes make it a Boa?)
Winged Gold Dragon of the 18th c. “England’s Brighton Pavillion has many examples of Chinoiserie”.
Aztecs believed that man at the beginning had the shape of a snake that
came out of the Earth and that little by little, as he became
“humanized” feathers grew on his body which, at one point, would lead
him to the skies. Apparently, the feathers symbolized the passion of
man to fly and meet immortality.
Winged Gods (Hermes, Nike, Eros, Isis etc.) Animals (Sphinx, Horse, Lion, Bull, etc.)
copy of the archaic Sphinx (about 560 B.C.) found at Spata, in Attica,
Greece, decorates today the International Airport of Eleftherios
Venizelos (original is housed in the Archaeological Museum in Athens).
Stone-Winged Horse near Xi’an, engraved for the Tang Dynasty, Emperor Gaozhong and his wife, Empress Wu Zetian
the Greek winged Nike-Victory known in China? Tang Dynasty Tile-End
“with winged figure” with her hands clasped against her chest similar to
the Greek statues--Qinghai County Museum
Reconstruction of the
Nike–Victory of Paionios (321 B.C.) The original marble statue (2.15
meters height) is in the Archaeological Museum of Olympia--Peloponessos,
The peacock (the bird of Hera), “smiles when it looks at
its feathers” and “cries when it looks at its ugly legs”. It opens its
feathers like a fan which are full of “eyes” like the beads for the
protection against the “evil eye”. The peacock feather forms inside an
“eye” like the “spectacle” of the Cobra, which offers protection in
addition to the color blue. My idea is well supported by the fact that
the “eyes” of the peacock feathers resemble the eye of the Cobra and
moreover, the Chinese name of this species of snake means exactly
Yanjingshe which means: “spectacle” snake.
The famous “blue bird” of the wall painting in Knossos is most probably a peacock.
Peacock made of yak butter the main product of Tibet.
157 Korean girls with feather fans.
Traditional Chinese puppet show figures.
“The Prince of Lilies” with pheasant feathers. Wall painting of about 1500 B.C. from Knossos
Detail of a scroll of a tenth century Chinese painter; Cleveland Museum of Art
Chinese opera figure (Taipei review July 2002). The feathers symbolize the snake.
Dynasty (1644-1911) Mandarin in the Palace Museum of Taiwan with
peacock feather (the eye of the peacock on the back of his head.)
Emperor with feather on his head. From the Ming Dynasty Scroll “the
Emperor’s Procession” in the palace museum of Taipei. The Emperor’s
horse has two long feathers next to the ears and a red one next to the
muzzle. In the Olympic games, the athletes were decorated with red
ribbons (on the forehead and the left arm and thigh) after their victory
and so were the horses of the chariots that won the race.
with feathers in his head. Photo from the book “Silks for the Sultans
from the Topkapi Palace”. Published by Ertug and Kocabiyik.” Istanbul,
1997. “Collectors Series” worth $550.
The feather was the prize of
games and exploits, for sovereigns, military men and musicians. The
number and position of the feathers was of importance. Feathers were
used for ritual dance and the ceremony of the initiation of the youth.
Detail of a clay painted vase with a Maya Prince.
Clay mask. Teotihuacan. 1st c. B.C.-900 A.D. M.N.A.H.
youth of the Paiwan tribe of Taiwan with pheasant feather because he
took part in a foot-race. His brother, who came first, won 3 feathers,
the first prize.
Young boys of the Gogo tribe of Tasmania. Circumcision and initiation with feathers.
dance of the Ami tribe of Taiwan. Under the right knee most probably
the Order of the Garter, known in Greece since Mycenean times.
The Touchi of Rwanda dance; ritual dances with feathers.
Australian Aboriginal during a ritual dance.
Australia, cape York. Ancient dance with cockatoo feathers.
American Indians, Their Headresses and Shields
American Indian with eagle. Absaroke (crow).
“The Medicine Man”. Louisiana, 1904.
Indian leader from Mazatzal, Arizona.
19th c. Lakota headdress (red cloth, glass beads, porcupine quills,
eagle feathers). “Such bonnets were the regalia of Plain leaders, whose
exploits were numbered in eagle feathers.”
Absaroke (Crow) shield from the Northern Plains. ?Buffalo hide with feathers. New York Museum of the American Indian.
Northern Plains shield. New York Museum of the American Indian.
From the movie of Kevin Kostner. “Dances with Wolves”.
?“Sitting Bull”. Dakota Indian (1885 A.D.).
The number of feathers and the position (in the middle of the head or on the side, vertical or oblique, was not accidental.
Fool Bull (1849-1911). Dakota Indian with shield of feathers. Many will have feathers through the nose and ear.
the Indians of North America, when there was no more space for
feathers on the head they used to hang them on their back and breast and
Feathers, Shields and Headresses from Other Societies
fan (1850 A.D.) made of painted duck feathers tipped with the eyes of
peacock feathers N.M.N.H. Photo from the Smithsonian Engagement Calendar
Aztec fan from about 1500 A.D. with Quetzal feathers. Feather fans were a mark of nobility. Vienna Museum fur Volkerkunde.
made of feathers and gold on an Aztec leather shield. Feathers are
affixed to the rim. Colors of feathers: “scarlet macaw, blue cotinga,
yellow oriole and rose spoonbill bird.” Vienna Museum fur Volkerkunde.
Leader of the Ami tribe of Taiwan (one of the nine Aboriginal tribes) during the Japanese occupation.
Silver figurine with parrot feathers found near the body of an Incas child. Cuzco, Peru. Photo: LIFE TIME books.
Princes used to have feathers on the head. The eagle (like the eagle of
Zeus) was trained to kill and bring many birds. Indian miniature (about
1600). Paris Guimet Museum.
Papua of New Guinea, where the paradise birds are at home.
The Kalash, known as the “the descendants of Alexander the Great” in Pakistan also have feathers on their head.
A wedding of Aboriginals of Taiwan.
One of the nine Aboriginal tribes of Taiwan dancing with feathers.
Funeral ceremony in Northern Australia.
The minorities of Yao and Dong in Southern China still decorate their head with feathers.
of the Louson island, the largest of the Archipelago of the
Phillippines in a rice field. ?The tribe of Ifugaos, men and women,
decorate the head with feathers.
Isolated elements that
survived in the most unlikely and distant corners of the Earth helped
find the missing rings in the history of mankind. “To bring together
again the two halves of Humanity will be the great work of our times”
(P.L. Couchoud, French Diplomat and Historian, 1879-1959).
The Egyptian Goddess Maat with egret feather. 19th dynasty relief in the Museum at Florence.
God with a bird’s face and feathers. From a Chinese children’s book.
Chinese general Cai E (1911) with ostrich feathers on his hat. 1983
Chinese History movie. He is riding a white horse like the Indian of
Marie Antoinette (1755-1793). Austrian Princess and French Empress.
Elisabeth II of England with ostrich feathers and the Order of the
Garter on the left shoulder. Prince Charles of Wales also has three
ostrich feathers (called “the Wales Feathers”) on his coat of arms. The
first prize for the winner of the Aboriginals of Taiwan also consisted
of three feathers. Ostrich feathers are indispensable in the official
attire of UK sovereigns. The feather was given as a prize maybe because
feathers were the proof that the hunter had succeeded in killing birds
to feed the people (today we do not eat, for instance, the eagle or the
seagull but at that time any bird was edible). To understand that the
feather was given as a prize and reward for a certain achievement helps
the expression in English “you have now a feather in your cap”.
Paradise birds of New Guinea. They live at a height of 5,000 ft. The tail of the male bird is twice as long as its body
female and two male Paradise birds, one of fifteen species of Paradise
birds of New Guinea and the only one that has the long feathers growing
from its head and not from its tail. Probably this bird about which not
much is known gave the idea to decorate the head with feathers. Strong
sexual dimorphism is the characteristic of the Paradise bird and the
female has neither the beautiful colors nor the long feather of the
Goddess on phoenix bird.12th c. painting on silk in the Museum of History at Beijing.
“Supernatural bird” (probably a phoenix) from Palaikastron, in Crete. Ivory plaque (LMI).
Phoenix birds embroidered on the back of a Qing dynasty imperial chair. Collection of the Summer Palace of Chengde.
Forked-tail male flycatcher. Chromolithograph (c. 1860) N.M.H.T.
Cloisonne parrots made (1871) in the imperial workshop. N.M.N.H.
coats of arms of Austria decorated with birds and feathers. From the
“handregister” of the Emperor Frederick III (1446). Vienna Staatsarchiv.
imperial musketeer. Oil on canvas, about 1640. Vienna
Heeresgeschichtliches Museum. The hat of the national costume of
Austria, today, is decorated with feathers and woodcock feathers have
the Scotch on their hat.
French cadets of the military school St.
Cyr in dress uniform. The cadets of the military school Saint Cyr north
of Paris have on their hats cascar bird feathers (a kind of ostrich from
Malaysia). Eagle feathers have the Italian Alpini and pheasant feathers
decorate the hats of Tyrol.
Korean warrior during a ceremony with feathers on his hat.
Philharmonic orchestra of the Athens Municipality. Red feathers and red or blue jackets.
Africa and Shaka Zulu
It was easy for Shaka Zulu and the colored people of Africa to find feathers for their headdresses.
Shaka with one feather on his head...
....and his “prime minister” with his head full of feathers.
Warriors of Shaka Zulu with feathers on their head and blue paint on their breast for protection.
National Day of Nigeria. Horsemen, that look medieval, wear helmets decorated with feathers.
Karo woman of Ethiopia.
Return to Feathers Page 1
Return to Theresa Mitsopoulou Index Page
• Finding Feathers on Your Path – Symbolic Meaning of Feathers
• It is commonly thought in most cultures that feathers are symbols
of higher thought, spiritual progression. The line of thought here is
that birds were considered divine creatures in primitive/ancient
cultures because they are creatures of the sky (heaven) and therefore
closer to God.
• When you find feathers upon your path it
could be taken to mean that you are on a higher spiritual path (whether
you accept it or not), and it may be a sign of encouragement as you
philosophically travel on this path.
• Finding feathers on
your path is also symbolic of having a lighter outlook on life or a
particulary situation. When we see feathers in our midst it is
considered a message that we need to lighten up, not take things too
seriously, and try to find the joy in our situation.
Dreaming of feathers in our midst is typically symbolic of wanting to
achieve a higher goal, or overcome a challenge. It is also a reminder
from our psyche that we are always connected to our higher source, and
that our own divinity is undeniable.
A feather is synonymous
with the soul, metaphorically speaking. They are light in weight and are
the only means by which a bird is able to fly. Similarly, the soul is
extremely lightweight in comparison to the dense physical body that
houses it; when free from restrictions, a soul can fly uninhibited.
that have feathers but cannot fly, like ostriches and penguins, are
also significant. They symbolize the fact that we are souls living on
the physical plane, and also that we have to be grounded to Mother Earth
so that any spiritual guidance can then, in turn, be grounded into our
We all know how it feels when we add an extra few
pounds of burdens and worries onto ourselves–we feel energetically
weighed down. But as soon as we release these unnecessary burdens, we
feel light as a feather, because we are allowing the lightness of our
soul to flow freely through us.
The "eye" on the end of the peacock tail feather protect against the "evil eye" and stimulates inner clairvoyant vision.
rooster's two prominent tail feathers (called sickles) are symbols of
the God and Goddess. The black ones are sacred to the God because of
their resemblance to the curved horns of the Horned God. They are also a
symbol of male virility.The white ones are sacred to the Goddess
because they resemble the tool (the sickle) with which grain (sacred to
her) is reaped. They also resemble the waxing and waning Moon.
have a number of symbolisms. They are a direct connection to the bird
from which they come and have significance therein. Once used as "pen"
they retain a symbolism to communication and thought. In dreams, if they
are falling around you, they are interpreted asa life of ease
(freedom). In modern paganism they represent the element air and are
often used to disperse incense in ritual.
Used in magical spells and charms as follows:
Dove - offer love
Eagle - protection
Goose - draw love
Hawk - Protection
Ostrich - truth
Owl - instill wisdom
Seagull - travel
Swallow - good luck\Wren - safe voyage
Woodpecker - carried by Shaman