The shadow of each bird is speaking to me. Each shadow doubles the velocity, ferocity of forms. The shadow, my shadow, now merges with theirs. Descension. Ascension. The velocity of wings creates the whisper to awaken….I want to feel both the beauty and the pain of the age we are living in. I want to survive my life without becoming numb. I want to speak and comprehend words of wounding without having these words become the landscape where I dwell. I want to possess a light touch that can elevate darkness to the realm of stars. - Terry Tempest Williams
Someone once told me that if I noticed feathers on the sidewalk, it was a sign that I was walking the right path. Birds speak in the language of synchronicity. They soar on the winds of the seasonal change, filling the morning with burgeoning calls, the hawk outside my window here, even in New York City, the Turkey Vulture overhead when gardening at a teacher’s home in the mountains, the starlings outside the home of my grandfather, gone now a year.
The birds return, a cycle unto themselves. In spring, I feel the dead closer. And I believe that birds are some of these messengers.
Messages from the Turkey Vulture
In the presence of spring, grief too reigns, and the underworld comes close. In the messages of blossoms, blooms, and seeds, it’s potent to consider the death aspect of the death and rebirth cycle.
Turkey Vulture speaks of this sacred process. The Turkey Vulture is a guardian, a watchful reminder of the balance of all things, and also the divine alchemist, the one who devours what is already dead to make new, to offer burial.
My teacher Robin Rose Bennett calls them vigilance medicine. Turkey Vultures are slow. They wait. They pay attention. And they understand timing.
They are fed from the cycles of life and death and do not end lives but rather alchemize what has already passed and gone. Not only do Turkey Vultures clean up what is decaying, but they may clean the air when they take flight. They are death’s compassion. They mimic the spiral of all things, a wide circle overhead, an oscillating poem about death and grief, the honoring of all things.
They mimic the spiral of all things, a wide circle overhead.
Messages from the Mourning Dove
The Mourning Dove is named for its haunting and sad cooing sound. Its call is sometimes mistaken for the call of an owl. When the Mourning Dove flies, its wings whistle. The Mourning Dove seems to appear with its keening call to suggest we tend to our grief. Its soft call, an elegy.
Like poet Aracelis Girmay they ask, “What to do with this knowledge that our living is not guaranteed?”
The Mourning Dove is my home state, Michigan’s bird of peace. Mourning Dove calls through the ether, a tender reminder that the earth loves us, holds us, we can give the dirt our tears, and it can turn them into food and flowers.
Sing for that which is gone, an elegaic spell of the body and its true phases.
Messages from the Robin
In Norse Mythology, the Robin is known as a protector from storms and lightning, and in Celtic Mythology, the Robin is associated with the Oak King of Summer.
In other folktales, Robin is a harbinger of death, tapping on a window to let you know of someone’s passing.
There is the famous saying, “When robins appear, loved ones are near.” Perhaps, as Robins visit, so do the beloved dead.
At the turn of the season, as spring arrives, so do those tender spirits, whispering, red-breasted, “hello, it’s good to see you.” They are reminders, searching for the worm of the soft earth, turning their heads to say, “Look, we know each other already. We have an ancient love.”
A Feathered Spell….
These messages as spells, the birds taking flight to encourage poems, calling, calling, an old song, one of witchcraft and magic. The birds whisper, “Go outside. The weather is changing. The cycle longs to be honored and celebrated, grieved.”
They ask for a feather on the altar. To honor the beloved dead, to remember the dirt from which we’re made, and to the earth, we will return to a mystery, winged ones, much like them.
Kate Belew is a Brooklyn-based writer, poet, storyteller, and Witch from Michigan. She co-hosts Magick & Alchemy, a Tamed Wild podcast about mythology and witchcraft. Kate facilitates and teaches writing workshops and has an MFA in poetry from Sarah Lawrence College. She is a lifelong student of Herbalism, Astrology, and Witchcraft.