Have you ever really looked at a bird's feathers? They are aerodynamic marvels of perfection. They come in literally every colour imaginable, every shape, every size, some are designed to camouflage like the Pheasant, whilst others have vibrant hues that say 'look at me I am beautiful' such as the Peacock or Bird of Paradise. If you hadn't realized already, I love feathers, the touch of them, their design, their diversity, their energies, working with feathers in an unmitigated joy for me.
But I am not the only one to revere their astounding qualities. Across the Earth numerous cultures embrace the energies and beauty of birds. Some use feathers to adorn their clothing in ceremony, some may be used in the quivers of arrows, yet others adorn the headdresses of high status Chiefs and royalty, whilst others are used as sacred prayer messengers.
In the culture of First People and other aboriginal cultures, bird feathers have profound meaning and significance in the spiritual life of the people. The variety of bird the feather comes from, the colour of the feathers, and any paintings on the feather all has deep layers of meaning. Members of a tribe could ascertain the deeds of any given warrior by simply looking at the feathers that adorned his body. Nicks, cuts, daubs of colour, pictographs, all this would reflect in detail the life the warrior had lead, and list all his achievements.
to work with bird energies is to love them...
You may be familiar with the term 'smudging, or smudge feathers', a practise that dates back countless centuries. The feathers used for smudging range from Turkey, Pheasant, Eagle, Goose, Owl, Hawk, Condor, Chicken, Macaw, Blue Jay, the list is endless. Yet each feather has a different meaning, and each feather has within it the energies of the bird it comes from. The most commonly used feathers in smudging are Turkey, they are regarded as having cleansing and healing properties. So revered was the Turkey at one time in America's his/her/story that it was very nearly picked as the emblem of America. But at the last minute the powers that be changed their minds and the Eagle became the Power animal, totem of America.
The feathers held in highest esteem by many cultures are the Eagle, closely followed by the Hawk and Condor. These Raptors are awesome predators, flying highest in the sky, some can soar and plummet at speeds and with agility we can barely imagine. To be in possession of these feathers was, and still is regarded as a great honour, and usually one had, has to earn the right to work with the energies of these utterly remarkable birds.
To work with bird energies is to love them, respect them, honour them, to understand them, a symbiosis if you will, in order to serve the highest good. In the USA today it is only possible to be in legal possession of the feather of an Eagle or other protected Bird of Prey feather with the aid of a permit issued by the Government. In order for a person to be in lawful possession of such feathers tribal authentication must be provided and then the appropriate certification is issued. A feather bank exists that distributes the sacred feathers to those who are deemed to have provided suitable proof of their right to use them. It is hardly surprising that this is a bone of contention amongst many First People.
...different feathers carry different meanings and energies
As I mentioned earlier, different feathers carry different meanings and energies, for some tribes the Owl is thought to be unlucky (Dine, Navajo) whilst others regard the Owl as highly protective and an aid to psychic development. A note of caution here, if you are working with Owl energies, please do not allow the feathers to touch the body, instead work on the aura, to touch the body with Owl feathers could send any blockages or problems deeper within the body.
Smudge feathers were often left in plain sight, near the entrance of the home, it is said that the occupants will be protected from harm whilst the feathers remain on display in a place of honour. Others believe that the feathers should be kept wrapped in a special bundle, away from prying eyes. Traditionally smudge feathers are used to cleanse, purify, heal oneself, another person, a space, special or sacred objects such as crystals, drums, healing tools etc. The imagery painted on a feather can also have great significance. Some people hold the view that you can only work with Eagle energies by working with real Eagle feathers, others disagree and hold the view that a painting of an Eagle on say a Turkey feather for example, will work just as well, and forge the connection between the user and the Eagle's wisdom and energies.
Traditionally, smudge feathers are used in conjunction with different types of dried plant, in America this is the Sage family (not the garden Sage (Salvia) found in British gardens). The type of Sage varies according the habitat of the tribe. In other countries different dried plants, herbs and resins are used, and different feathers from local birds. Again the type of Sage used has significance, whilst all Sages are cleansing and healing, some have additional properties. In addition, other plants and resins can be used in conjunction with Sage, Sweetgrass, Copal, Juniper, Elk Leaf etc, and these plant people add their energies to the magic that is smudging.
...consider carefully what you wish to achieve
I have only touched fleetingly here on working with bird energies and smudge. If you have decided you wish to connect with bird energies, consider carefully what you wish to achieve. Find out which bird the feathers have come from? are the feathers naturally fallen feathers? Do you have bird/animal/spirit guides that you are already working with? Is it appropriate for you to have them incorporated in to the prayer messenger you will choose to work with? Are you a healer? Do you seek protection?
If all this seems daunting, its not really. I have found that feathers usually pick the person rather than the other way around. Trust your intuition and you will be found by the right feather, the energies that are right for you at this time, and the symbolism that most suits your needs.
The Italians call Smudge Feathers 'Happiness Feathers' and I think that is rather a fitting name. One thing I know for sure, is that if you choose to connect with our winged friends, the prayer messengers, you will forge a bond that is rather wonderful, to feel with every fibre of your being a connection to a bird who has soared high in the sky and wishes to help us send our prayers to the heavens, now that is surely a gift from the Gods.
Vanya, The Faerie Lady, Sacred Earth, Sacred Art.