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Muscogee Beliefs and Stories About Birds

Updated: May 13

Mississippian era eagle over the sky

The Muscogee people, like many Indigenous cultures, has a deep and profound connection to the natural world, including birds. Birds hold significant roles in our creation stories and cultural beliefs, reflecting the reverence for nature and its balance. Let's explore some of these beliefs and stories.

Wind Clan vs. Bird Clan

According to Muscogee creation stories, the emergence of clans was tied to the natural world. Philip Deere, ceremonial ground member and Indian rights activist, recounted a version of the creation story where people emerged from the earth and traveled west into the land of fog. When the fog cleared, the first animal seen became their clan. The Wind Clan's prestige is attributed to the wind blowing away the fog, revealing the first animal. However, in a different story the late Tim Thompson who was a cultural advisor for the Muscogee Nation Cultural Preservation Office told of a story where Bird and Wind decided to have a contest to determine who was superior, with Bird winning because it could fly above wind.

The Responsibility of Birds

In another tale, 'The Story of the Birds' a young man ponders the need for plants to rest and assigns birds the responsibility of bringing the changing weather. Birds that migrate south sing to let the plants know of the coming change, signaling the time for leaves to fall and plants to go dormant. They also bring back the warmth, signaling the plants to awaken and grow again. This symbiotic relationship highlights the interconnectedness of all living beings and the importance of balance in nature.

The Story of the Birds from the Muscogee Nation Challenge Bowl Study Guide

Now the young man had made a pact with the plants, and he was well satisfied, but he thought about this for a long time. He thought about the voices that he had heard. 

He said: “They are alive just as I am. They too get tired, just like I get tired. I was given the responsibility to take care of these plants. They too will need a rest. How do I give these plants a rest?” He thought about it a long time and he remembered the birds in the sky. “All animals that fly, that has wings will be the carriers. They will have the chore of bringing the changing weather.”

So he called them all together. They were gathered, and he gave them a choice. He didn’t say certain ones would migrate south; they had the choice. “You will bring in the changing of weather in order that these plants may rest. As you begin to migrate south you will sing and let the trees and other plants throughout the land know that you are bringing a change of weather and to be prepared.”

 Then the plants’ leaves begin to fall. (So that’s why when you hear these geese, these birds go by, they sing. They sing as they go to let the plants know that they are bringing in the changing weather.) The birds bring in the cold weather so that the trees will go dormant, giving the plants a chance to rest.

All the sap, life-sustaining minerals and substances that they have inside them will have a chance to go back to the ground, to Mother Nature, to purify itself again and come back again come spring. Just like the medicine men who always clean themselves to keep strong, the plants are no different. The young man told the birds: “You will sing as you come back and the plants will hear you. They will awaken.”

The migrating birds will be responsible for bringing in the cold, and they will bring back the warmth for the plants to grow again when it is time. (You notice that it is almost four months, November, December, January, February, that the plants are dormant.)

Then, he went a little further. He told the birds that didn’t leave that they were being given a choice again, which birds will stay up at night. “I need the birds of the night to watch over the people throughout the night. You will be up all night.” Then he gave the other birds the chore of being the ones to relieve these birds of the night. They would rise early in order that the others can rest and they will take over from there the rest of that day. That is why they are already up before the sun rises; the birds are already doing their work. So the birds are up twenty-four hours. You’ve got some during the day, then the night birds take over.Everything that we do is built around plants and animals. Everything that we do, the medicine way, it’s all built around Mother Nature.

Beliefs About Specific Birds

  • Eagle: Revered as the king of the birds, symbolizing strength, leadership, and vision.

  • Woodpeckers: Seen as symbols of warriors for their ability to make an eagle flee, showcasing fierceness and bravery.

  • Screech Owls: Associated with bad luck, as their screeching is believed to foretell death. Tying a knot in one's pocket is said to counter this omen.

  • Great Horned Owls: Believed to be owls that certain individuals can transform into, linking them to spiritual and mystical realms.

Cultural Practices

  • Wearing feathers: It is a Muscogee belief that women should not wear feathers from birds of prey because those birds are takers of life and women are givers of life.

  • Feather Dance: Egrets/white crane feathers are used during the Feather Dance to bless the arbors during Pusketv/Greencorn at ceremonial grounds, emphasizing the importance of these birds in ceremonial traditions.

In conclusion, birds are not just creatures in the Muscogee worldview; they are time keepers, messengers, and symbols deeply intertwined with their cultural identity and beliefs. Their stories and beliefs reflect a profound respect for nature's balance and the interconnectedness of all living beings.

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