Peacocks in Heraldry and Lore
by Margaret Odrowaz Sypniewska

The god Murugan with his peacock.
Murugan is identified with Skanda,
the son of Shiva.
This print is from the British Museum

ABOUT PEACOCKS:

Since the beginning of recorded history, man has domesticated ornamental peafowl, pheasants, jungle fowl, and spread them around the world. Pheasants, peafowl, argus pheasants, peacock pheasants, and jungle fowl (ancestor of the domestic chicken) are all related. They came from the jungles of Southwest Asia from India, then spread eastward to Borneo and Sumatra. The lustrous ocelli or "eyes," are composed of bands of blue-purple/blue-green feathers upon the tail and/or wings of the peafowl and Argus pheasant. Their plummage is displayed in courtship and inter-male rivalry. A peacock is a polygamous bird having four ot five "wives."

Peacocks have been described as the world's most aggressive birds. The wild jungle fowl (Gallus gallus) crows like modern chickens. Their combs are the same as well.

The Peacock is a favorite bird on many coats of arms. The peacock is symbolic of personal pride. During the days of chivalry, one of the most solemn oaths were taken "on the peacock." In early days, the peacock was considered a great delicacy. This fowl was greatly admired, especially when the peacock strutted around with its tail feathers in full regalia.

The number of peacock feathers used in a plume can be anywhere from three to seven (the odd numbers are most common - for artistic sake).

German heraldry evolved towards one unusual use of the peacock's feathers. They have been found on the outer edges of every kind of object, and even occur in the dorsal fins and down the back of certain animals. This is clearly illustrated in the arms of Herr Helle von Rinach (minnesinger) and the Habsburg (14th Zurich Roll of Arms) arms.

To see examples of arms that use peacock feathers or peacocks on their helms, CLICK HERE

Some say that feathers can suggest conquests in Syria/Egypt over the Saracens (Muslims) in the Holy wars.

The irridescent blue-green and gold hues of the peacock feather shimmer in the sun.

PEACOCK IN FACT AND FICTION:

  • Peacocks belong to the family Phasianidae and the Order Gallifromes. Their Latin name is Pavo crisatus.

  • Marie Antoinette wore ostrich and peacock plumes in her hair.

  • Peacocks are male peafowl.

  • The Phoenicians brought the peacock to Egypt and Syria.

  • In the Middle East, the Kurduish Jezidi ("devil worshippers") viewed Melek Taus or "King Peacock" as a messenger of God.

  • Peafowl originally came from Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, and the Himalayas. They were considered an ornamental bird and they exist all over the world today.

  • Muslims thought the peacock symbolized the cosmos (the sun and the moon)

  • Relatives of the peafowl are:

    *The Crested Argus pheasant (named after the man who was changed into a peacock in Egyptian mythology) (Rheinartia ocellata) from Indochina and Mongolia. The Argus pheasant has five (5) foot long tail feathers (the longest of any bird). They fan their tails out like the peacock.

    *Peacock pheasant (Polyplectron emphanum) also has peacock-like feathers. They make a loud cackling-laughing call and they whistle during courtships.

  • Kings and nobles used peafowl as living landscapes on their estates.

    An Argus pheasant(?)
    (? - as the coloring might suggest)
    This is an old Persian (Turkish) painting
    that now resides in Scala, Florence
    Italy

  • Peacocks were thought to be excellent guards. In Islamic folklore, the peacock stood guard at the gates of Paradise, but the peafowl carried Satan into the Garden of Eden, after consuming him.

  • In China, the bird was a symbol of the Ming Dynasty. The Chinese equated the peacock with divinity, rank, power, and beauty.

  • Peafowls eat grains, berries, green crops, insects, small reptiles, and other small animals. They love decidious forests and farmland.

  • They gestate in 18-28 days.

  • Some species, in the peacock family, have tail spreads of 78-90 inches.

  • Their feathers are easy to collect, because they lose them, each year, during molting season.

  • Minnesingers thought the peacock represented arrogant pride.

  • The The Odrowaz Clan of Poland uses peacock feathers as part of their coat of arms.

  • The Sypniewski Family belongs to the Odrowaz Clan.
    Runic Origins (?) of the Odrowaz Coat of Arms

  • Pliny said that magicians declared that the names of the sun and the moon were written upon an amethyst and that if it was tied to the neck with peacock hairs and the feathers of a swallow, that the Amethyst would protect a man against sorcery (Budge, 309).

  • The Hindus thought that the peacock looked like an angel, but had the voice of a devil, and feet so ugly that the bird screamed every time it caught sight of them.

  • Peacocks were thought to be vain birds, with bad tempers.

  • In ancient Greece, Hera was given to a peacock by Pan, its original owner.
  • A peacock's scream was said to be evil in European lore.

  • Peacocks were brought to Jerusalem by King Solomon's fleet (Kings 10:22, 2 Chron. 9:21)

  • The UK, Italy, and some other parts of Europe think the peacock feather is unlucky. This has to do with the eyes, which were considered "evil eyes."

  • St Augustine thought that peacock flesh did not decay and therefore was incorruptible. This is because the Phoenix of "Classical Mythology" also had gorgeous plummage and lived in the Arabian desert. Every few hundred years, the Phoenix would spread its wings with myrryh and burst into flames, only to rejuvenate itself from the ashes of the fire to live anew. (Saunders, 153). The Phoenix and the Peacock both symbolize resurrection and life after death, The Egyptians thought of the Phoenix as an emblem of Ra, the Sun God.

    Christians thought these "eyes" were representative of the all-seeing Mother Church.
    This made the peacock a sacred bird.
    "By the Peacock" was a sacred oath, because the peacock was thought to have the power of resurrection, like the Phoenix.

  • A necklace of Amethyst, peacock feathers, and swallow feathers were a talisman to protect its wearer from witches and sorcerers.

  • Christians thought, in early times, that the peacock's blood could dispel evil spirits.

  • The peacock often appears among the animals in the stable in Christ's nativity.

  • Two peacocks drinking from a chalice symbolizes rebirth and angels are often depicted with four wings of peacock feathers.

  • In Egyptian, Greek, and Roman mythology, the peacock feathers were considered much like the evil eye. They were all seeing.

    The Egyptian myth about Argus is an example.

    Argus was a traitor to Osiris. In Osiris's absence, Argus locked Isis (wife of Osiris) in his castle and then proclaimed himself "King." When Osiris returned he learned of the ambitions of Argus, and the kidnapping of his beloved wife. Argus had spies everywhere, in the Kingdom of Osiris. A cure was placed upon Argus that from that day forward he would be a peacock and all his spies would be the peafowl's eyes. These eyes were placed in the bird's tail.

  • In Roman times, the peacock was associated with Juno, consort of Jupiter.

  • In Greek mythology, Hera was said to have taken the hundred eyes of the giant Argos, slain by Hermes, and placed them in the tail of the peacock (Jones, 342).

  • In the 5th century B.C., Athenians (Greeks) paid to see peacocks displayed as sideshow curiosities.

  • The peacock is the symbol of India. (see print at beginning of this article.

  • The peacock is the bird of Krishna and he wore peacock feathers in his hair.

  • In India, the god Murugan is often accompanied by a peacock. Murugan is a popular diety in the foothills of Western Tamil Madu. He is identified with Skanda, Shiva's son. Skanda's brother is Ganesha (although legend says Shiva was not his "real" father), the Elephant god. Muragan rides a peacock. Murugan is popular as a "clan" or family god. Skanda, as Skanda-Karitkeya, and Murugan both rode peacocks. Murugan's brother was Ayyappan. They were both sons of Shiva.

  • The Bhil tribe of India wore clothes of peacock feathers.

  • For over 4,000 years peacocks graced Indian temples, because of their snake eating ability.

  • In the western world, the peacock was referred to as a slayer of serpents. The shimmering colors of his tail feathers were explained by his supposed ability to transform snake venom into solar irridescence.

  • Sarasvati, goddess of poetry, music, and wisdom also rode a peacock.

  • European kings and nobility consumed many peacocks and pheasants in their lifetime as they were both considered delicious delicacies of the rich.

  • In Indian (from India) goddess Saravati rides a peacock.

  • Indra sits on a peacock throne.

  • In the Punjab, smoked peacock feathers were used to heal snake bites.

  • Alchemist thought the fan of the peacock (cauda pavonis) is associated with certin texts and images that are useful in turning base metals into gold.

  • The Chinese thought that a girl who looked at a peacock could become pregnant. The peacock stoof for fertility.

  • The Chinese goddess Kuan-Yin is associated with peacock feathers.

*****

LINKS:

Peacock Feathers

SOURCES:

Ayensu (editor), Edward S. The Life and Mysteries of the Jungle. New York: Crescent Books, 1980, First Edition.

Biedermann, Hans. Dictionary of Symbolism: Cultural Icons and The Meanings Behind Them New York: A Meridian Book, 1994.

Budge, E.A. Wallis. Amulets and Superstitions. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1978.

Jones, Alison. Larousse Dictionary of World Folklore. New York: Larousee, 1995.

Nozedar, Adele. The secret Language of Birds. London: Harper E;ement, 2006.

Perrins, Dr. Christopher M. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Birds. New York: Prentice Hall Press, 1990.

Saunders, Nicholas J. Animal Spirits Alexandria: Time-Life Books ("Living Wisdom" Series), 1995, 120.

Waterstone, Richard. The Mystic Soul of India. Alexandria, VA.: Time-life Books ("Living Wisdom" Series), 1995, 76.


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