, medieval literature
, the language of the birds
is postulated as a mystical, perfect or divine language
, or a mythical
or magical language used by birds to communicate with the initiated.
Birds played an important role in Indo-European religion
, used for divination
, and according to a suggestion by Walter Burkert
, these customs may have their roots in the Paleolithic
when during the Ice Age
, early humans used to look for carrion
by observing birds. In North America, ravens have been known to lead wolves (and native hunters) to prey they otherwise would be unable to consume. In Africa, the Greater Honeyguide
is known to guide humans to beehives.
From the Renaissance, it was the inspiration for some magical a priori languages, in particular musical languages. Whistled languages based or constructed on or articulated natural languages used in some cultures are sometimes also referred to, and compared with, the language of the birds.
In Norse mythology
, the power to understand the language of the birds was a sign of great wisdom. The god Odin
had two ravens, called Hugin and Munin
, who flew around the world and told Odin what happened among mortal men.
The legendary king of Sweden Dag the Wise was so wise that he could understand what birds said. He had a tame house sparrow which flew around and brought back news to him. Once, a farmer in Reidgotaland killed Dag's sparrow, which brought on a terrible retribution from the Swedes.
The ability could also be acquired by tasting dragon blood. According to the Poetic Edda and the Völsunga saga, Sigurd accidentally tasted dragon blood while roasting the heart of Fafnir. This gave him the ability to understand the language of birds, and his life was saved as the birds were discussing Regin's plans to kill Sigurd. Through the same ability Áslaug, Sigurd's daughter, found out the betrothment of her husband Ragnar Lodbrok, to another woman.
The 11th century Ramsund carving in Sweden depicts how Sigurd learnt the language of birds, in the Poetic Edda and the Völsunga saga.
- Sigurd is sitting naked in front of the fire preparing the dragon heart, from Fafnir, for his foster-father Regin, who is Fafnir's brother. The heart is not finished yet, and when Sigurd touches it, he burns himself and sticks his finger into his mouth. As he has tasted dragon blood, he starts to understand the birds' song.
- The birds say that Regin will not keep his promise of reconciliation and will try to kill Sigurd, which causes Sigurd to cut off Regin's head.
- Regin is dead beside his own head, his smithing tools with which he reforged Sigurd's sword Gram are scattered around him, and
- Regin's horse is laden will the dragon's treasure.
- is the previous event when Sigurd killed Fafnir, and
- shows Ótr from the saga's beginning.
In an eddic poem loosely connected with the Sigurd tradition which is named Helgakviða Hjörvarðssonar, the reason why a man named Atli once had the ability is not explained. Atli's lord's son Helgi would marry what was presumably Sigurd's aunt, the Valkyrie Sváfa.
According to Apollonius Rhodius
, the figurehead
's ship, the Argo
, was built of oak
from the sacred grove at Dodona
and could speak the language of birds. The language of birds in Greek mythology
may be attained by magical means. Democritus
, Apollonius of Tyana
were all said to have understood the birds.
In Celtic mythology
, birds usually represent prophetic knowledge or bloodshed (especially crows
adopted the shape of a bird to warn the Brown Bull.
The concept is also known from many folk tales
(including Welsh, Russian, German, Estonian, Greek), where usually the protagonist is granted the gift of understanding the language of the birds either by some magical transformation, or as a boon
by the king of birds. The birds then inform or warn the hero about some danger or hidden treasure.
, the language of birds is a mystical language of angels
. The Conference of the Birds
) is a mystical poem of 4647 verses by the 12th century Persian
poet Farid ud-Din Attar
St. Francis of Assisi is said to have preached to the birds.
In the Talmud (Louis Ginzberg, Legends of the Bible, 1909),
Solomon's proverbial wisdom was due to his being granted understanding of the language of birds by God.
, Renaissance magic
, and alchemy
, the language of the birds was considered a secret and perfect language and the key to perfect knowledge, sometimes also called the langue verte
, or green language
(Jean Julien Fulcanelli
, Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa de occulta philosophia
Literature and culture
Compare also the rather comical and satirical Birds
and Parliament of Fowls
In medieval France, the language of the birds (la langue des oiseaux) was a secret language of the Troubadours, connected with the Tarot, allegedly based on puns and symbolism drawn from homophony, e. g. an inn called au lion d'or "the Golden Lion" is allegedly "code" for au lit on dort "in the bed one sleeps" (note that this particular pun cannot be medieval, since final t was pronounced until Middle French, c.f. e.g. the 14th century loanword bonnet).
The artificial language zaum of Russian Futurism was described as "language of the birds" by Velimir Khlebnikov.
"The language of the birds" (Die Sprache der Vögel) is a 1991 German movie.
Jean Sibelius composed a wedding march titled "The language of the birds" in 1911. The children's book author Rafe Martin has written "The Language of Birds" as an adaptation of a Russian folk tale; it was made into a children's opera by composer John Kennedy.
In Egyptian Arabic, hieroglyphic writing is called "the alphabet of the birds". In Ancient Egyptian itself, the hieroglyphic form of writing was given the name medu-netjer ("words of the gods" or "divine language").
In her first book, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Susanna Clarke, in her faux footnotes, refers to a book called, "The Language of the Birds." It is among other things a reference to the fictional Raven King.
- Animal Symbolism in Celtic Mythology, by Lars Noodén (1992)
- Davidson, H.R. Ellis. Myths and Symbols in Pagan Europe: Early Scandinavian and Celtic Religions. Syracuse University Press: Syracuse, NY, USA, 1988.
- Richard Khaitzine, La Langue des Oiseaux - Quand ésotérisme et littérature se rencontrent
- René Guénon, The Language of the Birds, Australia's Sufi Magazine "The Treasure" 2 (1998).
- LE VERLAN DES OISEAUX (The Verlan of the Birds) Collection "Pommes Pirates Papillons", Poèmes de Michel Besnier. Illustrations de Boiry, Editions Møtus (in French)
- Definition of Verlan English (in French)