Metaphorically speaking, a feather is synonymous with the soul. Sacred since the beginning of time, feathers have symbolically represented spiritual evolution, truth, speed, lightness, ascension, and flight—freedom of the human spirit.
Native Americans wore feathers to symbolize their communication with Spirit, and to express their celestial wisdom. They also represented the power of the thunder gods, along with the power of air and wind.
Celtic Druids wore ornate feathered robes in ceremonies to invoke the sky gods and gain knowledge of the celestial realm. They believed the feathered cloak along with the presence of the sky gods allowed them to transcend the earthly plane and enter the ethereal realm.
Egyptians believed that feathers were symbolic of sky gods too. Ma’at, the Egyptian goddess of justice, would weigh the hearts of the newly dead in the underworld against the weight of a feather to determine the worthiness of his or her soul.
In Christianity feathers represented virtues—faith, hope, and charity. An image of three feathers were made into signet rings, and then worn as a symbol of a virtuous soul; they were also used as wax seals.
In dreams feathers mean travel or the ability to move more freely in life. White feathers in dreams indicate innocence or a fresh start in a spiritual sense.
The Path of the Feather is the simple practice of going inward and embracing your source of power. It’s a daily journey of spirit that transforms, empowers, and heals. It’s sacred awareness. It’s BEing aware. It’s BEing awake.
Sacred Feathers—The Power of One Feather to Change Your Life by Maril Crabtree is an excellent book. In the introduction she says, “Feathers! Magical, mystical, incredible feathers! Feathers of all shapes, sizes, varieties, and colors. Throughout history, feathers have served as spiritual symbols for shamans and priests, as symbols of royalty for kings and chiefs, as symbols of healing, or a symbol of sacred power for cultures as far back as the ancient Egyptian, Asian, or Celtic eras. These cultures possessed abilities to communicate with nature in ways that have been overlooked or forgotten in our town time.
“Yet feathers are more than history. For many, they are mystical signs, messages, or opportunities. They are scraps of synchronicity in the flowing patchwork of universal meanings. Feathers appear in unlikely places as assurances of well being, as a comforting sign of abundance in the universe, and as unmistakable messengers of hope and encouragement. Their ephemeral grace makes them the perfect emissaries of spiritual and emotional freedom.”
I happen upon feathers all the time—they seem to throw themselves at me out of the clear blue sky. Have you ever happened on a feather, or has a feather ever happened upon you?
Important Note: Under the current language of the eagle feather law, only individuals of certifiable Native American ancestry enrolled in a federally recognized tribe are legally authorized to obtain eagle feathers. Unauthorized persons found with an eagle or its parts in their possession can be fined up to $25,000. The eagle feather law allows for individuals who are adopted members of federally recognized tribes to obtain eagle feathers and eagle feather permits.
Additionally, most migratory birds found in the United States are protected by international treaties as well as U.S. laws. No part of protected birds, live or dead, including feathers, claws, bones, skins, or taxidermy-mounted birds can be possessed without an appropriate permit, which is exceptionally hard to obtain even for legally acquired birds or bird parts.
“Whatever you are not changing, you are choosing.”
– Laurie Buchanan
© 2010 Laurie Buchanan – All Rights Reserved
Light as feather, is the clarity of this lesson. I have been dawn to feathers for sometime now! I have gathered many in the past few years, they set in many object around my house. The plans was to make feather fans for ritual, dance and smoke… Yet they sit a waiting the moment to become something…
I enjoyed the facts, the journey through history.
I am Love, Jeff
PS: thank you for the legal heads up!
Good morning, Jeff – I love that you got “light as a feather” from this! That makes me think of, “travel light, travel fast.” I hope that once you receive from your feathers what is to be done/created with them that you’ll share it with us in a photograph over on The Reluctant Blogger.
Good Morning Laurie,
Thank you for descriptions of the various beliefs held on feathers. I was drawn especially drawn to the Path of the Feather. Since you introduced the book in our Reiki class, I have gained a new awareness of feathers and although they were always on my path, I have only recently begun to see them and appreciate their meaning. As I visualize their downward journey to me on Earth (similar to a leaf falling from a tree), I think of your words – the simple practice of going inward and embracing your source of power – and believe that those journeys may look quite similar. Some spirals, loops, rapid descents, zig zags, even backwards or brief ascents.
Ultimately, it lands on Earth in spite of the varied directions it takes on the way down. As for inwards, some life experiences may feel like you are no longer going inward and then in a moment of awakening, you are there….. embracing your power. It is when a feather comes to me that I am reminded of this very special path.
Good morning Lisa. I hope your throat is feeling/sounding better 🙂 I very much appreciate the word picture you painted about feathers and leaves having a similar jouney to earth, and then likening that to life’s journey (spirals, loops, rapid descents, zig zags, and even backwards or brief ascents). I intend to spend time drumming today (as my path of the feather) and that is precisely the image I will hold in my head/heart as I do so. Thank you!
Thanks for the great information on feathers…I have collected a few…including my first one from you along withe beautiful book by Mari Crabtree. The most important thing that feathers teach me is to seek and find the divine in all we do and all we meet….
PS any snow there yet??
Kim – No snow here just yet (sun is shining bright, but it’s sure cold). I love what you shared that feathers teach you, “To find the divine in all we do and in all we meet.”
I loved this information. Thank you, as always, you generously share your knowledge. One of the characters in my the children’s fairy tale version of What Color Is Your Brain? wears a dress made of feathers. You gave me a new insight into her Meevillain’s character. She is the protagonist in the story. Hmmmmmm????
Sheila – I’m so glad you popped in today 🙂 I love the adult version of your book, What Color Is Your Brain? A dress made of feathers – it sounds like I better buy the childrens version too!
I’ve been waiting for the feather f since you whispered about it on Creative Potager. What an excellent article Laurie. So much new learning for me. I love that. Because I have in the woods a lot and we live in the woods, feathers are plentiful. I do keep the very best ones both big and small in a little wicker tray by the entrance. I use them for occasional smudging but mostly I just like having them there.
Terrill – Keeping the feathers in a basket by the front door is a wonderful way of catching/deflecting/redirecting (pick one) energy that you don’t want in your home! Like you, we smudge (waft smoke from white sage) with feathers as well. Sometimes (it’s not often) I direct energy in a Reiki session with a feather as well. I only do that when I get a “tap” on my shoulder to do so.
I’m so glad you’ve been enjoying a steady stream and that’s it been uplifting rather than down-pulling. You’re a relative recluse? On my days away from HolEssence I’m a veritable hermit 🙂
Lovely, Laurie — I have always associated feathers with the ability to soar and transcend boundaries. In shamanic practice, for me they represent a way to get to the Upper World. Your lesson reminds me to keep my eyes open for feathers to come into my life.
Barbara – I wasn’t sure, but I had a feeling you used feathers in your shamanic practice. I betcha now that you’ll be on the lookout you’ll have feathers happen upon you on a regular basis. In fact, you probably have all along and just never realized…
It’s funny you mentioned the Egyptian story in your blog. I love that story so much that that is the papyrus that I brought back from Egypt with me. It hangs on my wall in my shrine area in my bedroom.
It reminds me that I should be an honorable person. Each day I wake up and see it and it reminds me to keep with it.
Beth – What a cool story to share with us! Now that I think about it, if we were to put a dark wig on you, you bear a striking resemblence to Cleopatra!
Oddly enough, while reading this I had a memory of the feather in ‘Forrest Gump”, taking it’s time…swirling and twirling….introducing the story and the characters to come. We find feathers around here quite often, we walk through the field and pasture on any given day and pick up a goose quill, eagle feather ( twice! ) , the feathers of blue jay and cardinal. Occasionally a widely scattered patch of feathers that let us know that every loss is another’s gain. Most often I’ll find feathers in abundance in my backyard. My flock of laying hens are in their winter molting season and have the place looking like a pillow fight has taken place in a high wind. It’s the brightly colored feathers that catch my eye, the reds, blues, and sometimes yellow, those are the special ones.
Sandi – I like your remembrance of the feather in “Forrest Gump.” That was a great lead-in scene. Colorful feathers don’t find me very often (I have 1 blue one and 1 yellow one); they are special, indeed. I imagine with The Chicken Ladies you would have an abundance of feathers! Give them a BIG hello from me 🙂
For me it is different.
I can acknowledge the sense of wonder, and the sense of connectedness and complexity that many of the ancients felt.
I acknowledge that many of those who pursue narrow focus in today’s culture miss much of the complexity, and have too little respect for the power of evolution over time, both from the sense of damage to ecosystems and in the sense of destruction of cultural depths of understanding and practice.
And at the same time, the modern understanding of science and the deeper understanding of awareness and the connectedness of life it can bring is so much more powerful than any of the old ways, that the disjuncture is worth the risk and damage.
I am often amazed at the diversity of feathers, and the diversity of uses that they have evolved to in different species. Fascinating.
I have handled millions of feathers.
We have lots of birds here.
On our half acre section there are probably close to 50 resident birds of various species.
When at sea nearby, I am often surrounded by flocks of birds numbering thousands, and sometimes tens of thousands. It is very common to have well over 100 birds within 50 yards of the boat, some of them albatross, with wings over 7ft wide.
As a hunter I have killed and plucked many thousands of ducks, and many other birds, pukeko, quail, pheasant, turkey, geese, swan; though I have not hunted much for quite a few years now.
I have been in flocks of fledging ducks that have been over 30,000 birds. One day I counted over 150,000 godwit flying overhead.
So I have seen, and handled a lot of feathers, millions of them, from hundreds of different species of bird.
For me, taking the time to understand how things actually work, at the deepest level I can, acknowledging that all knowledge is at its limits merely a useful working approximation, and not any sort of substitution for the thing itself, is both fun and critical for our common future.
For me, a feather is an example of a tool evolved by means of natural selection that started out providing its owners with protections from attack, which then morphed into a dual roll of defense and warmth, which then sacrificed defense for a third use in lift in air flow, and then to active flight, and then developed fifth level of use signaling characteristics under the pressures of sexual selection. Some feathers have evolved into all sorts of other uses, and most feathers have at least 5 levels of simultaneous use. A truly fascinating story.
Their form, and their signalling characteristics are almost as attractive to our brains as to the brains of their sexual partners and rivals.
The power of flight, and the ability of bird to soar, sometimes without apparent effort, has always fascinated humans. Little surprise therefore that the feather has acquired symbology relating to freedom, travel, heights, transcendence and phenomena connected with the atmosphere.
And for me, it is the real reasons that these things are there that is interesting, not the feather and its symbolism, but the stories underneath the feather – evolution, cosmology, meteorology, systems, infinity, possibility.
Again, most of the symbolism is purely historical in interest, and not really relevant to creating a future that serves everyone (without exception).
For me, it is about transcending the old stories, and creating stories that bring people to an awareness that it is possible to live peacefully and cooperatively, in prosperity; and it will require changes to many of the ways of thinking and being that have served our ancestors well for generation. Changes at all levels.
Ted – If wishes come true… then one day you and I are going to get to do a switch: I’ll get to live in your body/mind for 24-hours, and you’ll get to live in mine for 24-hours, and we each get to retain the cool stuff that we learned from each other!
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Well, Laurie, as always I’ve come away from today’s presentation knowing far more than I did going in. I never realized (or connected) the significance of the feather in this kind of spiritual sense, and very much appreciate this marvelous historical testament. Ms. Crabtree’s study is one I’ll have to look into, as I greatly respect your exquisite taste and grasp of these matters. Geez, one could pen a fascinating thesis on this subject. A visit to SPEAKING FROM THE HEART always results in time well spent.
On another matter I can’t thank enough for what you have done. You are truly one great lady.
Sam – I think the history of how feathers have been regarded is cool too! You can probably get Maril Crabtree’s book, “Sacred Feathers” at your local library. (On the other matter, you’re most welcome :)).
That was great. I do love coming here and learning with all of you. I do not know much about feathers or even the symbols and their meaning. However, I went to Twin Falls ID last week with my daughter and went shopping and bought a pink boa!!!
Jean – I SAW the photograph of you with your pink boa on your website and/or on your blog, I can’t remember which – but it was great 🙂
Though I’ve loved feathers for many years, I never knew of their spiritual significance – until now! I love their beauty and design – such a simple elegance to set the birds soaring. Thanx for school today, Miss Laurie 🙂
Cindy Lou – I love what you said, “Such a simple elegance to set the birds soaring.” That’s a wonderful thought to carry in my mind’s pocket today, thank you!
I once collected feathers and they appeared everywhere. Feathers of all kinds. Once I received teachings from Spirit and then stumbled upon half an eagle’s wing. Feathers have been very important…can inspire so many of us. Thank you for this feather post!
Kathy – I had the sneaking suspicion the Feather post would resonate with you. I don’t know why, I just had that inkling…
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I was telling someone about Maril Crabtree’s book Sacred Feather
and when I went to look her up
your post popped up first….
a great post Laurie…glad I stumbled in to it
LadyBlueRose – I have “Sacred Feathers” by Maril Crabtree. Wow, I’m surprised my post was the first return in an internet search. I know I come up first in many numerology and elixir type searches, but the feather search is news to me — thank you for letting me know 🙂
you are very welcome..it was my yahoo search engine..
somehow it does not surprise me at all you have Sacred Feather…..it is a wonderful book…I like her writings as I do yours…..
LadyBlueRose – 🙂
I enjoyed reading this article Laurie. When I saw it listed, it pulled me in and while I was reading, I got to thinking. Your last portion of the post made note of eagle feathers. I understand how important they are to a native North American Aboriginal, but what I’d like to know is this: If I came across an eagle feather on the ground, (one single feather), would that be grounds for a fine? Birds lose feathers all the time, so would one feather be illegal? I’d love to hear what you can tell me about this subject. Thank you for the post, I really did enjoy reading it. 🙂
LifeWithLunaCat — I believe the answer is that the law varies by state. I would check with your local wildlife commission to find out what’s legal in your geographic location 🙂
Thank you for that information.