The roles of birds in mythology are nearly as diverse as the various types of birds found in stories and legends across the world. Birds are often associated with particular gods or deities in various traditions, sometimes acting as gods themselves and other times helping gods or symbolizing deities. Some birds are associated with good omens and positive ideas, while other birds are often seen as portents of misfortune or death. There are also a number of instances of fabulous and imaginary birds in mythology, such as the phoenix.
Birds in mythology are often given a number of different roles and attributes, depending on the culture from which the stories about them arise. In some traditions, a bird is responsible for the creation of the universe, including stories in which the world hatches from a golden egg and others in which a bird dives down into the ocean and pulls the land up from underwater. There are some mythologies in which birds are seen as sacred or divine. Egyptian mythology tells of the Benu bird that was the first creature in the world and brought the other gods into the world, while Central American myths often surrounded Quetzalcoatl, a fantastical deity combining elements of a bird and a snake.
There are also numerous instances of birds in mythology that serve symbolic purposes. Some birds are used as messengers for gods, while others are directly associated with certain gods, such as an owl as a symbol of the Greek goddess Athena. The Norse god Odin is accompanied by two ravens, named Huginn and Muninn for “thought” and “memory,” who tell him about events on Earth.
Birds in mythology often come to represent certain ideas or concepts as well. Ravens and crows have become associated with death and conflict, likely due to their presence at battlefields to feed on dead bodies. Doves are often associated with hope and love, and in some traditions are seen as representative of the human soul. Many birds are associated with the idea of a soul and their flight is seen as symbolic of the voyage of human consciousness after death.
There are also a number of birds in mythology that are fictional creatures. This includes the roc, a massive bird from Arabic tales. The phoenix is a mythological bird that is said to be immortal. At the end of a phoenix’s life, the phoenix bursts into flames and burns away to an egg, from which a full grown phoenix emerges when it hatches.