I recall the shiver of excitement coming over me like a blanket of wonderment the first time a Great Blue Heron flew just over me and landed nearby. Given its majesty, not too surprisingly a mythology has grown up around these impressive birds. Several weeks ago I posted “Chumming for Heron,” a piece describing daily visits to our ranch by a Great Blue Heron. Unwittingly I was aiding the heron by luring fish near to the bank and improving its prospects for fishing. This experience with the heron got me to wondering what myths might exist about these striking birds that are such incredibly good fish hunters, so I did a little research.
The Greeks believed the heron was a messenger from the gods. The heron was thought to have been sent by Athena and Aphrodite, the goddesses of wisdom and love. Athena, for example, once sent a heron to Odysseus during his odyssey as a sign that she was watching him. Celtic mythology had herons as messengers of the gods as well and thought the herons were imbued with superior intelligence.
Our ranch is named Medicine Spirit Ranch in honor of the original Native American inhabitants and their belief the land was “strong medicine.” One myth from Native Americans is about the heron and the hummingbird who raced for possession of all the fish in the rivers and lakes. The birds had a long race with the heron flying slowly but never stopping while the hummingbird zipped ahead but slept each night. Because of this, the hummingbird lost the race and now has to eat nectar while the heron dines on fish.
Wolves and herons are the subject of another Native American myth. The story goes that a Blue Heron helped two weasels cross a river because they had asked it nicely. Along comes a rude wolf, demanding to be taken like the weasels across the river. The heron proceeded to fly the wolf halfway across the river and then dumped the wolf into the river to drown.
The symbolism of the heron varies by culture. It represents strength, purity and long life in China. In Native American tradition the heron symbolizes wisdom and good judgment. In ancient Egypt the heron was a symbol of creation while in Africa and Greece the heron was a messenger of the gods.
Watching a heron fish also instructs us in patience. This is particularly a good lesson for our busy, rushed lifestyles these days. They watch and wait for long periods of time, remaining alert to the presence of fish. Ultimately the heron strikes with lightning like speed and precision.