The deepening of the most famous animal symbols and their meanings continues: today on the pages of LaTelaNera.com we will talk about the majestic Eagle (Golden Eagle, Aquila chrysaetos – White-headed marine eagle, Haliaeetus leucocephalus).
The novelist Ottavio Bosco will bring to light the history and symbolism of this animal through the centuries and the most diverse civilizations.
The majesty of the Eagle has meant that this bird has been adopted as a symbol since ancient times by the most varied cultures.
Two examples above all: the golden eagle with spread wings was used as a symbol of the Roman Empire and the bald eagle (or white head) is the symbol of the United States of America.
In the third millennium BC, with the Babylonians, the double-headed eagle was associated with Ningirsu of Lagash, the god of storms of war and fertility.
Among the ancient Egyptians the eagle represented the materialization of the god Mendes, representative of the sun god. In general, in Egyptian mythology, the soul was often represented under the guise of an eagle-like bird or a hawk, as a bird-soul (Ba). This bird had the task of accompanying the dead in the afterlife.
The eagle is present in the Greek myth of Prometheus, the titan who, by an act of intolerable rebellion, had stolen from the gods the fire of knowledge to give it to men.
The revenge of Zeus was not long in coming, in fact, Prometheus was chained to a cliff of the Caucasus, where every night an eagle, Zeus’s messenger, went to eat his liver which for the Greeks represented, together with the heart, the dwelling of vital principles. Prometheus’s liver, however, grew back during the day, preparing it for new nocturnal tortures.
Aristotle, Plato and Pliny wrote that the eagles that had managed to overcome childhood would have lived for a long time. In northern mythology, particularly Viking, the eagle has a fundamental and multiple role.
The figure of the giant Thiazzi must surely be highlighted, taking the form of an enormous eagle to show himself to the god Loki and force him, by force, to get the goddess Idhuun who possessed the apples of eternal life.
The importance of the eagle in the life of the Vikings is well understood also by some practices that they used to take revenge on traitors and enemies.
First of all the practice called “blood eagle”, used as a sacrifice to the great god Odin, a method of torture which consisted in opening the victim’s back and breaking his ribs to make them look like bloody wings: afterwards the wounds were extracted the lungs and wounds were placed on the wound.
Ancient Egyptian beliefs claimed that every ten years an eagle rose from the flames of hell to plunge into the water and acquire new life.
The eagle as a deity was widely used by both the Greeks and the Romans. It seems that an eagle appeared at the birth of Alexander the Great and, according to a widespread tradition, in 331 BC, a seer who rode beside Alexander predicted that he would be victorious over Darius because he had seen an eagle: an omen of sure glory .
The eagle was commonly associated with great personalities of history and great leaders: it seems that King Arthur lived in a cave guarded by eagles and that before Napoleon’s battles an eagle flew in the skies. For that, in the nineteenth century, it was Napoleon himself who replaced the traditional symbol of France represented by the rooster, with that of an eagle.
Eagle in the sacred scriptures
There are also numerous biblical citation of the eagle; among these we want to remember Exodus 19: 4 and Deuteronomy 32: 11,12): like the eagle that rouses its brood, it soars over its little ones, explains its wings, takes them and carries them on its feathers.
The eagle therefore as a representation of God himself: He named the eagle talking to Job to teach him humility (Job 39:27): and perhaps at your command that the eagle rises high ? Ezekiel claimed to have seen the chariot of the highest divine glory led by four mysterious beings each of whom had four faces: of man, of eagle, of lion and of bull. A metaphor that alluded to the evangelists.
The same concept, although simplified, is also taken up by John in the Apocalypse (Revelation 4,6-7), which claims that the four living beings that lead the divine throne look like a man, a lion, of a bull and an eagle. Each of these beings is considered the strongest of its species.
The importance of this animal is also evident from the fact that the eagle (the eye that fixes the sun) represents one of the four Apostles, or John. It is not by chance that his Gospel (John 1,1) begins with the ecstasy-admiration of God: “In the beginning was the Word”.
For the Christians, in fact, the eagle symbolizes the resurrection because it is the only bird that can stare at the sun. Also Dante Alighieri in the Divine Comedy, often names the eagle: in particular in the 48th verse of the Primo canto del Paradiso, he writes: Aquila yes not affixed to him unquanco. The great poet uses the allegory of the eagle referring to his guide in Paradise, Beatrice, able to contemplate the sun with depth and immobility.
Another tradition holds that Adam and Eve did not perish, but were turned into eagles in order to live forever on an island off the coast of Ireland.
Eagle as a Totem Animal
In the native American tribes the eagle was an important totemic animal, in fact, its feathers were used as clothing, headgear and other ceremonial objects.
Only the most deserving, proud and courageous of the tribes could adorn their heads with the feathers of this bird.
In this regard it is necessary to understand what a totem is: the word totem comes from the Algonquin Indians and, translated, takes on the meaning of a protecting spirit.
The totem spirits, from the mystical point of view, represent the common destiny that unites animals with men.
The animal totem takes on the appearance of an ancestor and alter ego of an animal (which each of us has) and, as such, must be protected and cannot be eaten.
According to the Cherokee tradition, an arduous task was considered going to look for the eagle feathers needed for the sacred eagle dance. The hunter had to go alone in the mountains for four days, without eating and praying.
To attract the eagle you could use a deer carcass and, through magical chants, once killed, the eagle was left at the place of death so as to be able to celebrate sacred rites later.
Among the natives of North America (for example Navajo) it was widely believed that the eagle of the Southwest was a messenger sent by the gods. The Hopis in February took some small eagles from their nests to take them to the villages and carefully nurture them, spoiling them and giving them even small gifts.
In summer then, during the period of the ceremonies, they were conducted in the ritual caves and sacrificed there along with the toys given. The purpose of this sacrifice was to have the eagles tell men about the gods and ask for help and grace.
Similarly to the Indian populations of the southern regions, those of the North-West think that the eagle is the bird that is in direct contact with the Great Spirit and can fly to the celestial spheres: this is because the spiritual courage of this animal it is very strong and borders on the divine.
Eagle as a talisman, amulet, in Freemasonry and in dreams
According to Indian tradition, the eagle as a talisman helps to have visions and be enlightened, to develop the typical abilities of this bird such as the ability to defend, the constancy, strength, agility, speed, the visual capacity of observation and perceptiveness, to reach a high level of understanding, to make us feel united to the Great Spirit, to entrust our problems to the spirits
The bald eagle is also called American eagle because it was chosen as a symbol to represent this country, attending to its great majesty.
For many people in the United States it means freedom and without a doubt it is the bird that represents their nation.
It is the second largest bird in size in all of North America, second only to the California condor. Bald eagles are very famous and appear in books, in advertising and in a large number of films, especially in those that want to evoke the culture of the Americans.
As for its physiological characteristics, it is an animal that lives for the day and that usually lives alone.
Sometimes they can be seen with other animals, but this only happens in the periods when nesting takes place. In those moments they can get to form large groups of even 400 eagles.