When we think of feathers, we automatically think of birds. In this context, feathers have a long history of meaning and symbolism in human cultures all across the world. For some, the feather means liberation and personal freedom. For others, the feather is symbolic of transcending the earthly realm and flying to higher planes of existence.
What Does a Feather Mean?
It might have become apparent to science and paleontologists that some dinosaurs, including the feared Tyrannosaurus Rex, might actually have sported a plume of colored feathers on parts of their bodies. After all, reptiles are the evolutionary ancestor of our modern birds. But these days, we associate feathers with birds rather than their reptilian cousins.
Here are some of the most common meanings attributed to feathers:
- Liberation and freedom of the self and the spirit
- Transformation and spiritual rebirth
- Communication with other planes of existence
- A personal awakening or a spiritual enlightenment
The Ability to Fly
Ever since we first witnessed birds flying in the air, we have been fascinated. In this context, birds have long held the attention of many indigenous cultures across the world, especially in areas where birds are common.
In fact, for most of human history birds have been able to do the one thing that we cannot: fly free in the air. Even after the development of the first airplanes, humans have been looking for ways to experience the grace and freedom of flying solo, just like the birds.
Native American Connections
For the Native Americans, the use of bird feathers was a huge part of their ritual and spiritual culture. Bird feathers were not only incorporated into headwear, but also used in ceremonial dances. The Native Americans also used feather tattoos to connect with the spiritual qualities they associated with birds, including personal spiritual transformation.
The Eagle is the most recognizable bird in Native American mythology and spirituality. In this sense, any Native American warriors carrying Eagle feathers were thought to be imbued with the courage, bravery, and power of the Eagle. Eagle feathers have also traditionally been used in Native American head wear to represent royalty or prestige of the Chief.
For the ancient Egyptians, the feather was related to Shu, one of the sky deities. It may also be from the Egyptians that we derived the saying: “as light as a feather.” In some ancient Egyptian art, a feather was depicted on one side of the scales, and the heart of a dead person on the other. If the heart was as light as a feather, it meant that it was not full of impurities. In this case, the deceased person could make their long journey in the afterlife.
The Wings of an Angel
For many people, the other association with feathers is through Christianity. The glorious Angel, with feathery wings spread outward has captured many imaginations. We associate the biblical Angel with goodness and God.
Angels themselves are very close to God and represent the spiritual freedom that we have if we follow this spiritual pathway. Let us not forget that Lucifer was also once an Angel close to God. When he fell and became Satan, he lost his wings and his feathers. He was thus cast out of Heaven and into Hell.
When the earth was flooded and Noah saved as many animals as he could on his Ark, the end of the flood was symbolized when Noah saw a white dove flying through the air. In this incarnation, the dove was a symbol of peace and also hope.
For the Islamic faith too, birds have powerful meaning. Muhammed was saved by a bird in one story.
Saved by a Giant Bird
Birds have not only been important in religious texts or in spiritual connections. We have long had a fascination with the power of flight and how birds can transcend different planes.
In Tolkein’s classic, The Lord of the Rings, Gandalf was saved by a giant eagle from the clutches of the corrupted wizard Saruman. When all seemed lost, and Gandalf had fought the Balrog and was then captured and imprisoned by Saruman, he summoned a giant Eagle and was saved.
Should You Get a Feather Tattoo?
There are clearly many bird species important across the world to many human cultures, and one of these may hold special appeal to you. For example, an Eagle feather may be representative of your Native American ancestry.
Feathers also hold special significance across religions too. While it is forbidden in Islam to use the representation of the feather, a Christian may feel a special bond to the story of Noah and the flood, as symbolized by the dove. The Angel, being closest to God, may also hold special appeal.
Even on a general level, the feather can be used by both men and women to symbolize their movement toward a personal goal, such as spiritual enlightenment or some sort of personal transformation. The feather may also be important to someone because it represents freedom and liberation from some oppression or former way of life.
Different Types of Feather Tattoo
When thinking about what type of feather tattoo to have, you should perhaps also consider the bird. For example, a raven feather was important to the Celts because it symbolized one of their most important deities: Morrigan. While the Eagle feather was important to the Native Americans, in this sense, regional bird species variation played a huge role in what feathers were important to specific human cultures.
So, given the variation of bird species, what type of feather tattoo should you get? Here are some ideas:
The Noble Eagle
Maybe you want to draw strength from the courageous and brave Eagle, just as the Native Americans did? Or, maybe you have Native American ancestry and wish to celebrate it?
Whatever the case, the Eagle feather tattoo symbolizes strength, bravery, and courage. It also represents the royalty of the Chief and is directly related to the Native American Great Spirit, which was also represented by an Eagle.
The Colorful Peacock
When we think of Peacocks, we also think of flamboyance and flashiness. The male Peacock is the one with the display of colorful feathers, and it uses them to try and attract a suitable mate. Perhaps you are a flamboyant person, or you simply love the color of peacock feathers.
The Wise and Mystical Owl
The Owl has long been associated with intelligence and wisdom. They are also creatures of the dark, and many people relate to their darker natures, shrouded in mysticism. In this sense, owls have a dual nature: light and dark.
A Raven Feather
The Celtic deity, Morrigan, wore a cloak made entirely of raven’s feathers. She was the Goddess of prophecy, fate, war, death, and destiny. Her ravens carried away the poor souls who had died on the battlefield, and Celtic warriors worshipped her to gain her favor in war and battle.
Morrigan is both fearsome and mystical. She held an important place in Celtic cosmology, but was also associated with the darker aspects of life and death.
The bird has been a symbol for humans across many centuries, and the power of flight continues to fascinate us to this day. Our ancestors used the feather as a way to symbolize freedom, wisdom, and transcendence, and we can still draw inspiration from them in our own feather tattoo designs.