Famous Bird Gods (17 Deities That You Need to Know)
Birds have played an important cultural role in many societies throughout history, providing a unique insight into what various religions believe. In fact, many ancient cultures either have gods that protect birds or birds that take the form of gods. Bird gods are very common throughout mythology and provide a unique cultural touchstone across multiple varying belief systems.
In this article, we’ll take a deep dive into the world of ancient bird gods and highlight not only the culture from which they originated but what they may have meant to ancient people. This information should give you the insight that you need to understand these cultures better and expand your potential Jeopardy knowledge. You never know when you’ll need to know the Egyptian god of birds!
Japan has a long history of wonderful and dark myths and legends. Birds are commonly featured in their stories, including the Tengu. The Tengu are technically a bird monster that takes on the form of humans and works to corrupt Buddhist followers and monks.
Interestingly, Tengu are now considered to be protectors of sacred forests and mountains! This difference showcases how mythological beliefs and concepts change over time. It also highlights the fluid nature of life within Japan and its unique history and religions.
Horus or Ra is an Egyptian bird god that is also connected heavily to the sun. The name “Ra” means “sun,” which makes Horus one of the most respected and worshiped of early Egyptian gods. His appearance was as as falcon-headed being with a human body.
Beneath Ra, there were many other birds and similar gods that represented other facets of Egyptian society. These include hawks, eagles, and vultures, while doves and swallows are also represented in this hierarchy. This creates much unique symbolism throughout ancient Egyptian legends.
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Geb or Goose is considered another bird god in Egyptian mythology. Geb is considered the Earth God as well as the father of Isis. Geb is considered an important protector in various mythologies, making him very similar to Horus. This role was shared among multiple Egyptian bird gods.
Geb is also considered an important sacred creature that looks over the Pharaoh. This was also heavily connected to falcons and other similar birds of prey. Egypt likely has the highest concentration of bird gods, as you can see from their detailed, gorgeous hieroglyphics.
Ba of Osiris
This important Egyptian god is heavily connected to various birds, particularly the heron. The heron was regarded by the Egyptians as akin to the phoenix. It was regarded as a symbol of rebirth and the sunrise, which makes it very closely related to Ra as well.
Ba of Osiris is also connected to the Sun City of Heliopolis through the heron. The heron is heavily discussed in many Egyptian tales and is commonly seen throughout art, decorations, and hieroglyphics in Egypt. It was likely worshiped due to its beauty and its ability to find water sources.
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While Ibis Thoth is the god of wisdom and not the god of birds in Egyptian mythology, he also has a bird body. Ibis is represented as a long and fast bird, one that moves quickly throughout the skies to spread wisdom and knowledge throughout ancient Egypt.
In fact, Ibis Thoth is very similar to the Greek god Hermes and may even have been an influence on that mythological tradition. Ibis Thoth plays many important roles in Egyptian mythology, including providing advice and wisdom to many pharaohs over the years.
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Maat is the goddess of justice and truth in Egyptian mythology and is often represented as an ostrich. It may also symbolize a woman wearing a headdress made of ostrich feathers. These symbols vary based on the artist’s interpretation, which creates a unique array of different looks for each.
Maat is often heavily featured in various Egyptian myths as the goddess who settles disputes and solves problems. That makes Maat one of the most popular of all Egyptian goddesses, one that is even discussed and respected by modern Egyptians.
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Quetzalcoatl is likely one of the most famous Aztec gods and is a combination of bird and snake. Often called the plumed serpent, he was the god that created the universe and was also later credited with inventing books and calendars, and even works as a god of vegetation!
Fun fact: Quetzalcoatl has been the focus of a few horror movies, including “Q” made by legendary b-film maker Larry Cohen. In this film, a giant bird attacks New York City and is tied to various sacrifices and Aztec rituals designed to bring about the apocalypse.
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The Mayan culture has many bird gods, including Gucup Cakix. This god is not as major as other bird gods, with Itzamna being the biggest and most important. He is typically considered the principal bird deity and is the one that all other bird gods answer to in their duties.
However, Gucup Cakix does serve many roles and is important in multiple stories. In fact, he is often portrayed in existing Mayan temples through detailed drawings. These beautiful decorations often tell in-depth stories that highlight the ancient Mayan culture’s tight connection with nature.
Enjoy the prose within these Famous Bird Haikus!
This Mayan bird god is similar to Gucup Cakix and is found on many different artifacts throughout ancient Mayan civilization. It is technically an alternate name for Itzamna, which is the main god of Mayan mythology. Tecumbalam is another important bird god similar to these.
These connections give Mayan mythology some of the most in-depth and fascinating stories involving bird gods. Itzam-Ye is often seen as a very positive god and a protector, though there are some myths that show him in less flattering roles. He shares this fate with other bird gods across other cultures.
Anthus is the Greek god of birds and is often heavily connected with Athene noctura and the goddess Athena (Minerva in Roman myth). Athene noctura is a tiny owl that accompanies Minerva and represents wisdom and strength. Anthus becomes the god of birds when Apollo and Zeus take pity on his grieving family.
As a result, Anthus becomes the bird god, and his family all turn into birds to be with him. Anthus can even change himself into a bird that neighs like a horse. This beautiful tale is told to celebrate the importance of family connection and to show a softer side of the often rough Apollo and Zeus.
Turkey, Crow, Eagle, Hawk, Owl, Raven, and Thunderbird
In Native American mythologies, there were rarely specific names given to gods or goddesses. Instead, animals (such as the birds mentioned here) were considered guides and spirit helpers that would help guide Native Americans on various spiritual journeys.
Often, these animals were considered totem creatures that helped create a unique connection with the universe. In many beautiful Native American myths, you’ll see Thunderbird, Crow, and Eagle help carry defeated warriors to the afterlife or tricky naughty animals.
Garuda is a Hindu god that is also commonly celebrated in the Buddhist faith. Mentions of Garuda come throughout various writings, including the Shantinatha. He is considered the mount for Lord Vishnu, the primary Hindu god in this multi-faceted religion.
Garuda combines human and eagle features to create a rather fascinating look. Like many bird gods, he is considered the enemy of serpents. Garuda also symbolizes birth and heaven, especially spiritual ascension to a higher plain after death.
Athena is an important Greek goddess and descended from the bird goddess of ancient Europe. Over the years, Athena’s legends deepened her connection to war and battle. She is a parthenogenetic god and can turn into a bird to fight or fly, depending on her needs.
Like many gods and goddesses, she has a very strange origin story. According to the Theogony, she emerged from Zeus’ head intact with a shield, crested helmet, and spear. Frankly, Marvel and DC origin stories have got nothing on that amazing tale.
Morrigan comes from Irish legends and is considered a shape-shifting deity. Commonly, she changes shape to the crow or raven so that she can fulfill her main role as the goddess of the battlefield. She will call warriors to fight when necessary and claim those who pass to take them to the afterlife.
Morrigan even does them the favor of devouring their remains so that enemies cannot abuse them after death. Morrigan wears a cloak of black feathers that, in modern society, would seem to symbolize death. However, black represents regeneration and rebirth in ancient Irish myths. It also shows that the transition between death and life is simply a movement between two different realities.
Let’s highlight one more Egyptian bird god before closing out. Nehket is a bird god heavily worshiped in the region that shares his name. He is heavily connected to the goddess Uadjet and is often considered part of the Nebti or “The Two Ladies.” Even now, some regions in Egypt still follow this god.
Interestingly, there are a few different stories about these two that combine them into a snake being that must balance itself to keep the universe safe. This symbol is very similar to the idea of the “snake eating its own tail” common in many Eastern religions and also used to symbolize balancea nd peace throughout the universe.
Check out these Famous Bird Names in Arts and History!
Bird Gods FAQs
Who is the god of the birds?
The god or goddess of birds will vary depending on the mythological tradition you read. One interesting bird god is Huitzilopochtli, who is the main god in Aztec religions. Interestingly, this god was conceived of a virgin birth and was persecuted by a mythical character very similar to the Bible’s Herod. Many scholars have noted this unique connection to Jesus’ story.
What are bird people called in mythology?
Bird people have many different names in mythological traditions. Norse mythology often calls them Valkyries, which are creatures that carry warriors to the afterlife. In Slavic mythology, bird people are called Sirin, Alkonost and Gamayun. These three birds each sing different songs, respectively: joy, sorrow, and the future. When all three sing the same song, the apocalypse begins.
Who is the Norse god of birds?
Odin is typically called the “raven god” or even “the raven tempter” in Norse mythology. While not technically the “god of birds,” Odin is heavily connected to birds and is often in the company of many species. Odin decides who lives and dies in Norse battles and dispatches ravens and other birds to feast upon their flesh to take them to the afterlife, in a rather poetic metaphor.
Who is the Japanese god of birds?
The Itsumade is a mythological bird in ancient Japan that roams the night sky when there are problematic times affecting Japan. It has the face of a human, body of a snake, and the wings of a bird. While not technically a god, it is the closest thing to a bird god in Japanese mythology. Even modern Japanese citizens claim to see Itsusmade from time to time.
Who is the god of birds in Hinduism?
Garuda is a bird god worshiped not only by Hindus but by Buddhists as well. He is a very large bird that has been known to destroy snakes and even armies filled with gods. Like many gods in ancient mythology, Garuda’s allegiances are often variable. Usually a “good” god, Garuda has sometimes done evil things. This reflects the more complex morality at the core of Hindu and Buddhist beliefs.
Is there a Greek goddess of birds?
Acanthus and her brother Anthus are the Greek goddess and god of birds.
Birds feature in several tales from Greek mythology. In the tale of Acanthus, Zeus and Apollo turn the grieving family into birds after horses ate her brother, Anthus. The people and birds in the myth are Acanthus, Autonous, Anthus, Hippodamia, Erodius, Schoeneus and Acanthus. [Source]
In addition, Zeus was served by a golden eagle who acted as his messenger, called Aetios Deios. Apollo was associated with Ravens. And Athena’s bird was called “the owl of Athena.” Many other gods had birds associated with them or that were sacred to them, such as Artemis and the quail
Is there a Celtic or Welsh goddess of birds?
Rhiannon is the Welsh goddess of birds and horses and according to some legends, is also the queen of fairies. She is also the goddess of transformation and can become multiple forms to help others. Rhiannon is typically seen as a positive goddess and is worshiped as an example of truth, love, and beauty.
Wrap Up – Famous Bird Gods
We loved exploring the fantastic, intricate, and culturally diverse mythology of famous bird gods. And we hope that you did too!
You might also enjoy this list of the Most Famous Birds in Literature!