In mythology and lore, birds are frequently used to symbolize the human soul and spirituality. Birds have transcendent powers and are associated with deities and humans. Similar in symbolism to angels, birds represent thought, imagination, and swiftness of spiritual processes. In myth and folktales, birds are often intelligent collaborators with man and are bearers of celestial messages. Associated with air, birds symbolize loftiness of spirit.
The Bird Man, a Maori symbol of the divine, is the all-seeing and the all-wise. In Hindu myth, birds are a symbol of higher states of being. In the tree of life, as described in the Mirach, Mohamed observed brightly colored, singing birds who were the souls of the faithful. The Egyptian hieroglyphic symbol of Ba (the soul) is a bird with a human head and represents the idea that the soul flies from the body after death.
Two headed birds generally symbolize alternating contradiction, positive and negative aspects, and harmonious ambiguity. The two-headed eagle is an attribute of twin gods, symbolizing omniscience or double power. The two-headed eagle also represents Nergal, the Babylonian solar deity, and the fierce heat of the summer and noon sun. The three-legged red crow is the Taoist symbol of the solar and yang principle and represents the Great Triad – Heaven, Earth, Man.
Birds in myth are often associated with the sun, wind, storms, and fire. Eagles and swans are the Vedic symbol of the sun. North American Indian myths describe birds as the mythic personification of lightning and thunder. The Swedish mythological Hraesvelg represents the storms and the wind created by beating its enormous wings. Garuda, the eagle, is the Hindu bird of life symbolizes the sky, the sun, and victory. Garuda is the creator and destroyer of all; a solar bird on which Vishnu rides. He is the emblem of Indra and the wielder of vajra, the thunderbolt.
The Phoenix is the universal symbol of resurrection, immortality, and of death and rebirth by fire. An emblem of solar and fire worship; the Phoenix lives a long life, burns itself to ashes, and comes to life again. Purple and red are the predominant colors of the Phoenix. Named by the Phoenicians, the word phoenix is derived from fo-en-ix - one great fire
The Phoenix is also the emblem of the Chinese Empress and is called feng-huang. In Japanese myth, the Phoenix is called Ho-wo and is the symbol of the entire world; its back the crescent moon, its wings the wind, its feet the earth, and its tail the trees and plants.
The negative symbolism of birds is typified by the harpy or harpyiae; the dark, destructive aspect of the great mother. Associated with sudden death, whirlwinds, and storms; the harpy is depicted as a death demon. However, in heraldry, the harpy carries no sinister association. The harpy signifies ferocity under provocation.