Hob & Broom: Household Lore & Traditions

An exploration of the old spirits, symbols, customs, and crafts of the home.

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White Storks in European Traditions and Stories

"I know the pond in which all the little children lie, waiting till the storks come to take them to their parents."

-Hans Christian Andersen, "The Storks"

 


Storks are surrounded by rich folklore throughout the world. They often have associations with family welfare -- from childbirth to care for aging parents -- as well as death and rebirth, home protection, and good fortune.

 

In Central and Western European cultures, household and family associations are strongest. Many of us are likely familiar with the tradition of storks delivering babies to families. The tradition is thought to have originated in Central Europe, specifically Germany. Nowadays, little mention is made of where the storks get the babies, but older traditions state that they come from caves or marshes, places intimately connected with the underworld and perceived as portals into it. In Slavic myth, storks bring unborn souls from Vyraj, a paradisiacal Otherworld, when they return in spring and summer.

 

It is worth mentioning that many Celtic goddesses of healing and fertility were connected with and worshiped at bodies of water -- rivers, lakes, marshes, bogs, ponds, and wells. This is also true for some Germanic goddesses. Frigg's hall Fensalir literally means "fen-hall”; and Frau Holle is often said to live in an underworld at the bottom of a well or pool and was petitioned to increase fertility (both of people and the land). Frau Perchta, too, travels with a train of infants and is sometimes described as having the foot of a goose, linking her with water birds.

 

In The Gods of the Celts, Miranda Green mentions a Celtic cult incorporating or focused on water birds, including swans, geese, and wading birds. In ancient iconography, Celtic water bird imagery is often paired with solar images, suggesting a mythological connection between the two. Perhaps it's their airy, migrant nature, the sun's apparent passage across the sky, and the seasonal shifts accompanying both, that draw the two together. Where the sun goes, the birds go, too. And when birds return, spring is setting in.

 

Storks often build their nests on rooftops, as they have little fear of humans unless disturbed by them. I’ve written before that figures of animals have traditionally decorated roofs across the world -- from England to China -- for apotropaic purposes, and the presence of live, nesting storks on a roof was considered fortunate. In Germany, it was believed that they would protect the house from destructive fires. In at least one town in Austria, homeowners even go so far as to build frames to support storks’ nests directly above chimneys to keep the nest from blocking the flue -- a great example of working with nature rather than against it.

 

In folklore, when storks deliver babies, they drop them down the chimney, a passage often connected with spirits: think of Santa Claus, Italy's La Befana, and folklore surrounding alps and other household spirits. The chimney is, by design, connected with both the hearth, a universally sacred space, and the protective roof, a barrier against visiting spirits (including revenants). Altogether, this designates the chimney as a powerfully liminal space, a portal to and from the Otherworld, which can be useful but also requires protection. Storks, as migrating animals, embody these simultaneous liminal and protective powers.

 

White storks are starkly beautiful creatures, with their white and black plumage, shining almond-shaped eyes, and dagger-like beaks. Like other water birds, they have the power to traverse multiple elements -- earth, water, and sky. Their gentleness and willingness to cohabitate with humans has endeared them to many peoples, from Europe to Africa, for thousands of years. And this reverence for them persists. May it continue to be so.

 

 

 

Photo by Patrick Brinksma on Unsplash

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The Cunning Wife is an animist, writer, diviner, crafter, witch, spirit worker and traveler, guided by both philosophical Taoism and Germanic and Slavic folk traditions. Her written work has been published in a number of online and print magazines, including Witches & Pagans. She gets excited about scholarly essays and books on folklore, magical tales, and ancient spiritual practices, and is passionate about sharing that information in ways that are accessible and relevant. She is also an avid crafter of magical and mundane items. She believes that there is magic in the mundane, just waiting to be remembered.  

Comments

  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham Wednesday, 04 September 2019

    The local library used to have a book called Australia Dreaming. If I remember correctly it mentioned that the spirits of the unborn gathered in trees overlooking ponds and hunted their fathers to be. I don't remember any bird lore associated with the place however.

  • The Cunning Wife
    The Cunning Wife Tuesday, 24 September 2019

    That's fascinating!

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