Tuesday, May 23, 2017
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Storks in Mythology and Literature

An old Polish folktale tells us that frogs, lizards, snakes, and other similar animals became so numerous and caused so many problems that God put them all in a sack to get rid of them. He gave the sack to a a human, with instructions to empty the sack into the sea. Curiosity overcame the weak human, who opened the sack to see what was inside. All of the animals escaped and hid, so God changed the man into a stork to hunt them and clean up the mess (Knab, 1996)

Another tale describes how the stork got her colors of black and white, and why she travels from Poland to Africa each year. You can read this tale at Poppyfield Press, where you will also see beautiful notecards with the image shown here.

Storks make the Best Parents

Poppy StorkThe best known modern image of the stork is as the bringer of babies: we have all seen the image of a flying stork carrying a little "bundle of joy" to new parents. In ancient Greek mythology, the stork was actually a symbol of stealing a baby and carrying it away. Gerana, a beautiful Queen of the Pygmies, was changed into a stork by Hera, one of the goddesses whom she had made angry. As a stork, Gerana tried to abduct her own child, Mopsus, whom she loved, but was constantly chased away by her former kin.

In Norse mythology and other folklore, the stork represents a life-long commitment to family values, since it is considered to be monogamous, although this is not actually true. For Early Christians, the stork became an emblem of a chaste marriage, and this symbolism endured to the 17th century, as in Henry Peacham's Emblem Book, Minerva Britanna.

The legend that the stork brings babies probably originated in northern Europe, perhaps because storks arrive on their breeding grounds in Poland and Germany nine months after midsummer. Storks were encouraged to nest on people's homes and properties in the hope that they would bring fertility and prosperity. The Hebrew word for stork was equivalent to "kind mother," and the care of storks for their young, in their highly visible nests, made the stork a widespread symbol of parental care.

Storks, the Soul, & the Afterlife

In Egyptian mythology, the stork was often associated with the ba or personality, the unique individual character of each human being. The ba or soul was represented by a bird, usually a stork, with a human head. The Egyptians linked the migratory behavior of the stork to the soul's departure from and return to a sleeping human; they also thought that the ba could return to the body of a deceased person, because that was its rightful home.

Stories about Storks

Aesop, the 6th century BC Greek fabulist, wrote tales about the stork, including one in which the the stork and fox dine together, and another in which the stork gets caught up with bad company. Other tales may be about a crane or a stork, such as this one about a wolf . The fable about the frogs who desired a king is one of the stories that tells us about the food that storks eat.

The two books pictured below are charming stories about storks in Poland. The one on the left by Susan Throckmorton is very colorful, since it is decorated with the author's own paper cutout art (wycinanki), and is written in both Polish and English. The story of Bocheck in Poland won first prize in a national contest sponsored by the American Council of Polish Cultural Clubs in the early 1980s.

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