Enjoyed a beautiful day at Leeds Castle, Kent yesterday, weather gorgeous, setting perfect and the peacocks were on top form with the most superb displays on offer for anyone who would give them a slice of fruitcake. So many of the nobility kept peacocks at their grand houses that I thought it was time to find out more about them. Here goes….
…Peacocks – the collective is peafowl but we tend to use the masculine – originated in the jungles of Southwest Asia.
For over 4,000 years peacocks graced Indian temples because of their snake eating ability. The shimmering colours of the tail feathers were explained by the supposed ability to transform snake venom into solar iridescence. It is now the national bird of India.
The Phoenicians are believed to be the first to import peafowl, and later exported all over the known world as treasure; King Solomon brought many of them to Israel.
By the 14th century, peafowl had spread to Europe, kings & nobles used peafowl as living landscapes on their estates.
The peacock is a favourite bird on many coats of arms. The peacock is symbolic of personal pride. During the days of chivalry, one of the most solemn oaths was ”by the Peacock” , because the peacock was thought to have the power of resurrection, like the Phoenix.
Peacocks were thought to be vain birds, with bad tempers.
Legend says the peacock hates gold & will not go near it.
Peacocks are said to be able to foretell rain, they dance when rain is coming.
If a peacock cries more than usual, it is said to foretell the death of someone in the family to which it belongs.
Greek mythology. The peacock belonged to Hera, queen of the Gods. This myth explains the peacock’s ‘eyes’. Argus, Hera’s spy, the hundred eyed giant discovered Zeus with the maiden Io, the guilty Zeus changed Io into a cow to escape Hera’s wrath. Hera saw through the disguise & requested the cow as a gift, Zeus could not refuse her. Hera entrusted Argus to watch Io day & night so she could not change back to her true form. Zeus sent Hermes, messenger of the gods & god of thieves & trickery, to recover Io. Knowing that he could not escape detection from Argus’ 100 eyes, Hermes played lullabies on his flute & Argus fell asleep. Hermes cut off his head. When Hera found Argus, she removed his 100 eyes & placed them on the tail of her favourite bird, the peacock.
Aesop’s fables. In the story, the peacock goes to Juno (the Roman name for the goddess Hera) & complains that the nightingale has a sweet song & he does not. Juno replied that he has beauty & size. The peacock then asked what good was his beauty without a great voice. Juno wisely replied that every creature has its gifts & faults & they should be content with them & who they are.
Hindus thought that the peacock looked like an angel, had the voice of a devil & feet so ugly that the bird screamed every time it caught sight of them.
Muslims thought the peacock symbolized the cosmos (the sun & the moon)
Peacocks were thought to be excellent guards. In Islamic folklore, the peacock stood guard at the gates of Paradise, but the peafowl carried Satan into the Garden of Eden, after consuming him.
In the Middle East, the Kurdish Jezidi (“devil worshippers”) viewed Melek Taus or “King Peacock” as a messenger of God.
The early European church looked upon the peacock as a religious symbol. St Augustine thought that peacock flesh did not decay & therefore was incorruptible. Christians thought these “eyes” were representative of the all-seeing Mother Church. This made the peacock a sacred bird. A necklace of amethyst, peacock feathers & swallow feathers was a talisman to protect its wearer from witches & sorcerers. Christians thought in early times that the peacock’s blood could dispel evil spirits.
The peacock often appears among the animals in the stable in Christ’s nativity.
Two peacocks drinking from a chalice symbolizes rebirth & angels are often depicted with four wings of peacock feathers.
In China, the bird was a symbol of the Ming Dynasty. The Chinese equated the peacock with divinity, rank, power & beauty.
The Chinese thought that a girl who looked at a peacock could become pregnant.
In Japan its feather is an attribute of the goddess Kwannon.
Although held in high honour in many societies, in certain cultures peacocks have been associated with evil. Their tail feathers have been called ‘evil eyes’. In these cultures it is considered bad luck to keep the feathers in the home.
In folk art, peacocks are often painted looking backwards at their tails. Because these feathers are renewed each year, this is considered a symbol for renewal. Cultures around the world often pair parrots, peacocks, & doves as focal points in Tree of Life designs.
In the Southern Hemisphere the constellation Pavo appears in the night sky. Pavo means ‘peacock’. It is one of the twelve southern constellations named by Dutch navigators in the 16th century. The brightest star in the constellation is Alpha Pavonis – the alpha peacock. The asterism within the constellation shaped like a saucer leads to the south if the Southern Cross cannot be found.
Blue Badge tourist guide