Many believe that Spring fully takes over Winter once storks return from the warmer climes. But there's so much more to these birds - the symbol of returning to the homeland, family and.. Well read on and find out for yourself!
Storks are one of the most honored birds in Ukrainian culture. People used to call them ‘botsiun’, ‘boussel’, ‘buz’ko’ – in Ukrainian translated as God’s Bird (Божа птиця) – an indication of deep sacredness of this image. However, the stork is not some distant incomprehensible transcendent symbol. It’s always within immediate vicinity to people. Storks often nest on people’s property, right on top of their houses even, and according to folk belief – a family chosen by the bird is in for great luck and prosperity. People really believed this omen, so much in fact, that they tried to create favorable conditions for the storks to build nests – they’d put old cart wheels on trees or roof tops as a platform for nests, to lure the birds. If a stork did settle around a family’s house he was considered their guardian, the protector of their livestock and all property.
The sacred image of a stork is quite complex. On the one hand, just like all birds, storks are connected with the sky and the sun. People used to believe that it was a stork that first brought people sparks of heavenly fire. A stork, insulted or injured by people, could take away their health and welfare; their house could be struck by lightning or burn down due to any other natural cause. So storks were believed to be the lords of destructive fire and salutary rain.
The birds' connection to water is quite logical, as storks mainly find food on lakes, rivers or bogs, feeding on frogs and snakes. People in Polissia believed that by killing a snake or a frog, and thus assimilating oneself to a stork, a person could invoke rain. Under no circumstances was one to kill a stork! Such actions would inevitably bring either terrible droughts or lingering rains and floods.
Rain, a life-giving essence that fertilizes the land, was also an image of unity between heaven and earth, the upper world and the world of humans and animals. That’s why throughout Europe people believed that rain on a wedding day was a good sign, it predicted the couple a happy life and many children.
Water and storks are involved in another belief. The birds were thought to deliver the souls of unborn children from the other world. A Germanic belief says that if one were to lay on the ground, beside a spring stemming from underneath a tree, they’d hear the voices of unborn children living in the underworld. Storks fished the souls out of rivers, lakes, wells and bogs with their long beaks and then delivered to people. In this context storks are presented as guides between worlds. Such beliefs were so popular that in some Ukrainian villages, if a child passed away, locals made ceremonial cookies in the shape of storks.
Interestingly enough – rainbow was yet another symbol of unity between heavenly and earthly waters. And in some Indo-European myths rainbows are held by heavenly birds, by description resembling storks. That’s why sometimes people called storks ‘veselyky’ (in Ukr. veselka means rainbow).
As soon as it starts getting colder storks travel to the mystical ‘Vyriy’ (translated from old Slavonic as a body of water), where birds spend the Winter and people live before birth and after death.