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The Prophetic Birds of Russian Folklore

14. January 2010 by Gregg 0 Comments

Slavic Folklore is full of recurring themes of valiant hero knights, terrifying monstrous villains and strange faraway lands. One archetype which has made it into at least three separate legends is a bird with a woman’s face. Often hailing from a land referred to as Paradise, these creatures would appear carrying prophetic messages, or to inspire mortal prophets and artists. 

Gamayun

Gamayun

Tied heavily to one of the Slavic creation myths, Gamayun is a large bird – often, but not always described as being white in color. Famously depicted by Revalist Artist Viktor Vasnetsov, this bird had the head of a beautiful woman and was the bird of Wisdom. Russian poet Alexander Blok wrote about the creature prophesying the Tatar Yoke where the Mongols and Tatars oppressed the Rus. This period lasted from 1237 to 1462.

Alkonost

Alkonost

With a name derived from the Greek mythological figure Alcyone and a history based around the legend of the Sirens, the Alkonost was another half-woman half-bird creature. She was depicted as having a beautiful singing voice which foretold a bright and positive future, but that anyone who heard it would forget everything else in the world. The Alkonost is frequently depicted as the bird of Joy, counterpoint to the bird of sorrow: The Sirin

The Sirin

The Sirin

The Sirin, also based on the Greek legend of the Sirens, is another bird in Russian folklore. Depicted in different and somewhat contradictory ways, the Sirin has been called the Bird of Joy, but also a representation of God’s Will and World Harmony. Like the Alkonost, her song can distract humans from everything else and they will frequently follow the Sirin and die.

All three birds were depicted as coming from Paradise or from nearby lands, as time went on the descriptions changed to explain the birds hailing from the Garden of Eden, and the image of a bird with a woman’s face became an important symbol in Russian Orthodox Christinity.