If you asked somebody what Birds they’d associate with Odin, the answer would be very simple. Ravens. Corvids. Crows. And yet while that’s absolutely correct – it’s also rather incomplete.
For you see, there’s an entire suite of avians either directly or potentially associated with Odin – and which happen to work out rather strongly commensurate with the general typology for such things for the Indo-European Sky Father Deific.
So, for example, Odin transforms into an Eagle in the course of His recovery of the Mead of Poetry – a situation which directly concords with Agni(-Rudra) transforming into a Raptor (Shyena – translatable as Falcon / Hawk) to bring the Soma in the Vedic sphere.
This may be what informs the otherwise not-really-explained occurrence in the Thulur of a certain ‘Arnhǫfði’ amidst the Names of Odin.
What does Arnhofdi mean? ‘Eagle-Head(ed)’.
(ON: ǫrn – ‘eagle’, in combination with ON: hǫfuð – ‘head’… which, oddly enough, in both cases, the English terms are directly cognates with the Old Norse ones).
But what does that mean mean?
A number of potential interpretations suggest themselves.
It could be that it refers to Odin adopting the shape, the ‘guise’, the ‘mask’ of an Eagle in the myth of the Mead.
Or, perhaps, that it is some specific quality of the Eagle that is linked to its (and His) Head that is relevant – its incredible (and downright ‘all-seeing’) quality of vision from up there on high, perhaps. (And c.f. Odin’s limitless perspicacity from His Throne of Hlidskjalf, in that case)
A third possibility – which I would consider perhaps rather remote, but certainly very cool in an iconographic sense – would pertain to those occasional ‘Winged Helmet’ depictions one sees for Odin … although I don’t believe I’ve yet had the pleasure of encountering one that’s not comparatively recent in its design and execution.
A slightly more ‘realistic’ variant of this would instead connect the ‘Eagle’ saliency to the ‘Bird Head’ horns that show up on some historical Germanic depictions of helmeted warriors. In those cases, instead of ornate ‘wings’ akin to that of an eagle, one ought be looking for aquiline beaks at the tips of horns.
[As a point of perhaps comparative interest, the name of the Sharabha ‘Gryphonic’ form of Rudra is from the PIE term for ‘Horn’, something I’d often taken to refer, in the sense of ‘Sharpness’, to the Sharabha’s formidable beak when it occurs there – in much the same sense as the root of ‘Gryphon’, itself, pertains to the frightful Beak of that (similarly Sky Father associated) creature]
Perhaps we might suggest some form of ‘totemic’ function for an ‘eagle’ iconographed helm? Whether in the sense of those aforementioned desirable qualities of the Eagle, or for that matter in terms of the potential ‘mythic resonancy’ of wearing Eagle designs as part of an effort to attempt to ‘draw in’ the power associated with the Mead of Poetry and have it ‘delivered’ into one’s head in the similar manner to the Meath’s mythic delivery by a very prominent Eagle-shaped God.
Or, for that matter, if it were to turn out that the two Birds of the Horns were in fact Ravens, then affixing each with nomenclature affiliated to mental processings – ‘thought’, and ‘memory’, perhaps – should only make obvious, logical sense. As a totemic ‘resonancy’ on the part of human emulators, or in the original and divinely salient typology which such an act of ‘return’ / ‘recurrence’ would be incipiently referencing.
In any case, what we can say is that the Indo-European Sky Father Deific often has such Eagle associations – seen most prominently viz. Zeus / Jupiter … although also present in amidst the avian coterie of Rudra (Shiva) as attested in the AtharvaVeda (XI 2 24).
There are other Birds mentioned there, too – including, interestingly, the Swan. Which I mention here because we have prominent citation for Zeus having a ‘Swan’ form adopted in particular Classical myth … and because the specific connotations for the Swan in Hindu iconography (‘Eloquence’ and ‘Immortality’) and Shaivite association are, perhaps, rather relevant when considering the Nordic saliency for Swans at the Well of Urdr.
Further, the ‘Swan Maidens’ that turn up with some coterminity with the Valkyries should additionally point toward an Odinic resonancy – but more upon that at some other time, as I’m still in the process of researching and properly fleshing out the relevant archaic IE typology.
Now, as it happens, that Swan connexion further demonstrates another point of import in broader IE comparanda terms – as, along with the Ravens / Crows, we find these as birds with a particular linkage to Apollo. Given the general prominent coherency of Apollo with Rudra in other terms, it therefore makes some reasonable sense that this linkage may be similarly taken as supporting the Swan in connection to the deific complex in question as having quite some archaic provenance to it indeed.
The Crow or Raven is often thought of as prominent for the Sky Father (especially His ‘Darker’ Visages) due to the battlefield and death associations. And this is not incorrect – only incomplete.
What we actually appear to see a lot of the time is that the Black Bird turns up to communicate something – whether acting ‘indirectly’ via facilitating divination attempts by seers on the ground; or more overtly and speaking to the favoured figure receiving the Divine message upon that particular occasion. [c.f., for instance, the situation of Kon in the Rigsthula being advised by a Crow to seek worthier prey and start in the serious game of empire-building, rather than merely hunting birds – perhaps with a note of self-interest ]
Given the nomenclature utilized for at least one of Odin’s Ravens (Munin – which I would presume would derive from Proto-Indo-European *Men [‘Mind’, ‘Mental Activity’, ‘Spirit’] – whence also ‘Manes’, etc.), it may be tempting to speculate that the understanding in the Hindusphere for Ravens / Crows as the returned Shades of departed dead forebears might be something of a broader potential saliency. Emissaries of the Sky Father in His sphere as the Lord of the (Glorious / Ancestral) Dead, and comprised, effectively, of (formerly from ‘here’) denizens of His Realm sent back amidst the living.
Although, of course, the more prominent understanding for Muninn et co is a more direct ‘part’ of the Sky Father, a part of His Psyche – an expressed emanation. And thus, no doubt, shall we find that various other of these Avian coteries are likely to be similarly also viewable as including not only ‘Forms’ directly of the Deific – but also ‘parts’ of Him, that have adopted a form appropriate to Their essential essence and ‘where they fit in’ accordingly.
The Corvid, of course, being that famously clever creature, representing an obvious symbolic ‘vector’ for Thought and Memory – the Mental faculties. The Swan, I semi-suspect, something to do with ‘Love’ – Its most hallowed expressions, those of the eloquent speech (with which it is enrapturously expounded) and eternity (which it ultimately represents). The Hawk? Speed, swiftness, ‘unrestricted movement’ which may appear in a flash from even the furthest and extraplanar spheres away. The Eagle – power, , regency, ‘the high’ and also being able to ‘reach out and touch’ both with Eye and Talon even from all the way up there in the celestial, imperial heavens. The Gryphon, meanwhile, marrying the aforementioned with the Lion, becomes a ‘Warder’, a ‘Custodian’, an ‘Enforcer’ of the Divine Will – as we seem to find attested with reasonable directness if you know where and how to look in both the Hellenic and Hindu canons.
In any case, what we can say is that the reasonably strong contiguity of various of these Avian associations for Sky Father expressions across the IE sphere likely supports their being of archaic, even PIE era promulgation.
It would thusly appear that it is not only the Ravens (and other Corvids) Who are Ancestral.