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The Thorn Bird

The Thorn Bird

Postby dilia » Tue Jan 07, 2014 6:57 pm

Could someone kindly point me towards any mention of the Thorn Bird fable in original folklore/mythological sources? I remember the story from my childhood, and would like to know if it comes from actual myth or is a later invention; supposedly it is a Celtic legend, but I cannot find the original.

This comes from Colleen McCullough's novel The Thorn Birds, and though a bit on the purple side, it's quite close to the way I remember it:
“There is a legend about a bird which sings just once in its life, more sweetly than any other creature on the face of the earth. From the moment it leaves the nest it searches for a thorn tree, and does not rest until it has found one. Then, singing among the savage branches, it impales itself upon the longest, sharpest spine. And, dying, it rises above its own agony to outcarol the lark and the nightingale. One superlative song, existence the price. But the whole world stills to listen, and God in His heaven smiles. For the best is only bought at the cost of great pain…”

Thank you!
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Re: The Thorn Bird

Postby Nahemah » Sun Jan 12, 2014 9:25 pm

I'm sorry I've never heard of this,outside of a tenous connection to the [European]Robin Redbreast,that is.

I remember my gran telling me about this,though :


...Robins are heralds of our Spring. We eagerly await the sighting of the first Robin. And in Christian lore the red-breasted birds have even more associations with Spring. The story goes that the Robin felt Christ's agony during the Crucifixion, and went to pull a thorn from His brow....

My gran also believed that a Robin getting into the home was a sure sign of impending death to a family member and I recall [with horror] her trying to catch one to kill it,as that was the 'only way to redirect the death energy' safely,trading life for life.

She didn't catch it,though and I was glad of that.I was very upset she wanted to kill it and I was only wee at the time,but I remember the fuss and hoohah vividly.

My great uncle died within days of this happening.

I still doubt killing the bird would have changed that. It is to be regarded,if anything,as a herald of impending events rather than a doer of evil deeds in it's own right.

Christian overwriting of old legends clouds the vision somewhat,I find. [thumbup]

More folklore here:


Another association of the Robin with death is in a pagan belief. In Celtic traditions, Yule is the time when the Oak King triumphs over the Holly King. The Holly King represents the death and darkness that has ruled since the onset of Samhain (Halloween). At the time of the Winter Solstice, the Oak King is reborn and begins a new cycle of life and lightness. A similar version of the Oak King versus the Holly King theme is the killing of the Wren. The Wren is the little King of the Waning Year, and is killed by the Robin Redbreast, the new King of the Waxing Year....

...Because of his red breast and this association with fire, like the Raven in mythology, the Robin is said to have brought fire from heaven. As such, in folklore, Robins are considered holy birds, and are beloved by gardeners for they remind him of paradise and the legendary Garden of Eden. A similar myth has it that the Robin was a storm-cloud bird held sacred by Thor, the god of Thunder in Norse mythology.

In the old folklore traditions of Great Britain, if a Robin pecks at your window or enters your house, it is likely a death will soon occur there. Likewise, if a Robin flies into a house through an open window, it was taken as a sign of death being present. This idea is thought to have come from an old 16th century folktale called “Babes in the Wood”, which implies that if a Robin finds a human corpse, it would cover the corpse with moss, leaves and flowers, effectively burying it...
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