Where there is great potential for things to go badly wrong you will find superstitions. Whether it be on the battle field, the football pitch, or the farmland. No more so is the potential for disaster more prevalent than on stage in the theatre. And yes, no one usually physically dies, but a persons career certainly can! So make sure there’s no whistling back stage, no wearing the colour blue, no performances of Macbeth, no mirrors, and certainly no peacock feathers!
This bizarre peacock superstition has links to old Mediterranean cultures where the feathered eye markings were associated with the ‘evil eye’ , a window for the female demon, Lilith. But it is also known that the Greeks and Romans often served up a roasted peacock for dinner, with the feathers neatly reapplied using honey for glue, so they didn’t mind who was watching then!
Leaving Europe behind (which isn’t even the home of the bird anyway) and travelling further east, we find a contrast in beliefs. Where the peafowl is duly honoured for their good luck, and their feathers no longer have the evil eye, but carry the eyes of protection.
In Sri Lanka, peacock feathers were not only used to ward off evil spirits, they were also used to cure snake bites and heal broken bones. In Hindu mythology the peacock is associated with Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity, beauty, and compassion. There are also strong connections with Lord Krishna himself, who is often portrayed wearing peacock feathers. In Buddhism peacocks represent openness, which is symbolised in their amazing tail fan displays. They are also noted for being able to eat poisonous plants which attributes to an immortal status. Purity is also an association, and their feathers are frequently used in Buddhist purification ceremonies.
Eastern or western superstitions aside. These lovely feathers were not intended for us humans. They are for the peahen alone. It is the drab mousy brown female peafowl who we have to thank for such sights. She had the vision, and over thousands - if not millions - of years, she has put the peacock through his paces. Brighter! Bigger! Bolder! Until finally we have this specimen - the ultimate avian drag queen.
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With the exception of artists, inventors, and teenagers - we humans are diurnal daytime creatures on the whole, and although it’s one thing to be out and about during the night in a street lit urban environment, it’s a very different scenario if you find yourself in, say… oh, I don’t know, a forest per se. Where, if you’re lucky, you may hear the unmistakable cry or hoot of an Owl: natures very own nocturne, a stark reminder of the unknown peril of night, and a creature that has featured heavily in myth and folklore throughout the ages.