One of the most recognisable songbirds in the garden is the plucky Robin. Being a member of the thrush family, it’s not only cousin to the song thrush and blackbird, but also to the nightingale, so it’s no surprise that the robin has a beautiful voice as well.
You will find robins - or “so called” robins - all over the world, but the distribution of our European Robin, (Erithacus rubecula), covers Europe, North Africa, and parts of Asia. Many attempts have been made to introduce this lovely bird to the likes of North America, Australia, and New Zealand, but none have been successful.
Due to old superstition and medieval folklore concerning robins in the British Isles, they have generally been left undisturbed here, as it was seen as a very bad omen to hurt or interfere with the lives of this little bird. To have a robin die in one’s hand would cause the hand in question to always then shake, breaking the eggs of a robin would mean something valuable of yours would be broken, and a tampered or destroyed nest could certainly hike up the price of your own home insurance; karmic tit for tat in other words.
Whilst over in continental Europe the robin was fair game, and so could be hunted of persecuted like any other bird. So now today, when you’re turning over your continental soil, the robin will be keeping a safe and shy distance, whereas in Britain it’s not uncommon to be accompanied by the ‘Gardeners Friend’, the opportunistic robin, who - having evolved to be less fearful of its fellow islanders - is hoping you’ll expose a juicy worm or two; they are also known to approach other turf disturbing large mammals such as wild boar.
With its red breast, folklore and mythology has frequently connected the robin to fire, where he most famously acquired his scarlet plumage at the attendance of Christ’s birth (nonetheless). Noticing that the little fire built to keep Mary and Jesus warm was going out, he flew over to fan the embers with his wings and scorched his chest in the process; another biblical mythical take on the fire theme tells of how the robin flew into the flaming depths of hell to carry water to parched eternal sinners.
I’m sure you’ll agree, whether the robin is ensuring little baby Jesus stays warm and toasty, quenching the thirst of the dammed, or simply defending his garden territory, the robin is a little trooper by no mistake!
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Here are ten interesting narratives about songbirds with references to their place in our culture. Some are form ancient mythologies like the wren being, "King of the birds" and others like the deaf thrush more recent.
In South Africa you will find the historic ethnic culture called Xhosa. These people have very strong oral lore traditions, and for centuries they have passed down spoken tales of myth and folklore.
In the ancient collection of Welsh Mabinogian myths, you will find a Celtic story about a boy called Dylan, forsaken by his mother, but acknowledged by his great uncle, Math. When the boy is baptised he literally takes to the baptismal waters like a fish, moving and swimming through the water as though he was sea born. Dylan ail Don - son of the wave - was to be known as the sea god who lived under the stormy waters of Cardigan Bay.