Summer Ramblings – Heron Folklore

Emma Kathryn Avatar

“Twilight over meadow and water, the eve-star shining above the hill, and Old Nog the heron crying kra-a-ark! as his slow dark wings carried him down to the estuary.”

~Henry Williamson Tarka the Otter

The dog days of summer are upon us  or will perhaps just be finishing by the time you are reading this). Either way, it’s the middle of August, the summer holidays are in full swing and we are in the middle of a heatwave. The real kind where only the early morning and late evening seem bearable if you have to do anything more taxing than moving. Regular readers will know the woods are my usual haunt, but the last few weeks have seen me seek out different spaces, where water seems to add a coolness to temper the heat of the sun and the more adventurous may do more than paddle their feet…

…The air over the water shimmers in the heat of the morning, warm even at this early hour. The light has that golden syrupy quality that holds the promise of a hot day. The surface of the lake is still, like a mirror, glassy reflections of the trees that line the lake and the blue sky that will later deepen to cornflower as the temperature rises. Dragon flies zip across the surface and a swan moves lazily across the water.

There’s a magic to such places, wouldn’t you agree?

Images come to mind, a fine lady in a fine gown beneath the still waters. The lady of the lake in all her many and varied forms, each time representing something otherworldly. Beautiful and yet terrifying. Stories of what might befall those who succumb to the urge to nap the afternoon away beneath the weeping willow at lakes edge…

But there’s a different kind of magic in places such as this, as there is in all wild places.

Part of building relationships with land and the spirits that reside there involves spending time in those places, simply being there. This is the very beginning of building a spirit work practice, regardless of the tradition or path you follow. 

And the beautiful thing about this process, is that it is actually enjoyable! It’s good for us too, and spending time in nature can help improve mental wellbeing. And the more time you spend in nature, the more you will begin to see. It’s like a reciprocal process, we get to know the land and the land get to know us in return. Soon you’ll be able to spot the signs of animals and wildlife, be able to identify flora and fauna, be able to spot animals where others might walk on by, totally missing them. These things are as ordinary as they might sound on paper and in theory are pure magic when they happen in real life. You’ll see, and it never gets boring.

Today I visited a local-ish country park and spotted a couple of herons. I always like seeing these magnificent birds, so regal are they (plus they look like dinosaurs when they’re flying), and as such occurrences often do, they got me thinking of folklore.

The heron isn’t one of those animals you see much about in terms of folklore and spirituality and yet, they are indeed special creatures.

As with many water birds, herons can be seen as traversing the realms of Earth, Air and Water (land, sky and sea / river). This places them in good stead as messengers between the realms, bringing news good and bad. They can also be seen as liminal birds, living in those in between areas of each plane or realm.

Herons also symbolise qualities such as elegance, tranquillity and serenity and if you ever spend a couple of minutes watching them, you’ll see why. But I also think they reflect or perhaps instil these qualities in the very landscape themselves. Perhaps they represent this oneness with the land that I too am trying to achieve when I come to such places. Or the qualities and energies we draw from such places. Who knows? But what I do know is that magic lingers here.

“Stalking along from log to log, or plunging their long legs in the oozy swamp, two large herons paid no attention to my presence, but occupied themselves with their own fishing arrangements, as if their wilderness were their own.”

~William Cowper Prime (1876). “I Go A-fishing”

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