Animal Ghosts or Animal Hauntings and the Hereafter by Elliott O'Donnell
VII BIRDS AND THE UNKNOWN
Owls, though no less sensitive to superphysical influence, are not scared by it; they and bats, alone among the many kinds of animals I have tested, take up their abode in haunted localities, and with the utmost sang-froid appear to enjoy the presence of the Unknown, even in its most terrifying form.
The owl has been associated with the darker side of the Unknown longer than any other bird.
"Solaque, culminibus ferali carmine bubo. Saepe queri et longas in fletum ducere voces," writes Virgil.
Pliny, in describing this bird, says, "bubo funebris et maxime abominatus"; whilst Chaucer writes: "The owl eke that of death the bode ybringeth."
In the Arundel family a white owl is said to be a sure indication of death.
That Shakespeare attached no little importance to the fatal crying of the bird may be gathered from the scene in _Macbeth_, when the murderer asks:
"Didst thou not hear a noise?" and Lady Macbeth answers:
"I heard the owl scream and the crickets cry"; and the scene in _Richard III_, where Richard interrupts a messenger of evil news with the words:
"Out on ye, owls! Nothing but songs of death?"
Gray speaks of "moping" owls; Chatterton exclaims, "Harke! the dethe owle loude dothe synge"; whilst Hogarth introduces the same bird in the murder scene of his _Four Stages of Cruelty_.
Nor is the belief in the sinister prophetic properties of the owl confined to the white races; we find it everywhere--among the Red Indians. West Africans, Siamese, and Aborigines of Australia.
In Cornwall, and in other corners of the country, the crowing of a cock at midnight was formerly regarded as indicating the passage of death over the house; also if a cock crew at a certain hour for two or three nights in succession, it was thought to be a sure sign of early death to some member of the household. In _Notes and Queries_ a correspondent remarks that crowing hens are not uncommon, that their crow is very similar to the crow of a very young cock, and must be taken as a certain presagement of some dire calamity.
It was generally held that in all haunted localities the ghosts would at once vanish--not to appear again till the following night--at the first crowing of the cock after midnight. I believe there is a certain amount of truth in this--at all events cocks, as I myself have proved, are invariably sensitive to the presence of the superphysical.
The whistler is also a very psychic bird. Spenser, in his _Faerie Queene_ (Book II, canto xii, st. 31), alludes to it thus:--
"The whistler shrill, that whoso hears doth die";
whilst Sir Walter Scott refers to it in a similar sense in his _Lady of the Lake_.
The yellow-hammer was formerly the object of much persecution, since it was believed that it received three drops of the devil's blood on its feather every May morning, and never appeared without presaging ill luck. Parrots do not appear to be very susceptible to the influence of the Unknown, and indicate little or no dread of superphysical demonstrations.
Doves, wrens, and robins are birds of good omen, and the many superstitions regarding them are all associated with good luck. Doves, I have found in particular, are very safe psychic barometers in haunted houses.
It is almost universally held to be unlucky to kill a robin. A correspondent of _Notes and Queries_ (Fourth Series, vol. viii, p. 505) remarks:
"I took the following down from the mouth of a young miner:
"'My father killed a robin and had terrible bad luck after it. He had at that time a pig which was ready for pipping; she had a litter of seven, and they all died. When the pig was killed the two hams went bad; presently three of the family had a fever, and my father himself died of it. The neighbours said it was all through killing the robin.'"
George Smith, in his _Six Pastorals_ (1770), says:
"I found a robin's nest within our shed,
In Yorkshire it was once firmly believed that if a robin were killed, the cows belonging to the family of the destroyer of the bird would, for some time, only give bloody milk. At one time--and, perhaps, even now--the robin and wren, out of sheer pity, used to cover the bodies of those that died in the woods with leaves.
Webster, in his _Tragedy of Vittoria Corombona_ (1612), refers to this touching habit of these birds thus:
"Call for the robin redbreast and the wren,
Not so harmless is the stormy petrel, whose advent is looked upon by sailors as a sure sign of an impending storm, accompanied by much loss of life.
The vulture and eagle, obviously on account of their ferocious dispositions, often remain earth-bound after death, and usually select as their haunts, spots little frequented by man. From what I have heard they are by far the most malignant of all bird ghosts, and have even been known to inflict physical injury on those who have had the misfortune to pass the night within their allotted precincts.