BIRDS >> Thoughts >> Truths >> Intellectual Things
GENTLE, USEFUL AND BEAUTIFUL BIRDS >> Intellectual Truths
FIERCE, USELESS AND UGLY BIRDS >> Intellectual Falsities
How are birds peculiar among animals? Their arms are wings, enabling them to rise above the ground and to fly quickly through the air. Birds also have very quick, sharp sight. An eagle or a hawk as he circles about, high in the air, is watching the little objects on the ground far below. How quick a little bird's sight must be, to fly safely through the woods, in and out among the branches! And we must not forget the sweet songs of some birds and the bright colors of others, which are their means of sharing with us the delights of their happy life.
Being members of the animal kingdom, birds correspond to affections of some sort. Do you think they picture affections for passive enjoyment? No, evidently affections for intense mental activity of some kind. How quickly, almost nervously, birds move, hardly resting long enough to be distinctly seen! They suggest at once the thoughts which "flit" incessantly through the mind; the mental pictures and conceptions-ideas, we call them-which chase one another in rapid succession. The birds with their quick flight and their sharp eyes are much like the affections for forming and enjoying these mental pictures. (AC 3219, 5149; AE 282, 1100; TCR 42)
When we remember that the birds are the noblest of flying creatures, and that their sight is wonderfully penetrating, we must conclude that they correspond to our enjoyment in mental pictures of the noblest kind. The mental birds enjoy not mere natural scenes, but pictures of human life, which have a living, spiritual interest. (TCR 69; AC 8764)
Give a thought to the bird's wonderful power of flight, which enables his bright eyes to enjoy such broad and such quickly changing views. To some people, and to some states of mind in us all, nothing seems real and sure but the things of the earth which we can see and feel. But we may learn the substantial reality of spiritual things; states of affection and thought and spiritual influences become as real to us as our natural surroundings, and much more important. We can think of them as of real things; the thought finds in them a substantial support, and delights to look at life from that spiritual point of view. So the mental bird rises from the ground into the air.
Thought which looks at life from the spiritual side, understanding something of spiritual causes and general principles, can take a broad and comprehensive view, seeing many things at a glance and in their true relations. Such thought also, not being tied to mere outward circumstances, can enter with sympathy into states of life quite unlike our own. So the mental bird flies quickly and gains distinct ideas of many different kinds of life. (AC 8764; AE 282, 759)
It seems strange to caution you not to mistake a bird for a horse; yet perhaps it is necessary, our sight of spiritual objects is so dim. The difference is that between gaining an idea of some state of life, and actually coming into it. The horse is the affection for carrying you step by step, by laborious reasoning, into a new state, or of bringing some new element into your life. The bird does not attempt this, but simply gives you a picture, an idea, of another state. You may gain an idea even of the life of heaven, where love to the Lord and the neighbor rule; but to bring your own mind into that heavenly state is another matter and much more laborious.
The sense of the reality of spiritual things, and the power to rest the thought upon them, is as various as the power of flight in different birds. (TCR 42) See a great eagle soaring without effort high in air, or circling with undazzled eyes towards the sun! A noble bird with such powers of flight and of sight pictures an affection for spiritual thought of the strongest, most searching kind, which rises highest above superficial appearances, and takes the most comprehensive views of life, the most in accord with the Divine wisdom.
In Isaiah we read, "They that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles." (Isa. xl. 31) They shall become strong in will for what is good, and shall rise into spiritual intelligence. (AC 3901; AE 281; AR 244) We can now understand more completely the lament for Saul and Jonathan "They were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions." (2 Sam. i. 23) It tells of the spiritual intelligence and the strength which come with the first principles of Divine truth which are adopted to rule the life. (AE 278, 281) Again, "Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles' wings, and brought you unto myself." (Exod. xix. 4) Power to grasp intellectually spiritual truth, is the means of lifting us up from natural obscurity into heavenly light. (AC 8764; AE 281) Of the Lord's care for His people it is said: "He led him about, he instructed him, he kept him as the apple of his eye. As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings; so the LORD alone did lead him." (Deut. xxxii. 10-12) It tells of the Lord's effort to lift men up to understand spiritual truth in heavenly light, imparting to them of His own Divine intelligence. (AE 281, 283)
It is easy to see how the eagle, which represents the most spiritual and penetrating power of human thought, may in a supreme sense be a type of the Lord's omniscience and His ever watchful care. What a beautiful symbol of Divine watchfulness - the stately bird soaring above the earth, observing all that goes on below! John saw four animals in the midst of and about the throne, "The fourth beast was like a flying eagle." (Rev. iv. 7) In this way was expressed the Divine intelligence and guard and providence. (AE 281; AR 245; AC 3901)
When, in other places, "eagles " are spoken of as evil birds - "Wheresoever the body is, thither will the eagles be gathered together " (Luke xvii. 37) - vultures are usually meant, representing affections for filthy and evil thoughts. Such thoughts abound when spiritual life is dead. (AC 3900, 3901; AE 281)
In contrast with the eagles, there are multitudes of birds which make comparatively short flights, resting often, and never rising high above the ground. They also correspond to affections for thinking about states of human life, but not profoundly, not abstractly, not rising far above the forms in which spiritual qualities manifest themselves in social and domestic life. In these concrete forms the little birds of the mind enjoy the quickly passing pictures of human life. (TCR 42)
Some of the little birds have bright plumage, and some delight our ears with song. So they express their gladness. And are happy thoughts content to remain unexpressed? The faculty which delights to see the happy things of human life in the world around us must surely express its delight to the minds and hearts of others. The sweet songs of birds and their bright colors, are but suggestions of the happy thoughts of home and friendship and use and recreation which should find expression in our conversation and our song. (AE 323)The Lord's care for the sparrows - and "sparrows " in the Bible is usually a general name for all little birds - suggests His knowledge of all our passing thoughts and His care for them. "Not one of them shall fall to the ground without your Father." (Matt. x. 2931) "Yea, the sparrow hath found an house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, even thine altars, O LORD of hosts, my King and my God." (Ps. lxxxiv. 3) It is the cry of exiles, perhaps in Babylon, whose thoughts have flown like birds to the beloved courts of the Lord. (AE 282 end) So our thoughts may delight to dwell upon the life of heaven, and may rise even to the Lord in worship, while still we are far away. (AE 391)
Instances will occur to every one where birds have a bad meaning. In the parable of the sower, for example: "Some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up. . . . When any one heareth the word and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart." (Matt. xiii. 4, 19) The fowls here are plainly the enjoyments in untrue and distracting thoughts, which are inspired by evil and cause the Lord's words to be forgotten and without fruit. (AC 778, 5149; AR 757)
One bird we must especially remember, the dove. We all know its gentle loving nature. It is among birds what the lamb is among animals. And to what affection does the lamb correspond? To innocent love for the Lord and for one another. The dove then corresponds to the affection for thinking innocent thoughts of trust in the Lord and of love for one another. (AE 282; AC 10132) The likeness of the dove and the lamb is shown in the permission of the Jewish law: "If she be not able to bring a lamb, then she shall bring two turtle-doves or two young pigeons." (Lev. xii. 8; Luke ii. 24. See also Lev. v. 7 and xiv. 21, 22) It means that if we are not as yet able to bring to the Lord the innocent, trustful affection which He desires, we shall at least bring thoughts of trust and innocence, and these are acceptable to the Lord till we are stronger. (AE 314; AC 10132) "Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away and be at rest." (Ps. Iv. 6) It is a prayer for that affectionate grasp of the truths in regard to innocent love for the Lord and for one another, which would free us from states of temptation and bring peace. . (AE 282) Remember in the story of the flood, that grand but awful picture of temptation, how Noah "sent forth a dove from him, to see if the waters were abated from off the face of the ground; but the dove found no rest for the sole of her foot. . . And again he sent forth the dove out of the ark; and the dove came in to him in the evening; and, lo, in her mouth was an olive-leaf pluckt off: so Noah knew that the waters were abated from off the earth." (Gen. viii. 8-11) It is the affection for perceiving in human life the signs of innocence and nearness to the Lord, rejoicing in their first return after a season of darkness and temptation. (AC 869-892)
"And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him." (Matt. iii. 16) The baptism represented the laying aside from our Lord's humanity what was from men. After each such effort there descended upon Him some new gift of Divine innocence, with the happy perception of new possibilities of innocent life among men. The dove seems especially to represent the delight of perceiving these innocent states of human life now made possible. (TCR 144; AC 870; D. Lord 51)
Another bird several times mentioned in the Bible is the raven. The name brings to mind no bright plumage and no sweet songs; it suggests blackness, for this is the raven's color. He is also a clumsy bird, without music in his voice, and somewhat harmful through his habit of preying upon small and feeble animals. These qualities do not suggest an affection for wise, interior thought as the spiritual raven. His blackness suggests ignorance. He is a picture of the ignorant thought of those who have had no opportunity to learn, or of those who prefer ignorance. (AE 650; AC 4967)
You remember that Noah, before he sent the dove, "sent forth a raven, which went forth to and fro, until the waters were dried up from off the earth." (Gen. viii. 7) It is a type of the false thoughts which still are active till the season of temptation is past. (AC 864-868) But remember how Elijah, when he fled from Ahab, "went and dwelt by the brook Cherith, that is before Jordan. And the ravens brought him bread and flesh in the morning, and bread and flesh in the evening." (1 Kings xvii. 5, 6) Elijah, who spoke the Lord's Word so boldly, stands as a type of that Word in its plain, literal form. When the precepts of the Word are rejected and hated by those in the church, the Lord provides that they shall be cherished in the thoughts of Gentiles and ignorant people. So it was at His coming, when "the common people heard him gladly." (AC 4844) "He giveth to the beast his food, and to the' young ravens which cry." (Ps. cxlvii. 9) How beautifully this familiar verse teaches us the Lord's care for those who are in ignorance but desire instruction! (AE 650) And again: "Consider the ravens: for they neither sow nor reap; which neither have storehouse nor barn, and God feedeth them how much more are ye better than the fowls? " (Luke xii. 24) The Lord provides what knowledge we will receive .of heavenly life, and even if our affections for spiritual thought are very feeble and imperfect, they are objects of His tenderest care.
Author: WILLIAM WORCESTER 1897
That "every fowl after its kind" signifies every spiritual truth, "flying thing" natural truth, and "winged thing" sensuous truth, is evident from what has been stated and shown before concerning "birds" (as at n. 40). The most ancient people likened man's thoughts to birds, because relatively to the things of the will, thoughts are like birds. As mention is made here of "fowl" "flying thing" and "winged thing" and of these in succession, like things intellectual, rational, and sensuous in man, in order that no one may doubt that they signify these things, some passages from the Word may be adduced in confirmation, from which it will also be plain that "beasts" signify such things as have been stated.
 Thus in David:
Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of Thy hands: Thou hast put all things under his feet; all sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the fields, the fowl of the heaven, and the fish of the sea (Ps. 8:6-8).
This is said of the Lord, whose dominion over man, and over the things pertaining to man, is thus described. Otherwise what would be the dominion over "beasts" and "fowls?" Again:
Fruitful trees and all cedars, the wild animal and every beast, creeping things and flying fowl, let them praise the name of Jehovah (Ps. 148:9-10, 13).
The "fruitful tree" denotes the celestial man; the "cedar" the spiritual man. The "wild animal" and "beast" and "creeping thing" are their goods, as in the history before us; the "flying fowl" is their truths; from all of which they can "praise the name of Jehovah." By no means can the wild animal, the beast, the creeping thing, and the bird do this. In profane writings such things may be said by hyperbolism, but there are no hyperbolisms in the Word of the Lord, but things significative and representative.
 In Ezekiel:
The fishes of the sea, and the fowls of the heaven, and the wild animal of the field, and all creeping things that creep upon the earth, and all the men that are upon the face of the earth, shall shake at My presence (Ezek. 38:20).
That such things are here signified by "beasts" and "fowls" is very manifest; for how would it be to the glory of Jehovah if fishes, birds, and beasts should shake? Can anyone suppose that such sayings would be holy if they did not involve holy things? In Jeremiah:
I beheld, and lo there was no man, and all the birds of the heavens were fled (Jer. 4:25),
denoting all good and truth; "man" also denotes here the good of love. Again:
They are burned up, so that none passeth through, neither can men hear the voice of the cattle; both the fowl of the heavens and the beast are fled, they are gone (Jer. 9:10),
denoting in like manner that all truth and good have departed.
 And again:
How long shall the land mourn, and the herb of every field wither? for the wickedness of them that dwell therein the beasts are consumed and the birds, because they said, He shall not see our latter end (Jer. 12:4).
Here the "beasts" denote goods, and the "birds" truths, which perished. In Zephaniah:
I will consume man and beast, I will consume the fowls of the heaven and the fishes of the sea, and the stumbling-blocks with the wicked; and I will cut off man from off the face of the ground (Zeph. 1:3).
Here "man and beast" denote the things which are of love and of its good; the "fowls of the heaven and the fishes of the sea" the things which are of the understanding, thus which are of truth. These are called "stumbling-blocks" because goods and truths are stumbling-blocks to the wicked, but not beasts and birds; and they are also plainly spoken of "man." In David:
The trees of Jehovah are satisfied, the cedars of Lebanon which He hath planted, where the birds make their nests (Ps. 104:16-17).
The "trees of Jehovah" and the "cedars of Lebanon" denote the spiritual man; the "birds" his rational or natural truths, which are as "nests."
 It was moreover a common form of expression that "birds would make their nests in the branches" signifying truths, as in Ezekiel:
In the mountain of the height of Israel will I plant it, and it shall lift up its bough, and bear fruit, and be a goodly cedar; and under it shall dwell every bird of every wing; in the shadow of the branches thereof shall they dwell (Ezek. 17:23),
denoting the Church of the Gentiles, which was spiritual. This is "the goodly cedar;" the "bird of every wing" denotes truths of every kind. Again:
All the birds of the heavens made their nests in his boughs, and under his branches all the wild animals of the field brought forth, and under his shadow dwelt all great nations (Ezek. 31:6).
This is said of Asshur, which is the spiritual church and is called a "cedar;" the " birds of the heavens" denote its truths; the "beasts" its goods. In Daniel:
The leaves thereof were fair, and the fruit thereof much, and it was meat for all; the beasts of the field had shadow under it, and the fowls of heaven dwelt in the branches thereof (Dan. 4:12, 21).
Here the "beasts" denote goods, the "fowls of the heavens" truths, as must be evident to everyone; for otherwise of what concern is it that the bird and the beasts dwelt there? And it is the same with what the Lord says:
The kingdom of God is like unto a grain of mustard seed, which a man took and cast into his garden, and it grew, and became a tree, and the birds of the heaven lodged in the branches thereof (Luke 13:19; Matt. 13:31, 32; Mark 4:31, 32). [AC776]
And upon every bird of heaven. That this signifies upon falsities of reasoning, is evident from the signification of "bird." In the Word "birds" signify intellectual things: those which are gentle, useful, and beautiful, signifying intellectual truths; and those which are fierce, useless, and ugly, signifying intellectual falsities, or falsities of reasoning. (That they signify intellectual things may be seen above, n. 40, 776, 870.) From this it is also evident that "birds" signify reasonings and their falsities. That there may be no doubt let the following passages (in addition to those cited about the raven, n. 866) serve for confirmation. In Jeremiah:
I will visit upon them in four kinds, saith Jehovah; the sword to slay, and the dogs to drag, and the fowl of heaven, and the beasts of the earth, to devour and to destroy (Jer. 15:3).
Upon his ruin all the fowls of the heaven shall dwell, and all the wild animals of the field shall be upon his branches (Ezek. 31:13).
At last upon the bird of abominations shall be desolation (Dan. 9:27).
Babylon is become a hold of every unclean and hateful bird (Rev. 18:2).Many times it is said in the Prophets that carcasses should be given for meat to the fowl of the air and to the beast of the field (Jer. 7:33; 19:7; 34:20; Ezek. 29:5; 39:4; Ps. 79:2; Isa. 18:6). By this was signified that they should be destroyed by falsities, which are "birds of heaven" and by evils, or cupidities, which are the "beasts of the earth." [AC988]
Author: EMANUEL. SWEDENBORG (1688-1772)