Because of their splendour, hawks & eagles appear in the folklore & mythology of various peoples & races. In many mythologies, the hawk is a solar bird, associated with sun gods. As with other confusions between hawks & falcons, sometimes the myths about hawks can also be related to falcons. Similarly, eagles are associated with sky gods & represent spiritual power, majesty, victory & ascension.
The following a some of the general mythologies & stories, not related to specific species. Where there are any stories related to a specific species, these will be found on the page for that species.
In Celtic mythology, hawks were very often malevelont birds.
The Welsh name for the mountains of Snowdonia is "Eryri", from the word for eagle ("eryr") & means "abode of the eagles".
Excavations of a 4,000 yr old tomb in the Orkneys revealed sea eagle bones along with the human bones. It is believed that the bodies of the dead were laid out for scavengers, principally sea eagles, to pick clean before burial & the scavengers were buried along with the remaining bones of the dead.
In Norse mythology, on the topmost branch (called Lerad, the peace giver), of the "world tree", Yggdrasil (a giant Ash tree, also known as the tree of knowledge, the universe or fate), there sat an Eagle. On the beak of the eagle, between its eyes sat a falcon. The eagle represented wisdom & light. It was believed that the flapping of the eagle's wings caused the storms in the world below.
In Ancient Egypt, the hawk, or falcon, was a royal bird. Gods depicted as being hawk-headed, or accompanied by hawks, were Ra, Horus, Khensu, Ptah, Mentu, Rehu, Sokar & Keghsenuf. The hawk was also associated with the Great Mother Amenti. The eagle was a symbol of the Nile & and the royal bird of the Thebans. The eagle was used in hieroglyphics as the symbol for the letter A. The eagle symbols in the word "Cleopatra" on the Rosetta stone was one of the important clues in finally deciphering hieroglyphics.
In Greek myth, the goddess Circe was associated with hawks. A hawk was the messenger of Apollo.
In Greek & Assyrian mythology, the (old world) vulture was believed to be descended from the griffin, the guardian of the mysteries of life & death. The Egyptian Goddess of Truth, Maat, was often depicted with a vulture feather.
In Ancient Rome, when a Caesar died, he was cremated & an eagle was set free amongst the flames. It was supposed that the eagle would transport the emperor's soul to the heavens.
The Roman legions marched under a silver eagle, with outstretched wings, clutching a thunderbolt in its talons. They believed it lucky to camp near to an eagle's nest & would often bury an eagle's wing near their campsite, as protection against storms.
In Polynesian stories, the hawk appears as a prophetic bird, with healing powers.
The American Indians consider the eagle as the greatest of birds. It represents, & embodies the power of, Thunder Bird, The Great Spirit. They believe its feathers carry the prayers of people to the father Sun.
One legend relates that the Aztec civilisation was founded on the site where a group of wandering Indians found an eagle perched on a cactus, holding a serpent in its talons. This is also the emblem of modern day Mexico & appears on the obverse of all coins minted since 1823.
In China, eagles are associated with authority & fearlessness.
In Christianity, the eagle is sometimes seen as a symbol of hope, strength, fulfillment of the messianic promise & Resuurection. (cf. Exodus 19:4, Deut. 32:11, Psalm 103, Isiah 40:31)
The eagle is the symbol of Saint John the Evangelist, symbolising "the soaring majesty of his Gospel". (Possibly based on a vision of Ezechial (Ezech. 1:5,10).)
In the 9th century, when Emperor Charlemagne united Europe under Christian rule, he chose a double-headed eagle as his emblem. This was the combination of the left-facing eagle emblem of the German (Frank) empire & the right-facing eagle emblem of the Holy Roman empire.
The Asian Tartars believed that a wound from eagle talons would never heal.
There are many tales of eagles carrying off young children, many are believed despite the physical impossibility of them. In 1936, it was reported (in Norway) that an eagle flew off with a three year old girl, weighing 42 lbs, lifting her nearly 700 feet to its eyrie.
According to St. Augustine, "The sun invigorates the eyes of eagles, but injures our own."
In India, members of the Parsee religion believe that earth, water & fire are sacred & should not be defiled by corpses - which rules out burial & cremation. They lay their dead out in special funeral sites (the largest in Bombay being "The Towers of Silence", where the bodies are picked clean by (old world) vultures, in particular the Griffon Vulture (Gyps fulvus).
Unfortunately, at the present time, the vulture population is falling dramatically in India, which is causing health problems in the regions around the funerary sites. The problem is being made worse by crows & kites, which fly off with their food & often drop bits. Up to 90% of vultures have died in some regions, it was thought to be a virus specific to vultures as other species did not appear to be affected, it is now known to be caused by Diclofenac - an anti-inflammatory drug given to cattle, which has proved fatal to vultures when they eat the carcasses. The drug is now banned in India, but is still approved for use in Spain, which is home to 90% of the European vulture population. JPJ is believed to be the first Western female allowed entrance to the funerary sites, to investigate the problem, normally only low caste male members are allowed to enter. Captive breeding has been suggested as one possible solution, but as the vultures are slow breeders & the numbers of birds in the wild is very low, it is not considered a viable option.
A Cast of Hawks
A Kettle of Hawks
A Convocation of Eagles
A Flight of Goshawks
A Wake of Buzzards