Purple Goddess in Frog Pyjamas: crane symbolism

December 09, 2003

crane symbolism

In China, the legendary crane which belonged to the philosopher
Leonicus Thomaeus and which was commemorated by Itluffon, suggests that
constant of Far Eastern symbolism, longevity, and, above all, unrivalled
faithfulness... In Ancient China the Crane Dance suggested the power of
flight and consequently of reaching the Isle of the Immortals. Humans on
stilts copied the dance. Indeed, the crane may, like the tortoise, be
the symbol of longevity, but it is supremely the Taoist symbol of

The Japanese believed that cranes (zuru) lived for thousands of years
and old people were often given as presents paintings or prints of
cranes, tortoises and pine-trees, all three symbols of longevity.

According to Ancient Egyptian tradition, during the reign of the son of
Manes a two-headed crane was seen over the Nile and this was taken as
presaging an era of prosperity. Cranes were supposed to live a thousand
years and to practice a breathing technique which was something to be
copied. Their white feathers were symbols of purity, while their
cinnabar-red heads showed the endurance of their vital forces, concentrations
of yang. Furthermore, cranes were the customary steeds of the Immortals
and their eggs were used to prepare drugs to confer immortality. The
annual return of the crane was a symbol of regeneration, and this is why
it was associated with plum-blossom as an emblem of Spring. Its
cinnabar crest associates it with the alchemist's furnace and specifically
with its fire...

In India, cranes were seen in a completely different light and
doubtless from some idiosyncrasy in their behavior were symbols of treachery.
The crane-headed goddess, Balgala-mukht, is the deceiver, the embodiment
of sadistic and destructive instincts. In the traditions of their
initiation ceremonies the Bambara regard the crested crane as being at the
birth of speech. Their secret doctrine declares: 'The beginning of all
beginning of the word was the crested crane. The bird said: 'I speak.'
The crested crane, it is explained 'combines in its plumage, its call
and its mating dance the three basic characteristics of the word - beauty
[it is supposed to be the most beautiful of birds], sound [it is held
to be the only bird which inflects its call] and movement [its mating
dance is an unforgettable sight].' This is why mankind is supposed to
have learned to speak by copying it.

But the real reason why this bird is so highly regarded is that
Africans are convinced that it is aware of its own gifts - and indeed it looks
as though it is - and that it possesses self-knowledge. It is therefore
by reason of being the symbol of self-contemplation that the crested
crane was at the birth of the Word of God and of the knowledge which
mankind has of God. Their implicit, intuitive reasoning is as follows, that
man never knew the 'word' relating to God until he knew himself. This
presupposes that knowledge of God derives from self-knowledge. Such
would seem to be the deep symbolism of the crested crane. ["The Penguin
Dictionary of Symbols", 1969, Jean Chevalier and Alain Gheerbrant"
translated by John Buchanan-Brown, Penguin books].

So Spake Chasmyn at December 9, 2003 03:27 AM
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