Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Eagle: courage or aggression?

Lately I’ve felt uncomfortable with two symbols of our country: the eagle and the flag. The flag has come to represent patriotism, which often seems, from my perspective, to be blind patriotism.

The bald eagle, America’s national bird and symbol, has come to represent aggression. I see it there on the dollar bill or monuments and cringe at the truth behind it: the strength, grace and courage, yes, but also the arrows in that one talon. Even Benjamin Franklin was not in favor of the bald eagle as national bird (he favored the wild turkey) because of its not-so-gallant ways (lazy, takes prey from other birds who’ve done the work, cowardly, in his opinion). (photo found at

Posted by Picasa image found at

I was stunned in my wanderings around St. Patrick’s cathedral in Dublin, to come upon the eagle lectern, pictured below. What? A bird of prey as the support for the words of God? We were told the eagle was chosen as a symbol for the gospel being taken forth boldly to the world. Isn’t this the wrong message? Maybe in hindsight it works as we look back at history, but what happened to the dove as an intentional symbol of the Church's message?

Posted by Picasa image found at

Posted by Picasa image found at

But then I remembered eagle feathers being associated with healing in Native American tribes. In fact, eagles symbolize many different things, according to

Here is a list of characteristics says are associated with the eagle:

  • bravery/courage
  • messenger of gods and goddesses
  • strength
  • life-threatening effects of environmental pollution, habitat loss, wildlife persecution, and man's clash with nature
  • closest animal to the Creator
  • highest pursuits
  • power
  • eagle medicine: power of the Spirit
  • high ideals

Just shows the complexity of language and cultural symbols. How do you view the eagle, symbolically or otherwise?


Ginnie said...

You have posed such a thought-provoking question and conversation, Ruth! Out of curosity, I looked up what the
Eagle Guide
represents in Native American lore. I can so much identify with THAT eagle and would LOVE for it to represent what the U.S.A. identifies as their symbol. Alas, alack--they have much to learn from their Native-American forbears, I see!

Ruth said...

That's a good site, Ginnie. Thank you. Humanly speaking, it's the BALANCE of the eagle's traits that is valuable as a symbol.

What I find so interesting is that each person brings to language and perspective -- interpretation -- her/his own truth. How we understand each other at all is sometimes beyond me.

rachel said...

Yes, and isn't it also amazing when you have that sense that your interpretation is the most advanced and accurate interpretation you've witnessed so far. Or perhaps someone interprets something and you take on this new interpretation because it makes your old interpretation seem shallow and not as well thought out. And when you have come to the conclusion that you know the one and only true interpretation, is that not in fact the moment you quit growing?

Ruth said...

Rachel, yes. I think it's one of the hardest things to awake each day open and unattached to assumptions from the day before. But I think it's what we need to do. The facts of life here and now are what they are, regardless of what I think of them. It gets trickier with symbols like the eagle, the American flag, the Union Jack, the $ sign, a photo of George Bush or Muqtada Al-Sadr. What do they mean, and how do I respond to them?

Heather said...

The fishing lure I love so much is called the "War Eagle." It looks like something that should be on a Las Vegas showgirl outfit.

Ruth said...

Heather, Cool! They look like feathers. said...

wow, i feel enlightened after reading that entry.

i found the wikipedia entry on eagles interesting

but to answer you question, when I see an eagle the first thought that comes to mind is pride - both the good and bad in it.

Ruth said...

Bag of nothing, wow, there are so many kinds of eagles! Thanks for the wiki link. You have an interesting blog!

Rauf said...

Freemasons have a big hand in deciding the symbol Ruth, If one reads the history of USA after a couple of hundred years, the current events would hardly take a few paragraphs. Hope better sense prevails soon.

Rauf said...

Ruth BTW Its Lotus and peacock for India

Ruth said...

Rauf, I'm jealous of India for its symbols. The lotus, OMG. To have that symbol for a country.