Home | Page 3 | Index Page

Gallery L

"Death Eaters"

The Occult Symbolism Behind The Vulture

By James Donahue

It was about ten years ago, just when my wife, Doris and I were in the process of making serious choices in the spiritual path we were taking, that we saw the vultures. There were hundreds of them all strangely gathered in a field located about a quarter of a mile from the Michigan farm where I grew up.

I was so amazed at the sight of so many of these large birds, all standing in a cluster that literally covered this open field, and sitting on fence posts and utility poles everywhere we looked, that I stopped our car for a better look. As an experienced bird watcher I knew this was something extraordinary that probably had some kind of spiritual message.

Vultures are rarely seen in Michigan. To have so many of them gathered together, in a place where they don’t usually show, was worth a closer look. I got out of the car and walked closer to the field to make sure I was really looking at vultures. What surprised me was the birds did not seem afraid of me. They examined me as closely as I was examining them, but none of them took flight. They just stood there.

We drove past that same field about an hour later and the vultures were still there. It was a sight we could not forget. It was a spiritual message we did not understand at the time. Today I recognize that it was a warning and I wish we had understood the message and taken heed.

The vulture is a scavenger. That is it feeds on death and darkness. It is a useful bird on the Earth because it cleans up the decaying and rotten flesh of the dead things that would otherwise clutter our world. The large gathering was a strong warning that we were about to join forces with a master scavenger that would eventually strip us of all of our materialistic possessions, but threaten our purpose in being in this plain of existence.

But by its very nature, the vulture suggests a need for personal patience. It is known to circle over a dying animal for hours before coming down to consume its corpse. Its message is an encouragement to be very sure of our planned actions before going ahead with them.

Some cultures in the world gave up their dead to the Mother Earth by leaving the bodies in the open to be consumed by vultures. Some of the Native American tribes did this as well as Tibetan Buddhists, Zoroastrians and other ancient tribes of the world. It was considered a symbol of renewal. By going back to nature in this way, the dead was given a new life.

The Mayans believed the vulture converted death to life. The bird that consumed dead flesh was to them a symbol of cleansing, renewal and transformation. They called this bird the "death eater."

While relatively ugly to look at on the ground, the vulture in flight is a thing of graceful beauty. The shamans of the Southwest could interpret the language of vulture flight to predict important weather signs and omens.

Indeed, when we saw this field filled with vultures, knowing they did not belong there, we recognized this as some kind of a personal spiritual message. The problem was that we did not know how to interpret it.

I often wonder why we sometimes have to learn the important things of the world the hard way.