Superstitions About Feathers

My granddaughter is constantly finding feathers. When she was small I repeated to her what I had been told, that when you find a feather, it means that someone who died is thinking of you. She often finds them in groups of three. She is certain that they are from her great-grandmother and two great aunts. They were very important to her and now she feels that they watch over her.

This is a superstition, right? What if it isn't? I began to wonder if there are more tales involving feathers. I did some research and I will share what I found.

White feathers signify either a guardian angel or a loving message from a loved one who is not alive. If you are gifted with a white feather you should save it and keep it close for good fortune. 

Peacock feathers are considered to be bad luck, especially in the house. Actors and circus performers do not allow them in the tents or on stage. Some believe that the "eyes" on a peacock feather are synonymous with the evil eye and can even be a sign of impending death. In the Mediterranean the feathers are associated with Lilith the she-demon said to be responsible for killing children.

In Greek mythology Argus was a monster whose body was covered with 100 eyes. Hera changed him into a peacock and his feathers were covered with eyes. The feathers symbolize the vault of heaven and all-seeing knowledge. Roman mythology sees peacocks as Juno's birds. The coins they appear on are to denote the female lineage of princesses.

The peacock is associated with Lakshmi for Hindus. The feathers represent fortune, compassion, kindness, and patience. Kwan-yin in Asian culture is a similar figure and the feathers have similar meaning. Buddhists associate peacock feathers with openness because of the display the peacock makes when spreading its tail. Because peacocks eat poisonous plants their feathers are considered to sustain the ability to thrive in times of suffering.

Resurrection, immortality, and renewal are what Christians see in peacock feathers. They also symbolize an all-seeing church. In Persia and Babylonia peacocks are thought to be guardians of royalty and feathers adorn thrones. Muslim legend uses feathers as a symbol in temples, the royal garden, and at the gates of paradise. Mongol warriors wore peacock feathers which caused Eastern Europe to view them as bad luck.

Sleeping on a bed that has peacock feathers will bring death to the person sleeping. Some women get tattoos of peacock feathers to show that they are protective of their children. Another myth says that peacocks slay serpents and transform the venom into solar iridescence that is seen in the feathers. Feathers of the peacock are used as adornment on clothing and hats. Those who wear them are considered to be vain. One last thing about peacock feathers... they are said to be bad luck if they are in the room at a wedding.

Just before 1880 a house was demolished in England. Found in the attic were a chair, four brooms, and a string of feathers. It was announced to be the house of a witch. The chair was for resting, the brooms for flying, and the string was called a witches ladder.

The witches ladder was speculated to have several uses. It was one and a half meters long and made of cock's feathers. It may have been used to help the witch to cross the roof. It may have been used to cause deaths. It was most certainly used to take milk away from neighboring cows.

Some thought that it was not a witches ladder, but a sewel. A sewel would be held in the hand to turn back deer while hunting. A second string of feathers was found with much newer feathers. And finally another form of witches ladder was found. It had feathers fastened loosely in a line of black wool.

Each feather was said to represent an ill feeling or bad wish. It was to be thrown into a pool where the feathers would eventually loosen and pull away from the wool, releasing the bad wishes and ill feelings. They would appear as bubbles in the water. Modern witches are said to use witches ladders for good wishes instead of bad.

A pillow with feather stuffing is believed to hold a dying person in this world. Replacing the feathers with another type of pillow will allow a peaceful passing.

The Voodoo religion makes wide use of feathers. Pillow magic is the practice of placing objects into the pillow of a person to cause wasting sickness and even death. Feather pillows are the best type to use because of feathers' magical properties. By using secret spells the "Voodoo" can cause bird or animal monsters to take shape out of the pillow feathers. It will grow slowly and only at night. When it is completely formed the person who has been sleeping on the pillow will die.

In another form of Voodoo pillow magic, a living bird is torn apart and portions of the wings are put into the pillow. Or charms or fetishes made of concoctions containing feathers, bones, hair, rags, and string are used.

Some believe that placing kernels of corn in a child's pillow will keep it from growing. Many Voodoo charms are made using feathers.

Many people associate feathers with Native Americans but they mean different things to different tribes. Even then it depends on the kind of bird the feather came from. Many Indians use feathers only as decoration. Plains Indian warriors were awarded a feather when they took coup or were particularly brave in battle. The females probably did not wear them at all.

The Crown of Feathers is another object having to do with pillows. They are made of down feathers of the same size, all swirled into a circle, and all joined at the center of the circle. When a person dies on a feather pillow and goes to heaven, the angels leave a crown of feathers in the pillow. The older the person, the larger the crown.

In England cock fights used to be great sport. Certain cocks with white tail feathers would show their white feathers and turn from the fight. They were said to be cowards. During World War I any male of appropriate age who was not in the military was also considered to be a coward. The White Feather Society was made up of women who would approach any such male and present him with a white feather to show that she thought him to be less than manly. The practice is thought to have begun during the Boer War.

If you find a white and black feather after a prayer, it is believed that the feather is a sign your prayer will be answered.

Feathers from a wren are used by sailors to prevent shipwreck. The wren must be chased, caught, and killed on Christmas Eve. Then it was carried on top of a pole with its wings outstretched. For a coin one feather was bought. At the end of the day so many sailors would have purchased a feather that the wren was practically featherless. It would then be buried on the seashore. The sailor would keep the feather on his person in order to make it home safely.

In East Anglia, it was a custom that anyone carrying a split goose feather must be given help and protection by the Fenmen. During the English Civil War King Charles I and his soldiers escaped by showing their split goose feathers to local Roundhead soldiers. Oliver Cromwell took no action against his soldiers for honoring the custom. However when King Charles was again captured, he sent a message to Cromwell along with his split feather asking for clemency. Cromwell ignored the plea and the King was executed. Cromwell suffered from guilt for the rest of his life.

Carrying the feathers of the kingfisher is good luck. It will protect you from negative energies and bring good health.

Pigeon feathers in a feather bed or pillow prolong the pain and agony of dying.

A swan's feather sewn into the husband's pillow will ensure that he will be faithful.

Wren feathers protect you from drowning.

The magical qualities of a feather can depend on its color. Here is a list of some of the magical properties by color.

WHITE: Purification, spirituality, hope, protection, peace,
blessings of the Moon.

GREEN: Money, fertility, growth.

BROWN: Health, stability, grounding, the home.

ORANGE: Attraction, energy, success.

YELLOW: Intelligence, blessings of the Sun.

RED: Courage, good fortune, life.

PINK: Love

GRAY: Peace, neutrality.

BLUE: Psychic awareness, peace, health.

BLACK FEATHERS: Not recommended.

RED AND BROWN: Healing animals.


GRAY AND WHITE: Hope, balance.

BLACK AND WHITE: Union, protection.

GREEN AND RED: Finances.


BLACK AND PURPLE: Deep spirituality.

The last thing to remember is that many birds and all of their parts can be subject to laws. In some cases it is illegal to possess a feather even if you find it on the ground. Make sure you know which feathers are okay for you to have before you decide to make a collection.

Do you have any feather beliefs that I did not find? I would love to hear them.


  1. What a wonderful post Emma! I had never heard any of these things before. Thanks!

    1. You are most welcome. It was fun to find out about those things for me too.


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