I’m writing this in the last minutes before going on holiday, which is terrible rushed typical-despicable-me-timing, but there we are.
Every single time I think of the Hyrcinian birds, I forget both their name and how to spell it, despite the fact that I’ve used them in each book of my trilogy… and first came across them over four years ago. That’s not even going into how on Earth you pronounce it, on which topic I’ll kindly say ‘every man for himself.’ You’re welcome.
The Hyrcinian birds are surprisingly hard to find many details on, and it’s a beautiful bit of luck that I stumbled across them at all. It was somewhere on the internet, and although I’ve scoured many times since, I can no longer find the original post… so from here on out, it’s mostly tidbits and what I remember.
The birds, along with several other curious creatures, are said to originate in the ancient Hercynian forest. Primarily from the Roman Empire, maps suggest that it stretched across Southern Germany until the early centuries A.D. – now, only parts remain, one of which is the Black Forest. The birds are most commonly said to guide travellers through their forest, by the use of their wings; they glow like mysterious colourful beacons in the dark, and help to light the paths.
Pliny the Elder: ‘In the Hercynian Forest, in Germany, we hear of a singular kind of bird, the feathers of which shine at night like fire.’
No bird was ever identified, but in medieval folklore, the birds took on a kind of notoriety, even if by that point, their forest was mostly gone. They have also been called the ‘Ercinee.’ This image is the closest I can find to something ‘genuine,’ originally from a 15th century English bestiary.
In WHITELAND, I’ve used the Hyrcinian birds largely in their traditional role. They guide honest travellers through the forest, with eerie, coloured lights on their wingtips, to wherever it may be best for the travellers to go; it is very rare to see them, and even rarer still to gain their help. Because there are no real photos or images, I’ve always imagined them like this:
‘Setting the sky alive with colour, deep shade after deep shade… The lights are dancing where the stars should be, the slow wings beating as they rise through the night. It is beautiful, dreamlike; and as suddenly as it started, it stops.
‘Raven-dark, twenty feet high. The bird hovers, its silhouetted head angling down, and as she watches it, it watches her. Larger than an eagle, as refined as a stork. Its eyes are a pressure, hoping for her comprehension, and slowly, slowly, it arrives.’
Personally, I love the idea of the Hyrcinian birds. If I ever saw them in the forests of Germany, or any forest at all, I’d be captivated for life.
The Pliny quote is taken from ‘Luminosity in Birds,’ by W. L. McAtee.
The description of the birds is taken from WHITELAND.
Black forest image courtesy of: http://www.bicycletouringapocalypse.com/the-black-forest/
Hyrcinian bird image courtesy of: ‘Hercinia,’ http://bestiary.ca/beasts/beast539.htm