All that is composed will decay...

The Fire-Bird Concept

Jun 22, 2013

Robin (зарянка, дрозд) and wren (крапивник) share a certain relationship in the folklore of Anglo-Celtic, Anglo-Saxon, Druidic, and Wiccan cultures. There are countless poems devoted to the two birds, including this widely known distich:

A robin and a wren are God Almighty’s cock and hen
There is a legend shared between the cultures:

The Wren (the Oak King) is the king of the Waning Year. He rules on from Winter’s solstice (or Yule) to midsummer, killing off the Robin (the Holly King) — king of the Waxing year in the process. On Summer’s solstice, the Robin kills off the Wren and begins its rule. The cycle repeats itself with each season.

The Robin in Blue Velvet / The Wren in Twin Peaks

In Blue Velvet, the robin appears towards the end of the film, in the warmth of summer. In Twin Peaks, the wren is the first image in the title sequence which is set in winter as there is snow on the cliffs of the Snoqualmie Falls and Dale Cooper mentions: «Diane, 7:30 am, February twenty-fourth. Entering town of Twin Peaks..» This being said, I don't really think that Lynch has referred to the cyclical use of seasons and bird images to figuratively connect the two worlds. It looks to me that their is much more reference to the fire-bird concept where the two species — the Robin and the Wren play the leading parts and take the place of each other.

Fire-fetching legends
In many British legends the Robin and the Wren are closely related to each other and are known as fire-bringers and water-carriers.

In some traditions either the robin or the wren take the place of the other. The confusion of the two species was not due to inaccurate observation, hard to imagine with primitive people who were experts in identifying birds. It may well have arisen, like many other strange conceptions, as a rationalisation to meet subconscious emotional demands:

From The Folklore of Birds (Collins New Naturalist Library, Book 39):

"...These confusions, substitutions of one bird for another, and the identification of robin and wren as male and female of the same species, can best be explained as due to the fusion of two cultural traditions—one in which wren ritual was prominent, and another, localised particularly in northern France and Britain, in which the robin received special honour. On this hypothesis the Breton song, «Les noces du roitelet» and our own nursery rhyme, «The Marriage of Cock Robin and Jenny Wren» proclaim the marriage, not merely of two birds but of two streams of culture. "

The Robin:

The «Robin» tradition was particularly strong in Britain. The hero of the Welsh version of the fire-fetching legend is the robin, but instead of bringing fire or water to men, he flies with water to quench hell's flames: «Far, far away is a land of woe, darkness, spirits of evil and fire.» Day by day does the little bird bear in his bill a drop of water to quench the flame. So near to the burning stream does he fly, that his dear little feathers are scorched, and hence he is called Bronrhuddyn (i.e. breast burned or breast scorched).

The Wren:

On the continent the fire-fetcher is the wren rather than the robin, though there is a Breton legend that the robin went to get a fire-brand from hell. In a Lorient legend, recorded from Haute-Bretagne, the wren fetches fire, not from heaven but also from hell, and is scorched while escaping through the key-hole.

In Jutland and Champagne the story of the eagle-wren rivalry ends with a reference to the wren's scorched appearance being due to its having flown too near the sun.

The Robin + the Wren:

8de51e41e6.jpgFrom The Folklore of Birds (Collins New Naturalist Library, Book 39):

We might have expected the robin to acquire its reputation as a fire bird by virtue of its glowing breast, yet although this badge has undoubtedly contributed to its being associated with fire, folklore indicates that its fire associations may have been transferred from the wren.

...According to a legend from Lorient, the robin helps to bring fire by snatching it from the blazing wren and passing it to the lark, who brings it to earth.…

From Normandy comes the tale that the wren offered to bring fire for man but had its feathers burnt off in the attempt. A variation of this is that the wren stole fire from heaven and returned to earth aflame, so the other birds all contributed one feather each to replaced those burnt away. A related French story explains the robin's ruddy breast as due to its having hurried so quickly to aid the burning wren that it became scorched. The owl was the only bird which did not offer feathers to clothe the poor wren, so ever since the owl has been ostracised by the other birds. A Breton legend explains that the eagle, king of birds, condemned the owl to lurk in a hole by day because of its uncharitable behaviour. It will be noted that, as in some of the flight competition legends, the owl and the wren are at enmity.

There is a French tradition that if a wren's nest is destroyed, the bird will set the house or barn on fire, and in Wales it was said that if you killed a robin your house would be burned down.

Though the robin may have acquired its reputation as a fire-bringer from the wren, the wren cannot have inspired the motif. It possesses hardly any of the attributes which proclaim the connexion of a bird with fire. Neither the robin nor the wren flies up to heaven like the swallow, nor does either make thunder like the woodpecker and snipe. It becomes obvious that the legends rather than the birds travelled across the sea. They reveal historic fact and actually record the carrying of fire from island to island or from the continent to the islands by early voyagers:

«Undoubtedly the fire-bird conception is extremely ancient and the legend has been transferred from one species to another throughout millennia, the myth accomodating itself to the local fauna as it travelled.»

Other interesting folklore stories featuring the robin and the wren:

One of the legends tells that if the Robin and the Wren find the unburied body of a dead person, they will work together and cover it with leaves. This act of kindness is mentioned in the old English ballad of the Babes in the Wood:

59fee1182a.jpgAnd when they were dead.
The robins so red
Brought strawberry-leaves,
And over them spread.

Why is your hand shaking uncontrollably?

There is a folk legend that says if a Robin dies in your hand, that hand will always shake uncontrollably.

C A Federer – Notes and Queries April 4th 1868.

‘How badly you write,' I said one day to a boy in our parish school; your hand shakes so that you can't hold the pen steady. Have you been running hard, or anything of that sort?' 'No,' replied the lad, 'it always shakes: I once had a robin die in my hand; and they say that if a robin dies in your hand, it will always shake.

Who killed the Robin?

Of course, the most famous of the rhymes about the Robin must be ‘Who Killed Cock Robin’. The rhyme in print dates to about 1744 with the form familiar to use coming from about 1770, although it may be a much older tale.