The peacock is a bird that has stirred much lore and myth in almost every society on earth. So fantastic did the description of the peacock sound that European naturalists originally dismissed sightings of the bird as figments of an over-active imagination of Asian artists. The blue-green iridescent color itself creates a sense of awe in the beholder. The “eyes” within the gorgeous feathering have often been thought to represent greater vision, wisdom and watchfulness. The “peacock-blue” tint of its beautiful plumage, often worn by royalty, fascinates all who encounter this magnificent bird. The same remarkable blue defines the head, neck and crest of this glorious creature.
The peacock’s resplendent train of colors actually is not a tail, but an ornament of 150 – 200 long feathers that grow from the bird’s low back and conceal the short and drab-colored real tail. The eyes develop from a modification in the shape of the filaments of the feathers that flattens and twists the filaments so that the broad side faces outward. Microscopic particles of melanin split the light in the same way as a film of oil does on water. What you see varies according to the angle at which you view the peacock.
Of all the birds, the peacock most resembles the traditional description of the phoenix. The phoenix is the legendary bird of resurrection that is sacrificed in the fires of life and then rises from the flames out of its own ashes. As a reflection of the phoenix, the peacock was often associated with immortality and re-birth, and considered sacred by many cultures and religions, including the Greek, Egyptian, Chinese, Christian and Hindu.
In Greek mythology, when Argus, the guard assigned to watch over the goddess Hera, fell asleep, his one hundred eyes were given to the peacock – Hera’s favorite bird. Chinese mythology states that the peacock’s plumage is a blending of five colors that create the sweet harmony of sound. In Egypt the bird was linked to the worship of the sun god, Amon-Ra and associated with the all-seeing eye of Horus. To the Hindus, the peacock was associated with Hindra, the god of thunder who became a peacock endowed with one hundred eyes that enabled him to watch out for the demon Ravana. Christianity assigns the peacock as a symbol of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
There are three species within the peacock family; two of which reside naturally in Asia and one in the African Congo. Peacocks live in deciduous tropical forests and feed in open places such as clearings and cultivated fields. They are at home in cities and temple grounds alike, and were once kept to destroy poisonous snakes. Interestingly, peacocks often live within close proximity of tigers, and although they have excellent eyesight and hearing and are capable of quick flight, they are sometimes exterminated by tigers, leopards and eagles. They are non-migratory, although they are able to fly to the top branches of trees. (Now, that’s a sight to see!). Their nests, often concealed in thorny undergrowth or in low branches are shallow, hollow, sometimes bare, sometimes lined with sticks, leaves, and grass. Their diet consists of seeds, fruit, plants, worms, insects, mice and small snakes.
As with many birds, the male has the brighter feathers and is more ostentatious. Although she lacks the bright train of feathers, the peahen is no less magnificent in her own right. The peahen is a protective and powerful bird in the kingdom, one that nature has endowed with colors that provide her a perfect camouflage when protecting her unborn and young.
Peacocks live as families in small groups, except in breeding season when the cock reverts to solitary and contentious behavior. The cacophonous call emits as the male attempts to establish territorial rights to the females. He proudly and confidently backs into the female as he prepares to win her attention. A loud shaking of his feathers brings each eye into place before suddenly turning around to expose the shimmering constellation of iridescence. The fan created by this strutting display seems to engulf the female. Scientists believe that the peahen is hypnotized by the loud rustle of feathers and the glitter of haunting eyes. Over a few days, the male mates with flocks of females that he attracts to himself. The female chooses the most extravagantly decorated male and the one with the most eyes. These males are considered to be the older and more experienced of the peacocks. She then departs to nest on her own.
The most outstanding features of the peacock are the feathers and its eerie and raucous call. The call has a kind of laughter quality to it, as if the peacock is reminding us to laugh at life. One story told in connection to its vocalizations is tied to the appearance of its feet. The peacock is thought by some (not this author!) to have ugly feet, and that it screeches every time it catches sight of them!
For anyone strongly attracted to the peacock or having the peacock as a totem, examining the mysticism and symbolism of feet is surely called for. The feet are our support system; they are at the foundation of our structure. They enable us to move forward and to be upright. What are the peacock’s feet telling you about your life? What stories do your own feet have to tell? Mythologists claim that the study and practice of foot Reflexology is beneficial to anyone with a peacock as a totem.
Although we can’t boast leopards and tigers, we do invite you to meet Saint Augustine’s population of peacocks. Although there are small flocks living privately in our beautiful city, there are a number available publicly to meet at Ponce De Leon’s Fountain of Youth on Magnolia Avenue. It’s a unique experience to sit under the huge canopied trees of this park while peacocks strut freely around in all their glory.
If you’re curious about the association between peacocks and the Academy of Ancient Reflexology, read on.
Animal-Speak, The Spiritual & Magical Powers of Creatures Great & Small
Edited by Christopher Perrins
Birds of the World
Colin Harrison & Alan Greensmith
Birds – Their Life – Their Ways – Their World
Life of Birds
The Encyclopedia of Birds
Edited by Dr. Christopher M. Perrins & Dr. Alex L. A. Middleton