There are many types of Swallows (aka as Purple Martins), but the one most associated with the occult is the Barn Swallow. A slim little bird, it has rounded wings and a distinctive long tail which ends in two long points. Swallows are found throughout Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas, and there are six subspecies in the Northern Hemisphere alone.
Swallows are fast fliers: you will often see them diving after insects which have been stirred up by tractors working the fields. They find man-made structures convenient to nest upon-barns, chimneys, houses and bridges. It builds its cup-shaped nest out of mud and straw. Sometimes you will see a large birdhouse with numerous holes in them which look rather like apartment buildings; these are made exclusively for 'purple martins', and are indeed tiny little compartmentalized bird houses within one larger structure.
Swallows are frequently mentioned in religious and literary works due to it's close association with humans and it's migratory habits.They are often referred to by a name which relates to the location where they build their nests, such as 'barn swallow' or 'cliff swallow'. The story of the infamous swallows that return to the mission of San Juan Capistrano, California is still popular. Every year the birds leave town around the feast of the death of San Juan in October and return there in the spring around the feast of Saint Joseph in March. They have traced to a spot in Argentina where the migrate in the winter. The annual return of the swallows to Capistrano each year is a huge tourist attraction for the mission, which is the oldest building still in continuous use in California
Swallows are thought to be both a blessing and a curse. A story related to the crucifixion of Christ claims that the tiny swallows flew around the head of the deceased Jesus and chirping," Dead! Dead!" to the Roman soldiers so they would inflict no more torture on the body.
A swallow nesting in the roof of a building is believed to guard against lightning, fire and other misfortunes. If the bird abandons the nest, it is a sign of ill fortune. Killing a swallow will result in various punishments from damaging rains to soured milk, and even death of the perpetrator. Folk legends abound about birds, and it is especially thought to be unlucky if a bird flies into house; not so with the swallow, who is thought to a sign of happiness.
In many cultures, the swallow is associated with death. A Russian folk tale claims that the spirits of dead children take the form of swallows in an attempt to stay with their families. In Ireland, a hair plucked from the head by a swallow means the individual will not only die but is doomed to reside in Hell; the Scots believe that a swallow has a drop of the Devil's blood in it's veins [Cassel's Dictionary of Superstition, pg 252]. A Native American tale recounts the swallow bringing fire to humans, a feat commemorated by the ring of red feathers about the neck of some. Many folk tales feature the antics of swallows portending the weather, such as this rhyme: "Swallows fly high, no rain in the sky; Swallows fly low,'tis likely to blow".
A prevalent belief in folk magick is that a swallow carries stones in it's crop which can heal madness, promote eloquence, restore eyesight, or bring luck to the bearer. There are other remedies which endorse the use of the body of a swallow for curing toothache, alcoholism,or epilepsy.
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