Two species of vultures are called condors and are seen as the king of birds in the New World. Even if you don’t know anything about the deep significance of the condor, witnessing one with your own two eyes is something incredible. It can fill your body with divine energy, attesting to the sacredness of this bird.
In this article, we’re going to take a deeper look at the symbolic meaning of condors, starting from their place in Native American cosmology, then going through what these birds symbolize, until finishing by exploring the real meaning of seeing one in the wild.
Condors in Native American Mythology
The condor might be the single most important bird in Native American mythos. Tribes in South America respected the local Andean condor, while tribes in North America respected the local California condor.
Chieftains of many tribes adorned their headdresses with condor feathers, taking in the power of the bird. We can find interesting legends and stories about the divine nature of condors in most Native American cultures. From being seen as the progenitor of the tribe to serving as inspiration for the mythical Thunderbird, and much more.
Let’s take a look at some of the most prominent legends featuring condors in Native American mythology.
The Inca Empire and the Sun God Inti
The clearest example of condor sacredness comes from one of the greatest civilizations of its time – the Inca Empire. Inti is the name of the Incan sun god, who is the second most powerful god in the pantheon, taking a backseat only to the very creator of the world – Viracocha.
Despite that, Inti was regarded as the most important deity. The high priest who worshipped it was called the Willaq Umu and was second only to the emperor himself in influence and status in the Inca Empire.
The Sun God was represented by shiny golden discs that were engraved with human faces. Spanish conquistadors stole most of the discs, including the biggest one that was gifted to the pope in the 16th century, only to be lost forever.
In addition to being the god of the sun, Inti was also worshipped for agriculture. It’s because well, there are no crops without the sun, and Inti is the sun. Now is when the condor enters the story, as these birds were thought to be in direct contact with Inti.
Only condors could fly that high up in the sky and transcend the human realm, entering the spiritual world of gods, where Inti resides. As a result, Incas worshipped condors as much as Inti, as these birds were messengers that could deliver human prayers straight to the recipient.
The Origin of the Wiyot Tribe
Incas weren’t the only ones to worship condors. One of the numerous Native American tribes that did the same is called the Wiyot Tribe. It has a flood myth akin to the one in the Bible, but instead of Noah and the arc, it’s a supernatural condor with his sister surviving the massive flood that destroyed the rest of the world.
The condor became the first human and gave birth to every single living person on earth, making condors incredibly sacred in the eyes of Wiyot. People of the tribe see these birds as close relatives, instead of mere animals.
Condor motifs are found in some of the earliest works of art and craft in the Americas, including sculptures, figurines, and even woven baskets that have flaps resembling the wings of condors.
We can see the ancient legacy of condor carried out to this day in some Andean countries, including Ecuador and Colombia. The Andean condor is the official national animal of these countries and is on their coat of arms. Additionally, it’s also on the coat of arms of Bolivia and Chile.
What Does Condor Symbolize?
Now it’s time for delving deep into the direct symbolism of the condor. We’re going to see what kind of special significance this bird embodies, and also explain what actual features and characteristics might’ve given birth to its special meaning in the world.
Andean condors build nests on inaccessible cliffs of the mountains, often surpassing thousands of miles in height. Moreover, both the California condor and the Andean condor frequently ascend up to 15,000 feet (4500 m) in the sky.
No other bird of significance even approaches such heights, which made condors connected to gods, and the very divinity of existence. They’re the only ones who can freely live in both, the earthly human realm, and the godly spiritual realm.
Longevity and Health
Many bird species don’t even live for a decade, let alone 5 or 6 as condors do. They are among the longest-living birds, symbolizing longevity, wellness, and health. Some Native Americans tell stories about growing up next to a condor and seeing the bird grow old and grey the same way as they did themselves.
Nobility and Royalty
Condors are the biggest birds in the Americas, the Andean species in South America, and the California species in North America. The former reaches the body length of 4 feet (1.2 m), while the latter is slightly bigger with a length of 4.5 feet (1.37 m). Both species can weigh over 30 pounds (13.6). Most importantly, their wingspan often exceeds 10 feet (3 m).
Such measurements of a bird are simply difficult to comprehend. The sheer size of condors relates them to the very essence of majesty. They are the biggest birds, they are the noble kings reigning over others, they are the royalty of the skies.
Death and Afterlife
Condors are scavengers, meaning they feed on carrion or the flesh of dead animals. They’re even known to arrive at the animal hours before it dies. This associates condors with death, but not in the same way as crows are in Europe. Relation with death makes the condor the mediator between our realm on Earth and the spirit realm in the afterlife. The condor was the spiritual healer, who could aid lost souls on their way to the heavenly realm.
Commitment, Love, and Devotion
Unlike most other birds, condors mate for life. Their first partner is also their last, a feat that’s rarely found in the animal kingdom. Naturally, it symbolizes everything that makes romantic relationships worth it – love, passion, and faithfulness.
Wisdom and Foresight
Most larger birds become mature for reproduction at the age of 2 or 3, but condors are some of the latest to reach maturity. They only become ready to reproduce when they are about 7 years old, and not because they take a long time to mature, but because they embody wisdom and foresight.
Instead of rushing to continue their lineage, condors wait and think it through, planning every single detail. Furthermore, females lay only a single egg biannually, that is one egg every two years.
Also, an average condor becomes sexually mature at the age of 7, which is much later than most other bird species. Not hurrying to mate symbolizes wisdom and foresight.
Strength, Might, and Courage
Condors are carnivorous birds, and unlike herbivores that feed on plant material, animals eating meat always represent strength and might. It’s a self-sustaining cycle, as meat has a bigger calorie density than plant-based foods, making the bird even stronger and mightier.
What Does It Mean To See a Condor?
If you happen to spot a condor, don’t be too happy too quickly. While it’s the symbol of the divine, it doesn’t work as an omen forecasting that you’re about to become a king or anything like that. Remember, the condor also symbolizes death.
While you won’t die after seeing a condor, it’s still the omen of death more often than not. For the vast majority of human existence, death wasn’t seen as something to be mourned or feared. It was seen as taking the step into the next stage of spiritual existence. Dying can be likened to the initiation rituals found in nearly every indigenous culture.
The rites of passage would start with tribe men forcefully inviting the young boys into adventure, by stripping them away from their mothers during the night. Then, the boys were made to go through various trials, some causing excruciating physical pain, others being heavy on the mind.
Ultimately, the rite would culminate in boys becoming men and stepping into the next stage of life – adulthood. Some boys that weren’t prepared wouldn’t pass the trials and remain infantile for the rest of their lives, not being seen as men despite their old age.
Others, who passed the rite just barely, would be the first ones to get permanently maimed during physical conflicts with other tribes. It’s the same with death, those who led a virtuous life are ready to make the step and usually die with a smile on their face, or sometimes even predict the very time of their death years in advance. Contrarily, those who were weak and wasted their life for no good, are afraid of death and always meet it against their own will.
So, if you see a condor, chances are you’re stagnating in life and have to do something and do something quick. Do you want to willingly accept the call to adventure that life is, or are you going to wait until someone else will force you to?