I had to laugh the other day while we were at Sea Breeze (a local amusement park) and on a sign at the entrance to one of the rides there was a picture of a baby being carried by a stork with a circle around it and a line strike through to represent that pregnant women couldn’t ride the rides. I normally probably wouldn’t think twice about it, because it’s a symbol I’ve grown up with, but my daughter was looking at the picture and wondered what a bird with a baby hanging from it’s beak had to do with women that had babies in their tummies. And if you think about it, the symbol on the sign is rather funny and feels a bit arbitrary in modern times.
The exact beginning origins of the stork myth isn’t completely clear as it seems that it is sprinkled throughout a handful of different cultures as symbols of mothering, childbirth, fertility, monogamy and families. It was believed or at least passed on that the souls of unborn children lived in watery areas such as marshes, wells, springs, and ponds and since storks
frequented such areas, they were said to fetch the babies’ souls from the water
and deliver them to their parents.
The Hebrew word for stork is equivalent to “kind mother,” and the image of the White Stork is a symbol for paternal care. In an old Polish folktale God had changed man into a stork to care for the other animals. In Greek mythology, the stork was reversely a symbol of stealing a baby and carrying it away. In one mythical story, Gerana, a beautiful Queen of the Pygmies, was changed into a stork by Hera, one of the goddesses whom she had angered. As a stork, Gerana tried to abduct her own child, Mopsus, whom she loved, but was constantly chased away. In Norse mythology and other similar folklore, the stork represents a life-long commitment to family values, since it is considered to be monogamous. Likewise for Early Christians who used the stork as an emblem of a chaste marriage. In Egyptian mythology, the stork was often associated with the ba or personality of a unique individual character of each human being. The ba or soul was represented by a bird, usually a stork, with a human head. The Egyptians also linked the migratory behavior of the stork to the soul’s departure from and return to a sleeping human; they also thought that the ba could return to the body of the deceased, because being its rightful home. In northern Europe the stork became a symbol of childbirth because the birds arrive on their breeding grounds in Poland and Germany nine months after midsummer. In Europe the myth was popularized by a 19th century Hans Christian Andersen story called The Storks. German folklore told stories that storks had found babies in caves or marshes and brought them to households in baskets on their backs or carried in their beaks. These caves contained adebarsteine or “stork stones”. The babies would then be given to the mother or dropped down the chimney. In Europe Storks were also encouraged to nest on people’s homes and properties in the hope that they would bring fertility and prosperity. Households would notify the storks when they wanted children by placing sweets on the window sill. Storks were also associated with handicapped or stillborn babies in Germany, the myths explained the stork having dropped the baby en route to the household causing the issues, or it was seen as revenge or punishment for past wrongdoing. In Slavic mythology and religion, storks were thought to carry unborn souls from Iriy to Earth in spring and summer. This belief still persists in the modern folk culture of many Slavic countries, in the simplified children’s tale that “storks bring children into the world”. Storks are seen by the Slavs as bringing luck, and thus killing one would also bring misfortune. In our own country, children of African American slaves were sometimes told that white babies were brought by storks, while black babies were born from buzzard eggs (How terrible).
And finally in current day we still describe the stork as a way that babies get here to children because we don’t want to explain sex or childbirth to our kids.
I personally have no trouble with telling my kids that babies grow in their mommies tummies and that they are born from our bodies.
What about you? How does the baby arrive in your household? Is the stork a thing of the past and at the very least should we stop putting its picture on signs?