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Bird of Happiness: Wooden Guardian of Family Hearth
August 13, 2009 15:36

The fascinating carved wood toy called the Bird of Happiness has long been a guardian of family happiness and wellbeing among the Russian people. In former times such a charm used to hang in every house, under the ceiling at the entrance area, so that every person entering the house passed under it. The amulet is believed to take away negativities that a guest might bring along, and lets only good things into the house. So it helps to make the house peaceful and free from quarrels and people kinder to each other.

From time immemorial the bird has been seen as the link between the earth and the sky, the human and the divine. The bird is also called the soul’s guide. In pagan mythology there is an image of Duck. A legend says that Duck took the earth up from the bottom of the pristine ocean and helped to create solid earth.

A flying bird reminds of the Sun, which is the pagan symbol of life-giving source. In Christian mythology the dove is the symbol of the Holy Spirit. The dove appeared before the Virgin Mary on Annunciation Day, and the Holy Spirit as the dove comes down from the sky during baptism of Christ.

So the wooden splinter Bird of Happiness that started to be made in Russia more than three hundred years ago, took the shape of a dove. Most probably the bird became a side handicraft of shipbuilding. It is made of ship pine wood, only of the tree’s bottom part (three meters from the ground, free of branches).

Arkhangelsk and Voronezh dispute the pas of being “the cradle” of the Russian fleet. However, it was in Arkhangelsk where the first ship named Saint Peter was launched. It was six years ahead of the first Voronezh ship. Though the time difference is trifling, it seems that thrifty Peter the First decided not to spend money on educating Voronezh shipbuilders in Holland and instead of that resettled masters from Arkhangelsk, who had already studied in Amsterdam, to Voronezh area. The first thing that the settlers did on the new place was hanging the wooden charm Bird of Happiness in their huts. So they taught locals the secrets of making these wonder-birds.

The bird, as is clear from its name, is believed to bring happiness. As a family totem charm it was suspended in the Holy Corner, above the dining table. In the evening a samovar would be put on the table, and the carved bird started to revolve majestically on its axis, casting its fanciful shadow. It was slowly going round, looking into every corner of the house, as if to check if everyone was at home and everything was fine.

The church is also well-disposed to the wooden bird. It is suspended in churches above “the heaven-gate”, as the very body of the bird reminds of the Biblical symbol of cross. It is made of two wooden bars: one for the trunk and head, and the other for wings.

The most important step in making the bird is splitting the bar into thin blades that form the wing and tail feathers. The thinner the blades, the more delicate and laced the bird is. The bars are fastened together, and then the blade feathers of the wings and tail are spread by carefully pulling them apart. The intricate curve of the wings and the tail is due to the structure of the wood. Traditionally, the splinter bird is neither painted nor lacquered, because it is the “living” wood that has beneficial influence on a person. With the lapse of time it gains beautiful bronze colouring. The mythical bird fits any interior. When it is placed by a light source, its flight is added special charms to: the rays penetrate through its thinnest feathers casting fantastic shadows.

The vivifying energy of pure pine wood, the warmth of master’s hands and high spirits will certainly be transmitted to the people, in whose homes the Bird of Happiness will settle. Now you don’t have to try catching your bird of happiness – you can simply take it from the craftsman, bring it home and enjoy its serene charms.

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Tags: Russian Arts and Crafts Birds of Paradise Wooden Carving Amulets Russian Souvenirs 

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