The Devil's Messenger

8:24:00 AM


Blue Jay Way

“Southerners say that the blue jay was yoked to a plow by a sparrow.  The mark left by the yoke can still be seen on the blue jay’s breast.”- Laura C. Martin, The Folklore of Birds

As the snow and ice melts away in the rain, the calls of the birds emerge from the tree tops, the eaves and wood beams over the porch, from hidden places in the periphery. The oncoming death of the darkyear awakens friends and fiends from all over. These days, I hear the shriek of the blue jays.  Jays are everywhere along the Green River and up the hills of Riverton, their shrill cry in the morning among the sweet chirps of the robins and sparrows is distinct and much groaned-about.  But, they’re beautiful, social, acclimated to humans and pretty docile.

And yet, elsewhere in the country, not so long ago, the jay was a “devil’s familiar, who spends every Friday with him to help him rebuild the fires during the night” (Ozarks).  When you look in North American folklore, there’s some interesting stories regarding the jay as a trickster, as a natural enemy of the people, or as creatures who serve the devil and act as the liminal messenger between witch initiates and the devil.  The blue jay in the old stories was a messenger who: ~ Carried corn kernel offerings of witches to the devil to proffer his attention for initiation; one was to find a hollowed stump filled with water, and then place around its rim rainbow corn kernels every Friday for seven weeks.  A jaybird was told in these stories to take that corn grain to the devil as a petition for a witch’s initiation (Goss, L, Brown, F.C). ~ Carried sand grains to the otherworld; “The grain of sand is a ransom for the souls in hell, who cannot be released until all the sand on the surface of the earth has been carried below.” (North Carolina Folklore, 7254). ~ Carried brimstone and dried twigs to hell to light the devil’s fires.

Regarding the blue jay as a messenger for the underworld (not necessarily a maker or herald of evil himself) seems to be found mainly among Midwestern, Southern and Northeastern African American folklore superstitions in the States. Interestingly, some folklore among African Americans paint the jaybird as a "reporter to the devil" who tells him of mankind's sins; including the sin of slavery, or the sin of breaking the commandment to honor thy father and mother. The jay had sold his soul to the devil, you see, and now intermediates between the sinners of earth and the lord of hell.
"The bluejays report all naughty doings of bad children to the devil."- The Frank C. Brown Collection of North Carolina Folklore

They don’t seem to hold strictly negative connotations in the indigenous folklore of the Pacific Northwest (my home) where having blue jay as an ally made one better at communication, capable of healing work and gifted in other ways, “In myth Bluejay appears as a brash, noisy smart-aleck, but one who was also sharp-eyed and observant.”- David Buerge, Roots and Branches: The Religious History of Washington State. The trickster jay was not disliked or seen as a bad omen around here, his medicine is a dance of cunning and thievery, wisdom and forethought. What a powerful being: trickster, messenger, servant; blue master of the otherworldly.

“Don’t you hear the jay bird's call? Don’t you hear them dead sticks fall? He’s a thrown down firewood for we all;
All on a Friday morning."
As always in American folklore, the work of witchery and devilry is done on Fridays.  “Every Friday jaybirds carry a grain of sand to hell.” (Green Collection).  The Friday blue jay was a devil’s most loyal factotum, bringing him peat and twigs, witch-kernels and kindling for the fires of hell, these fires are the same as those that roast the unrepentant sinners.  Or as folklore from Maryland would put it; “To burn your soul”.  African American superstition in the south was said to hold that jays weren’t to trouble you on Fridays because that’s the day they’re busy stoking the devil’s pit with twigs and brimstone, delivering unto him the souls and wishes of witches, and the sands that “bind” souls. All of this power through their work as familiars to evil spirits.“You never see a blue jay on Friday because they are so busy carrying twigs to hell.”- North Carolina Folklore: Popular Beliefs and Superstitions


If Saturn rules all birds with "course voices" and Jupiter rules all birds colorful, those are the rulerships I would assign the jay, along with corn, brimstone and sand as offerings. I welcome the jay, servant of the devil of old.  To me, he’s a lucky healer, that’s his medicine here and that’s the relationship I’ve had with these blue beauties.  I loathe their awful song when it's earlier than 6 a.m, but I appreciate these “talkers”; they always have something to say, including warnings and prophecies. I've learned healing dances from the generations of jays in my mother's holly trees. I've anointed my dreams in their feathers and depended on their warnings. Blue jays have served this witch well.  Appreciate your local jays, witches, they just might be spying for the devil on you!

Illustration by Andrew G. Jimenez

References:
  • North Carolina Folklore: Popular Beliefs and Superstitions
  • The Frank C. Brown Folklore Collection
  • Salish Myths and Legends: One People's Stories by M. Terry Thompson, Steven M. Egesdal
  • Roots and Branches: The Religious Heritage of Washington State by David M. Buerge
  • Midwest Folklore, Volumes 6-7 by Indiana University
  • Follow de Drinkin' Gou'd by James Frank Dobie
  • Talk That Talk: An Anthology of African American Storytelling by Linda Goss
  • The Folklore of Birds by Laura C. Martin
  • Birds in Legend, Fable and Folklore by Ernest Ingersoll
  • The American South: Blue Jays and Ol’ Prejudices by A-Wing and A-Way

You Might Also Like

0 comments