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When we went to Wales three years ago, we spent one night in a wonderful place called Gwydir Castle. Pat talked the couple who had bought and were restoring the place into letting us stay, even though Kelsea was under the age limit for acceptable guests. It was so worth it.
Our room was on the second floor and overlooked an interior courtyard. In the morning, we were amazed to see peacocks on the window ledge. They flew up from the ground – I didn’t know they could fly – and perched on the stone railing and awoke us with their amazing gurgle-gobbling. We were all a little disoriented, and it took us a few minutes to figure out what we were hearing.
The peacocks roamed the grounds freely. Pat and I took a walk together through the spreading trees and up the garden paths.
It is a nice memory – and we encountered one fellow in particular who seemed to have developed a….fondness for me. He was definitely trying to impress, blocking our path, and spreading his tail to its fullest extent, then slowly revolving to show me how much more handsome he was than my current companion. He refused to let me go for some time, so I took advantage of his preening by taking pictures.
We found peacock feathers all over the grounds, and thought it was wonderful. Kelsea and I collected feather bouquets and played with them – she did a wonderful peacock impersonation.
There was no way we could take them with us, so we decided to take them outside and give them back to the grounds. As we were leaving our wing of the castle, we encountered the male half of the couple who owned the property. We wanted to make clear that we weren’t smuggling the feathers away, in case they used them for something. As soon as we showed them to him, he literally blanched (I’ve never seen anyone do this before), backed away, stammered something unintelligible and disappeared down the stairs.
Kelsea and I were disturbed – had we done something to offend him? Was he angry with us? We caught up with his wife and asked if we had made some grievous error. She explained that he loved having the peacocks on the grounds, but he’d been raised to believe that having the feathers in the house (detached from the bird) was terribly unlucky, and meant that death would come to the house.
I had never heard this superstition before, so I did a little research after we got home.
Apparently this legend works both ways. In certain counties in the United Kingdom, peacock feathers in the house do indeed portend ill luck. Documentation of this belief goes as far back as 1866. However, the more modern side of the psychic community believes that peacock feathers indoors signify protection of the energy of the home environment. This belief is particularly common in Asian cultures.
How did this superstition arise? The end of a peacock’s feathers resemble the “evil eye” of olde, otherwise known as the eye of the she-demon, Lilith,
or perhaps reflective of the evil Argus, with one hundred eyes all over his body, who was transformed into a peacock with an eye at the end of each tail feather.
Thus, villagers thought that the bird’s feathers would bring bad luck. Other theories are more focused on protecting the species. The “evil eye” feather indicated that the flesh of the peacock was poisonous, a totally false idea which was propagated to save the peacock from becoming the main dish at any and every elegant banquet in Renaissance Europe.
Of course, when you consider what peacock feathers have been used for (and how many have been used), they might have been justified in their concerns around the survival of this species of fowl. Consider:
- This Chinese wedding dress has 2009 peacock feathers as part of the train, at a cost of $1.5 million smackeroos.
- A handmade peacock feather cloak (this one took 1500 feathers) – image credit for this goes to Rob Jan: http://farm1.staticflickr.com/19/112389836_4704c3fc7f.jpg
- Peacock feather shoes by designer Pedro Garcia
- Peacock feather wedding bouquets (doesn’t the bad luck thing rear its head here?)
And finally, the ubiquitous peacock feather fan.
My mother always wanted one, and so I gave her one that I found in an antique store in Georgetown, Colorado for Christmas one year. She would never do anything with it other than fan herself (duh) but it was one of those lifelong dreams fulfilled (sort of like me wanting an Easy-Bake Oven and a Mystery Date game.)
Peacocks are not the brightest bird in the boat, but they are beautiful. We found them at several Welsh castles (including an albino peahen at Ruthin Castle)
and they terrorize small children with food at the Denver Zoo.
Kelsea and I laid out our peacock feathers artistically on a hedge at Gwydir Castle before our departure. We never saw our host again. Hopefully by now, he has recovered from the shock.