Supplementary myth: Eagle feathers eat all others

Supplementary myth: Eagle feathers eat all others

While I was gathering references for my recent peacock feather post, I found a reference to a Norse superstition to do with arrow making that I thought I’d share. Curiously, it’s echoed by Turkish fletchers who also use eagle feathers.

Here’s the late 12th century quote from Saxo Germanicus first.

Eagles’ feathers joined to other feathers in quivers of arrows, &c. will devour them, especially goose feathers.

The later quote is from Demetrius Cantimir’s History of the Ottoman Empire, it’s unclear who did the translation from French.

The bow-makers throughout Turkey and Tartary are all supplied from thence [Babadagy], although they use only the twelve [eagle] tail feathers, which are commonly sold for a Leonine. They are esteemed superior to all others for winging arrows, and a skilful archer does not care to use any other. If a man has several shafts in his quiver, with other feathers, and but one among them fledged with an eagle’s quill, that one, remaining untouched, will eat all the rest to the wood.

Demetrius Cantimir, Histoire de l’empire Othoman, 1743, p319

Both these accounts are found in Hansard, p391

Interestingly, and possibly relevant to some sort of reverence to eagle feathers, the feathers on one of the shafts from Nydam have been identified from the imprint on the pitch as white tailed eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla), ten examples from Illerup Ådal and a couple from Vimose have been found to be white tailed eagle as well. The contexts of these three find sites has been determined to be weapon sacrifices, so may not be truly representative of contemporary use.

I wouldn’t think anything more about it, but I had some older duck fletched arrows in the same box as turkey fletched arrows and found the duck feathers were being eaten. I suspect rather than some super power of the turkey (or eagle), there’s some sort of mite on these feathers that find feathers of other birds particularly tasty. By the way, Ascham was right. Duck fletched arrows work brilliantly, but only once. My 65# bow just shredded them.

While we’re on the subject of Viking arrows, there’s some bloody nice repros of the Hedeby arrows here. I think it’s in Czechoslovakian, there’s adequate English translations for the pics.

Update

I’ve found a better translation of the Cantimir quote, I wasn’t happy with the bit about just using tail feathers.

There are found in the neighbourhood of this city [Babadagy], eagles (called Guijigien by the Turks and Tartars) which are larger than all other birds; and in so great plenty, that the bow-makers, all over Turkey and Tartary, are from thence furnished with feathers from their arrows; although there are not above twelve quills (and those in their tails) that are fit for that use…

The rest of the quote is much the same. This translation is in Roberts, T, The English Bowman, 1801, pp164-5.

References

Hansard, G. A., The Book of Archery, Bohn, 1841

North Germanic archery. The practical approach – results and perspectives, 2009, http://www.academia.edu/1479148/North_Germanic_archery._The_practical_approach_-_results_and_perspectives, accessed 21 August 2014.

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