Hidden in plain sight – the symbolism and mythology of the pelican

This one really surprised me – I had no idea of the significance of the pelican, yet as we shall see this bird’s symbolism is an example of Catholic syncretism of ancient mystical demon god symbolism.

Bergatreute_Pfarrkirche_Hochaltar_VogelnestThe pelican piercing it’s own breast to feed it’s young is a symbol that begins with the Sumerian goddess Nanshe. Of Nanshe there is a lot to know, and I quote: [emphasis added]

“In Sumerian mythology, Nanshe was the daughter of Enki (god of wisdom, magic and fresh water) and Ninhursag (earth and mother goddess). Her functions as a goddess were varied. She was a goddess of social justice, prophecy, fertility and fishing. Like her father, she was heavily associated with water. She held dominion over the Persian Gulf and all the animals within. Her seat of power was the Sirara temple, located in the city of Nina. […]

The Goddess of Social Justice
During the time of Gudea (2144 – 2124 BC), many hymns to Nanshe appeared showing her in an elevated position in the pantheon. She was the widely worshiped goddess of social justice. She nurtured orphans, provided for widows, gave advice to those in debt, and took in refugees from war torn areas.[1] Several other gods appeared to be under the command of Nanshe. Hendursag and Haia were her assistants. Nisaba, sometimes portrayed as Nanshe’s sister, was her chief scribe.

On the first day of the new year, a festival was held at her temple. People came from all over the land to seek her wisdom and aid. Visitors were cleansed in the river of ordeals and then, if worthy, given an audience with the goddess. Nanshe settled disputes and handled court cases amongst mortals.

Holding a higher ranking in the pantheon during this era, Nanshe sometimes shared the same tasks as Utu, the traditional god of justice. She sat on the holy thrones with the other prominent gods, and was seen as a goddess of protection. At one point, Ninurta, the mighty god of war, turns to her for guidance.

The Goddess of Prophecy
Nanshe had the ability to give oracular messages and determine the future through dream interpretation (Oneiromancy). Her priests were also granted these abilities after conducting a ritual that represented death and resurrection. Despite the ritual, Nanshe is not depicted as life-death-rebirth deity in any known hymns or myths.

The Guarantor of Boundaries – The Lady of the Storerooms
In the Nanše Hymn she is described as having a role seeing that weights and measures are correct.[2] […]

Other Functions
The Nanše Hymn attributes to Nanshe, in her role as a protective goddess, special concern for vulnerable members of society: […]

Nanshe has two major symbols, both of which are also seen in Christian folklore. The fish represents her original role as a water and fishing goddess. The pelican, said in folklore to rip open its own chest to feed its young, represents her role as a protector and caregiver.” (source)

Hmmm the fish, which I’ve written about before (Link) and the pelican. Let’s follow the trail of the pelican imagery:


In medieval Europe, the pelican was thought to be particularly attentive to her young, to the point of providing her own blood by wounding her own breast when no other food was available. As a result, the pelican came to symbolise the Passion of Jesus and the Eucharist,[107] and usurped the image of the lamb and the flag.[108] A reference to this mythical characteristic is contained for example in the hymn by Saint Thomas Aquinas, “Adoro te devote” or “Humbly We Adore Thee”, where in the penultimate verse he describes Christ as the “loving divine pelican, able to provide nourishment from his breast”.[109] Elizabeth I of England adopted the symbol, portraying herself as the “mother of the Church of England”. Nicholas Hilliard painted the Pelican Portrait in around 1573, now owned by the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool.[110] A pelican feeding her young is depicted in an oval panel at the bottom of the title page of the first (1611) edition of the King James Bible.[108] Such “a pelican in her piety” appears in the 1686 reredos by Grinling Gibbons in the church of St Mary Abchurch in the City of London. Earlier medieval examples of the motif appear in painted murals, for example that of c. 1350 in the parish church of Belchamp Walter, Essex.[111]” (source)

So the pelican usurped the image of the lamb and the flag in Christianity! Nanshe’s symbol became the symbol used instead. The symbol is seen widely, and indeed my old school’s emblem was this very image:

perse schoolNo-one ever explained it’s significance, it was just the symbol of the school! And it is really a demonic symbol – we must be so careful with imagery – satan can ‘pirate’ agreement from people by using their ignorance against them when it comes to these things.

2 Corinthians 2:10 And to whom ye forgive anything — I also; for I also, if I have forgiven anything, to whom I have forgiven [it], because of you — in the person of Christ — [I forgive it,] 11 that we may not be over-reached by the Adversary, for of his devices we are not ignorant. (YLT)

Reading this in context we see that unforgiveness is one of satan’s devices – but we must be obedient to God so that we can avoid satan’s pit falls. Knowing how satan functions is not vital if you are in a place where you can keep all of God’s laws – because they are designed to keep us safe! But in the world, we must be aware of how he works, and avoid his works – even in the churches, sadly.

I hope you found this interesting – I did – I was amazed at all the connections to the ancient past this symbol had prior to be co-opted for Christianity, who had no business taking it and using it in the way it has. I will be praying a prayer of repentance to break the power of Nanshe off my family from my school days.

God Bless you