The Pelican symbol is as old as Egypt.

“The Pelican (Henet in Egyptian), found in livestock scenes on the walls of courtiers’ tombs, figures in royal funerary texts from the Pyramid Age as a protective symbol against snakes. The description of the Pelican falling into the Nile seems connected with the idea of scooping up in its prominent beak hostile elements under the guise of fish – a concept comparable to the dragnets and bird nets used for trapping sinners in the Underworld. That the Pelican is a divinity must be assumed from the reference to it in the Pyramid Texts as the ‘mother of the king’, a role which in religious documents can only be ascribed to a goddess. In non-royal funerary papyri the Pelican has the power of prophesying a safe passage for a dead person in the Underworld. The open beak of the Pelican is also associated with the ability of the deceased to leave the burial chamber and go out into the rays of the sun, possibly an analogy made between the long cavernous beak of the pelican and the tomb shaft.”
— George Hart, The Routledge Dictionary of Egyptian Gods and Goddesses.

See Physiologus, an anonymous text from 2nd Century Alexandria, where the mother pelican is described as feeding her young with her own blood: “The little pelicans strike their parents, and the parents, striking back, kill them. But on the third day the mother pelican strikes and opens her side and pours blood over her dead young. In this way they are revivified and made well. So Our Lord Jesus Christ says also through the prophet Isaiah: I have brought up children and exalted them, but they have despised me (Is 1:2). We struck God by serving the creature rather than the Creator. Therefore He deigned to ascend the cross, and when His side was pierced, blood and water gushed forth unto our salvation and eternal life.”

So the symbol of the self-sacrificing mother pelican develops from the polytheistic tombs of most ancient Egypt to the most zealously monotheistic enclaves of Alexandria and now to today’s Smoothie King Center where the New Orleans Pelicans play to cheers of “Protect the Nest!” (Note: The Pelicans defeated the Houston Rockets last night 111-83!)

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Christian Sheppard blogs about all things strange, about wonder and horror in literature, film, and the culture at large. He is presently finishing an historical horror novel about chariot-racing, witchcraft and demonic possession in the dark ages of Byzantine Constantinople. He is also editing a non-fiction book "The Ancient Wisdom of Baseball," on baseball and religion, a philosophical "apologia" for raising his first child a Cubs fan. He teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago: http://www.saic.edu/profiles/faculty/christianmsheppard/

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