Saturday, March 27, 2010

Legend, Symbolism & Pelikan

One of the things I like most about summers in Florida is watching the pelicans as they fly up and down the long stretch of beach. Except when they are feeding in the late afternoon, and flying low over the water, they pass overhead in groups of eight or ten in what seems like a perfection of graceful flight.

10,000 miles away from those lazy afternoons, sitting gazing out my Tokyo windows, my attention wanders to the Pelikan fountain pen I am fiddling with, and I begin to wonder about the well-known Pelikan crest on the cap and the meaning or symbolism that might be associated with that image. I am already familiar with the evolution of the crest’s design, and have even posted some of those images in this blog, but now I’m curious about the echoes, or associations of the famous image—the pelican feeding her chicks.

The pelican is symbolic of self-sacrificial love. The idea comes from the legend that pelicans tear their breasts to feed their young. This image of the bleeding breast was taken up by early Christians to symbolize the Passion of Christ and the Eucharist. They might also have drawn further symbolism from the belief that a male pelican resurrects its dead young with its own blood, comparable to Christ shedding his blood for mankind. A tradition in this line is that the pelican chicks are strangled by Satan in the guise of a snake, and the blood of the self-sacrificing parent awakens the strangled chicks.

Another possible source of the bleeding breast legend could be the bird’s manner of pressing its bill into its chest to empty the pouch. One breed, the Dalmatian Pelican has a blood-red pouch early in the breeding season, and with its bill pointed down and pressing against the chest, it easily gives the impression of a bloody breast.

Little evidence that all this legend and symbolism went into Pelikan’s decision to use the image as their corporate logo, but it’s an interesting thought.

1 comment:

  1. Really enjoyed this post because I, too, am reminded of the beautiful pelicans flying in formation low over the surf at the beach.



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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America