In many Indigenous cultural beliefs across Turtle Island (North America), "The Thunderbird" (singular) is seen as a great, powerful, benevolent bird. In the avian form of a massive, eagle-like bird "The Thunderbird" is believed to be a physical manifestation of the Great Spirit of the Creator here on Earth. Additionally, "Thunderbirds" (plural) are seen as helpers of the Great Spirit and they bring the weather of thunderstorms and their medicine of thunder, lightning and rain. Thunderbirds bring change.
Yet is also believed the helping spirits of thunderbirds can come to exist physically in human form too. As thunderbird people. These thunderbirds are simply human assistants of the Great Spirit. In this context a thunderbird is a spiritual person much like a "shaman". So, for now, we'll use the word shaman since most people know what it implies.
A shaman, who is Indigenous to Siberia, is “one who knows.” A shaman knows because they commune with “the spirits” for answers. It's the spirits that inform and guide the shaman. The spiritual helping role of the shaman is ancient. Anthropologists have found evidence in the form of eagle talon necklaces that the Neanderthals were practising bird shamanism (a modern term) over 130,000 years ago. And swan bones found deep in the earth at archaeological sites reveal that bird shamanism could be close to 400,000 years old! The prehistoric people who practiced bird shamanism were seen as bird shamans. (See centre photo above.)
Here in North America, the very large birds - as wide as the sky - that were believed to create thunderstorms, lightning and thunder were naturally called thunderbirds. And eventually those early bird shamans, here, who specialized medicinally with lightning and thunder, came to be known as thunderbirds too. These early human thunderbirds developed powerful practices and thunderbird medicine ways to help others in a shamanic manner all rooted in the ancient bird shamanism ways that originated from prehistoric Siberia.
Please keep in mind the term "shaman" is native to Siberia. A thunderbird is not a shaman, however is akin to a shaman. Human thunderbirds practice thunderbird medicine which is akin to bird shamanism. Bird shamanism is rooted in the ancient, spiritual practices we learned thousands and thousands of years ago from our paleolithic human ancestors who lived in the circumpolar, glacial regions of northern Europe, Asia, Siberia and Canada. And prehistoric people moved around.
The theory goes that as humans migrated from Siberia over the Bering Land Bridge into North America (Turtle Island), the medicinal practices and spiritual beliefs of ancient bird shamanism came along with them. It is possible that bird shamanism beliefs are inherent within the living blood memory of many people. It appears our natural, human bird shaman genes have never gone away! But to this day, the only true "shamans" are from Siberia because that is where the word shaman originated. Other cultures have, and use, different names (e.g. thunderbird) and terms for a person who is like a shaman. Yet sadly the New Age Movement and their "shamanic practitioners" have corrupted the word, use and title of "shaman" and to a larger degree the very nature of "shamanism" itself. Modern New Age beliefs - including spiritually justified cultural appropriation - has tainted true shamanism and has corrupted much about the original roles, intentions and traditional practices of not just the Siberian shamans but also of many other Indigenous cultures and spiritual practices around the world.
Back to birds. Because of the avian abilities of a bird to be free the air and fly in the sky, birds became a natural way to visualize the inner essence of our human spirit. In a spiritual way, akin to bird shamans, human thunderbirds embody the flight ability of a bird to reach the levels and worlds our ancestors believed could be accessed though “spiritual flight.” For example, around 15,000 years ago thunderbirds did spirit flights aided by a wooden “sky pole” aimed directly at the north star which, at that time, was in the Bird/Swan constellation of Cygnus high in the Milky Way. Here the Milky Way is still called “The Bird’s Path” or sometimes even the "Thunderbird's Path." This ancient ceremony is still practised in thunderbird medicine ways or bird shamanism today. Thunderbird medicine is more about the thunderbirds yet bird shamanism still embraces all kinds of “fliers” such as songbirds, woodpeckers, ducks, loons, ravens, vultures, eagles, hawks, falcons, herons, cranes, geese and swans. It also embraces the spirits of the variety of wild animals that live outside in nature. That’s why we work outside.
Thunderbird medicine involves using a stone thunderbird nest. Here human thunderbirds work with the spirits of stones, plants, trees, animals, birds, elements, weather and ancestors in a spiritual manner to gain guidance to aid us in everyday life. Such guidance helps people to grow, heal and get better by removing unnecessary and unwanted negativity. A thunderbird's primary purpose is to help improve a situation including a person's overall state of wellness and well-being. We simply help people to do this by removing their "serpents". Serpents represent personal negativity and toxicity such as bad feelings, emotional traumas and ill and broken beliefs. Thunderbirds often help a person to explore, repair, fix, change, transform and therefore heal their emotional, physical, spiritual, mental and central worlds upon the Path of Life.
So not a shaman, but indeed akin to a shaman, a thunderbird is essentially “a person who works with the spirits” of the natural world. In addition to the spirits of places, plants, birds and animals these spirits also include working with ancestor spirits to get answers, help and guidance. By intentionally embarking on a spirit flight a thunderbird willingly accesses the various levels of the spirit world intending to obtain knowledge, guidance and wisdom. The knowledge attained is then applied to normal life for the benefit of a person, family or community. Human thunderbirds have always had direct access to the land – and therefore to the spirits of the land – like rocks, stones, plants, trees, wild birds and animals, the natural elements and the weather. At spiritual places outdoors, such as the top of Thunderbird Mountain, thunderbirds can also access the benevolent spirits of our recent or most distant human ancestors: The Old Ones.
Thunderbirds work with old human archetypes to empower people emotionally, physically, spiritually and mentally. For example, the best medicine for a “low like a snake” emotional state is a “high like a bird” spiritual state. When a person is lost and struggling often they don’t even believe they have a spiritual state strong enough to assist them. In this case it’s critical to aid people to find their own inner spirit so they can use it to help guide themselves upon their own path. Simply stated, a person’s empowered spiritual state – the Great Bird within – is used as good medicine to shapeshift their emotional state. A thunderbird helps with all of this and people come to see they are personally responsible to maintain their own inner spirit.
The thunderbird medicine practices I do can help you change for the better. My work helps you to see, understand, accept, embrace and regularly utilize the truly wonderful, positive power of the Great Bird you already have within you – your very own spirit! We now live in a very egocentric, greedy, materialistic age. Our dominant, consumer-driven culture is terribly ill with increasing problems such as mental stress, emotional apathy, depression, anxiety, drug and alcohol addiction, violence, cell phone addiction, increased radio waves, technological pressure and climate change. Many people are suffering from a drastic disconnection from nature and the good medicine our Mother Earth can provide us. I hope you will come to see your time to fly high with your own spirit is critical to embrace to be well here on Earth. As a thunderbird I'm just your helper.