Feathers: Flying to the Heavens - The Deepening: Communing with Spirit

Kindling the Native Spirit: Sacred Practices for Everyday Life - Denise Linn 2015

Feathers: Flying to the Heavens
The Deepening: Communing with Spirit

When I spent time with the Zulu, Credo Mutwa gifted me a special feather headdress. A Native American (from a Southwest tribe in the United States) had given it to Credo when he had visited South Africa a number of years prior. Credo told me that the feathers longed to travel with me and be returned to their homeland. I was moved by this gift and took it with me on my journeys through Africa before heading home.

During the day, when I was out of my hotel, I would prop the headdress up on a nightstand to not damage it. Evidently people cleaning the rooms, however, would see the headdress and assume that I was a sangoma (medicine woman) because offerings from the cleaning staffs started appearing in my hotel rooms. Sometimes I’d answer a knock on the door to find a hotel employee with a friend or family member who wanted to be healed. One woman wanted her husband to be faithful and wanted me to do a spell on him. This was happening because they recognized the feathers as a sign of a healer. The headdress was creating so much commotion at every hotel I stayed in that eventually I started covering it with scarves. This experience showed me the depth and power of feathers among the native people of Africa. I was familiar with the importance of feathers in Native American customs; however, it was powerful to see firsthand how feathers were revered in a different culture.


Since the beginning of human history, feathers have been used by native people in ceremonies and rituals. In many tribal traditions, birds are thought to be the messengers between the spirit and physical realms, and thus their feathers are venerated as the conduit between these two worlds. Since the quill of the feather is an open tube, many cultures believe that it serves as a channel for prayers and energy. It’s considered to be a pathway of communication with spirit messengers or supernatural beings.

In indigenous cultures, feathers are used for a variety of purposes. For example, there are feathers for healing, dancing, success in hunting and fishing, clearing and protecting a home, and bringing rain, among many others. There are friendship and honoring feathers (to gift to your mentors, friends, or those whom you respect), answering feathers (to hold to receive an answer to your questions), and smudging feathers used for space clearing.

In many traditions feathers are also bestowed in recognition of a brave act or a worthy accomplishment. To receive a gift of a feather can be a great honor. For example, when I was invited to spend time with the Maoris, during my honorary adoption ceremony into the tribe, I was gifted with a special feather. I was told that it was a privilege to receive this feather and that only a high-ranking Maori could wear that particular decorated feather. (I have never worn this feather as I am not, nor do I consider myself, a high-ranking Maori by any means. I share this with you to give credence to the value that’s placed on feathers in native cultures.)


My grandmother used to wear a single turkey feather in her hair. She also had a headdress that she would wear on special occasions. This was unusual, as normally only men wore such regalia. However, Cherokees have a tradition of strong female leaders and even female chiefs, so perhaps it wasn’t that unheard of for a woman to wear a feathered headdress. There was something special about visiting my grandmother on my grandparents’ ranch in Oklahoma and seeing her carefully place that one feather in her hair.

Although you don’t typically see people walking around in Western culture with feathers in their hair, in native cultures around the world, feathers frequently adorn the head. From the Maoris, to the Aboriginal people of Australia and South America, to tribes in Africa, to tribal Chinese, to the Mayans and Aztecs, to Native Americans, and the First Nations of Canada, the use of feathers in the hair is nearly a universal practice. From a single feather to a colorful array, the feather worn on the head was thought to connect the human being with the spiritual realm. The prayers of humans rise up through the hollow shaft of the feather, and then the spirit of the bird carries the prayers to the Creator. Blessings then flow back down through the feather and through the top of the head into the human.

You probably wouldn’t want to go to the mall with a feather sticking out of your head, but it can be powerful to sit in meditation with a feather in your hair pointed up to the heavens. (You can put a band around your head to stick the feather into.) This can be a focal point for you to imagine that your prayers are soaring to the realms above, and blessings are cascading down into you through the feather.


The very last words my teacher Dancing Feather spoke to me right before he died were, “Wherever you are, wherever you go, I will be there.” After his death, his words became reality. Feathers began to appear in the most unusual ways. With each feather, I could feel his presence more deeply. Whenever I needed support or whenever I couldn’t decide what direction to go in life, a feather would appear . . . sometimes in seemingly miraculous ways.

One night I was sitting in front of the fireplace in my living room, trying to relax because I was worried about a talk I was giving the next day. I got up to make some tea and when I returned, there was a large feather on the chair. I was shocked. I have absolutely no idea how that feather could have appeared. But it was as if I could hear Dancing Feather’s voice saying, Don’t worry, all will be well. And it was. There was a vibrant radiance that infused every moment of that seminar.

Then, remarkably, people with whom I shared this story also started receiving feathers as messages, sometimes in the most amazing ways. Judy, a single mother, was studying for a test to get a job, which would mean that she would be able to provide for her children. She sat with the book in her lap, feeling nervous about the upcoming test. Suddenly a feather floated down and landed on her book. She said, “Denise, I was indoors. I have no idea how that was possible, yet as I looked at the feather, I knew it was a sign that all was well.” She relaxed, passed the test the next day, and secured the job to help her family.


There is a good chance that feathers will begin to appear for you after you read this. You might see them on walks in nature or on jaunts in the city. Pay particular attention to feathers that you see in unusual places, such as a feather that appears in your home whose presence you can’t account for. They can also arrive in surprising ways, such as a friend unexpectedly gifting you feather earrings. No matter how they come, each one will carry a message for you from Spirit.

Anytime you see a feather, stop and take a moment to be still. Simply looking at the feather or holding it will often bring an abundance of information and wisdom. Even if you aren’t consciously aware of what the message is, there is usually a kind of downloading beneath conscious awareness that occurs. Pay particular attention to any feathers that you see floating down from above. There are usually “big” messages that accompany these.


Earlier we learned about using a drum to clear a room of old energy and fill it with joyful energy. Feathers can also be a useful tool for this type of work. They can be used either by themselves or in conjunction with smoke. Their energy is both powerful and gentle, and is therefore a great addition to any house clearing. Before using a feather, or any other tool for energy work, you’ll want to spend some time carefully choosing it, cleansing it, connecting with it, and honoring it. This will deepen your connection and make your intentions that much stronger.



The best feathers are the ones that choose you. These are the ones that appear seemingly out of nowhere. Additionally, a feather that is gifted to you from a person who honors the medicine way also has great potency. Of course, you can purchase your feather. Usually stores that supply fly-tying equipment for fishermen or craft stores have a supply of feathers. Also, vendors at powwows often carry feathers and feather fans for sale. However, don’t just grab one and say, “This will do.” To find the best feather for you at a shop or booth, become very relaxed and let your eyelids lower slightly; then put out the call or “ask” that your feather appear to you. Often you’ll see a feather that seems more radiant than the other ones. This is a sign that it’s meant for you.


When you use a feather for sacred purposes, such as space clearing, you’ll want to attune to it. Just picking a feather up and wafting it through the air will do very little to shift energy. It’s only when you attune the feather and cherish it that it becomes an object of power. Here are directions for attuning to your feather:

1. Cleanse your feather by running it through sage smoke or the smoke of incense. Hold it to the center of your chest (your heart center), breathe deeply, and imagine that you are merging with it as you fill it with the love that streams from your heart.

2. Travel in your imagination to find the spirit of the specific bird from which your feather came. It’s all right if the bird is in the spirit world, because their spirit still exists. Give heartfelt thanks to this bird for its feather, and let the bird know that you will honor its gift. When you do this, the energy of the feather dramatically increases. And every time you use the feather, the spirit of the bird will be there to support you and bring more energy forward.

3. Imagine that you are becoming that species of bird. For example, if you have a raven feather, imagine that you have shape-shifted into a raven. Be aware of the “raven spirit” awakening within you. Then visualize yourself soaring high above the land, your arms becoming wings. Imagine the rush of air beneath your wings. This deepens the attunement to your feather and the species that it came from.

4. Visualize yourself in the future using the feather and “see” streams of shimmering healing energy in the wake every time that you waft it through the air. “See” the space and the individual that you have cleared and blessed sparkling with life-force energy.

5. Hold your feather high up to the heavens and ask that the Creator bless your feather. Say the words out loud with a sincere heart, and Spirit will abide.


A feather without decoration can be a powerful ally, but you might consider decorating your feather. For a simple decoration, wrap the lower part of the quill with embroidery thread, yarn, cording, leather, or cotton sinew. You can include a few smaller feathers in the wrapping, or you can hang cording off the quill, which you decorate with beads or other feathers.



A feather that’s excellent for ceremonies and for space clearing is the turkey feather. Native Americans call the turkey the “giveaway” bird, because it’s believed that the turkey embodies the spirit of being of service to others. However, when trying to decide if a particular feather is right for you, tune in to its energy. Let your intuition guide you. As a note, any feather that you love will be an object of power, even if it’s simple.

Know that a simple, single feather can transform the energy of a room. (Of course, a feather fan or wing can also be used, but it is not the size of the feathers, but the depth of your love that makes a difference.) Here are directions to clear a room with your cherished feather:

1. Take time to connect with the energy of the feather and visualize the room being filled with sparkling energy.

2. Use your feather to flick the air. Use quick, short strokes to break up the stagnant energy. Start at the entrance into the room and ask for blessings, and then circle the room, especially spending time on the corners. In native cultures around the world, it’s said that evil dwells in the corners. From my perspective, it’s not evil energy, but stagnant energy that gets caught in the corners, so give extra smoke to these areas. The corners are usually where dust and debris collect, and this is also true for energy.

3. Circle the room. Wherever you sense a pooling of stagnant energy, chop into it with the feather to break it up. Go clockwise if you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, and counterclockwise in the Southern, but trust your intuition for what’s right for the individual space.

4. Then circle the room again, making longer, slower, more fluid motions with the feather to create a healthy, balanced, and calm flow of energy throughout the room.

5. When you’ve completed your circles of the room and you’ve cleared away the stagnant energy and filled it with a feeling of harmony, go to the center of the room and offer a simple prayer of gratitude and ask for a blessing for the home.


A highly effective way to clear a room and restore balance is to combine the movements of the feather with the use of smoke. These two elements—air and fire—create a powerful alchemy. The natural channeling powers of the feather, combined with the purifying and spiritual properties of the burning incense or herbs, can create a sense of deeply sacred space.

1. Hold a bowl containing sand and the smoking herbs/incense/sage bundle in your nondominant hand. An abalone shell can also be used, but a deep bowl is a practical and safer alternative that can be easier to manage. Make sure that the bowl or shell is deep enough to prevent any sparks or burning leaves from flying out of it into the room. You will also want to be sure that the bowl contains enough sand, salt, or earth to insulate it from the heat of the burning herbs so that it doesn’t burn your hand.


2. Use the feather in your dominant hand to move the smoke through the room you’re clearing. Use small, flicking motions followed by long, sweeping ones.

Please note that governments often have very specific legal restrictions regulating the possession of bird feathers. These laws are intended to protect species that might otherwise go extinct. Penalties can be severe simply for owning a restricted feather. In the United States, please go to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website to see the list of birds on the restricted list. Out of respect for these animals and our environment, it’s essential that you first find out what regulations relate to possession and use of feathers in your area.

(For even more details on how to attune your feather and clear a room, house, or the energy of an individual, please visit my website.)