In Ancient Egypt, where its strength and beauty made it prince of birds, the falcon symbolized the principle of light. It was the embodiment, among other deities, of Horus, god of etherial space, whose two eyes were the Sun and the Moon and who took the shape of a falcon or of a falconheaded man. ‘The Egyptians had been struck by the strange mark to be seen under the falcon’s eye, an eye which sees everything. Around the Eye of Horus developed a whole symbolism of universal fertility’. The falcon was also the attribute of the god Ra, symbol of the rising Sun, who is sometimes depicted with head surmounted, not by that of a falcon, but by the solar disc encircled by a cobra, which symbolizes fire.
The Peruvian Incas used the falcon as a solar emblem and symbol. Means quotes the chronicler Sarmiento’s statement that all the Incas, from Manco Capae, founder of the dynasty, onwards, had a double or spiritual ‘brother’, like a guardian angel. It was represented in the shape of a falcon which they called Inti, the Sun.
In a myth of the Yunca Indians of Peru, the creation-heroes were born in the shape of falcons from five eggs laid on a mountain, before they assumed human shape. In another version, the heroes’ mother bore them as a result of sexual intercourse with the falcon-ostrich-god.
In the Irish tale of the adventures of Tuan mac Cairill, the falcon was one of the successive shapes through which this primordial character passed. It therefore corresponds to the eagle in the Welsh mythological tale of the Ancient Worlds. However, the importance attached to falcons in the tenth-century Welsh Laws of Hywel Dda would be due rather to the development of the sport of falconry.
In the Middle Ages, falcons are sometimes depicted tearing hares in pieces. If hares symbolize lasciviousness, as many interpret it, falcons in this case would signify the conquest of lust. Generally speaking, however, this is the victory of the solar, bright male principle over the lunar, dark female principle.
Indeed, the falcon, in the symbolic category of the solar, celestial, male and bright, is an ascensional symbol on every level, material, intellectual and moral. It signifies superiority and conquest, either acquired or in process of attainment. ‘When’, wrote Horapollon, ‘the Egyptians wished to depict a god, height, abasement, superiority, nobility or victory, they drew a falcon’.
Falcons are sometimes depicted hooded. They then symbolize that hope in the light which is nourished by those who live in darkness. They are images of prisoners, of spiritual ardour stifled, of light hidden under a bushel and of esoteric knowledge.