August 9, 2014


‘A lover’, said the hoopoe, now their guide,

‘Is one in whom all thoughts of Self have died;

Those who renounce the Self deserve that name;

Righteous or sinful, they are all the same!

Your heart is thwarted by the Self’s control;

Destroy its hold on you and reach your goal.

Give up this hindrance, give up mortal sight

For only then can you approach the light.

If you are told: “Renounce our faith,” obey!

The Self and faith must both be tossed away;

Blasphemers call such actions blasphemy –

Tell them that love exceeds mere piety.

Love has no time for blasphemy or faith,

Nor lovers for the Self, that feeble wraith.

They burn all that they own; unmoved they feel

Against their skin the torturer’s steel.


Heart’s blood and bitter pain belong to love,

And tales of problems no one can remove;

Cupbearer, fill the bowl with blood, not wine –

And if you lack the heart’s rich blood take mine.

Love thrives on inextinguishable pain,

Which tears the soul, then knits the threads again.

A mote of love exceeds all bounds; it gives

The vital essence to whatever lives.

But where love thrives, there pain is always found;

Angels alone escape this weary round –

They love without that savage agony

Which is reserved for vexed humanity.


Farid Attar, The Conference of the Birds.


The Hoopoe speaks to the Peacock Mantiq al-tayr (The Conference of the Birds) of ‘Attar. Persian MS. Add. 7735, f. 30v. British Library.

Like me, the cryptozoologist, Karl Shuker, first encountered the Hoopoe (Upupa epops) as an illustration gracing a page in The Observer’s Book of Birds. He has gathered together some traditions about this enigmatic bird:

According to one ancient Arabian tradition… hoopoes originally bore crests of solid gold, bestowed upon them by King Solomon in gratitude for shielding him with their wings from the burning sun one day as he walked through the desert. So many of their number were killed for this valuable accoutrement, however, that eventually they came before Solomon, who was so wise that he could even understand the language of birds, and beseeched him to help them. Touched by their tragic plight, Solomon agreed to do so, as a result of which the hoopoes’ crests were transformed from gold into feathers, thus saving their species from extinction.

The hoopoes are also said to have brought to Solomon the shamir – described in the Talmud and Midrash as a tiny but very magical worm that could cut through solid stone, and which greatly assisted him, therefore, in building his First Temple in Jerusalem. (In a similar vein, the hoopoe is also credited with knowledge of where to find a mystical plant called the springwort, whose touch can break through the hardest rocks and stones.) And in the Koran, it was the hoopoe that discovered the Queen of Sheba and informed Solomon of her existence. Other Arab traditions claim that the hoopoe could unerringly guide Solomon to undiscovered subterranean springs by using its long bill as a water-divining rod, and consider it to be a doctor among birds, gifted with medicinal powers that can cure any ailment.

Karl Shuker (here).


I think I glimpsed my first hoopoe in Turkey just over two years ago – the above picture shows pretty much what I saw. The family of Hoopoes depicted below is by John Gould.


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