Cuckoo appears in many Lithuanian fairy tales, songs and legends. People noticed it’s strange voice and tried to explain this phenomena. The most often it was seen as a complaint and a groan. In one fairy tale a woman loses her three sons in war and finally becomes a cuckoo affected by a deep sorrow. She goes to different countries in the world to look for the tombs of her sons. That’s why a cuckoo stands for symbol of a woman who lost someone she loved or who suffers from some misery.
There are many sayings related to this bird: “You can only understand the song of a cuckoo if you suffer from pain”, “Not that one sings with the voice of a cuckoo whose tooth hurts but that one whose hart is in pain”. This symbol could be compared with Vedic understanding that a cuckoo is a soul before and after the incarnation. Body represents a strange nest in which the soul settles. In Baltic pagan tradition people often reincarnate into birds or trees after their death. Only souls of good people could transform into cuckoos. They are seen as mediators between the worlds of the living and the dead. Cuckoo is a bird of Laima, the Goddess of fertility, life and birth. She was one of the first Goddesses worshiped by Lithuanians in Stone Age. In the beginning she was the most powerful deity of Heavens and Earth. The primordial Goddess was pictured as a cuckoo and her assistant Laime (Happiness) or Dalia (Fate) – as a water bird – duck or swan. After Laima became a female personification, she kept certain traits of the bird cuckoo. This bird became the main protector of human life, the announcer of important events (birth, marriage and death), the predictor of cyclic time of the year. It’s functions begin in Spring, when a cuckoo announces the end of chaos and the establishment of a new order. The fifth month of the year has the name of a cuckoo in Lithuania .
Cuckoo decides about human existence and death, she decides how long one would live. The habitat of Goddess Laima and cuckoo is linden tree. Cuckoo is mentioned in Lithuanian wedding songs as well.
It can be often met in the forest: it warns about someone’s ruse, protects the orphans, tells the truth about something. It’s speckled color is also mentioned quite often.
However, there exists another image of a cuckoo as well. It lays eggs in the nests of other birds and do not breed it’s children, other birds avoid cuckoos. Even today whores are called cuckoos because of this fact. The devil was also compared to a cuckoo: there is a saying “Not a devil, nor a cuckoo”. It is said that cuckoos can tell how long a man will live.
In Greek mythology Cuckoo is one of Hera’s (the goddess of women and marriage) birds. Her equivalent in Roman mythology was Juno. Zeus transformed himself into a cuckoo and seemed to be frozen. Hera felt sorry for this bird and wanted to make it warm putting it to her breast. Then Zeus turned in his normal shape, raped Hera and insisted to marry him to cover her shame.
Almost all European nations attributed a role of sibyl to this bird. For example, when one hears a cuckoo for the first time in spring he should count how many times it will sing – that will be the number of years he is going to live. Another example tells that a man should have money in his pocket when he hears a cuckoo for the first time in spring, otherwise he will stay poor that year.