The Wren

Yearly Cycle of Power: Summer/Fall
Time of Power : Dawn/Dusk
Attributes: Wisdom, Inconspicuous, Cunning, Humbleness, Invisibility, Shape-shifting, Healing, Watchfulness

The wren is one of those animals that really embodies the word 'underestimated'. Yet this unassuming and inconspicuous bird was considered by the druids to be chief among all birds. Even the name wren comes from a modernizing of the Celtic word 'Drui-en' or 'Druid Bird'. It is from the family of birds called Troglodytidae, meaning 'cave dweller'. It is called cave dweller because of its penchant for zipping into nooks and crannies to forage or roost. It is one of the smallest birds in North America, having a length of about 4.5 inches and a wingspan of 5 to 6 inches. They are a muddy brown colour with darker bars on their wings and tail. The tail is short, stubby and upturned and their bill is thin and down turned. Their appearance and small stature enables the wren to effectively disappear into any type of foliage. They mainly live in the Northern Hemisphere including Canada, USA, Europe, Asia, Japan, and Northern Africa. They are primarily a non-migratory bird, but in the far northern reaches of their habitat they do migrate south in the winter. In Europe, the wren is nearly as prevalent as the robin.

In contrast to its unassuming appearance, the wren has a very distinctive and loud call. The song of a wren, pound for pound, can be 10 times louder than that of a rooster. And its song is quite varied. It can be sweet trilling music or churrs and sputters. It has a range of at least 100 separate notes, which is quite impressive! A single bird may have a repertoire of up to 30 different songs. Another interesting fact about the wren is its behavior. It can fly, but most often does not. Its movements are more akin to a mouse in that it scurries along the underbrush and creeps along brush or woodpile in search of food. Its behavior sets it as akin more to a land mammal totem more than an avian one. 

The wrens diet is primarily on insects and spiders, though it will occasionally eat berries if bugs are not in abundance. Every once in a while they will also feed on snails, millipedes, and small fish. It is a very efficient hunter, moving with quickness and stealth through the underbrush, picking up insects as it goes. Not many animals hunt the wren specifically, as it has the uncanny ability to disappear into the brush. It can only be taken when it is off guard. Predation does happen though. Cats, wolves, and larger birds like hawks will all prey upon the wren when they are able to. 

The wren is quite interesting when it comes to mating. The male will build several nests and present them to the female. She will examine all of them and pick the one she likes the best and line it, making it a home. Wrens are serial monogamists, meaning that they stay together for a season. The next year, they may mate with the same partner or move on. Breeding occurs in early summer. The female lays 5 to 7 eggs, which hatch after 15 days and are fed for another 15. The mated pair may then produce another batch of eggs, which the first batch helps to feed. Wrens will live up to 6 years. Their nests are quite intricate, often compared to a magpies' nest in complexity. They prefer nest sites in coniferous forest low in the scrub, but will nest in mixed conifer and deciduous trees. They prefer to nest in shrubs, but will nest in crevices or nest boxes occasionally. In colder climates, they will often nest communally for warmth, with as many as 10 wrens nested together.  

There is a rich mythology in regards to the wren, most of it coming from Europe. In the British Isles it is considered the Druid bird, and is often associated with druids and gaining knowledge. In fact, the wren was considered a bird that was always seeking knowledge and never refusing a source of knowledge. There is a story that the magpie offered to teach any bird to build as fine a nest as it builds. All birds refused thinking the magpie arrogant. The wren, never to turn away from knowledge, agreed to its teachings and that is why the wren makes such fine nests. The Celts considered it the king of all birds as there is a myth that there was a contest to see who should be the king of the birds. The wren suggested that whoever could fly the highest should be made king. The eagle thought this was great and immediately went to show how high he could fly. Little did he know that the Wren was hidden in his feathers and when the eagle was at the top of his flight, the wren popped out and flew up 2 more feet and said 'Behold your king!' Although technically cheating, perhaps the kingship should go to such a cunning bird. There are several myths that say that the wren was the animal that brought fire to mankind, much like Prometheus. The druids used the wrens song for divination, and saw the wren as having the power of healing. There are several myths of shape shifting as well. On the Isle of Man, there is a story of a mermaid, which would lure youths into the sea. Once a boy threw a spear at her and she turned into a wren to avoid capture. Once a year, she must return to her own shape (on new year) when she could be killed. A wren feather is seen (on the Isle of Man) as a charm against drowning and no sailor would go to sea without one. Wrens were associated with the continental Celtic God Taranis, and it was said that if you disturbed a wrens nest or stole its eggs, that your own home would be struck by lightning and your hands would shrivel up. As such, the wren was associated with the underworld and with the god of the dark half of the year (Chaos). It could only be hunted once a year, at the winter solstice. In Christian times, this was transferred to the myth of St. Stephen, who was betrayed on Dec 26 by a wren calling out, and thus the wren can be killed on St. Stephens’s day. The wren figures as a king of the dark half of the year in Celtic myth, in opposition to the Robin in the light half. In fact, in many myths it is in opposition to the Robin, just as in many myths it is in cahoots with the magpie. Another tail discusses how the magpie once had no tail, and the wren had a long tale. The magpie was going to a party and wanted to look pretty, so she borrowed the wrens tail. She was so pleased with herself and thought herself so pretty, that the wren let her keep it. On top of the association with Taranis, there is also an association with Wisdom goddesses. In Scotland, they called the wren 'Lady of souls hen', and combined with the wrens penchant for caves and its wisdom, one can certainly see this association.

A person with a Wren Totem will be quite an interesting character. He/she will be humble and unassuming, often the type of person that one does not take notice of right away. A person with a Wren Totem will not mind being overlooked most of the time, as he/she knows that this brings power. Being stealthy and unnoticed allows one to hear what one would normally not and see what one would normally not. To the Wren, being small and humble allows one to literally slip through the eye of a needle to gain wisdom. This is not to say that the Wren is always unnoticed, just that the Wren Totem has the power to choose when they are noticed and when they are not. When they wish to be noticed, like the song of the Wren, no one will be able to overlook them. They will often go through their life with periods of quiet and bursts of song in contrast to one another. You can see this split between the Wisdom and Chaos aspects. The wisdom knows the power of quiet watching, while the chaos loves a burst of song and life. In love, the Wren will prefer a mate that is much like themselves, although the female will always have a bit more power than the male, as is shown by the choosing of the nests in mating. They are committed mates, although they may not mate for life. In career, the Wren should choose healing arts where they can quietly showcase their skills, careers where they courier messages or information, or careers where they can occasionally enjoy a piece of the spotlight (but not always), like a restaurant owner or entertainment coordinator. It is good to note that the Robin is often at odds with the Wren and the Magpie is often an ally. Like the animal, a Wren Totem would most likely not get along with a Robin Totem, but often get along with a Magpie Totem. Remember, just because the Wren totem seems quiet and unassuming, her wisdom runs deep, and if you cross her you may find out the power of her song!

Written by RavenDreamer