It was a common belief amongst primitive tribes that the
souls of the dead were conveyed to the land of the hereafter by
birds. Some West African peoples would bind a bird to the body
of the deceased and then sacrifice it to carry the man’s soul to
the afterworld. The Bagos also offered up a bird on the corpse
of a deceased person for the same reason. The South Sea Islanders
used to bury their dead in coffins shaped like the bird
that was to bear away the spirits, while the natives of Borneo
represented Tempon Telon’s Ship of the Dead as having the
form of a bird. The Native American tribes of the Northwest
had rattles shaped like ravens with a large face painted on the
breast. The probable significance is that the raven was to carry
the disembodied soul to the region of the sun.
The flight of birds was also studied as part of the methods
of divination in ornithomancy.