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ARCHIVE for Wednesday 12th September 2001 - Carried away by eagles

An attempted 'avian abduction' was in the news recently. A three-year-old girl was playing on a beach in New Hampshire, when an American bald eagle swooped down and grabbed her with its talons. Her father chased the bird away and she escaped unharmed.

She was a lucky girl. Some children have been carried off by eagles, and then dropped from heights or eaten. But in some cases they have lived to tell the story. In 1977 MarIon Lowe, a boy of ten, was attacked by giant condors outside his home in Illinois. His parents and neighbours saw one of the birds carry him into the air. It dropped him when they yelled and waved. He was not hurt but so shocked that his hair grew white.

Baby-snatching by eagles was once quite common in Scotland and the Isles. The Nicholson family of Shetland are descended from a girl who, as a baby, was carried by a sea eagle to its nest on the island of Fetlar. It was under a ledge in a steep cliff-face. A boy, Robert Nicholson, was lowered to it on a swinging rope. He took the girl from among the eaglets and later married her. Scientists are suspicious of these stories. They claim that no bird can lift more than its own weight. A golden eagle weighing 8lb pounds could just about carry off a new-born baby. But even a 12lb condor could not take an older child. Yet in every part of the world, from ancient to modern times, there are records of children being snatched by eagles.

When impossible things happen, you can only explain them as magic - or the work of spirits. In all the old tales of avian abductions, children who survived the journey through the air were mentally altered. Often they became the shaman or wise person in their society. A Persian boy, discovered in an eagle's nest, went on to become Shah.

I see a connection between the eagle-and-child story and the modern phenomenon of 'alien abductions'. Both involve magical flight, and in both cases the victims return in a different state of mind. Sometimes they return insane. So, if you take a baby to a country that has eagles, you should never leave it alone in the open. But if a bird carries it away, and you recover it from the nest, it may grow up to be even more brilliant or more mad than you are.

The sign of the Eagle and Child
Several old pubs are called The Eagle and Child. Their sign is an eagle standing over a swaddled baby. This is the crest of the Stanley family. As Earls of Derby they once ruled as kings in the Isle of Man. The source of their greatness was their 'eagle ancestor'. He was abducted as a baby and lived in an eyrie with the little eagles. But he was wise enough not to join them in flying lessons. That is how he survived to found a dynasty.

John Michell


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Unexplained Phenomena, A Rough Guide Special
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Who Wrote Shakespeare?
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