Often connected with illness and death in English folklore. Beliefs regarded a pigeon alighting on a bed, or even on a house, as a sign of at least sickness, and sometimes death, and there is a tradition that a sick person asking for a pigeon must be near death as 'that is almost the last thing they want'. Numerous references from the 17th century onwards concern the use of pigeons in medical, often near-death, contexts. It was commonly believed that a live pigeon, cut in half, and applied to a sick person's body, would draw out a fever or sickness. Samuel Pepys' Diary, for example, twice mentions this procedure: 'they did lay pigeons to his feet while I was in the house; and all despair of him ...' (21 Jan. 1668). Similarly, application of a pigeon would draw out adder poison. A saying that 'He who is sprinkled with pigeon's blood will never die a natural death' has a legend to support it. When Charles I was receiving a new bust of himself, sculpted by Bernini, a pigeon flying overhead was attacked by a hawk, and the pigeon's blood fell on the bust, staining it red round the neck - a stain that could never be removed. In other versions (such as Aubrey, 1696) it is a different or unnamed bird (N&Q 7s:8 (1889), 468; 7s:9 (1890), 13-14, 77). See also *adders, *feathers.
   ■ Black, 1883: 163-4; Opie and Tatem, 1989: 308-9; N&Q 151 (1926), 136.

A Dictionary of English folklore. . 2014.

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