Goshawks are large hawks belonging to the Accipiter family which are widespread throughout Eurasia and North America. The name “Goshawk” comes from the Old English word “goshafoc” meaning “goose hawk.” The Goshawk is so-named because it is large enough to take down game birds and waterfowl like geese. The Goshawk has a long history with falconry around the globe and has been used to hunt anything from rabbits and hares to pheasants. (1)
Traditionally, the Goshawk was thought of as a common man’s hawk, because it would be used to catch typical edible prey but was not as prized as other types of falcons. Despite this, the Northern Goshawk’s scientific name is “Accipiter gentilis.” This name refers to the Goshawk’s reputation as a “gentleman’s bird” used in falconry. The reason for the discrepancy is likely due to the fact that falconry itself was seen as a gentleman’s pastime. The Goshawk is commonly kept and bred for falconry and has been used for this purpose for centuries. (2)
Goshawks are beautiful animals with fierce and striking features. Like all hawks, they are commonly connected with strength, courage, and leadership. In this article, we’ll examine some of the virtues tied to the Goshawk as well as this raptor’s role in myths and folklore traditions from around the world.
Goshawk Symbolism and Meaning
The Book of St. Albans is a Medieval manuscript which includes many compiled essays and treatises on the pursuits and hobbies befitting a Medieval gentleman. Much of the book is dedicated to falconry and one of the most famous sections from this book describes the various commonly kept falconry birds alongside the social class which would be expected to own and keep them:
“An Eagle for an Emperor, a Gyrfalcon for a King; a Peregrine for a Prince, a Saker for a Knight, a Merlin for a Lady; a Goshawk for a Yeoman, a Sparrowhawk for a Priest, a Musket for a Holy water Clerk, a Kestrel for a Knave.” (3)
According to this manuscript, the Goshawk is the falcon of the “yeoman.” For those unfamiliar with this somewhat dated term, a yeoman is an individual who owns and cultivates a small amount of land. A yeoman belonged to a much lower social station than the nobility, but they were still free and afforded certain rights as free land-owning Medieval citizens. (4)
Goshawks are connected with peasants, but they are also connected with falconry in general. Through this connection, the Goshawk can be said to represent falconry, service, acuity, hunting, and animal husbandry.
Northern Goshawks are well-known for being ferocious defenders of their nests. The Northern Goshawk will readily attack even human beings who venture too close to a nest filled with eggs or chicks. Goshawk attacks can be seriously painful but are unlikely to cause major damage. Because Goshawks defend their nests so fearlessly, even against much larger predators like humans, these birds are connected with protection, defense, parenthood, safety, and justice. (5)
Goshawks may defend their babies with reckless devotion, but often the biggest threat to an infant Goshawk comes from within the supposed safety of the nest. Goshawk chicks often engage in a behavior known as “runting.” When the first chicks hatch, they become strong and grow quickly. By the time the last egg hatches, this chick is often significantly smaller than its siblings. Larger siblings take advantage of this fact by aggressively dominating the stream of incoming food. They may even push or trample their smaller sibling to death. It is rare for a Goshawk nest to rear all of its young successfully, though when food is abundant this can happen. So, Goshawks can be connected with rivalry, cruelty, strained sibling relationships, and favoritism. (6)
Further symbols connected with the Goshawk include strength, bravery, leadership, regality, nobility, wildness, and vision.
Goshawk Native American Symbolism
In Native American cultures, hawks are largely associated with courage, strength, protection, and the sky itself. A distinction is not generally drawn between Goshawks and other hawk species, so we must look to general hawk myths, stories, and ideas to get a sense of the Goshawk’s cultural role. (7)
One such myth is the Arapaho legend of “The Girl Who Climbed to the Sky.” In this story, a beautiful young girl named Sapana climbed a tall cottonwood tree in pursuit of a porcupine. She wanted to capture the porcupine and use its quills to embroider her moccasins. No matter how high she climbed, though, the porcupine eluded her. Finally, she looked down and realized she could no longer see the ground. She was in the sky village of the porcupine. The porcupine trapped her their and forced her to work hard as his wife. Over time, Sapana hid away a rope made of leftover sinews so that she could escape the porcupine and return to the ground. When she tried it, though, her rope was too short to reach the ground. Desperate, she begged a hawk and a buzzard to help her. The birds carried her back down to earth and as thanks, Sapana’s people always left the best buffalo meat for these two birds when they performed their buffalo hunts. (8)
Goshawk Christianity Symbolism
Biblical symbolism concerning hawks is not as common or frequent as one might think. Hawks, along with an array of other birds, are listed amongst the animals which Christians are advised not to eat due uncleanliness. (9)
In some passages, hawks are used to symbolize wildness and desolation.
“From generation to generation it shall lie waste;— Isaiah 34:10-11 (10)
none shall pass through it forever and ever.
But the hawk and the porcupine shall possess it,
the owl and the raven shall dwell in it.
He shall stretch the line of confusion over it,
and the plumb line of emptiness.”
In this passage, vengeance taken against nations is described as their lands becoming overtaken with wild animals including the hawk. Goshawks are not mentioned directly by name.
Goshawk Celtic Symbolism
Celtic mythology associates the hawk with time, longevity, wisdom, and strength. According to one Irish myth, a great gray hawk bore witness to all the events of earth and lived for thousands of years. When the great hawk was ready to die, he told a man named Fintan his story. Fintan had also lived for thousands of years and was old and exhausted. The two told each other about all of the wonders they had witnessed. When their stories were completely finished, the man and the hawk died together. (11)
Goshawk in Dreams
Dreaming of the Goshawk can indicate focus and drive. Goshawks are relentless and powerful hunters. To dream of one can refer to a goal that one hopes to achieve.
Goshawk dreams may also relate to protection. Dreaming of a Goshawk can indicate an incoming threat to the home and family. The Goshawk reminds the dreamer that family must be protected at all costs. There is no greater cause.
Dreaming of young Goshawks can refer to injustice. Feeling bullied or trampled by others might be the cause for such a dream. This is especially true if one sees oneself as a Goshawk chick within a dream.
Goshawk Encounters and Omens
A Goshawk encounter can be a stunning and moving experience. These birds are extremely impressive to witness. Encountering a Goshawk on the wing is a sign of freedom and courage. Such an encounter may remind you to take the reigns and embark on a new adventure.
Encountering a Goshawk nest can be dangerous. Goshawks defend their nests fiercely. Such an encounter should be avoided, as these birds should only be watched at respectful distances. Still, such an encounter can symbolize the importance of having one’s own space and setting boundaries. Make sure that you do not allow others to invade your safe space out of politeness. Setting and maintaining boundaries is an important and under-recognized skill.
Goshawk in Mythology & Folklore
Goshawks are not mentioned specifically in many myths, however as a type of hawk, these birds can be included in a number of folklore traditions that revolve around hawks.
Persian mythology features a giant bird referred to as the “Shahbaz.” This bird is featured on the standard of Cyrus the Great and is a major symbol of strength and royalty in Persian art. The Shahbaz was thought to be a god which oversaw the people of Persia and lent its favor to mighty and just rulers. Modern scholars suggest that the Shahbaz may have been a Goshawk. (12)
The Egyptian god Horus is depicted as a man with a falcon’s head. Horus is the divine son of the goddess Isis and the king of the gods, Osiris. Horus is associated with leadership, vision, protection, and wisdom. Although he is mostly thought of as a falcon god, Egyptian imagery surrounding raptors in general is often related to Horus. (13)
According to one of Aesop’s Fables, a Goshawk once swooped down and caught a Nightingale. The Nightingale pled for its life by pointing out to the Goshawk that it was too small to make a decent meal anyways. The Goshawk was too wise for such an argument, though. It explained to its unfortunate prey that only a fool would give up a certain meal in favor of the possibility of a larger meal down the road. (14)
Goshawk Spirit Animal
If your spirit animal is the Goshawk then you are likely a focused person who pursues your goals with single-minded determination. People with the Goshawk as their spirit animal are often quite down-to-earth despite being high-achievers. The Goshawk spirit animal is happy to serve the greater good and perform menial duties so long as they feel that their efforts are contributing to a worthy cause. People with this spirit animal tend to have a strong sense of justice.
The Goshawk spirit animal will readily stick its neck out to defend the helpless. People with this spirit animal do not tolerate bullying or unfairness. The Goshawk is especially protective when children are involved. People with this spirit animal may be extra prone to becoming overprotective or overbearing parents.
Goshawk Totem Animal
The Goshawk totem animal is associated with rivalry and competition. People who possess this totem animal tend to be competitive and will work extra hard to achieve their goals when healthy competition has been fostered between the Goshawk and a worthy rival.
A bit of competition suits the Goshawk totem animal nicely. In spite of this, the Goshawk totem animal would never consider cheating. The Goshawk’s sense of honesty and justice is far too strong to abide cheating. The Goshawk’s sportsmanship is usually impeccable, however when cheating is suspected, this totem animal can grow unreasonable.
Goshawk Power Animal
The Goshawk power animal is associated with vision and truth. People with this power animal have a stronger than average ability to sense lies and discover the truth behind them. It is difficult to get away with lying to the Goshawk’s face.
People who have lost the Goshawk power animal’s trust will find that regaining it is no easy feat. The Goshawk remains skeptical once it has discovered a liar.
Goshawk Tattoo Meaning
A Goshawk tattoo may be chosen as a symbol of truth, courage, protection, rivalry, or leadership. For somebody of Persian or Iranian descent, a Goshawk tattoo might be connected with culturally significant myth of the Shahbaz.
A Goshawk tattoo would be an especially good choice for somebody with an interest in the falconry hobby. Goshawks are considered to be excellent falconry birds.
While they may not look much different from other hawks, the great and mighty Goshawk is full of interesting surprises. From protecting their young with unusual ferocity to Medieval manuscripts assigning this bird to the average landholder, the Goshawk never ceases to fascinate. Much like the Irish myth of the great gray hawk, the Goshawk has watched over humanity’s growth from the skies above much of Eurasia and North America. This impressive bird is one of the most numerous birds of prey around.