Rev. Nancy's Blog

Turkey's Thoughts on Thanksgiving

What, I wondered, did Turkey think of Thanksgiving, and of being the traditional main dish at this ritual meal? To find an answer to such a question, ask the Turkey! And so I did.

First, a bit of background

Ben Franklin lobbied for Turkey to be America’s national bird, rather than the Eagle. In a letter to his daughter, Franklin wrote, “For the turkey is in comparison a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original native of America….” (1)

The wild turkey of Ben Franklin's day was a brightly plumed, cunning bird of flight. Imagine seeing a flock of them flying across the sky! Wild turkeys have longer necks and legs, and smaller breasts than turkeys bred for the table. The true American turkey was "wild and wary to the point of genius," said author G. T. Klein. (2)

Most assuredly, wild turkeys can fly.  They can make quick takeoffs and fly up to 50 miles per hour for short distances. At night they roost together in trees for safety, reflecting the energy of sharing. I have seen flocks of over 20 wild turkeys sunning on a neighbor’s roof.

The abundant numbers of turkeys declined as settlers pushed westward, until by the end of the 19th century they survived only in a few remote locations. Turkeys began to come back with reforestation and regeneration efforts in the mid-1940s. By the 1960s restoration of the wild turkey was heralded as a wildlife management comeback marvel. (3) In some areas, wild turkeys are now even considered agricultural pests.

Feathered Galleons

In full display, a wild tom turkey is a majestic feathered galleon gliding through a sea of grasses. He glides, head held high and chest thrust forward, gobbling loudly. Each feather is positioned just so, and his wings drape down to drag the ground. Close up, you can see him stamping spurred feet. He dances to attract a female, who of course acts as if she does not notice. He doesn’t do this for long, but does it several times a day. When not displaying to attract a mate, the turkey looks more like the drawing here.

Turkey Medicine

Jamie Sams and David Carsons, creators of Medicine Cards, describe Turkey’s medicine as Give-Away. “Turkey is … the Give-Away Eagle or South Eagle of many Native peoples. The philosophy of give-away … is the deep and abiding recognition of the sacrifices of both self and others. Turkey gives sustenance out of the realization that all life is sacred.” (4) From this perspective, Turkey is the natural fowl to give itself for our Thanksgiving tables.

This wisdom is echoed in Ted Andrews’ book, Animal Speak: “Turkey’s keynote is shared blessings and harvest. It has a long history of association with spirituality and the honoring of the Earth Mother. It is a symbol of all the blessings that the Earth contains, along with the ability to use them to their greatest advantage.” (5)

Conversation with Turkey

I appreciate Turkey, enjoying their gobbling that sounds like laughter, watching their dances and flights, and was honored to receive a gift from Turkey. I clambered about the hillside below our house, feeling there was something for me to find. And there was. Standing upright in the middle of a deer trail was a magnificent wild turkey flight feather. Its shaft was slightly damaged, where it appeared a deer had stepped on it. This was an additional gift, showing the cooperation of Turkey and Deer to make sure I saw this gifted feather!

I asked to speak with representatives of Turkey about their thoughts on Thanksgiving, and being eaten. Spirit of Wild Turkey came forth.

“Thank you for the gift of the feather,” I said. Turkey politely replied, “We’re glad you found it. It was left as a gift for you.” I commented that it looks like a deer stepped on it. Turkey said, “That was at our request. It is slightly damaged, but still carries our medicine. We asked the deer to do that so you would be sure to see it.” “Thank you," I said, "for I often miss things.” “We know,” Turkey chuckled.

Turning immediately to my question, Turkey made a snorting sound and said, “You [plural] give thanks to all but the turkey who gave its life for you. People need to learn to give thanks for all, not just some. Abundance is all around, though most it is assumed – like air. Air is necessary for life, but do you ever give thanks for the air and the ability to breathe it?

“Back to your question – We were once honored by being considered for your national bird. This would have been a great honor, but not pragmatic, as it would not be polite to eat such an icon.

“We turkeys have almost divided into two families, closely related, each with our own mission of service.

“We who choose to remain wild, and visit your back yards and open places, serve to remind humans of the wildness and cycles of nature. We are part of the web of life, and give ourselves to the other denizens of that web, such as coyotes and others who prey upon us. This we often do in the fullness of life. We show ourselves to people to remind them that they, too, are part of the natural order. Children, especially, need to know that the food they eat comes from living beings, not just a grocery store.

“Our brothers and sisters who give themselves as what you call domesticated turkeys, those who are considered the commodity called ‘poultry,’ have made a great sacrifice. They give themselves willingly that you may be nurtured. This was their agreement. The passage of time and industrial process, however, have undermined their gift. Where they are not treated humanely, these turkeys do not fully integrate their spirits into their bodies. Therefore you who eat them do not receive the full nurturance, both spiritual and physical, that was intended.

“This can be remedied. On the personal level, give specific thanks for the blessing of the life and gifts of this animal on your table. It has given its life that you may live. On the political level, make known the need to treat all animals raised for their meat in a way that you call humane. All living beings need to be treated with respect.

“That is all – treat us with respect, thank us for our gifts to you, and recognize that you are but a part of the web of life. That is all.”

The interview concluded, I thanked Spirit of Wild Turkey, and offered prayers of gratitude for them and their feathered brethren. Turkey has told us what to do.




(3) Earl, James, Mary C. Kennamer, and Ron Brenneman. “History of the Wild Turkey in North America.”

(4) Sams, Jamie and David Carson, Medicine Cards, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1988.

(5) Andrews, Ted, Animal Speak: The spiritual and magical powers of creatures great and small. Llewellyn Publications, 1993.