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This report is taken from PN Review 168, Volume 32 Number 4, March - April 2006.

The Pigeon Wars of Damascus (6) Marius Kociejowski


Virgins consecrated to the ancient goddess Ishtar were called doves (hu), a euphemism for prostitutes. The hu sound invites one to think of whore. One must beware of slinky analogies. Whole belief systems have been founded upon a thing misheard or upon what one may think is a favourable breeze. We may be putting on pigeons more than they are willing to bear. Amazingly, however, the notion of a feathered demi-monde seems to have survived through into the streets of nineteenth-century London where prostitutes were often referred to as 'soiled doves' or 'columbines', a 'carrier pigeon' being one who did her soliciting on the trains. Again, what appears to be cultural transference may be only cultural coincidence. Why dove, though, when it is known to be a monogamous creature and has been traditionally looked upon as a symbol of faithfulness? Why hu, when that very word came to signify the godhead? When it drifted from ancient belief to become part of the Muslim chant, Allah hu? And then, of course, the ancient Greeks held pigeons sacred to Aphrodite and the Romans associated them with Venus. Whores, doves. Sacred and profane are the two wings of the same bird flying through many cultures. What creature has been made to carry more contrarieties?

If pigeons bear messages, and indeed, when got up ...

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