Stork and Baby Myth: The Origins

Everyone knows how babies are made and has heard about the stork, but how many of us know the origins of stork stories? In this day, some parents dread the question, "Where do babies come from?" They search for the right answer, but turn to a response that has been around for ages, "The stork brings it." How did a bird get involved in "delivering babies" to the doorstep or crib of new parents? Where did it all start? What are the origins of the stork and baby myth?

There are multiple stories about stork roles and representations, but how storks came to be associated with babies is just part of the bird’s legendary myths.

Polish Stork Myth

One old Polish folklore is that the multiplication of lizards, frogs and snakes caused so many problems that God put them all in a sack and gave it to a human to dispose of. He gave explicit instructions to empty the sack into the sea, but the human opened the sack and the animals escaped and hid. God, not pleased with the human, changed him into a stork and ordered him to hunt the animals and clean up the mess.

Greek Mythology

Ancient Greek mythology labeled the stork as a baby thief, stealing babies from their parents and flying off with their bundle of joy. Gerana, a beautiful Queen of the Pygmies who married Nicodemos, angered goddess Hera and was turned into a stork. Gerana was a mother with a child named Mopsus and even though she was now a stork, she constantly tried to steal her own child. Unfortunately, her efforts were futile and she was driven away each time by the pigmies, resulting in the stork becoming the symbol of stealing a baby.

Egyptian Mythology – Stork, Soul, Afterlife

In Egyptian mythology, the stork symbolizes the soul of a person and its migration habits represent the departure of the soul and its return to an asleep human, bringing it back to life again.

Norse Mythology

According to Norse mythology, the stork is considered monogamous because they return to the same nests yearly to mate with the same partner, symbolizing family values and life-long commitment. However, this representation is considered false for Christians, who viewed the stork as a chaste of marriage throughout the 17th century.

Storks Bringing Babies to the Nursery

Legend tells us of storks flying through the sky on a mission to safely deliver a baby to their new family. This most likely originates from northern Europe, when storks return to their breeding grounds in Poland and Germany after nine months. People encouraged storks to nest on their properties and homes hoping this would encourage prosperity and fertility.

Hebrews view the stork as "kind mother" because storks are known for being highly visible in their nests nurturing their young, making the stork a symbol of parental care.

Mythological representations of storks are also found in Israeli, Chinese and other European cultures, but the myth of storks being responsible for delivering a newborn baby to a couple is thought to have originated hundreds of years ago in Germany. The white stork’s migration habits of flying south during fall months and returning nine months later to Europe is what most likely led to a natural association of kids born in March and April being brought back to new parents.

June 21st, Midsummer’s Eve, is a celebration of summer solstice and a marriage and fertility holiday for the pagan. Many marriages and consummations took place, resulting in births nine months later when storks were returning to their breeding grounds. This produced the connection of the "stork brought the baby." The symbolism of the legends and myths is still popular today, helping explain to kids where babies come from with a gentle "parenting hand."

A 19th Century short fable, The Storks, by Hans Christian Andersen, tells of storks being teased by a boy as they fly over a village. The storks retaliate, relishing in revenge by plucking a dead baby from a pond and delivering it to the boy’s family. Another well-known version of this tale states that babies were found in the German Adeborteines, better known as "stork stone" caves. Other stone references were children throwing black and white stones over their heads to let the storks know they wanted a brother or sister. Most likely, the origins of the stork and baby myth stories have been spread for centuries and are still used in modern day to delay children questioning the taboo topic of where babies come from.

Psychology Today – The stork and the baby trap.
Myth Encyclopedia – Birds in mythology.
Indobase – Legend of the stork.
From Playground to Politics – Where did the myth of the stork come from?