The Death of Hummingbird

by Jun 5, 2023

This article was originally published by SSP in the Journal for Shamanic Practice in 2014


I heard fluttering and flopping sounds on the sun porch of my friend’s lake cottage. “It’s the hummingbird,” she said as she gently picked it up from the floor and cradled it in her palm. The bird quieted to lie still against the warmth, its minuscule claws gripping her skin’s surface.


The tiny female had flown into the house in the late afternoon of the previous day through the propped door, as my friend unloaded her groceries. With the chill in the air promising a very cold nightfall, my friend made a small feeding station for it indoors from a red-draped eye dropper, then placed the bird on a cotton cloth and covered it with a cardboard box for comfort and security overnight. It was mid-September, and its companions had already begun their long journey south.


Though weakened, it made small, intermittent efforts to batter against the solid wall of the room in the opposite direction of the window. Struggling to stay upright, it tilted and tumbled, even though it tightly clasped the small branch laid over the cloth.


What to do? How were we to understand this miraculous moment of intimacy as we held and tended this tiny Perfection? We sat quietly with it in meditation and asked the bird to come into our hearts to tell us what its iridescent wings and sharp, dark eyes had come to say.


The message came loud and clear: “Find the sweetness, the nectar, of every moment, no matter how it may appear to you. That is the essence of your healing.” The message also told us to take it outside to die, as it was clearly failing quickly.


We brought it to the garden wall next to the sturdy zinnias and laid it in the sun. When we checked on it an hour later, it was dead. My friend brought it inside, and we looked at it in amazement: still holding tightly to its branch on the white cotton cloth, the small body had fully extended its wings and tail feathers as if in flight, and its incredibly tiny tongue was protruding from its beak, tasting Death in all its sweetness!


There is a Tibetan Buddhist practice of Chöd in which the practitioner visits charnel grounds or burial sites to befriend Death and to face one’s fear of the inevitable loss of the physical body. In this imaginal practice, one is transported in the mind to merge with the Chöd deity Machig Lapdron, and from her vantage point to look down with great compassion at one’s physical form suspended below, while simultaneously chopping it into pieces to make a feast for the hungry ghosts who wander the Earth. The feast is offered unconditionally: as the imaginal practice continues, one’s body parts are placed into one’s ever expanding skull cap to become a great stew that transforms into the nectar of whatever each of the hungry ghosts may need most. After all the ghosts are sated, the Chöd practitioner returns to his physical body awaiting him in ordinary reality.


This seemingly gruesome process is considered an act of great spiritual service. Not only is nothing held back from being offered in the feast, but also the gruesomeness itself transforms into exactly the nectar needed to heal each hungry ghost and allow it to move on into the Light. Just as Hummingbird told us, everything has a seed of sweetness, a seed of transformation, within it; nothing is too good or too precious or too awful to be held back from the offering. Like the hungry ghosts, each of us can partake of the nectar of Life and Death to nourish our souls.


We struggle so much in our human condition, trying to separate out the bad from the good. Yet we all know of the alchemy that hardship can provide to our spirit that takes the base metal of our pain and grief and greed and anger, and changes it to the gold of being purely who we are — or as Zorba the Greek puts it, “the full catastrophe” of being human — and reminds us that underneath surface appearances, All is Well. Hummingbird flew into our lives this day to teach us that miracle, to help us be with Death and our fears in a gentle way.


Afterward, we walked to the water’s edge. There, with the early fall wind sharp and crisp on our faces, we sang Hummingbird’s death song in gratitude, carrying its blessing to all hungry souls in need.

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About the author

Cecile Carson

Cecile Carson

Cecile Carson, MD, has been practicing and teaching shamanism for the past several decades in Rochester, NY. A Founding Board Member of SSP, she has edited the anthology Spirited Medicine: Shamanism in Contemporary Healthcare and regularly offers shamanic training to medical personnel in the U.S. and abroad. She can be reached at or
Cecile Carson, MD, has been practicing and teaching shamanism for the past several decades in Rochester, NY. A Founding Board Member of SSP, she has edited the anthology Spirited Medicine: Shamanism in Contemporary Healthcare and regularly offers shamanic training to medical personnel in the U.S. and abroad. She can be reached at or
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  1. Deborah Strafuss

    Beautiful – thank you. I too, have been wrestling with the confines of my own mortality. This seems to come in waves at different times in my life journey. The acceptance of death as a natural, gentle flow of life is not an easy one for us westerners. I think spirit is teaching and leading me as I am ready, with plenty of time in between episodes of facing my mortality to allow me to flow with the vitalness of aliveness in the body/mind. It is my intention that my spirit moves on seamlessly in this dance, ready to shed its form and willing to lay it down but full of its beautiful life and joy right up to that amazing moment of transition. May I have the courage to labor lovingly in my own death process as I leave the body behind. Death, like birth, involves labor and needs to be prepared for to have the best one possible. I love how hummingbird reached out to taste the new nectar and fly the new journey….may we be so blessed.

  2. Hlorenz

    Thank you so very much for the delicate articulation of the healing message that helps create Peace through the knowledge of life creating itself through each witnessed moment we encounter. Holding the space in our hearts for this exquisite presence allows the conversation to Be present once again. The recognition that the patient the healer and the healing are ONE. Blessings to the hummingbird medicine and to you dear Cecile for your deep care and tending to all Beings.

  3. Forrest itche iichiile Hudson

    Hummingbird with its unique ability to fly at will in any direction may seem playful/whimsical at first glance but yet, it’s purposeful. It’s purposeful from a practical perspective enabling Hummingbird to feed from delicate dangling repositories of flowering nectar.

    However, Hummingbird’s aeronautical aerobatics along with its ever changing iridescent coloring demonstrate a more profound teaching for the mindful observer. Specifically, Royal Hummingbird.

    [For those who have had the opportunity to camp at Eagle Bear Ranch on a “Nature Solo” you most likely have experienced a close encounter with a Hummingbird (“Guadeloupe”), who checks in with you to assess your wellbeing.]

    It’s my observation and experience that when crossing paths with Hummingbird in a meaningful way its “spirit” manifests as one of “guidance”, addressing your present circumstances.

    One morning while remote camping in my tear-drop trailer somewhere/nowhere in SW Wyoming with the door flung open I lay inside messaging with a close friend’s partner (John) via Facebook. John’s partner Bill had recently been diagnosed with Stage 4 Esophageal Cancer and was undergoing chemotherapy. During our messaging frenzy I was prompted to say, “how can I be of service”. Within seconds of sending that message a Royal Hummingbird flew into the camper and we had a face-to-face close encounter. (Keeping in mind SW Wyoming is never ending FLOWER-LESS prairie land.).

    In my view, Royal Hummingbird comes forward as the bridge builder to the bardo(s). With its rainbow iridescent coloring signifying the entire visible spectrum of light that emanates from “Source”, along with its unique flying acumen equipping it to navigate any obstacle encountered when guiding one in route.

    I make this connection with and assessment of Hummingbird with conviction primarily due to a prior conversation I had 2 years ago when explaining death from a Shamanic perspective to both John and Bill. Upon concluding my explanation Bill asked if I would speak at his funeral, clearly not knowing at the time that 2 years later he would be battling cancer.

    …ahhh, synchronicity!

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