Native American Story about Death-Eaters, the Old Woman and Buzzard Meaning

Native American Death-Eaters and Buzzard Meaning

Last Updated on July 27, 2021 by Avia

This article is about a Native American story that addresses big issues like aging, death, and the renewal of life. It’s like a Native creation myth regarding buzzard meaning. It is also a story about kindness, wisdom and never making judgments in life. The death-eaters in the story expose the importance of embracing the concept of death, and aging and prove a point that this must happen in order for renewal to take place.

This Native American story is about an old woman who rescued three injured buzzards. Aside from awesome bits about origins, buzzard meaning, and morals – the story tells a lot about life – as most Native American stories do.

This legend of the old woman and buzzards comes from the Native American people of East Texas known as the Caddo Indians.

Life Lessons from the Native American Story of the Old Woman, Death-Eaters and Buzzard Meaning

Like all Native myths and legends, the function of this story is to provide take-away points that are meant to help cope in life. In this example, here are the take-away lessons in this story…

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  • The value of old age and wisdom
  • The importance of not judging others
  • One simple act of kindness can change lives (and even change the world)
  • Death is inevitable, but it doesn’t have to be freaky

Pretty heavy concepts, eh? Yup. And because these are weighty life-issues, the Native American story of the old woman and the buzzard is a long one. So buckle up, it’s going to be a buzzardy ride! lol.

Native American buzzard meaning and the story of the Old Woman
Native American buzzard meaning and the story of the Old Woman

Clarification About Buzzard Meaning, Death-Eaters and This Native American Myth

A bit of clarification before we get into this classic Native American story…

The difference between buzzard meaning vs vultures:  The term buzzard in the US is synonymous with vulture. Where I’m from, Texas, we have turkey vultures and we call them buzzards. Outside of the US, buzzards are often considered to be hawks.

Because this Native American story was shared with me from the Caddo Indians of East Texas, US – I’m going with the term buzzard, but please understand – these are vultures (the clever, carrion-eating kind).

A word about ‘Death-Eaters’:  This Native American story talks about how ‘death-eaters’ were created.

It’s important to note the concept of a ‘death-eater’ was around WAY before Harry Potter popularized it.  Also, in this story, a death-eater is a gift – not the nefarious baddies of Azkaban in the Potter novels.  

This Native American story embraces death by showing death-eaters as creatures of light, and bringers of life. The story says it all.

Native American Myth of the Old Woman and the Three Buzzards

(Death-Eaters, Buzzard Meaning and The Power of Kindness)

The following is the long version of the story. It gives background about the old woman, how buzzards were originally perceived, and offers more details that shed light on super-important life-lessons.

Once upon a time, there was a very Old Woman who lived on the outskirts of the tribal community. She was considered to be a drag on the regular function of the tribe because of her old age. She was also considered ‘crazy’ because her ways and wisdom did not fit the culture of the tribe under its current leadership. Because of this, the Old Woman was kicked out of the main camp.

Alone, but not without her wits, the old woman made her own way. She settled into a meager, tiny hovel on the outskirts of the tribal camp. There she talked to trees, gardened with bees, crooned with coyotes and played with snakes.

She preferred the solitude, and although feeble, she managed just fine on her own. In fact, her age gave her patience, and perspective that few others would ever realize. She lived in harmony with Nature and lived a peaceful life.

One day, the Old Woman encountered three buzzards.  They were in a terrible state…broken wings, bloodied and crying in pain.  The buzzards were so injured, they would surely die if left on their own.

Native American Story about Death-Eaters, the Old Woman and Buzzard Meaning
Native American Story about Death-Eaters, the Old Woman and Buzzard Meaning

So, the Old Woman showed mercy upon them and took the three buzzards into her home. This was really the only choice, because the Old Woman knew the main tribal camp would not help the buzzards. 

Why? Because back in those days, buzzards were considered bad luck and were shunned. In the beginning of creation, the buzzard did not know its place in the world. It was considered an ugly, unlucky beast. The buzzard came into existence covered head to toe with these big, goofy-looking feathers but it could not fly. It did not know how to take advantage of its resources, so it hunted for live food to survive. Unfortunately, the buzzard was an awkward and a poor excuse for a hunter. For all these reasons, the members of the tribe hated the buzzard.

Because they had not yet become ‘death-eaters’ much of the world struggled with the presence of stench, rot, decay and darkness.  This is also why they were so injured. Because they were not yet fulfilling their purpose as scavengers, the buzzards sustained their injuries while hunting for food.  These three buzzards were attacked by a wild boar during a heated battle to make that live pig their lunch. Clearly, the boar got the better of the buzzards, because they would surely die if the Old Woman had not helped them.

Not giving one flip about what the main tribe thought about buzzards, the Old Woman immediately started fussing over her helpless wake of buzzards (BTW: A ‘wake’ is the term for a group of vultures or buzzards – which is symbolic in many ways).

Now, the Old Woman, being very old and very wise, knew all about using resources, living off the meager reserves, and scraping by with grace and honor.  She also recognized the true potential these buzzards had to live better lives and fulfill their destiny.  The buzzards noticed this as the Old Woman cared for their wounds and paid close attention to her words.

The Old Woman happily fed the buzzards, tended to their wounds, and gave them shelter. While they recovered, the Old Woman taught the buzzards how to keep alive, and survive under any conditions

As the Old Woman continued to nurture the three buzzards to health, she taught them lessons about using their natural-born-gifts, honoring the earth, and respecting their resources.  The lessons continued, and the buzzards eagerly listened and learned. 

Eventually, the Old Woman taught the buzzards how to become ‘Death-Eaters’. She explained that this was one of the most essential jobs of life. Without the function of eating the darkening decay in the world, there is no room for light to enter the world.  In time, the buzzards began to realize they were not fulfilling their purpose of bringing new life and renewal to the world.  

The lessons and healing continued. The buzzards took the Old Woman super-seriously, and retained every word of wisdom she shared with them. 

Once healed and inspired with new lessons about how to live a better, more fulfilling life…the three buzzards spread their wings and flew off into the Texas sunset, leaving the Old Woman to go back to her humble existence.

She did not mind, she knew in her heart she had changed the lives of these buzzards. In essence, she did something no one else in the neighboring tribe would do because buzzards were so terribly misjudged.  And, she also hoped that by changing their lives, the buzzards, in turn, might change the world.

Native American Story about Death-Eaters, the Old Woman and Buzzard Meaning
The Old Woman reunites with her buzzard friends

Many moons passed, and the old woman continued to get older. One day, as she was walking out to fetch water, she was struck with a sadness. She became tired of being old, outcast, and overwhelmed by feeling alone. She knew her life was nearing its end, and it grieved her that she would never see another sunrise, or commune with flowers, talk to trees or sing along with coyotes at dusk.

As she sat by the riverbank, the Old Woman began to weep.  It was then, she was reunited with her buzzard friends she rescued years earlier.  

They looked much different – they had lost all their feathers around their heads. They looked bigger and stronger. They seemed so confident, self-assured, and in her eyes, they were simply gorgeous!

One buzzard spoke gently to her, and said:

The end of this life for you is coming, and a new beginning is to follow. Because you changed our lives – you also changed the course of Nature. By saving and teaching us, you made a way for new life to come forth into this world. This has pleased the Great Spirit tremendously and we are here to give you a gift.

The buzzards explained that because of her kindness, and her wisdom – she would be granted immortality, and become the Great Mother to the buzzards.  The buzzard continue to speak and said:

To become immortal, and be our Great Mother, and become one with us, you must do three things
1) You must die to join us, but you will feel no pain.
2) You must leave this place to be our Spirit Mother, but you will need for nothing when you go.
3) Lastly, you must be prepared to be loved and cared for as you continue to teach the world your ways. We will care for you so that you might live on in order to continue with our purpose to encourage renewal in the world.”

Well, for the Old Woman (did I mention she was very, very old) this was a no-brainer!  She was ready to leave and ready to be free! She was definitely ready to move on to a new way of life where she was loved and her wisdom was needed for the benefit of others and the world!

She willingly accepted the terms the buzzard set forth. She became immortal, and happily stepped into the role as the Great Mother to the buzzard clan.

The results of this unlikely union launched a renewal upon the land. No longer did humans or other creatures in Nature have to live in darkness or decay. And the buzzards were no longer regarded as bad luck. In fact, they were highly esteemed and respected as divine Death Eaters. Buzzards began to be considered as symbols of salvation, and way-makers of light upon the earth.

Interestingly, the Old Woman went on to become legendary in her immortality. She continued to share her wisdom and taught the buzzard to be masterful mother’s (just as she herself was made the Great Mother to her feathered friends).  To this day, buzzards are considered consummate mothers in Native American and many other cultures around the world.

Native American Story about Death-Eaters, the Old Woman and Buzzard Meaning
Native American Story about Death-Eaters, the Old Woman and Buzzard Meaning

Final Thoughts About Buzzard Meaning,
Death-Eaters and Life

(Lessons from the Native American Story About the Old Woman and the Three Buzzards)

What I particularly adore about this story is it’s all about underdogs, suspending judgment, exposing pure potential, fulfilling destiny…oh my! And if that isn’t enough, the story also tackles themes of aging, and death…topics that are often a source of fear in societies.  With this in mind, I have a few parting words that lend to the moral of this classic Native American story of the Old Woman and the Three Buzzards…

Old, But Not Out:  As you all might know, in today’s society, the elderly are often grossly underestimated…or worse…completely shunned and ignored. We like to think the old tribal ways were about commitment and respect towards their elders. Speaking in generalities, this is mostly true. But there is historical, anthropological evidence that more times than realized, elderly members were sometimes pushed out of the tribe because their physical usefulness had expired.  Unable to contribute to the tribe or their own personal (physical) well-being, old folks were known to be set in the corner. However, their wisdom continued to be the main contributing factor in the tribe.

If, a leader in the tribe understood this, the elders could maintain a place of honor. Otherwise, more progressive leaders would leave elders off to the side. This was the case in this Caddo (East Texas) Native American story. 

The Old Woman lived in a hovel on the outskirts of the tribal camp. In the story, the leader of this tribe was young, aggressive and felt the tribe should be more innovative or forward-moving. This caused him to push the old woman out. He even made the tribal members believe the old woman was bat-spit crazy, and a bad influence on the community. She became something to be feared because a). Nobody wanted to be ‘touched’ by her ‘craziness’ and b). Nobody wanted to be associated with being ‘old’ and ineffectual.  So she was left alone.

Thankfully, the Old Woman was far from useless! And her brand of crazy was actually the key to bringing about revolutionary change in the world. So, never underestimate the power of our elders, and certainly never ignore their value!

The Buzzards Three for You and Me: In the Native Caddo creation myth, buzzards were considered unlucky, clumsy, ugly beasts that were barely fit for food, much less respect. In the beginning, buzzards gawky and did not even fly. Their communications were ear-piercing, and they always seemed to fight amongst each other. They appeared to have no redeeming qualities. As mentioned, buzzards were hunters, not scavengers…and they weren’t even good at that! Buzzards were clunky hunters, considered bad members of society and truly the underdogs of the Natural World in the opinion of the Caddo. 

The Old Woman saw them differently.  She saw their pure potential as full, strong, brave and saviors of the world.  It took the wisdom and compassion of the Old Woman to see these much-maligned birds would become the future Death Eaters, and able to cleanse the world of darkness and decay. 

In a sense, this is a lesson that even though we might feel awkward and ineffectual…what might be more accurate is that we are not living in-line with our purpose or potential. Instead of habitually falling into the trap of thinking we are failures, maybe it’s time to look at how we are designed for success.

Native American Story about Death-Eaters, the Old Woman and Buzzard Meaning
Lessons from the Native American Story of the Old Woman and Buzzard Meaning

Mom Knows Best:  The Old Woman knew the main tribe had a poor opinion of the buzzard, but chose to love these poor injured birds anyway.  She saw their blockages. She saw into their spirits and recognized they were holding back from living their fullest potential and being their purest selves. She was unafraid to take them in, help, work with them and reveal the underlying brilliance shimmering beneath their onyx feather surfaces.

Isn’t this what mothers do? On a personal note, I’m proud and honored to say this is precisely what my mom has done and continues to do for me!

At any rate, by showing them the gifts and sacred purpose of being a death-eater, the Old Woman (later to be known as the “Great Mother“) revolutionized the buzzards’ world. As it turns out, the buzzard was perfectly equipped to live, thrive and survive…they were just spinning their wheels in opposition to what they were born to be. By seeing their trueness, and exposing their true purpose, the Old Woman-Great Mother facilitated a way for her buzzards to live, overcome, work better together

Interestingly, in many cultures to this day, the buzzard is considered to be the most phenomenal mother of all birds. The ancient Egyptians for example thought all vultures/buzzards were female because of their superior mothering abilities).  You can check out more about mother-buzzards on my article: Masterful, Meaningful Mother Birds here.

Death: There isn’t a human or culture under the sun that has ever been untouched by death. Sure…many cultures honor it, revere it, celebrate it. But that’s got nothing to do with facing it, living with it, and accepting it.  Death is the ultimate equalizer. It touches everything.

Death is also inexplicable. This also makes it a source of fear (on some level) for most humans. If nothing else, death is an unknown factor, a mystery, and that makes it a hard pill to swallow.

The Old Woman and her Buzzard clan attempt to reconcile that unknown called ‘death’. Their story attempts to ameliorate the thoughts or threats of inevitable death. The story makes an effort to swallow the unknown, justify loss, and allows humans to cope with death.  This tale about the Old Woman and the Three Buzzards tells how we all can face the realm of shadows so we can fly freely into the light.  

Lastly, this story shows how, as death-eaters, buzzards are way-makers for new birth in the world. If we think about it, this can be incredibly liberating. The take-away point here is that rather than avoid decay, darkness and death…try to embrace it as the buzzards and the Great Mother does – because ultimately death is a gateway to new life.

Before I wrap up this illuminating Native American story about buzzard meaning, death-eaters and the Great Mother… I must thank my mentor Ruth and her partner Four Paws of the Caddo for sitting me down as a pimple-faced kid and sharing this story with me. Without these great people to continue the art of Native story-telling, I never could have shared this lesson-filled tale with you!

As always, thank you for reading. I truly hope this article was inspiring to you. As always, if you liked it, I’d be delighted if you shared it on your social networks.

Bright buzzard blessings to you!


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