I have been interested in owls lately. I am thinking some owl lore will be featured in my WIP. So, I thought for today’s post I would share some.
“Owls are one of the oldest species of vertebrate animal in existence, fossils have been found dating back 60 million years, showing the bird to have changed very little in that time.
Throughout the history of mankind, the owl has featured significantly in mythology & folklore. Owls are one of the few birds that have been found in prehistoric cave paintings. Owls have been both revered & feared throughout many civilisations from ancient to more recent times.” (source)
Owls are messengers. How appropriate then they carry the mail in Harry Potter. In historic lore however, people being the fearful creatures we are, often they were seen as messengers of death. This may be because of their eerie calls in the night. A voice in the night is always chilling.
“In ancient Greece, owls were often seen as a symbol of good fortune. The idea of the ‘wise old owl’ may have come into being from the association of the Little Owl with the Greek goddess of wisdom, Athene.
In contrast, the Romans saw owls as omens of impending disaster. Hearing the hoot of an owl indicated an imminent death, it is thought that the deaths of many famous Romans was predicted by the hoot of an owl, including Julius Caesar, Augustus & Agrippa. While the Greeks believed that sight of an owl predicted victory for their armies, the Romans saw it as a sign of defeat. They believed that a dream of an owl could be an omen of shipwreck for sailors & of being robbed. To ward off the evil caused by an owl, it was believed that the offending owl should be killed & nailed to the door of the affected house.
Beliefs on owls varied between ancient American Indian tribes. Some tribes viewed owls as harbingers of sickness & death. Other tribes saw them as protective spirits, others believed them to be the souls of living or recently departed people & should be treated with respect. Some tribes even saw the owls as earthly incarnations of their gods, the Hopis believed the Burrowing Owl to be their god of the dead. The Inuit explain the flat face & short beak of owls, in the story of a beautiful young girl who was magically changed into an owl with a long beak, as an owl, she became frightened & flew into the wall of her house & flattened her face & beak. Some tribes referred to death as “crossing the owls bridge”.
Some people believed that owls were particular bad to children, in Malaya it was believed that owls ate new-born babies, the Swahili believed that owls brought sickness to children, in Arabia it was believed that owls were evil spirits that carried children off in the night.
Some people believed that owls had magic powers, in Arabia it was thought that each female Owl laid two eggs – one with the power to make hair fall out, the other with the power to restore it. In Algeria, it was believed that if the right eye of an Eagle Owl was placed in the hand of a sleeping woman, that she would tell everything you wanted to know (now that is stretching the imagination too far).
British beliefs about owls include the Welsh belief that if a owl is heard amongst houses then an unmarried girl has lost her virginity. Another Welsh belief is that if a pregnant woman hears an owl, her child will be blessed. In Yorkshire owl broth is believed to cure whooping cough, amongst other things. Because of its ability to turns its head so far & its habit of watching things intently, it was believed that you could get an owl to effectively wring its own neck by walking in circles around it.” (source)
Owls can be symbolic of psychic power, or supernatural knowledge. One site notes that perhaps the glow of an owl’s eyes could have been seen as the inner light of wisdom. Owls can also be spirits of the dead especially when heard calling from cemeteries. Owls are old souls. They regurgitate what they have consumed and thus represent a reckoning of sorts.
In one way or another, owls are associated with fate. As night birds, as predators, as beautiful creatures with expressive eyes, it is no wonder they have perched so in our collective imaginations.