Owls in History and Magic
Owls have been associated with magic for a very long time, but do we know why? They seem to be second only to cats in their mystic ways and as witches’ familiars. Barn owls are especially considered to be magical creatures associated with witchcraft. They are also said to have some connection with death and rebirth, which is why they can be seen as omens of change.
The owl’s association with wisdom was first established in Roman times, for they are the emblem of Minerva, Goddess of Wisdom.
In Greek Myth owls were similarly associated with Athena, the Goddess of Wisdom. Impressed with the owl’s wise and serious nature, Athena choose them to be her mascot. Coins were minted at the time with Athena’s face on one side, and an owl on the reverse.
Owls feature prominently in the myths and legends of a variety of cultures. These mysterious creatures are known far and wide as symbols of wisdom, bringers of death omens, and as messengers of prophecy. In some beliefs the owl is good and wise, whilst in others they bring messages of evil and doom. There are multiple species of owl and many seem to have amassed their own personal legends.
One myth tells us that bad luck will befall anyone who hears an owl hoot three times whilst another strangely claims that owls are the only creatures that can live with ghosts!
Native Americans shared superstitions regarding owls, mainly related to prophecy and divination. Many tribes thought that owls possessed great mystical powers. They also believed that spirits used owls to warn of impending death.
Owls are nocturnal creatures that have the ability to see in the dark and to fly and hunt swiftly, without making a sound.! They easily invoke the belief that they are creatures of clairvoyance with keen perception, the ability for astral projection , strong instincts, and closeness to the occult. For these many reasons, in the world of Wicca the owl is a very important symbol. They are seen to carry ancient knowledge of the powers of the moon, and represent both sides of wisdom and darkness.
The “wise old owl” character from an old English nursery rhyme suggests that listening more than talking is a valuable character trait that we should all develop. As such, the owl has become a sign of learning and mental change. Many people believe that seeing an owl is a profoundly good thing, as it indicates the start of a new phase in life.
Owls particularly believed to be associated with witchcraft are white ones which are the most elusive. Greeks and Romans believed witches could turn themselves into owls, and in this form would come to suck the blood of babies. In other cultures, owls were simply the messengers of witches, or hooted to warn of the approach of a witch. Unfortunately this led to many owls being hunted and killed in the Middle Ages.
Though the owl’s nocturnal activity was at the root of many superstitions, the amazing ability of an owl to rotate its neck to extraordinary degrees was even quoted in a myth. In England it was believed that if you walked around a tree that an owl was perched in, it would follow you with its eyes, around and around until it wrung its own neck!
In many African countries, the owl is associated with sorcery and baneful magic. A large owl hanging around a house is believed to indicate that a powerful shaman lives within. Many people also believe that the owl carries messages back and forth between the shaman and the spirit world.
In some places, nailing an owl to the door of a house was considered a way to keep evil at bay, though surely that is evil in itself? The tradition actually began in ancient Rome, after owls were seen to foretell the deaths of Julius Caesar and several other Emperors. The custom persisted in some areas, including Great Britain, up through the eighteenth century, where an owl nailed to a barn door was seen to protect the livestock within from fire or lightning.
Much of Appalachian tradition can be traced back to the Scottish Highlands and English villages that were the original homes of mountain settlers. According to mountain legends, an owl hooting at midnight signified death was coming, and if an owl was seen circling during the day, it meant bad news for someone nearby. In some areas, it is believed that owls flew down on Samhain night to eat the souls of the dead!
Despite owls being seen as symbols of wisdom, as we have read , many people also associate them with destruction, ruin and death. This is sad, because they are not creatures to be feared. They can see so well in the dark, which certainly makes them mysterious, as does their supposed connection with creatures of the dark like witches. This led some people in parts of the world to believe that owls and witches could transform into each other. That doesn’t do much to protect the positive nature of owls!
More so than the way owls look, their call seems to cause most fear around the world. Their screech has been inevitably associated with ill tidings and premonitions of death.
Most people don’t hold much belief in the strange superstitions about owls these days, but just to see and hear one can still leave feelings of apprehension, whether warranted or not. Of all the birds that inhabit our world, owls have to be seen as the strangest and most mysterious.
2 thoughts on “Owls in History and Magic”
Loved this x
Thanks very much, Paula!