Creatures in the Mist: Little People, Wild Men and Spirit Beings around the World: A Study in Comparative Mythology

By Gary R. Varner | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 16. THE OWL

Like the eagle and the raven, the Owl has long been held sacred by many cultures around the world. Like the eagle and the raven it has a dual meaning. It is at once a symbol of wisdom and a symbol of darkness and death. The owl represents wisdom because of its association with the goddess and the belief that the owl was the embodiment of the goddess’s knowledge. It was known as the “corpse bird” among the Celts; to the Hindu it is Yama, the god of death; it also represents death to the Japanese, Chinese, Mexicans and ancient Egyptians. To the Christian the owl was Satan and represented all of the powers of darkness. The owl is more, though. It is sacred to Minerva/Athena and the Welsh goddess Blodeuwedd as well as Lilith and Anath, the “Lady of Birth and Death.” The owl, Athena’s bird, was the messenger of death.

The owl is also associated with the Lord of Death and the King of the Underworld Gwyn ap Nudd who resides under the Glastonbury Tor, and the far more ancient Goddess of Death. According to Lewis Spence, “The owl, too, was employed as a symbol of wisdom, and sometimes, as by the Algonquins, was represented as the attendant of the Lord of Death.1 Undoubtedly, it is the very nature of the owl that gives it such bad press. They are, as the Radford’s say, “a tenant of the night,” solitary, who both screeches and gives a melancholy hoot. “The Romans held the owl in abhorrence,” wrote the Radfords, “and when it was seen and caught in the city in the daylight hours, it was burnt and its ashes publicly scattered in the Tiber.”2

1. Spence, Lewis. North American Indians Myths & Legends. London: Senate 1994, 111. A reprint of the 1914 edition of North American Indians published by George G. Harrap & Company Ltd.

2. Radford, Edwin and Mona A. Encyclopaedia of Superstitions. New York: Philosophical Library 1949, 185.

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