The owl has attracted the fascination and awe of many cults and cultures, down through the ages and many different and contradictory beliefs have survived to the present day. Many associations link the owl with witchcraft, medicine, the weather, birth and even death; thus, many superstitions and fears about the owl remain. In the past it was thought to have been wise yet foolish, feared but venerated and despised whilst being admired.
The owl is a nocturnal, predatory bird distinguished by a large flat face, eyes surrounded by stiff, feathered disks, a short, hooked beak, feathered legs with sharp talons, and soft plumage which facilitates soundless flight. Its large eyes are encased in a capsule of bone called the "sclerotic ring" which directs the eyes forward allowing restricted movement. To enable a sideways look, the owl must turn its entire head. Its neck, being relatively long and flexible, allows the head to rotate through 270 degrees. As few owls hunt their prey in full daylight, their hearing is particularly important. Many owls have asymmetrical skulls with the ear openings at different levels, enabling them to pin-point the slightest sound made by the prey they are hunting.
Owl nesting habits are highly variable. Some nest in holes in trees or rock croppings and their are even some that make burrows and next underground. Owls feed entirely on live prey or animals, such as insects, rodents, snakes, rabbits and even fish. Indigestible parts of their food such as bones, hair and feathers are compressed and regurgitated as compact pellets. Owls lay pure white eggs.
In Greek Mythology, the owl was the preferred bird of the Goddess Athena, the daughter of Zeus. Her preferred species was the Little Owl, which often accompanied her perched on her shoulder. The owl had the ability to light up Athena's blind side revealing to her unseen truths and thus expanding her natural wisdom. Due to its association with Athena, the owl gained protected status in Athens. The owl became thought of as a protector, its symbol adopted by Greek armies as inspiration for their daily lives. Before a battle, if an owl flew over, it was taken as a sign that victory was immanent. It was also depicted on different Greek coins.
SOME OF THE WORLD'S OWL MYTHS
- Abyssinia-The Hamites held the Owl sacred.
- Afghanistan-The Owl gave Man flint and iron to make fire, and in exchange, Man gave the Owl his feathers.
- Africa, Central-The Owl is the familiar of wizards to the Bantu.
- Africa, East-The Swahili believe the Owl brings illness to children.
- Africa, South-Zulus recognise the Owl as the Sorcerers' Bird.
- Africa, West-Messenger of Wizards and Witches, the Owl's cry presages evil.
- Algeria-Place the right eye of an Eagle Owl in the hand of a sleeping woman and she will tell all.
- Arabia-The Owl is a bird of ill omen; the embodiment of evil spirits that carries off children at night. According to an ancient Arabic treatise, from each female Owl supposedly came two eggs, one held the power to cause hair to fall out; the other, the power to restore it.(the early men's hair club)
- Arctic Circle-A little girl having been turned into a bird with a long beak by magick, but was so frightened she flapped about madly and flew into a wall, flattening her face and beak, thus creating the owl.
- Australia-Aborigines believe bats represent the soul of men and Owls the souls of women. Owls are therefore sacred, because your sister is an Owl-and the Owl is your sister.
- Aztecs-One of their evil gods wore a Screech Owl on his head.
- Babylon-Owl amulets protected women during childbirth.
- Belgium-Legend has it that a priest offered the Owl his church tower to live i if the bird would get rid of the rats and mice that plagued his church.
- Bordeaux-Throw salt in the fire to avoid the Owl's curse.
- Borneo-The Supreme Being turned his wife into a Owl as a punishment for telling secrets to mortals.
- Burma-During a quarrel among the birds, the Owl was jumped upon and so his face was flattened.
- Cameroon-Too evil to name, the Owl is known only as "the bird that makes you afraid".
- Celtic-The Owl was a sign of the Underworld.
- China-The Owl is associated with lightning because it brightens the night, and with the drum because it breaks the silence. Placing Owl effigies in each corner of the home protects it against lightning. The Owl is a symbol of Too much Yang....positive, masculine, bright, active energy.
- Ethiopia-A condemned man was taken to a table on which an Owl was painted, and then expected to take his own life.
- France-When a pregnant woman hears an Owl, it is an omen that her child will be a girl.
- Germany-If an Owl hoots as a child is born, the infant will have an unhappy life.
- Incas-The Incas venerated the Owl for its beautiful eyes and head.
- India-Seizures in children could be treated with a broth made from Owl eyes. Rheumatism pain was treated with a gel made from Owl meat. Owl meat could also be eaten as a natural aphrodisiac. In northern India, if one ate the eyes of an Owl, they would be able to see in the dark. In southern India, the cries of an Owl were interpreted by number: One hoot was an omen of impending death; tow meant success in anything that would be started soon after; three represented a woman being married into the family; four indicated a disturbance; five denoted coming travel; six meant guests were on the way; seven was a sign of mental distress; eight foretold sudden death; and nine symbolized good fortune. In parts of the Indian sub-continent people believed that the Owl was married to the bat.