Quite exceptional in the world of birds, that even non-specialists cannot mistake it for any other species, the owl has always intrigued and fueled the human imagination.
Therefore, it is not surprising that stories and legends about the magic powers of this mystical predator, which silently comes and disappears in the dark, are woven into the narrative in almost all world civilizations.
Interestingly, the symbolism and power attributed to owls vary significantly in the beliefs and traditions of different cultures. And while for some, the owl is a creature of darkness symbolizing death and negativity, others see an owl as a symbol of wisdom and a guardian of ancient knowledge.
But before we get lost in the diverse interpretations of owl meanings, let’s discuss them one by one! And we’ll start – where else but in ancient Egypt?
Table of Contents
Owl Symbolism in Ancient Times
1. Owl Symbolism in Egyptian Mythology
The dilemma of whether an owl is a good or bad omen seems to have started as far back as ancient Egypt. On the one hand, in some old records, it is referred to as ‘one who wails’ because of the dreadful and unpleasant sound it makes.
It was this unique hoot, as well as its silent flight, that contributed to the owl being a symbol of sudden death and mourning.
In this context, an encounter with a hooting owl was a message from the afterlife, an announcement of sudden death, illness, trouble, or obstacles.
However, some records show the owl in a completely different light. The barn owl, which we see most often depicted in hieroglyphic texts, does not hoot but hisses, contributing that the ominous meaning of the owl eventually became a symbol of good luck!
Namely, the ancient Egyptians believed that the owl’s call meant a rich harvest and good crops! Moreover, Egyptians from the 18th Dynasty believed that the owl hooting at the grape picking was a sign of good wine quality!
2. Owl Symbolism in Ancient Greece
Legend says that the owl was the Greek goddess Athena’s faithful companion! Artists of the time depicted Athena as a woman wearing a goatskin shield and an owl on her left shoulder!
That should not surprise anyone! The mighty goddess of wisdom recognized in the owl what others did not: intelligence, speed, agility, clarity of thought, resourcefulness, independence, and excellent intuition!
The Greeks believed that when the goddess came down from Olympus to live among people, she turned into an owl. According to legend, Athena and the owl watched over the Acropolis, where owls were said to live in large numbers.
In addition to the wisdom and secret knowledge she whispered in Athena’s ear, the owl was a universally accepted sign of a positive outcome.
Greek warriors, for example, believed that the appearance of an owl on the battlefield was a sign of divine favor with the help of which they would gain strength, wisdom, and skill to defeat their enemies.
Greek coins had the figure of an owl on one side, associating it with wealth and successful trading and prosperity!
3. Owl Symbolism in Roman Empire
In the later Roman Empire, what was represented by Athena in the Greek civilization was defined by Minerva, the goddess of wisdom, healing, and art, whose symbol was also an owl. However, unlike Greek beliefs, in which the owl represented a good omen, the owl in ancient Rome has a much more sinister meaning.
The hoot of an owl on the roof of someone’s house meant impending death for one of the occupants! The records from that era say that the owl announced the death of Roman rulers such as Julius Caesar, Agrippa, and Augustus!
Always associated with the dark side of the human soul, and bad luck, the owl was also a bird used in witchcraft.
Moreover, the Romans believed that the owl feathers placed next to a sleeping person could induce that person to reveal the deepest secrets.
Even meeting or dreaming about an owl had exclusively negative connotations, predicting shipwrecks, robberies, or illnesses. So. in ancient Rome, the owl is a creature of the dark world, the messenger which conveys warnings of the coming evil.
4. Owl Symbolism in Bible
The vision of the owl as a bad omen continues in the Bible in Old Testament, where these birds of prey symbolize desolation, loneliness, and destruction.
It is mentioned in the story of Babylon’s destruction as the only inhabitant of the abandoned, destroyed city which, ‘under the shadow of her wings’ raises its young surrounded by desolation!
Low of Moses, in addition, marked owls as ‘unclean’ animals whose meat should not be eaten in Israel since they devour the prey with blood in it!
That text lists not only the owl as a term but also specifies species such as the great horned owl, the screech owl, the little owl, the white owl, or the desert owl!
5. Owl in Celtic Mythology
The Celts also saw the owl as a harbinger of the underworld, a mystical being that brings bad news to mortals. They called the owl the Night bird or Corpse bird, which unequivocally indicates misfortune and death.
Interestingly, the Celts used the pronoun ‘she’ for the owl, associating it, like the moon, with the female principle and fertility.
In some writings, the owl is directly associated with the ominous hag goddess Cailleach who sends winter and storms to the earth and can transform the landscape while the rocks fall from her apron.
The belief that the owl was associated with dark forces was so strong that its name was whispered as if even mentioning the owl would bring bad luck.
6. Owl in Native Americans’ Belief
Connecting the owl with death and destruction was also characteristic of Aztec and Mayan beliefs.
Like Athena, the Aztec god of death, Mictlantecuhtli is often depicted accompanied by an owl. Still, unlike Athena, who valued the owl as a clairvoyant and wise bird, in Aztec mythology, the owl represented only the dark shadows of the underworld.
In the Mayan religious text, the ‘Popol Vuh’, the owl is the messenger of Xibalba, a place of fear, pain, and torment similar to hell in monotheist religions.
Many North American tribes believed that the owl was the companion of death. For example, Apache and Seminole Indians believed the owl accompanied the souls of the dead on their way out of this world.
But not all Indian tribes saw the owl in the same way, nor did the owl in their world represent only the dark, mysterious forces of the underworld.
Hopi tribe, for example, worshiped the burrowing owl as the god of death but also the deity responsible for cereals germination or the peach crop.
Cherokee, Lakota and Tlingit warriors wore owl feathers to protect them from evil spirits and, instead of war cries, made sounds similar to owl hoots to scare away enemies.
The Pawnee tribes considered the owl a protector who would drive away evil and enemies from their territory.
7. Owl Symbolism in the Far East
In contrast to the cultures mentioned earlier, which mostly associated owls with death, the underworld, and the afterlife, the East viewed the owl in a much more positive light.
According to Feng shui, the owl symbolizes luck and prosperity, wisdom and knowledge, so the ancient Chinese used the owl totem to attract well-being and prosperity.
In Japan, however, only the Snowy Owl has such meaning and is a companion of the goddess of wealth, Lakshmi. Therefore, owl encounters or dreaming about a white owl is a divine sign of positive changes, progress, and success.
Owl Symbolism Nowadays
It is beyond doubt that the beliefs and symbolism of ancient peoples shaped our interpretation of the owl’s spiritual meanings. Even today, this intriguing animal primarily symbolizes mystery and then everything else.
In our spiritual realm, we see it as a guide between the physical, material, and spiritual worlds, a being that can help and protect us and teach us how to balance between those two worlds successfully.
Its frequent association with death also took on a different meaning since death in the symbolic sense does not always have to represent exclusively physical disappearance but also the end of some habits or relationships.
Owl Spirit Animal
Owl spirit animal or owl power animal brings positive changes into your life, gives you strength, and deepens the spiritual side of your beings.
1. Truth and knowledge
Since they can see very well in the dark, the owl, your spirit animal, brings truth and knowledge into your life. It will help you to see what others do not see, get a broader and more precise picture of the world around you, and recognize the meanings and signs often hidden under their mare appearances.
With an owl on your side, you will become a careful observer – someone who understands the importance of details and their influence on the image of the surrounding world.
3. Patient and silence
You appreciate silence and peace and draw your spiritual and life force from them. You will not waste words without purpose and need and speak to speak.
Your comments always result from deep thinking about things, people, and phenomena. It is a process that requires patience and concentration, and this is what the owl teaches us!
As your inner voice, the owl reminds you that intuition is essential, that you can rely on it and let it guide you through life.
Intuition does not come from knowledge; it is the sense that appears within our spiritual beings, often without necessarily being grounded in our thoughts or experience.
5. Investigative Spirit
The mystical owl has always been associated with messages from an unknown world, the one we cannot see. Therefore, it symbolizes the desire to discover secrets, to reach truths greater than our everyday life.
Exploration and, pushing boundaries, searching for answers in different areas is undoubtedly characteristic of people whose spirit animal is an owl.
6. Night Inspiration
Not being able to see your surroundings clearly when the sun goes down and darkness, shadows, and forebodings take over is not a problem for you!
Moreover, the absence of sounds or images has a stimulating effect on you, encouraging your imagination. In silence and darkness, you can turn to yourself undisturbed, so the night is the time when you are wildly inspired and creatively productive.
Owl Totem Animal
The Owl totem animal as a spirit guide conveys similar messages. It teaches you to look at things from a higher perspective and strongly connects you with your spiritual power. It allows you to look the other way, see into the spiritual core of other people, and learn about their thoughts and secrets.
At the same time, it introduces you to the flow of time in a different unifying way connecting the past, present, and future. The connection enables you to learn from the past, and by facing your fears, get rid of their negative influence.
Freed from the unconscious pressure of previous experiences, you get an open insight into your possibilities, hidden talents, and abilities, thus shaping your future.
If an owl comes to your dreams, understand it as a message that another state of consciousness conveys through it. How you interpret those dreams depends on how you dreamed of the owl. Here are some of the most characteristic examples:
1. Owl in flight
This dream has positive connotations. It usually predicts business success or a good outcome in some venture.
2. Owl staring at you
This dream indicates that people from your business or private environment respect you and value your views and wisdom.
3. Silent owl
This dream is a symbol of a secret. Possibly, soon someone close to you will entrust you with a secret. People from your social cycle know that you are a person who will not abuse it.
4. Dead owl
This dream indicates that you will have some health problems shortly. Please take it as a warning and check your health before symptoms appear!
5. Hooting owl
This dream suggests change, temptation, or danger in your life. The owl warns us that we must be very smart and deliberate to meet that challenge. Making wise moves is required in such moments, and the change that will follow depends solely on our willingness to accept it without being enslaved by old habits and prejudices.
We have seen that some associate owls with evil and witchcraft or see them as a symbol of destruction, while some, like Mensa, choose the owl as their unofficial mascot! The truth, as usual, is probably somewhere in the middle, and our openness and ability to see the bigger picture determines which side we will lean on.
Therefore, if you have experience or knowledge that supports or contradicts what we have said about owls, please leave a comment or ask a question!