At this moment I am listening to several Great Horned Owls hooting to each other in the night. So, in honor of what seems like at least three owls perched somewhere in my nearby environs, my ruminations on the owl:
During Thanksgiving my mother-in-law served as tea, British-style. Meaning that she brewed the tea with boiling water in a tea pot, then strained it over our cups. At the end of each cup I’d surreptitiously swirl the dregs in the bottom then try to read them. Mostly I didn’t see anything, really, except the evening that I clearly saw an owl from multiple vantage points. It’s a bit like cloud gazing, I guess, but it seemed pretty clear.
With the Internet as my only source of knowledge I quickly found out that for tasseography purposes, an owl is a harbinger of ill-fortune, specifically sickness and poverty.
Given that I’m not a professional tea-leaf reader, I’ll leave that interpretation up to the guardians of divination. However, hearing the owls’ call this evening brought some things to mind.
I think of owls as wise. Perhaps with a pair of pince-nez perched on their beaks. I don’t know where this interpretation came from, save from Hedwig and other illustrious literary owls. The Oracle tells me that the owl was associated with Athena long ago and perhaps that is where the association with wisdom began.
Cultures from Meso-American to Greek to the Middle East all viewed the owls as a bad omen. That surprised me, but really it shouldn’t have. It makes sense. Think about tribes or homesteaders sitting around a crackling fire, surrounded by darkness and hearing the plaintive hoots or shrill cries of a night-stalking predator. Perhaps even finding your barn cat or other small animals dead in the morning.
Juxtaposed to interpretations of death and suffering are those of fertility, wisdom and reincarnation. According to Animal Speak (thank you, Amazon Preview) the Welsh thought that if an owl was heard hooting near a pregnant woman the labor was to be easy.
To me, when I think of owls I think:
Predators, nocturnal, sharp-eyes, keen senses, lovely, silent. Active at twilight and dusk (liminal spaces). Good hearing.
Those associations lead me to render an animal that can see through the dark and in the shadows. One that is fearless and brave. Wisdom from the ability to extract secrets, to see clearly that which is hidden. With the crying out at night and the excellent hearing I can see why this animal would be considered a herald of death and messenger from the world beyond. Dangerous, too. A creature or spirit that can see our deepest held secrets and extract from what is hidden can make people (us, me) uneasy about their knowledge of what we try to squirrel away. All the more encouragement to bring it to light.
*Written under the influence of Blue Moon’s Winter Abbey Ale. Delicious. And, please forgive any typos. 🙂
**Image is linked to the source.