Ancient Symbolism of the Owl: Omen of the Good, the Bad and the Deadly

Ancient Symbolism of the Owl: Omen of the Good, the Bad and the Deadly

About 48 million years ago, an owl swooped down to catch its prey in broad daylight - we know this because in 2018 Dickinson Museum Researchers found the exquisitely preserved remains of the owl. Its skull shares a telltale characteristic with modern-day hawks which also hunt by day. As they have evidently existed since the ancient times, the owl has been regarded with fascination, awe and fear throughout history. They feature prominently in the myths and legends of a variety of cultures.

Egyptian birds for the most part seen in the Nile Valley, Screech Owl (1909) (Public Domain)

Egyptian birds for the most part seen in the Nile Valley, Screech Owl (1909) (Public Domain)

Ill Omens 

An owl's appearance at night, when people are helpless and blind, linked them with the unknown. Pliny (23-79 AD) described the owl as: “the very monster of the night” and argued that: “when it appears, it foretells nothing but evil.” However, despite his apparent distaste for owls, Pliny also believed that the viscera of owls held curative properties that could restore health and relieve pain. For example, a healthy mixture of owl brain and oil dropped directly into the ear canal was a handy cure for an earache.


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