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For people who are fascinated by these ghostly beautiful, mysterious, nocturnal birds of prey and their lore.


KEYNOTE: The Mystery of Magic, Omens,
Silent Wisdom, and Vision in the Night

CYCLE OF POWER: Nocturnal – Year-round

No bird has as much myth and mystery surrounding it than the owl. Most perceptions of it are confused. It is not unusual to get contrary opinions of the owl. It has an ancient aura of mystery about it. Part of this is because it is a nocturnal bird, and night time has always seemed mysterious to humans.
The owl is a symbol of the feminine, the moon, and the night. It has been called a cat with wings. It has been worshiped as an idol and hated as the reincarnation of the devil. It has been believed to have great healing powers, both in North America and on other continents. Because of its associations with the moon, it has ties to fertility and seduction, for the moon is the arouser of men and owls. The owl is the bird of magic and darkness, of prophecy and wisdom.
To the ancient Greeks, the owl was associated with the goddess Athena, and it was a symbol of higher wisdom. It was the guardian of the Acropolis. To the early Christian Gnostics, it is associated with Lilith, the first wife of Adam who refused to be submissive to him. To the Pawnee, it was a symbol of protection. To the Ojibwa, it was a symbol of evil and death. To the Pueblo, it was associated with the Skeleton Man, the god of death, but who was also a spirit of fertility. Owl medicine is symbolically associated with clairvoyance, astral projection and magic, both black and white (Medicine Cards, Jamie Sams and David Carson).
Many superstitions and beliefs have come to be associated with it. Owls have been thought of as the reincarnation of the dead. In Wales, the owl has come to be associated with fertility. If heard near a pregnant girl, it indicates an easy birth (Owls. Their Life and Behavior, Julio de la Torre). The most predominant is that of the owl being able to extract secrets. It was believed in ancient Rome that to place a feather or part of an owl on a sleeping person would enable you to discover his/her secrets. This is all tied to one of its keynotes, especially when we look at its acute vision and hearing.
The owl is a bird of the night, and the night has long been a symbol of the darkness within – the place in which humans hide their secrets. The owl has great vision and hearing. They can adjust in an instant from a telescopic to a microscopic focus. The pupils respond in a fraction of a second to very minute changes in light intensity. The owl’s eyes are specially adapted to detect subtle movements. They also have extra light-sensitive cones and rods in the retina to help with this.
The yellow coloring of the eyes is very symbolic. It makes the eyes much more expressive, but it hints of the light of the sun, alive in the dark of the night. The sun lives through the owl at night. Meditation on this alone will reveal much about the magic of the owl within your life. Contrary to popular belief, the owl can see very well during the daylight. It is just more effective and more acute at night.
Even in the darkest night, with its acute eyesight an owl can pinpoint the exact location of its prey. Its hearing is just as keen as its eyesight. The ears of the owl are asymmetrical, and one ear is usually larger than the other. They are also located in different position on the head. This enables it to sort out the auditory signals it picks up, facilitating it being able to locate its prey more easily.
The barn owl can locate its prey as easily or even easier with its ears than its eyes. It will swivel its head and rock back and forth to pinpoint noises of prey with great accuracy. It will also make period clicks as a form of echo location.
One who works with owl medicine will be able to see and hear what others try to hide. You will hear what is not being said, and you will see what is hidden or in the shadows. You can detect and pinpoint the subtleties. This can make others uncomfortable because they will not be able to deceive you about their motives or actions. Owl people have a unique ability to see into the darkness of others’ souls and life. This is very scary to most people. This vision and hearing capabilities has metaphysical links to the gifts of clairvoyance and clairaudience as well.
The owl, as a bird of the night, can teach all of the secrets of the night. These secrets involve everything that transpires when the Sun is gone. Owls are the eyes of the night, and they see what is not in the open. They have secret knowledge that they can share. Their medicine can extract secrets.
There are over 100 speices of owls, and they have always had an intimate link to humans. Wherever humans live, so do rodents – the primary food of owls. Because of this, owls live wherever humans live. The unfortunate part is that many hunters and farmers kill owls frequently, believing cats will do better with rodent control. Nothing is further from the truth. A barn owl can kill ten times the amount of mice than a cat in a single night and more if there are young to be fed.
Like humans, they blink by closing the upper eyelids, giving them a human expression which has added to the mysticism of owls. Unlike humans though, their eyes cannot move. Their neck is flexible, giving them a wide range of peripheral vision. They cannot turn their heads completely around, but they do move it so quickly that it gives that appearance. The symbolism of the neck and its flexibility should be meditated upon for those with owl medicine. If your neck is stiff and inflexible, you are hindering your perceptions to a great degree. Neck massages would be very beneficial for anyone working with owl totems.
The owl, like hawks and other birds of prey, has a third eyelid. This nictitating eyelid moves from side to side. It cleanses the eye, clearing its vision. Again this symbolizes so much about new vision opening to you. It often reflects that you were born very perceptive – with a vision of others that you may or may not have recognized or acknowledged. Often those with an owl as a power totem have a unique ability for seeing into the eyes and souls of others. Often these perceptions are discarded as wild imaginings or with such phrases as Why in the world would I think that about this person? These kinds of imaginings, positive and negative, should be trusted.
The mating habits of owls follow similar patterns to other birds. The male will often increase its hooting and dance to get the attention of the female. Many owls like living alone and only come together to breed. So the female, especially of the great horned species, only mates when she truly trusts the male. Some owls mate for life, such as the barn owl. Other mate and stay together only until the owlettes leave the nest.
Many owls do not build nests. They will lay eggs in the forks of trees or use abandoned nests of other birds. Because they often have unusual nesting procedures, it is not uncommon to find owlettes and fledglings at the base of trees where they have fallen. Many people pick them up, believing them to be abandoned. This rarely so. If left alone, the mother will take care of them.
Usually only the female will brood, but the male will keep the mates and the owlettes in a steady supply of mice. A male feeding the female and her brood can kill dozens of mice or its equivalent in a single night. This attests to the great hunting ability and rodent control that an owl can bring to an environment.
Owls fly silently. The front edge of the wing has a fringe that silences the flight. Most owls have wings that are great for the size of the owl. This also enables the owl to fly slowly and smoothly, facilitating its silent hunt. This silence is something that all with an owl totem should practice. Keep silent and go about your business. This will bring you the greatest success.
Some owls are endangered. This is partly due to destruction of habitat and partly due to unthinking hunting. The spotted owl is an example of an owl in danger because of loss of habitat. The barn owls is threatened or endangered in many states. This is due predominantly to hunting and the perception of owls as pests.
Much study has been done on owl in regards to their prey. This is possible predominantly due to “owl pellets”. An owl will usually swallow its prey whole and head first. The parts of the prey that are indigestible (bones, fur, teeth, claws, and such) are then regurgitated in the form of pellets. This is a very symbolic act in which much significance can be found. In the swallowing of the prey head first, the owl takes into itself the wisdom and energy of the prey. The regurgitation reflects its ability to eliminate those that are unbeneficial and unhealthy for it.
It is important to study the individual characteristics of each species of owl, as well as those for all owls in general. This will help you to define exactly how the owl is going to affect you and your life. In the context of this book, we are only going to examine six particular owls, but this will be enough to provide you with an idea as to how to relate your owl totem to your individual life.
Some owls have a balacing raptor. The owl is a lunar and nocturnal, while some raptors are diurnal and solar. Owls and some hawks will share the same territory, one hunting and using it by day, and the other by night. They don’t necessarily get along, but they do tolerate each other in varying degrees. These can be seen as balancing medicines, and rituals and meditations can be used with the owl and its solar equivalent. They can be used to balance the male and female.
One example is using owl and hawk feathers together as part of a dream bundle to help stimulate lucid dreaming. For example, a red-tailed hawk feather tied between two great horned owl feathers and hung over the bed may help you assert your will over the dream state. This can be used to develop astral projection or just for conscious control of the dream scenario during sleep.
The most common examples of owls and they daytime hawk equivalents are found in the chart below:

(Lunar/Nighttime) – (Solar/Daytime)
Great Horned Owls – Red-tailed Hawks
Barred Owls – Red-shouldered Hawks
Screech Owls – Kestrels
Short-eared Owls – Harrier Hawks
Snowy Owls – White Phase Gyrfalcons

The first owl we will examine is the GREAT HORNED OWL. This is the most ferocious and the most successful predator in the owl family in America. It is powerful and swift. It can easily snap the neck of a woodchuck. It will not hesitate to take whatever prey presents itself. The great horned owl will even take on all other birds of prey. Most are in awe of its formidable talons and strong beak.
The red-tailed hawk is most often considered the solar or daytime equivalent to the lunar and nocturnal great horned. This is because they may nest in the same tact of land. This does not mean they get along though. In fact great horneds will harass ted-tails to the degree that if the opportunity presents itself the hawk will try to eliminate the owl. Truly only the golden eagle is the one raptor unafraid and unintimidated by it.
This ferocity has enabled the owl to survive and adapt to constantly changing environments. It attacks life with a fervor. Unfortunately, this same ferocity has interfered with the reintroduction of the peregrine falcon into its former habitats. In the peregrine’s absence, the great horned owl has taken up residence and will not share either its habitat or its food sources.
To many the hooting of the great horned owl, especially strong and frequent during mating, is a harbinger of spring. Its favorite habitat is in dense wooded areas of hardwoods and conifers. But it can live almost anywhere there is a food source.
The favorite food of the great horned owl is the skunk, and anyone with this owl as totem should also study the significance of the skunk. This owl does not have a great sense of smell, which is probably why it is the skunk’s most fearsome predator. It would also be good to study crows as they will often gang up and mob owls in their environment. Crows know that if the owl finds their home during the day, it is likely to visit at night when the crows can neither see nor hear it approach.
The tufts on the top of its head are not its ears. They are simply tufts of feathers. The ears are lockated lower in the head, and as with all owls are extremely acute. They can hear as well or better than they see.
Next is the common BARN OWL. This owl has a heart shaped facial disc which is unique among owls. This reflects the ability to link the heart and the mind. It is part of what this owl teaches. It also has darker eyes. It has a golden buff feathering on top, and white feathering beneath.
The common barn owl has a variety of names. When seen at night from below it has a ghostly appearance due to its white feathering. It is this aspect which has earned it the name of ghost owl. It is an owl whose medicine can connect you to old haunts and spirits of properties and homes that may still be lingering about. Its medicine can be used to help develop mediumship and spirit contact.
The barn owl is a master hunter. Many farmers have shot barn owls and tried to replace them with cats. Unfortunately, the farmers often do not realize that one pair of nesting barn owls can eliminate more mice per night than ten cats put together (Owls. Their Life and Behavior, Julio de la Torre).
It is the barn owl’s hearing ability which makes it stand out as a hunter. In fact, a large portion of the barn owl’s brain is devoted to sorting out the auditory signals that it picks up. It has the ability to use echo location, a kind of sonar in locating prey. For those with this bird as a totem, the ability to hear the inner voice and even spirit (clairaudience) will definetly begin to develop.
Barn owls are inventive opportunists. They are adaptable and will take their food whether they can find it. Their most common prey is the mouse, and those with barn owl medicine should study the qualities of the mouse as well.
Another marvelous owl is THE BARRED. They are master vocalists and they have charming personalities. They are large and round, with dark eyes. They have a barred marking on their feathers, especially crosswise on the upper chest. It is almost as if this barring is an outer signal that it has much of its ferocity in check.
The barred owl is often found in dense deciduous forests and swamps. Because of loss of environment, it has invaded the haunts of the spotted owl. In the owl kingdom, the larger will also hunt the smaller. Since the spotted owl is smaller, it is somewhat threatened, even though many believe the spotted owl is just a close relative. Both share a love for the primeval forests.
The daytime equivalent of the barred owl is the red-shouldered hawk. These two share the same territory – unlike the great horned and red-tailed hawk. Both the barred owl and the red-shouldered hawk are ar home in moist woodlands. They even share the same nesting space on occasion.
The barred owl has a benign nature, and this is what is most outstanding about it. Although they may try to appear threatening, they are harmless. It is a great actor and can put on quite a show. Many believe its vocal performances are designed to put other animals and people off. It reflects the ability of this owl to teach us how to use the voice for greater effects.
SCREECH OWLS are much smaller than those we have discussed so far. Like the great horned, they have tufts of feathers on their head that look like ears. They are ususally reddish or gray in color and they are only 6-10 inches tall.
Contrary to their name, screech owl do not really screech. Their sounds are more like a soft whinny. During maring season, the male and female screech owls will sing duets. The males have a lower pitch. If the young are threatened, this is when the “screech” is usually heard.
In spite of their small size, the courage and ferocity of the screech owl is often compared to that of the great horned. It is thought by many to be a miniature of the great horned in this aspect.
The daytime equivalent of the screech owl is the kestrel. They both share the same territory. They both have a fondness for woodland borders and use of tree holes for nesting. They both have a fondness for crickets and mice.
Screech owls are excellent hunters. They also occasionally use cooperative hunting. This ability to cooperate to survive is part of what the screech owl can teach. It can show you how to be a fierce individual with an ability to cooperate with others – maintaining that individuality throughout.
The SHORT-EARED OWL is one of the few that will hunt day or night. This in itself reflects that its medicine is powerful day and night. It is also unique in that it will meticulously build its home. It will also migrate. The markings on it are flame-like, reflecting its scientific name (Asio flammeus). This fiery aspect is reflected in its personality.
Earlier in the book I spoke of how the short-eared owl has a unique ability to show up overnight wherever there is an eruption of field mice populations. This sixth sense, of being in opportune places at opportune times, is what this owl can teach.
This owl is courageous and playful. While crows can mob and chase off hawks and other owls, the short-eared will turn the tables on its assailants. The crows become the victoms when they try the mobbing with short-eared owls. Though small, they are strong and fast – and they have no fears. And they shouldn’s. Few birds can compare to them in aerial ability. Even the great blue heron, who thinks it is the king of the marshes, has fallen to the short-eared owl on more than one occasion (Owls. Their Life and Behavior, Julio de la Torre).
Even its counterpart, the harrier hawk (the most agile of hawks) cannot outfly it. These two though will often share the same territory and have mock “dogfights”. This owl and this hawk nest close to each other and rarely do they ever fight.
The short-eared owl is a versatile and curious bird. Its abilities are second to none, and it has no fear. It reflects a blending of fire and air. They have stimulating effect upon all energies. They stir passion for life and fire the inspiration. They awaken the imagination.
The last example I will use is that of the magnificent SNOWY OWL. It is larger than the great horned, but it is most noted for its white coloring. It is found in the open tundra of the arctic, but it will migrate as far south as is necessary to find food.
Most owls hunt by night, but like the short-eared owl, the snowy is at home both noght and day. It can hunt in full sunlight or total darkness. It has the unique ability to open and close its iris to adjust to whatever light intensities (or lack of) there may be.
The snowy owl hunts predominantly by sitting and waiting. They seem to hunt lazily and often appear to be resting. This is far from true. They conserve their energy and they are continually observant, going into action when the opportunity presents itself. This sense of timing is part of what the snowy owl can teach.
Its primary prey are lemongs and arctic hares. These should be studied by anyone with this bird as a totem. It will usually eat its weight in food everyday, and like the short-eared owl, it has a knack for moving to areas where food supplies will more likely be found. It seems to instinctually detect possible famine periods and thus is able to move at the opportune times and return as well. This kind of prophetic instinct is part of what this bird can teach. It has the power of ptophecy and spirit.
When the snowy moves into a new area, it does not proclaim its presence. It enters quietly and goes about its own business. This is part of what makes it successful. It can teach us the same ability. When it walks, its talons are withdrawn into its well-padded feet. Again this reflects its ability to be non-threatening in spite of its power and ability. It accomplishes its tasks with timing and skill, not through intimidation. True strength is gentle and this is what the snowy teaches.
This is a very skillful bird at the game of survival. Even the young can sprint, swim, and even play dead if it is necessary, assuming an almost torpid state. This bird seems to embody the strength and power of the great horned, while having the temperament of the barred. And on top of it all it has skill, courage, and talents of the short-eared.


The short-eared owl is one of the most gifted and courageous flyers among birds of prey – able to outfly even the harrier hawk. The barred owl is the champion vocalist among owls. While great horned owls are majestic, aloof and dangerous, barred owls are quite harmless, though they may try to look menacing. The great horned owl and the screech owls are two of the most common. Both have the tufts of feathers that look like ears, but are not. These ears that are not ears have made them symbolic of being able to hear what is not being said. The barn owl is sometimes callled the ghost owl because of its color and its silent flight. It is an old symbol of spirit and ghostly contact.


It was often believed that a woman could determine the kind of man she would marry by the first bird she saw on Valentine’s Day. Owl meant a man who would not live long.


Owl symbolizes silent wisdom and nocturnal vision, healing powers, magical.

(Animal Speak. The Spiritual and Magical Powers of Creatures Great and Small, Ted Andrews, Llewellyn Publications, Woodbury, Minnesota, USA, 2005.)

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