Today, the Fourth of August has been designated International Owl Awareness Day apparently, but we can never have too much of owls any time of year, say I.
Owl: Definition and origins
“Raptorial nocturnal bird of prey of the family Strigidæ,” Middle English oule, from Old English ule “owl,” from Proto-Germanic *uwwalon- (source also of Middle Dutch, Dutch uil, Old High German uwila, German Eule, Old Norse ugla), a diminutive of PIE root *u(wa)l-, which is imitative of a wail or an owl’s hoot (compare howl and Latin ulula “owl;” also see ululation) Read more HERE
The Owl in Tarot
The owl as a nocturnal airborne hunter is represented in the Tarot by the Knight of Swords or the Knight of Air, one of the court cards associated with the air signs of the zodiac: Aquarius, Gemini and Libra.
This Knight can be law or war. It can be excellent news or frightful news, a decisive victory or a total and shocking defeat. represents strategy, speed and stealth of attack: watchwords, optics, surveillance, calculation, strategy, north wind, east wind, unfettered power, courage, agility, ruthlessness, precision, musical composition, mathematics, IT and medical diagnostics.
By the same token it represents all creatures of the air.
The Knight of Swords as personified below is the Great Grey Owl, and I am glad I am not a rabbit.
The owl is revered as powerful and sage, and feared as otherworldly.
The Owl of Athena
The Greek Goddess of Wisdom, Athena, had a pet Little Owl, Athene Noctua.
So why has the owl been considered especially wise?
Like domestic cats, the face of the owl is flat, with a forward facing stare like a human, making it at the same time alien and relatable. The owl has a piercing gaze and can see in the dark, just as metaphorically, perception may pierce the darkness of ignorance, confusion or obfuscation. Athena herself may have had her origins in a more ancient Minoan deity associated with birds and snakes -another of the ‘wise animals’. The girl’s name Linda or Belinda means a snake and denotes wisdom, just as does the name Sofia with its many variants.
Where Rome venerated the she- wolf of Romulus and Remus, the Little Owl was venerated as the totemic animal of Athens.
Here you see me below, or rather, the back of my head, a trifle windswept ensconced in my wheelchair, and I have been lucky enough to be selected for a personal introduction to a Little Owl, Dudley the Deadly at the fantastic Barn of Beal in beloved Northumberland, in North- East England.
Dudley, we were advised, had by far the worst peck for all he was so tiny; 8 inches high or 20.3. In fact, this made the peck all the worse, more pressure per square unit of area, and accordingly, I have nominated him Dudley the Deadly.
He did pretty much as he pleased and once off his leashes, he either came when called, or else only when it suited him, but happily, so long as there was a bit of raw meat on offer, it generally suited him. Here he is perched on the gauntlet and he pooped, but he did have the consideration to miss my feet, if only just.
The Little Owl in the wild can be seen during the day, and hunts at dawn and dusk. Its range in Britain includes England, Wales and the south of Scotland.
The Barn owl
(Tyto alba) is the most widely spread species of owl in the world and one of the most widespread of all species of birds. In Britain it is also known as the screech owl, for reasons you will understand perfectly if you watch the video at the bottom of this posting.
The Mabinigion tells the story of Bloduedd, a flower maiden who was turned into a barn owl as punishment for betrayal of her husband Lleu; a tragic love triangle featured in the numinous 1967 novel by Alan Garner, ‘The Owl Service‘. But in justice to Bloduedd, she had never chosen to be married to Lleu.
Bloduedd had been created for Lleu out of flowers by the wizard Gwydion. But then she met and loved Prince Gronwr, and together with him, plotted to kill Lleu. They failed. Lleu killed Gronwr and Bloduedd (the name means owl) was turned into a barn owl, cursed that from this day forth she must hide by day or be attacked by other birds.
In connection with this superstition of the barn owl as a bird of strange omen, if not actual evil omen. Although Barn owls have often been regarded as the farmer’s friend, keeping down rats and mice. been rewarded with a safe nesting habitat in barns, in return for these services, as recently as the 195o’s barn owls were, sadly to say, sometimes nailed to some other farmyard doors to ward evil away from the livestock and today there are thought to be only about 4000 breeding pairs. They love voles, which are in decline, and they like to hunt roadside verges, and so they are extra vulnerable to being struck by vehicles.
The Romans sometimes also killed owls. In ancient Rome, an owl’s hoot was taken to be an omen of imminent death. Reportedly, the death of several Roman emperors was foretold by an owl, including those of Augustus and Julius Caesar,and a held that death could be prevented by nailing a dead owl to the door of your home, which would ward off evil.
Children (and maybe these include one or two I have known) have been threatened for centuries that if they are naughty or they won’t go to bed, and now it’s well past their bedtime, the owls (or baby owls) will get them. The roots of this venerable threat hark back to the Barn Owl in particular, not only because of its ghostly appearance, but because its feathers are not waterproof, a sacrifice in evolutionary exchange for its almost total silence in flight. It will be upon you before you know it’s there, children!
‘Baby owl are coming!’ Said grandma, or maybe sometimes it was grandad.
‘I want to go bed now, grandma.’
Poor owls should sue for defamation. The Malayans in the South Pacific believed that owls would steal newborn babies out from their bedroom windows at night, while a German superstition said that if an owl was heard hooting as a baby was being born, it was doomed to live an unhappy life. The Greeks were particularly wary of owls, believing them to be shape-shifting witches capable of sucking out a child’s blood, and the native America Indians of Chesapeake, believed that medicine men could shape-shift as owls.
Some of these medicine men were good, but some were evil, and many native American tribes mistrusted owls on this account.
Illustrated below; a Snowy Owl attends The High Priestess in The Legacy of The Divine Tarot. As with the scroll, and the pomegranate, the Owl is a symbolic representation of her solitude at work, her discretion, learning and and wisdom. Like Persephone, she has been to the Underworld – and returned with her gifts of knowledge, which are also her burden.
But owls raise chicks, and the solitary High Priestess wears the cow horns of Hathor, the Egyptian goddess, daughter of the Sun god Ra, consort of Horus, the goddess of beauty and fertility.
Owls in Britain
There are actually six, not five owl species found in Britain today; the Tawny owl, Barn owl, Short Eared Owl, Long Eared Owl, Little Owl and the Eurasian Eagle owl. These last two are relative new comers, and in the case of the Eagle owl, and as you can read here in this article from Country Life magazine, somewhat controversial as it is powerful enough to take a small deer.
I was going to blog about the US Election today, but I’m not sure anyone’s in the mood. It can keep, but I’m watching that space, Tarot-wise, and logging the findings, and shall report in due course ahead of the elections.
Until next time 🙂