Last night Lady Suzanne and I decided to take advantage of one of the few dry nights we’ve had here in Southern Indiana and built a small bonfire in the backyard to burn off some branches from recent storm damage (and to sit out and enjoy a fire and Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout).
As the quiet evening burned down, the neighborhood barred owl that lives down the street decided it was time to wake up and began its call which seems to ask “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?”
Suddenly, the quiet of the evening was shattered. And it was magnificient!
We threw more branches on the fire, opened another Sam Smith, and enjoyed the concert.
Throughout history and across many cultures, people have regarded Owls with fascination and awe -- both feared and venerated, despised and admired, considered wise and foolish.
In the mythology of ancient Greece, Athene, the Goddess of Wisdom, was so impressed by the great eyes and solemn appearance of the Owl that, having banished the mischievous crow, she honored the night bird by making him her favorite among birds. It was believed that a magical "inner light" gave Owls night vision. As the symbol of Athene, the Owl was a protector, accompanying Greek armies to war, and providing ornamental inspiration for their daily lives.
In early Rome a dead Owl nailed to the door of a house averted all evil that it supposedly had earlier caused. To hear the hoot of an Owl presaged imminent death. The deaths of Julius Ceasar, Augustus, Commodus Aurelius, and Agrippa were apparently all predicted by an Owl.
"...yesterday, the bird of night did sit Even at noonday, upon the market place, Hooting and shrieking" (from Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar")
During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the poets Robert Blair and William Wordsworth used the Barn Owl as their favorite "bird of doom." During that same period many people believed that the screech or call of an Owl flying past the window of a sick person meant imminent death. On the other had, the custom of nailing an Owl to a barn door to ward off evil and lightning persisted into the 19th century. And in parts of England it is good luck to see an Owl.
Among the different American Native Indians there are many diverse beliefs regarding the Owl. Presented here are some of those beliefs complied compiled by Deanne Lewis (theowlpages.com):
To an Apache Indian, dreaming of an Owl signified approaching death.
Cherokee shamans valued Eastern Screech-Owls as consultants as the owls could bring on sickness as punishment.
The Cree people believed Boreal Owl whistles were summons from the spirits. If a person answered with a similar whistle and did not hear a response, then he would soon die.
The Dakota Hidatsa Indians saw the Burrowing Owl as a protective spirit for brave warriors.
The Hopis Indians see the Burrowing Owl as their god of the dead, the guardian of fires and tender of all underground things, including seed germination. Their name for the Burrowing Owl is Ko'ko, which means "Watcher of the dark."
The Inuit believed that the Short-eared Owl was once a young girl who was magically transformed into an Owl with a long beak. But the Owl became frightened and flew into the side of a house, flattening its face and beak. They also named the Boreal Owl "the blind one", because of its tameness during daylight. Inuit children make pets of Boreal Owls.
Native Northwest coast Kwagulth people believed that owls represented both a deceased person and their newly-released soul.
The Kwakiutl Indians were convinced that Owls were the souls of people and should therefore not be harmed, for when an Owl was killed the person to whom the soul belonged would also die.
The Lenape Indians believed that if they dreamt of an Owl it would become their guardian.
The Menominee people believed that day and night were created after a talking contest between a Saw-whet Owl (Totoba) and a rabbit (Wabus). The rabbit won and selected daylight, but allowed night time as a benefit to the vanquished Owl.
To the Mojave Indians of Arizona, one would become an Owl after death, this being and interim stage before becoming a water beetle, and ultimately pure air.
According to Navajo legend, the creator, Nayenezgani, told the Owl after creating it "...in days to come, men will listen to your voice to know what will be their future"
Which brings me to one of the first Jethro Tull albums I ever purchased (A Passion Play). On it, the song The Story of the Hare who Lost his Spectacles:
This is the story of the hare who lost his spectacles.
Owl loved to rest quietly whilst no one was watching. Sitting on a
fence one day, he was surprised when suddenly a kangaroo ran close by.
Now this may not seem strange, but when Owl overheard Kangaroo whisper
to no one in particular, ``The hare has lost his spectacles,'' well, he
began to wonder.
Presently, the moon appeared from behind a cloud and there, lying on
the grass was hare. In the stream that flowed by the grass -- a
newt. And sitting astride a twig of a bush -- a bee.
Ostensibly motionless, the hare was trembling with excitement, for without his spectacles he was completely helpless. Where were his spectacles? Could someone have stolen them? Had he mislaid them? What was he to do?
Bee wanted to help, and thinking he had the answer began: ``You
probably ate them thinking they were a carrot.''
``No!'' interrupted Owl, who was wise. ``I have good eye-sight, insight,
and foresight. How could an intelligent hare make such a silly
mistake?'' But all this time, Owl had been sitting on the fence,
Today I toast all good Knights and hope, like The Tlingit Indian warriors, you have great faith in the Owl. They would rush into battle hooting like Owls to give themselves confidence, and to strike fear into their enemies.
Sir Bowie “who does give a hoot” of Greenbriar