Tuesday, October 16, 2012

O Is For Owl

Because I am an upfront, honest kind of girl, I'll admit that I wanted to write about octopuses for 'O' and spend a good solid day and a half trying to figure out how to tie it in to October. I couldn't. Except that octopus and October both start with Oct. And really, that's not enough to draft up a five hundred word post that will keep people entertained.

Then, I remembered the owl. I am ashamed to admit this creature fell to the back of my mind. It wasn't until I typed in 'Halloween words' into Google that I was reminded of them. Fantastically, they do line up with October and my theme here. So, owls it is.

What an interesting load of babble.

My love for owls comes from my mother. She had this amazing owl collection, courtesy of my dad, and I used to go through the pendants and figurines, marvelling over them. Truth be told, the mystery surrounding this creature is really what I find most enjoyable. Is it good? Or bad?

Well, that depends on who you ask.

Like the Greeks. The owl was the favourite creature of Athene, Goddess of Wisdom. Perhaps this is how the saying 'wise old owl' came to be. But the Greeks revered the owl, encouraging them to live in their temples, and the Acropolis housed a vast number of this avian bigwig. Not only was it considered to be wise, it was also thought to be a protector. If an owl was seen flying over an army before battle, victory was just around the corner.

Of course, the Romans thought a bit differently about owls. And by a bit, I mean a heck of a lot. Unlike the Greeks, they believed the owl to be from the underworld and harbingers of evil and doom. The hoot of an owl was a precursor to death and the Romans actually believed witches transformed into owls for the soul purpose of sucking the blood of babies. Clearly, there were some hallucinogenic drugs being ingested. So, what did they do to ward off the evil owls? They nailed a dead one to their front doors as a warning to evil forces.

English folklore aligned more with the Romans than the Greeks, surprise-surprise, and owls were once more considered sinister creatures. After all, they hunted in the night, and the night is when all bad things happen, so obviously owls were evil. And the Irish, well, they didn't help matters along. They thought owls to be unlucky and if one made the unfortunate mistake of flying into your house, you were supposed to kill it. If it was allowed to escape with its life it would take all your luck with it. That said, I'd like to take a moment to note in the Northern parts of England and Scotland, where the Romans did not conquer, it was good luck to see an owl.

So, how did the owl come to be a part of Halloween?

Well, kind of like how the bat did. Like bats, owls would often be seen at Halloween and pagan rituals in search of food. Due to their nocturnal habits and how they lived in the hallows of trees, people were often scared of them. Besides, anyone who is anyone knows the cat and owl are a witch's companion. Well, that's mostly because people think the owl's screech sounds like a witch's cackle. 

And Grimms' fairy tales only helped to perpetuate this myth. Here is an excerpt from their story Jordina and Joringel:

There was once an old castle in the midst of a large and dense forest, and in it an old woman who was a witch dwelt all alone. In the day-time she changed herself into a cat or a screech-owl, but in the evening she took her proper shape again as a human being. She could lure wild beasts and birds to her, and then she killed and boiled and roasted them.

Doesn't she sound lovely and welcoming. Let's invite her in for tea and scones.

In the end, I don't give a hoot (see what I did there?) about all the folklore. I love owls. And the word owlet just tickles me.

"A wise old owl sat in an oak,
The more he heard, the less he spoke;
The less he spoke, the more he heard;
Why aren't we all like that wise old bird?"

A Wise Old Owl nursery rhyme
Mother Goose

No comments: