The concept of the ‘spirit animal’ often gets tarred with the brush of being ‘New Aged’, but in truth there is nothing new aged about spirit animals. Across the globe and across time, spirit animals are deeply rooted in various traditions. Believed by many – particularly indigenous or spiritual cultures – to be guides, messengers, and teachers in animal form. In some traditions, the relationship is strictly exclusive to the tribe, while in others the significance is more general, rooted in mythology and often related to the gods.
Across the different traditions, a common theme is that these spiritual companions are believed to offer insight, protection, or direction. To be a bridge between our human selves and our deep, inner connection to nature and the spiritual realm. In some cases, particularly ancient traditions they are revered as messengers from the gods. Often coming to us in pivotal moments, where our character and resolve are put to the test.
Among these revered creatures, the owl emerges as a unique and powerful symbol. With its silent flight, penetrating gaze, and nocturnal habits, the owl spirit animal carries a wealth of symbolism and mystery.
What Does The Owl Symbolise?
The owl’s symbolism as a beacon of wisdom is deeply entrenched in various cultures. Even in popular culture it’s not uncommon to hear them referred to as the ‘wise old owl’. This association stems from their silent and observant nature, giving the impression of an animal constantly in thought or contemplation. Some traditions go further to suggest this wisdom represents a level of clairvoyance.
Going right back to ancient Greek mythology, the owl was also portrayed as a companion to Athena, the goddess of wisdom. Cementing its status in early history as a symbol of knowledge and insight.
Owls are nocturnal masters of the dark, with extraordinary sight in low light conditions. They have what is sometimes called ‘second sight’ and can transform their vision from microscopic to telescopic in a flash. This gives them phenomenal vision on the micro and macro levels. A fitting symbol for intuitive understanding and perception beyond the surface. For being able to look at something from many levels and angles.
The intuitive owl symbolises the ability to establish truth in situations where others might be metaphorically ‘in the dark’, and takes on the role of a guide through uncertainty. By some accounts they further this role to become messengers, arriving at critical moments or crossroads where ‘truths’ – be they welcome or unwelcome – need delivered. In each case the message is of profound spiritual importance.
- Silence and Stealth
The owl’s silent flight is not just a hunting tactic but also symbolizes the ability to move through life quietly and without causing disturbance. This can be interpreted as wisdom in action – knowing when to speak and when to remain silent.
In many traditions, the owl is seen as a guardian and protector. It carries vigilance in its core, and with an ability to see what others cannot they are a powerful ally in navigating the chaos of unseen dangers. In some cultures, this protective symbolism is invoked through rituals and beliefs handed down across generations. It is believed this offers safety against harm and guides individuals through the dark of night.
Owls are often associated with hidden knowledge or secrets. Their nocturnal and elusive nature, gives them an air of silent judgment from an ever observant position, perched with sight beyond our sight. This can sometimes be interpreted negatively, as it suggests not just knowledge, but the withholding of truth or the presence of unknown elements in one’s life.
The solitary nature of owls can symbolize a sense of isolation or the feeling of being disconnected from others. This can often reveal itself to us in periods of introspection or loneliness. While this is a negative trait, noticing this can lead to more positive paths. Connecting with the solitary trait of the owl serves as a signal of danger, a reminder of the importance of community and connection. That these are perhaps areas we need to work on in our lives.
While the mystery of the owl can be intriguing, it can also evoke feelings of uncertainty and fear. Have you ever met anyone that makes you feel like that? It is sometimes a trait easier to identify in others than in yourself. The unknown aspects of life that owls represent might lead to apprehension or a sense of being lost in the dark.
- Association with Death
In some cultures and traditions, the owl is seen as a warning, an omen of death or misfortune. This symbolism often arises from their silent flight and nocturnal habits, creating an eerie or foreboding presence. However, this association is more about transformation and the end of one phase before the beginning of another, rather than literal death. It ties in the with idea of us all having ‘little deaths’ where we shed part of ourselves in our continuous journey through life. Sometimes this ‘shedding’ can only take place following a period of turmoil or what feels like chaos. But this is how we grow.
The Owl Spirit Animal in Different Cultures
Spirit animals can be seen in the history and lore of many different cultures from around the world. Particularly associated with American Indian tribes, Ancient Greek, Roman and Egyptian cultures. The significance is greatest with those that held animals as sacred, and dependant for their survival. There isn’t a continent on Earth that doesn’t have at least one historical, cultural relationship with sacred animals and we will take a look at some of the most significant here.
American Indian Perspectives
From researching various Indigenous American cultures and their beliefs around spiritual animals, they can in no way be grouped together as a single system. Each has it’s own lore, symbolism and relationship with spirit animals passed down over generations. Sure there are similarities in the beliefs, but how they are ingrained in the culture, ceremony and traditions of the tribe are unique to each.
These spirit animal traditions are very different to those of the old world. Astrological traditions such as the Greek and Chinese Zodiac models for example, suggest spirit animals as representing traits within a person. In American Indian traditions, this would be closer to the concept of animal birth totems, rather than spirit animals. In a birth totem, your time and date of birth, as well as the specific tribe dictate which animals are in your totem, and the personal traits or challenges you may develop based on your animals.
To American Indian tribes, spirit animals are animal forms in which spirits have chosen to visit a person. To be visited by a wolf for example, does not mean that you have the traits of a wolf, rather that this is the form that the spirit has chosen.
Here is how the owl spirit animal fits into some of these different cultures lore, from an outsiders perspective. Please keep in mind that this is an overview only. The relationship between people in these traditions and spirit animals is one of the most profound, but also strictly exclusive. If you do not have Lakota ancestry for example, then you can not connect to spirit animals in their way. To attempt to do so would be seen as highly offensive and disrespectful.
– Navajo Tribe and the Owl Spirit Animal
For the Navajo people, the owl is seen as a negative symbol and the opposing figure to the powerful eagle. Alongside this, the owl in Navajo culture is also a symbol of death and the afterlife. Often viewed as a guardian of the underworld and a perpetrator of horrible violence through its feasting on small, peaceful prey animals.
– Lakota Tribe and the Owl Spirit Animal
In Lakota culture, the owl holds a complex and profound place. While the owl is seen as a negative symbol to the Navajo, it is seen as a wise and powerful one to the Lakota. Revered as a guardian and protector, particularly in spiritual matters and often invoked in ceremonies and rituals to safeguard the tribe from harm.
In another aspect of the culture the owl is deeply associated with the spirits of the restless dead, acting as messengers between worlds and harbingers of death. Their nocturnal nature ties them to the underworld and they are revered as a sign of strength as well as wisdom.
– Apache Tribe and the Owl Spirit Animal
In Apache lore, the owl is often associated with the supernatural and the unknown. Embodying the mysteries and sometimes darker side of the unseen world. The Apache have a strong lore around the supernatural, and a believe that the answer to everything can be found in nature. The owl is a potent symbol of the mystical aspects of life to these tribes. In stories and myths it’s presence often signals the involvement of supernatural forces. One significant owl in Apache lore is ‘big owl’ who can take a savage human or animal form. In each case, ‘big owl’ is a large, formidable character to be feared.
– Hopi Tribe and the Owl Spirit Animal
The Hopi regard the owl with great respect, seeing it as a symbol of intelligence and wisdom. This intelligence is not just in terms of mental acuity but also spiritual understanding. Known as ‘Mongwa’ to the Hopi, the owl is seen as a ward or ‘reigner in’ of more mischievous spirits that may try to deceive or play tricks on the tribe. They are also believed to be guardians of the fields, keeping pests away.
Different owls (Mongwa) have their own significance in Hopi culture and two owls with great significance are the Great Horned Owl, and the Screech Owl.
If you are interested in learning about the spirit animals in these ancient Indigenous American traditions, I would thoroughly recommend reading from first hand material written by the American Indian and First Nation people.
Central and South American Symbolism
Mayan Symbolism of the Owl
In Mayan culture, the owl, particularly associated with the glyph ‘Cib‘ in the Mayan Tzolk’in calendar, is a complex symbol. Cib is often represented as an owl, or sometimes a vulture and is linked to wisdom, ancestors, and the underworld. The owl in Mayan mythology is seen as a creature of the night, a guide between the physical world and the Xibalba (the Mayan underworld). The symbolic connection with the underworld does not necessarily make it a negative symbol, rather it is respected as a powerful spiritual guide and protector.
The owl in Mayan culture is also associated with the idea of foresight and knowledge. Known for its exceptional sight, It is believed to have the ability to see what others cannot, especially around the mysteries of life and death.
Incan Symbolism of the Owl
In Incan mythology, the owl is less prominent but still holds a place of respect. There are three animals in particular that the Incas hold sacred to their ancient religion. These are serpents, condors and pumas.
The Inca associated the owl with wisdom and protection, particularly in the context of warfare and defence. It was also revered for its attractive appearance, particularly around the head and eyes. Many of the Incan myths revolve around the interaction between people and animals they hold sacred.
Aztec Symbolism of the Owl
In Aztec culture, there are several owls in the mythology and some had a more ominous symbolism. One of the animals ‘little owl’ was associated with death and destruction, seen as a messenger of the god of death, Mictlantecuhtli. The presence of an owl was sometimes interpreted as a bad omen or a sign of impending doom.
In another example the ‘night owl’ – Chalchiuhtecolotl – is depicted as a precious owl, god of the night and one manifestation of the God Tezcatlipoca who was a god of night, confusion and death. In these examples, owls were feared by the Aztecs because of their connection to the underworld, their dark, nocturnal hunting nature and their stealthy, silent flight.
European Symbolism of the Owl
In Celtic mythology, the owl is revered as a creature of wisdom and mystery. It is often associated with the Crone aspect of the Triple Goddess, symbolizing wisdom, change, and insight. Like many other cultures, the Celts believed owls, with their nocturnal lives, were connected to the underworld, guardians of sacred knowledge.
In the Druid Zodiac, the owl is associated with the Hawthorn Tree and the lunar phase between May 13th and June 9th. In this, they embody the traits of curiosity, compassion and calmness, which they share with people born in this time.
In Norse mythology, the owl is less prominent but is still associated with wisdom and knowledge. It is sometimes linked to Frigg, the wife of Odin, who is the goddess of wisdom, foresight, and the household. The owl in Norse culture symbolizes not just physical sight but inner sight – the ability to see beyond the veil of the physical world into the deeper spiritual truths.
One of the most ancient and classical roles of the owl in mythology, is with Athena (Greek) or Minerva (Roman), the virgin goddess of wisdom and war. One very special owl – ‘Little Owl‘ (Athene noctua), was Athena’s sacred creature and symbolised wisdom, intelligence, and learning. It had the same meaning in Roman mythology, as the legends of Minerva leaned heavily on the Greek myths that came before them.
In these ancient myths, the Greeks believed the owl had the ability to light up Athena’s blind side, and this enabled her to speak the whole truth. It is from these original tales that the owl became a symbol of wisdom and knowledge throughout Europe and western cultures.
Egyptian Symbolism of the Owl
In Ancient Egypt the owl was often found in art, on walls and papyrus depicting the underworld. It was closely linked to the god of the dead, Osiris, and was used to represent a protector of the dead. The owl would guide dead souls on their journey to the afterlife. In Hieroglyphs the owl symbolised death, night, or cold but also were used to represent the concept of ‘m’ or ‘mu,’ meaning mother, suggesting a nurturing aspect too.
Chinese Symbolism of the Owl
In Chinese culture which can be quite complex, the owl has had many different representations. In Ancient Chinese myths, back to the Shang and Zhou dynasties (1600–256 BC) the owl is believed to have been symbolic of a guardian of the night. In other myths it is presented as an ominous symbol, associated with bad luck, death, and unhappiness. It is believed that the owl’s cry foretells unfortunate events or death.
However, in some traditions such as Feng Shui, the owl is presented as a powerful protector against harm, with its image even used in amulets to ward off evil spirits. In Feng Shui symbolism, the Owl is a source of positivity and protective energy, of good fortune, wisdom and knowledge. The owl’s ability to see at night symbolizes the ability to uncover hidden things and see through deceit and illusion.
Aboriginal Symbolism of the Owl
In Australian Aboriginal culture, the owl is a significant kobong (tote)m animal, often associated with spirituality, the powers of night, wisdom, and secret knowledge (or mystery). The owl is believed in some myths to be a keeper of sacred laws and a protector of the Earth. In others, such as the in the myths of the Nyungar tribe, the owl is a symbol associated with the dark totem, and a familiar of the ‘boylya-man’ (sorcerer). The owl’s nocturnal nature and haunting call also link it to the afterlife and ancestral spirits.
Is The Owl Your Spirit Animal?
Now that you can see how the owl spirit animal is used in symbolism across many different cultures and histories around the world, can you see the owl resonating in your own personality?
To determine if the owl a spirit animal for you, consider the following key indicators, which encapsulate the various traits and symbolism associated with owls:
- Attraction to Wisdom and Knowledge: You have an innate thirst for learning and understanding deeper truths. You might be known for your wisdom and often provide insightful advice to those around you.
- Intuitive and Insightful: You possess a strong intuition and often understand things beyond their surface appearance. You might find yourself perceiving things that others miss and are often guided by your inner feelings.
- Comfort with Solitude: Like the solitary owl, you may feel comfortable and at peace in your own company, often engaging in self-reflection or enjoying quiet moments.
- Connection to the Mystical or Spiritual: You might feel a strong connection to the spiritual or mystical realms, often pondering life’s deeper questions and mysteries.
- Guardian Instinct: If you often find yourself in the role of a protector, whether for people, ideas, or projects, and feel a strong sense of responsibility for the well-being of others, this aligns with the owl’s symbolism as a guardian.
- Night Owl Tendencies: A preference for the night, finding peace or inspiration during the evening hours, can be a literal connection to the owl’s nocturnal nature.
- Dreams and Visions: Regularly seeing owls in your dreams or visions, or feeling a profound connection to owl imagery, can be a significant indicator.
Can you recognise the owl in you? It’s important to remember that the connection to a spirit animal is a personal and subjective experience, often reflecting aspects of your personality or life journey. Everything in life changes, and so can your spirit animal.