I have a picture of an owl that my best friend painted for me. It stands sentinel over my work area at home. For me it is a symbol of wisdom, patience and a love of knowledge. I have always loved owls. I partially attribute this to Mr. Dressup, who used to talk to a picture on the wall of an owl. I forget the owl’s name, but I remember he always used to say, “Twit twoo,” and talk in rhyme- twentieth century oracle?
As time progressed I began to learn about Greek mythology, Native stories and was drawn to National Geographic magazines that featured the owl. I had the fortune to meet an owl on a walk a couple of years ago. To my amazement, it stayed long enough to get its picture taken. I soon realized it was stalking a wee mouse in the bushes.
The picture leads me to consider the origin of the characteristics that we attribute to certain animals, plants, seasons and the actual merit of this relationship.
The owl for example- the origin of this synaptic meandering- is considered by the Greeks to be associated with Athena who was the Goddess of war, wisdom and justice to mention but a few. Why an owl as her symbol? One source I looked at said that Athena might have been a bird Goddess before being welcomed into the Greek pantheon.
Could it be that the relationship between the owl and Athena is more about their shared characteristics?
The owl is nocturnal, a bird of prey and predominantly solitary. Athena is supposed to be a virgin- a characteristic that is best suited to a solitary life such as a monk or a nun. Athena is also seen as the huntress or a Goddess of war- the owl is a bird of prey. Stealth and surprise- concepts used in battle- are used to hunt for their victims. Owls use their large eyes, again a nod at the grey eyed Pallas Athena, to hunt for live food. The relationship between the owl and the Greek Gods is evident in the creation story of the Greek pantheon: Chronos, like the owl, swallowed his victim’s whole.
A nod at justice must be considered when you realize that a group of owls are a ‘parliament’.
Our ancestors learned though observation and investigation of their natural environment. Industrialism, and the great push forward, gave us electricity, credit, shortened work days (possibly), increased scientific inventions and much more. With this also comes a move away from the land, and the past. Every once in a while you will hear in the news about a new discovery that was uncovered- a knowledge that was all but dead: a cure-all plant, re discovery of the stars, an new way of seeing our relationship with the natural world.
In short, the owl reminds me that there are many mysteries of the present that can be answered through looking at the past. What an amazing gift!