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Animals and Witchcraft

(The Witches Familiar)

The Owl

Great Horned Owl

Written and compiled by George Knowles

Commonly found in many countries the owl throughout the ages has attracted the fascination and awe of many cults and cultures, from them many different and contradictory beliefs have survived to the present day.  The owl has had many associations with witchcraft, medicine, the weather, birth and even death, as such many superstitions and fears about the owl remain.  In the past it was thought to have been both wise yet foolish, feared but venerated and despised while being admired.

The owls is a nocturnal predatory bird distinguished by a large flat face, eyes surrounded by stiff-feathered disks, a short hooked beak, feathered legs with sharp talons, and soft plumage that facilitates soundless flight.  The large eyes of the owl are encased in a capsule of bone called the “sclerotic ring which directs the eyes forward allowing little movement.  To look sideways the owl must turn its entire head, a relatively long and flexible neck permits the head to rotate through 270 degrees.  As few owls hunt their prey in full daylight, their hearing is particularly important.  Many owls have asymmetrical skulls with the ear openings at different levels; this enables the bird to pin-point any sound made by a prey animal.

 

The nesting habits of owls are highly variable.  Some nest in holes in trees or among rocks while others nest in large trees, still others such as burrowing owl nests on the ground.  Owls feed entirely on living animals, the size of the prey being proportional to the size of the owl, these can any be anything from insects to mammals as large as hares, a few feed primarily on fish.  The indigestible portions of their food such as bones, hair and feathers are compressed and regurgitated as compact pellets, an analysis of these pellets often reveals their prey species.  All owls lay pure white eggs.

 

Owl Species:

 

The owl is comprised of two distinct families of the order “Strigiformes”.  The typical owl makes up the family called “Strigidae” of which there are about 120 species, while the “Barn Owl” makes up the family called “Tytonidae” comprised of some 10 species, both families can be found worldwide.  Some of the more common verities of owls are the “Tawny Owl” (Strix aluco), a brown-flecked species of Europe and the Middle East, the “Little Owl” (Athene noctua) is the Greek symbol of wisdom and the bird most associated with Athena, it can be found widely in many countries for it’s habitat is commonly near to human homes.

         

Snowy Owl  /  Barn Owl with prey

The largest of the owls are the “Eagle Owls” (Bubo bubo) of Eurasia and the powerful (Ninox strenua) of Australia; both measure up to 0.75-m/2.25 ft long.  The “Snowy Owl” (Nyctea scandiaca) lives in the Arctic, while the worldwide “Barn Owl” (Tyto alba) formerly common in Britain but diminished by pesticides and loss of habitat, can now be found more frequently in Malaysia where it is used for rat control.  The “Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) of North America, South America and Eurasia is a streaked tawny coloured owl about 38 cm/15 inches in length, it hunts at dawn and dusk and roosts mainly on the ground.  The “Great Horned Owl” (Bubo virginianus) of North and South America measures 56 cm/22 inches; it has long ear tufts and lives in forests, grasslands and deserts.

Sadly some species of owl are in danger of extinction.  The island species such as the New Zealand “Laughing Owl” and the Madagascan “Grass Owl” are most at risk.

Owls in Mythology:

In ancient Greek mythology the owl was the preferred bird of Athena, daughter of Zeus, the Goddess of Wisdom and War (see Athena - Gods and Goddesses (Greek Mythology).  Her preferred species was the Little Owl, which often accompanied her perched on her shoulder.  The owl had the ability to light up Athena’s blind side revealing to her unseen truths and thus expanding her natural wisdom.  Due to its association with the Goddess, the owl gained protected status in Athens and inhabited the Acropolis in great numbers.  As the symbol of Athena the owl became thought of as a protector, its symbolism was adopted by Greek armies on their way to war as inspiration for their daily lives.  If before a battle an owl flew over the army, it was taken as a good omen that victory was immanent.  The owl was also given prominence in society and commerce being depicted on the reverse side of their silver drachma coins: 

                              

      Classical style, 5th century BC.                 Hellenistic style 2nd century BC.  

Also from Greek mythology is the story of Demeter, the Goddess of Corn, Grain and the Harvest.  As the story goes, her daughter Persephone was abducted against her will by Hades, the God of the Underworld to be his wife.  In her anger at the loss of her daughter, Demeter laid a curse on the world causing all the plants and crops to wither and die, the world soon became a desolate place resulting in wide-spread famine.  Seeing this Zeus became alarmed and sought Persephone's return.  He agreed with Hades that Persephone could be returned to her mother provided she ate nothing while in the Underworld.   Not wanting to lose his new bride, Hades deviously offered Persephone a pomegranate as a departing gift. 

On her way home Persephone became curious by the seeds inside the pomegranate and tasted one, however she was seen to do so by Ascalpus who reported it back to Hades.  By tasting the seed Persephone became eternally bound to Hades, for he decreed that she should spend four months of each year as his wife in the Underworld.  During these months Demeter grieves her daughters absence and withdraws her gifts from the world, thus creating winter.  On her return in the spring, Demeter is overjoyed and once again makes the earth bloom and bear fruit. 

This could have been a fitting end to the story but I’m afraid it is not, for all things including Gods and Goddesses have light and dark, positive and negative aspects.  Demeter in revenge for the time her daughter must spend in the underworld, sought out Ascalpus ‘the tell tale’ and turned him into an Owl for his trouble.  Not just any old owl mind, but a sluggish ‘Screech Owl’ the most loathsome of the owl species.

From Celtic mythology we have the story of Blodeuwedd.  Blodeuwedd was a beautiful goddess created out of flowers by Gwydion to wed his son Lleu.  Lleu on seeing her immediately fell in love.  However Blodeuwedd had no heart for Lleu and instead fell in love with Goronw Pebyr.  Not wanting to marry Lleu, she and Goronw conspired to kill him.  But Lleu had been made invincible by the gods and to protect him from death could only be killed in a very special way.  Early one evening Blodeuwedd seduced Lleu into revealing his secret, and being in love he told her:  “he could only be killed if it were twilight, if he was wrapped in a fish net, had one foot on a cauldron and the other on a goat, and if the weapon used had been forged during sacred hours when such work was forbidden”.

Hearing this Goronw snuck away and forged such a weapon, returning just before twilight.  Blodeuwedd then asked Lleu to demonstrate how improbable such a position was to achieve by chance, and when he did Goronw leapt out from the shadows and struck him down.  As the myth would have it, Llew didn’t die but was transformed into an eagle and eventually restored to human form, after which he in turn killed Goronwy.  Blodeuwedd because of her treachery was transformed into an owl by Gwydion, and forever haunts the night in loneliness and sorrow shunned by all other birds.

Owl Myth & Culture from Around The World

I would like to say a special thanks to ‘Deane P. Lewis’ for generously allowing me to feature the following information from his website at - http://www.owlpages.com/mythology/other.html

Owls in Myth & Culture

Abyssinia:  The Hamites held the Owl to be sacred.

Afghanistan:  The Owl gave Man flint and iron to make fire - in exchange, Man gave the Owl his feathers.

Africa, Central:  The Owl is the familiar of wizards to the Bantu.

Africa, East:  The Swahili believe the Owl brings illness to children.

Africa, Southern:  Zulus know the Owl as the sorcerers' bird.

Africa, West:  The messenger of wizards and witches, the Owl's cry presages evil.

Algeria:  Place the right eye of an Eagle Owl in the hand of a sleeping woman and she will tell all.

Arabia:  The Owl is a bird of ill omen, the embodiment of evil spirits that carries off children at night.  According to an ancient Arabic treatise, from each female Owl supposedly came two eggs, one held the power to cause hair fall out and one held the power to restore it.

Arctic Circle:  A little girl was turned into a bird with a long beak by magic, but was so frightened she flapped about madly and flew into a wall, flattening her face and beak. So the Owl was created.

Australia:  Aborigines believe bats represent the souls of men and Owls the souls of women.  Owls are therefore sacred, because your sister is an Owl - and the Owl is your sister.

Aztecs:  One of their evil gods wore a Screech Owl on his head.

Babylon:  Owl amulets protected women during childbirth.

Belgium:  Legend has it that a priest offered the Owl his church tower to live in if the bird would get rid of the rats and mice that plagued his church.

Bordeaux:  Throw salt in the fire to avoid the Owl's curse.

Borneo:  The Supreme Being turned his wife into an Owl after she told secrets to mortals.

Brittany:  An Owl seen on the way to the harvest is the sign of a good yield.

Burma:  During a quarrel among the birds, the Owl was jumped upon and so his face was flattened.

Cameroom:  Too evil to name, the Owl is known only as "the bird that makes you afraid".

Carthage:  The city was captured by Agathocles of Syracuse (Southern Italy) in 310 BC.  Afterward, he released Owls over his troops and they settled on their shields and helmets, signifying victory in battle.

Celtic:  The Owl was a sign of the underworld.

China:  The Owl is associated with lightning (because it brightens the night) and with the drum (because it breakes the silence).  Placing Owl effigies in each corner of the home protect it against lightning.  The Owl is a symbol of Too much Yang (positive, masculine, bright, active energy).

Ethiopia:   man condemned to death was taken to a table on which an Owl was painted, and then expected to take his own life.

Etruria:  To the Etruscans of Ancient Italy the Owl was an attribute of the god of darkness.

France:  When a pregnant woman hears an Owl it is an omen that her child will be a girl.

Germany:  If an Owl hoots as a child is born, the infant will have an unhappy life.

Greenland:  The Inuit see the Owl as a source of guidance and help.

Hawaii:  Owls feature in old war chants.

Incas:  Venerated the Owl for its beautiful eyes and head.

India:  Seizures in children could be treated with a broth made from Owl eyes.  Rheumatism pain was treated with a gel made from Owl meat.  Owl meat could also be eaten as a natural aphrodisiac.  In northern India, if one ate the eyes of an Owl, they would be able to see in the dark.  In southern India, the cries of an Owl were interpreted by number:  One hoot was an omen of impending death; two meant success in anything that would be started soon after; three represented a woman being married into the family; four indicated a disturbance; five denoted coming travel; six meant guests were on the way; seven was a sign of mental distress; eight foretold sudden death; and nine symbolized good fortune.  In parts of the Indian sub-continent people believed that the Owl was married to the bat.

Indonesia:  Around Manado, on the isle of Sulawesi, People consider Owls very wise.  They call them Burung Manguni.  Every time someone wants to travel, they listen to the owls.  The owls make two different sounds; the first means it is safe to go, and the second means it's better to stay at home.  The Minahasa, people around Manado, take those warnings very seriously.  They stay at home when Manguni says so.  Information thanks to Alex van Poppel.

Iran:  In Farsi the Little Owl (Athene Noctua) is called "Joghde-kochek".  It is said that this bird brings bad luck.  In Islam, it's forbidden (Haram) to eat.

Ireland:  An Owl that enters the house must be killed at once, for if it flies away it will take the luck of the house with it.

Israel:  In Hebrew lore the Owl represents blindness and desolation and is unclean.

Jamaica:  o ward off the Owl's bad luck, cry "Salt and pepper for your mammy".

Japan:  Among the Ainu people the Eagle Owl is revered as a messenger of the gods or a divine ancestor.  They would drink a toast to the Eagle Owl   before a hunting expedition.  The Screech Owl warns against danger.  Though they think the Barn Owl and Horned Owl are demonic.

Latvia:  When Christian soldiers entered his temple, the local pagan god flew away as an Owl.

Lorraine:  Spinsters go to the woods and call to the Owl to help them find a husband.

Luxembourg:  Owls spy treasures, steal them and hoard them.

Madagascar:  Owls join witches to dance  on the graves of the dead.

Malawi:  The Owl carries messages for witches.

Malaya:  Owls eat new-born babies.

Mayarts:  Owls were the messengers of the rulers of Xibalba, the Place of Phantoms.

Mexico:  The Owl makes the cold North wind (the gentle South wind is made by the butterfly).  The Little Owl was called "messenger of the lord of the land of the dead", and flew between the land of the living and the dead.

Middle East:  The Owl represents the souls of people who have died un-avenged.

Mongolia:  The Burial people hang up Owl skins to ward off evil.

Mongolia, Inner:  Owls enter the house by night to gather human fingernails.

Morocco:  The cry of Owls can kill infants. According to Moroccan custom, an Owl's eye worn on a string around the neck was an effective talisman to avert the "evil eye."

New Mexico:  The hooting of Owls warns of the coming of witches.

New Zealand:  To the Maoris it is an unlucky bird.

Newfoundland:  The hoot of the Horned Owl signals the approach of bad weather.

Nigeria:  In legend, Elullo, a witch and a chief of the Okuni tribe, could become an Owl.

Persia:  Wizards use arrows tipped with a bewitched man's fingernails to kill Owls.

Peru:  Boiled Owl is said to be a strong medicine.

Poland:  Polish folklore links Owls with death. Girls who die unmarried turn into doves; girls who are married when they die turn into Owls.  An owl cry heard in or near a home usually meant impending death, sickness, or other misfortune.  An old story tells how the Owl does not come out at during the day because it is too beautiful, and would be mobbed by other, jealous birds.

Romania:  he souls of repentant sinners flew to heaven in the guise of a Snowy Owl.

Russia:  Hunters carry Owl claws so that, if they are killed, their souls can use them to climb up to Heaven.  Tartar shamen of Central Russia could assume Owl shapes.  Kalmucks hold the Owl to be sacred because one once saved the life of Genghis Khan.

Samoa:  The people are descended from an Owl.

Saxony:  The Wend people say that the sight of an Owl makes child-birth easier.

Scotland:  It's bad luck to see an Owl in daylight.

Shetland Isles:  A cow will give bloody milk if scared by an Owl.

Siberia:  The Owl is a helpful spirit.

Spain:  Legend has it that the Owl was once the sweetest of singers, until it saw Jesus crucified.  Ever since it has shunned daylight and only repeats the words 'cruz, cruz' ('cross, cross').

Sri Lanka:  The Owl is married to the bat.

Sumeria:  The goddess of death, Lilith, was attended by Owls.

Sweden:  The Owl is associated with witch's.

Tangiers:  Barn Owls are the clairvoyants of the Devil.

Transylvania:  Farmers used to scare away Owls by walking round their fields naked.

Ural Mountains:  Snowy Owls were made to stay behind while other birds migrate as a punishment for deception.

U.S.A:  If you hear an Owl-cry you must return the call, or else take off an item of clothing and put it on again inside-out.

Louisiana:  Owls are old people and should be respected.  Louisiana Cajuns (individuals who share the French-based culture originally brought to Louisiana by exiles from the French colony of Acadia in the 18th century) thought you should get up from bed and turn your left shoe upside down to avert disaster, if you hear an Owl calling late at night.

Illinois:  Kill an Owl and revenge will be visited upon your family.

Wales:  An Owl heard among houses means an unmarried girl has lost her virginity.  If a woman is pregnant and she alone hears an owl hoot outside her house at night then her child will be blessed.

Yorkshire:  Give children Owl broth to cure the whooping-cough.

Totem Spirits and Medicine

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To be continued.

Sources:

To be added.

Best Wishes and Blessed Be.

 

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Wicca & Witchcraft

 

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Traditional Writings:

 

 Wiccan RedeCharge of the GoddessCharge of the God  /  The Three-Fold Law (includes The Law of Power and The Four Powers of the Magus) /  The Witches ChantThe Witches CreedDescent of the GoddessDrawing Down the MoonThe Great Rite InvocationInvocation of the Horned GodThe 13 Principles of Wiccan Belief /  The Witches Rede of ChivalryA Pledge to Pagan Spirituality

 

Correspondence Tables:

 

IncenseCandlesColoursMagickal DaysStones and GemsElements and Elementals

 

Traditions:

 

Traditions Part 1  -  Alexandrian Wicca /  Aquarian Tabernacle Church (ATC) /  Ár Ndraíocht Féin (ADF) /  Blue Star Wicca /  British Traditional (Druidic Witchcraft) /  Celtic Wicca /  Ceremonial Magic /  Chaos Magic /  Church and School of Wicca /  Circle Sanctuary /  Covenant of the Goddess (COG) /  Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPS) /  Cyber Wicca /  Dianic Wicca /  Eclectic Wicca /  Feri Wicca /

 

Traditions Part 2 Gardnerian Wicca /  Georgian Tradition /  Henge of Keltria /  Hereditary Witchcraft /  Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (H.O.G.D.) /  Kitchen Witch (Hedge Witch) /  Minoan Brotherhood and Minoan Sisterhood Tradition /  Nordic Paganism /  Pagan Federation /  Pectic-Wita /  Seax-Wica /  Shamanism /  Solitary /  Strega /  Sylvan Tradition /  Vodoun or Voodoo /  Witches League of Public Awareness (WLPA) /

 

Other things of interest:

 

Gods and Goddesses (Greek Mythology)Esbats & Full MoonsLinks to Personal Friends & ResourcesWicca/Witchcraft ResourcesWhat's a spell?Circle Casting and Sacred Space /  Pentagram - PentacleMarks of a WitchThe Witches PowerThe Witches HatAn esoteric guide to visiting LondonSatanismPow-wowThe Unitarian Universalist Association /  Numerology:  Part 1  /  Part 2 Part 3A history of the Malleus Maleficarum:  includes:  Pope Innocent VIII  /  The papal Bull  /   The Malleus Maleficarum  /  An extract from the Malleus Maleficarum  /  The letter of approbation  /  Johann Nider’s Formicarius  /  Jacob Sprenger  /  Heinrich Kramer  /  Stefano Infessura  /  Montague Summers  /  The Waldenses  /  The Albigenses  /  The Hussites /  The Sun DanceShielding (Occult and Psychic Protection) /  The History of ThanksgivingI have a Dream, the 1963 speach by civil rights campaigner Martin Luther King /  Auras by Graham Furnell - Part 1 and Part 2 /

 

Sabbats and Rituals:

 

Sabbats in History and Mythology /  Samhain (October 31st)  /  Yule (December 21st)  /  Imbolc (February 2nd)  /  Ostara (March 21st)  /  Beltane (April 30th)  /  Litha (June 21st)  /  Lughnasadh (August 1st)  /  Mabon (September 21st)

 

Rituals contributed by Crone:  Samhain / YuleImbolcOstara /  BeltaneLithaLammasMabon

 

Tools:

 

Tools of a Witch  /  The Besom (Broom) /  Poppets and DollsPendulums / Cauldron MagickMirror Gazing

 

Animals:

 

Animals in Witchcraft (The Witches Familiar) /  AntelopeBatsCrowFoxFrog and ToadsGoat / HoneybeeKangarooLionOwlPhoenixRabbits and HaresRavenRobin RedbreastSheep SpiderSquirrelSwansWild Boar /  Wolf /  Serpent /  Pig /  Stag /  Horse /  Mouse /  Cat

 

Trees:

 

In Worship of Trees - Myths, Lore and the Celtic Tree Calendar.  For descriptions and correspondences of the thirteen sacred trees of Wicca/Witchcraft see the following:  Birch /  Rowan / Ash /  Alder /  Willow /  Hawthorn /  Oak /  Holly /  Hazel /  Vine /  Ivy /  Reed /  ElderAlso see:  The Willow Tree (Folk Music)

 

Sacred Sites:

 

Mystical Sacred Sites  -  Stonehenge /  Glastonbury Tor /  Malta - The Hypogeum of Hal Saflieni /  Avebury /  Cerne Abbas - The Chalk Giant /  Ireland - Newgrange /

 

Rocks and Stones:

 

Stones - History, Myths and Lore

 

 Articles contributed by Patricia Jean Martin:   / Apophyllite  / Amber AmethystAquamarineAragoniteAventurineBlack TourmalineBloodstoneCalciteCarnelianCelestiteCitrineChrysanthemum StoneDiamond  /  Emerald / FluoriteGarnet /  Hematite Herkimer DiamondLabradoriteLapis LazuliMalachiteMoonstoneObsidianOpalPyriteQuartz (Rock Crystal)Rose QuartzRubySeleniteSeraphinite  /  Silver and GoldSmoky QuartzSodaliteSunstoneThundereggTree AgateZebra Marble

 

Wisdom:

 

Knowledge vs Wisdom by Ardriana Cahill I Talk to the TreesAwakeningThe Witch in YouA Tale of the Woods

 

Articles and Stories about Witchcraft:

 

Murder by WitchcraftThe Fairy Witch of ClonmelA Battleship, U-boat, and a WitchThe Troll-Tear (A story for Children)Goody Hawkins - The Wise Goodwife /  The Story of Jack-O-LanternThe Murder of the Hammersmith Ghost Josephine Gray (The Infamous Black Widow) /  The Two Brothers - Light and Dark

 

Old Masters of Academia:

 

Pliny the ElderHesiodPythagoras

 

Biographies

 

Witches, Pagans and other associated People

(Ancient, Past and Present)

 

Remembered at Samhain

(Departed Pagan Pioneers, Founders, Elders and Others)

 

Abramelin the MageAgrippaAidan A. KellyAlbertus Magnus “Albert the Great”Aleister Crowley “The Great Beast” Alex Sanders "the King of the Witches” Alison HarlowAmber KAnna Franklin /  Anodea JudithAnton Szandor LaVey  / Arnold CrowtherArthur Edward Waite Austin Osman SpareBiddy EarlyBridget ClearyCarl Llewellyn WeschckeCecil Hugh WilliamsonCharles Godfrey LelandCharles Walton /  Christina Oakley Harrington /  Damh the Bard (Dave Smith) /   Dion FortuneDolores Aschroft-NowickiDorothy MorrisonDoreen ValienteEdward FitchEleanor Ray Bone “Matriarch of British Witchcraft” /  Dr. John Dee and Edward KellyDr. Leo Louis Martello /  Eliphas LeviErnest Thompson Seton /  Ernest Westlake and the Order of Woodcraft Chivalry /  Fiona Horne /  Friedrich von SpeeFrancis Barrett /  Gerald B. GardnerGavin and Yvonne Frost and the School and Church of Wicca /  Gwydion PendderwenHans Holzer /  Helen DuncanHerman Slater "Horrible Herman" /  Israel RegardieJames "Cunning" MurrellJanet Farrar & Gavin BoneJessie Wicker Bell “Lady Sheba” / John Belham-Payne John George Hohman /  John GerardJohn Gordon Hargrave (the White Fox) /  John Michael Greer /  John ScoreJohannes Junius the Burgomaster of Bamberg /  Joseph John Campbell /  Karl von EckartshausenLaurie Cabot "the Official Witch of Salem" /  Lewis Spence /  Margaret Alice MurrayMargot AdlerMarie Laveau the " Voodoo Queen of New Orleans" /  Marion WeinsteinMatthew Hopkins “The Witch-Finder General”Max Ehrmann and the Desiderata /  Monique Wilson the “Queen of the WitchesMontague SummersNicholas CulpeperNicholas RemyM. R. SellersMrs. Grieve "A Modern Herbal" /  Oberon and Morning Glory Zell-RavenheartOld Dorothy ClutterbuckOld George Pickingill /   Paddy SladePamela Colman-SmithParacelsusPatricia CrowtherPatricia Monaghan /  Patricia “Trish” TelescoPhilip Emmons Isaac Bonewits Philip HeseltonRaymond BucklandReginald ScotRobert CochraneRobert ‘von Ranke’ Graves and "The White Goddess" /  Rudolf Steiner /  Rosaleen Norton “The Witch of Kings Cross” /  Ross Nichols and The Order of Bards, Ovates & DruidsSabrina - The Ink WitchScott CunninghamSelena FoxSilver Ravenwolf /  Sir Francis DashwoodSir James George FrazerS.L. MacGregor Mathers and the “Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn” /  StarhawkStewart FarrarSybil LeekTed AndrewsThe Mather Family - includes: Richard Mather, Increase Mather, Cotton Mather /  Thomas AdyVera Chapman /  Victor Henry AndersonVivianne CrowleyWalter Brown GibsonWilliam Butler YeatsZsuzsanna Budapest

 

 

Many of the above biographies are brief and far from complete.  If you know about any of these individuals and can help with aditional information, please cantact me privately at my email address below.  Many thanks for reading  :-)

 

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