Owls: Harbingers of Doom

According to dictionary.com, a superstition is a belief or notion, not based reason or knowledge, in or of the ominous significance of a particular thing, circumstance, occurrence, proceeding, or the like.  It is an irrational fear of the unknown or mysterious.

barn owls, wikimedia commons

barn owls, wikimedia commons

Many myths and legends, good and bad, exist about the owl. Some see them as good and wise, a symbol of wisdom. Others see them as omens of death, as a sign doom and evil drawing near.  Many are afraid of the night, and this is when the hoot of the owl or the sound of its wings flapping in the sky above can bring great fear.

Interesting Facts About Owls
The female of the species is normally larger and heavier than the male.

snowy owl's eyes, wikimedia commons

snowy owl’s eyes, wikimedia commons

The eyes of an owl are not considered to be true “eyeballs”. Why not? Instead of being round, they are shaped more like a tube. For this reason, they cannot turn their eyes in their sockets.

To make up for the fact that they can’t turn their eyes, they can turn their heads 270 degrees. That way they are able to see what is going on behind them. Most birds have seven vertebrae in their neck; the owl has fourteen to make this amazing yet creepy turn of the head possible.

Indian eagle-owl, wikipedia

Indian eagle-owl, wikipedia

Their feathers are velvety soft and thick. This thick coat absorbs the flapping sounds their wings make when flying. Because of this, they are able to hear their prey in the dark and sneak up on them.

There are even feathers on their toes. These protect their feet from the cold and ice, especially when picking up a catch from frozen fields or water.

They are definitely carnivores. Owls from one species will eat owls from other species.

Owls do not make their own nests. Instead, they nest in tree cavities or in old crow, raven, or hawk nests.

This brings us to the elf owl, the smallest owl that is only five to six inches tall and weighs about one and a half ounces. The tiny little owl likes to nest in large cactus plants that have been excavated by woodpeckers.

These mysterious birds often play a part in horror and/or mystery films.  Typically associated with the night, owls are often seen in Halloween decorations each fall.  The fact that they can turn their head so far around is just a bit disconcerting.  The tufts of feathers that are on the top of their heads tend to remind one of the devil’s horns.  Their shrill piercing cries, especially on a dark night, cause terror in the hearts of many.

Just like the cat, owls have been associated with witches and thought to bring bad tidings.

In Rome they were believed to be a sign of impending doom, even telling that someone was about to die.

If an owl is found to be nesting in an empty house, then the house is said to be haunted. Apparently, owls and ghosts are supposed to get along with each other quite well.

If you had the misfortune of dreaming about an owl, it could mean that there was going to be a shipwreck.  Bad news if you happened to be a sailor or knew someone who was. If you were not a sailor, it meant that you were about to be robbed.

burrowing owl, public domain

burrowing owl, public domain

Certain Indian tribes saw owls as a sign that sickness and death were about to make an appearance. The Hopis looked upon the burrowing owl as their god of the dead. “Crossing the owl’s bridge” was the way some tribes referred to death.

In Malaya, owls were believed to be really bad news for children. This is really bad, and I wonder if something like this was ever witnessed, but they were believed to eat newborn babies.

Those in Swahili believed that owls were the bringers of sickness to their young ones.

In Arabia, owls came in the form of evil spirits and carried their little ones off in the night.

snowy owl, wikimedia commons

snowy owl, wikimedia commons

In Cameroon, the owl isn’t even called an owl.  It is referred to as “the bird that makes you afraid’.”

I think that owls are beautiful, especially snowy owls, and have never associated them with anything bad or creepy. Here in the Appalachians where I live, not everyone feels the same about them. The hooting of an owl at night is said to mean death is coming. I have lived in these mountains for most of my life, and I just now learned that. If they are seen circling in the sky during the day, it means bad news for someone. I always assumed that it meant there was a dead animal on the ground below them.

Owls in Literature
Authors have taken advantage of this bird’s creepy reputation for quite some time.  In modern fiction, owls do play a big part in the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling.  In these books, they are the companions of witches and wizards, but William Shakespeare and Sir Walter Scott wrote about owls being signs of bad tidings and doom.

Collective Nouns
Their eyes are also probably the reason owls are thought of as birds of wisdom. I believe that three of the collective nouns for owls have to do with their wisdom, while only one has to do with their eyes.

a parliament of owls
a sagaciousness of owls
a stare of owls
a wisdom of owls

a stare of owls, wikimedia commons

a stare of owls, wikimedia commons

Phobia of Owls
Owls are beautiful birds. One of the first things you notice about them would be their eyes. It makes sense to me that a person who was afflicted with ommatophobia, the fear of eyes, would also fear owls just because of their huge eyes.

I have found two other words for the fear of owls: oclophobia and ornithophobia. There are many sites that say oclophobia is not even a word. Other sites that say it is a fear of owls. The word “ocular” could be the basis for this word, and the eyes are ocular organs. The fear of owls could come from their huge eyes, so in my opinion, oclophobia would describe this fear perfectly.

Ornithophobia is the fear of birds. Since an owl is a bird, this phobia would also include them.

Owls belong to the order of birds known as Strigiformes. So maybe a good word for this particular phobia would be strigiformophobia.

an owl writing clip art, clipartpanda

an owl writing clip art, clipartpanda

Writing Prompts
Choose one of the collective nouns and write a story about how a group of owls came to be called this.

Investigate interesting facts about owls and write a story about one or more of them.

Investigate the legends about owls and write a story about one or more of them.

Fantastic vision is needed by an owl. What would happen to an owl who lost his vision?

Owls and ghosts are supposed to get along with each other. What if they decided to take over a city?

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  2 comments for “Owls: Harbingers of Doom

  1. Mel
    September 26, 2015 at 1:30 pm

    Hi there….came across your article. I liked it 🙂 I have been seeing al

  2. Mel
    September 26, 2015 at 1:34 pm

    Sorry my comment wasn’t complete. I have been seeing a lot of owls this year…by my house which I find very wierd. There is no trees or shrubs where the owl can hang out. Anyhow…it has been freaking me out a little…cause everybody says they are bad! Can u help shed a positive light on these wierd looking birds, lol.

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