Birds of omen dark and foul,
Night-crow, raven, bat, and owl,
Leave the sick man to his dream—
All night long he heard your scream.
— Sir Walter Scott
Throughout many cultural traditions, Owls have been considered harbingers of bad luck, ill health, or death.
In most Native American tribes, Owls signify death. The call of the Owl is considered an unlucky omen. Some tribes believe the hoot of an Owl indicates that someone is going to die. Owls are known as messengers and companions for the gods of death. As a messenger of death, the Owl is not evil, but it can be foreboding. They carry messages from beyond the grave and when tribal taboos are broken, Owls deliver a supernatural warning. Owls are associated with ghosts among some Native American tribes because it is understood that the bony circles around an Owl’s eyes are made from the fingernails of ghosts.
In Roman times, Owls were recognized as omens of impending disaster. Sailors who dreamed of an Owl were likely to be cursed by shipwreck, while a Owl dream on land was an omen for robbery. Romans upheld that the hoot of an Owl indicated imminent death. The deaths of many famous Romans were preceded by an Owl call.
“And yesterday, the bird of night did sit. Even at noon-day, upon the market place. Hooting and shrieking” — William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar
The Roman credence that Owls were “birds of doom” proliferated in the British Isles when Rome’s influence extended to Britain. In the British Isles the call of an Owl flying past the window of a sick person signifies impending death. In Celtic tradition, Owls are a sign of the underworld.
In the Middle East Owls are ill omens that are connected with destruction, ruin and death. Owls represent the souls of people who have died without having been avenged. In Arabian tradition, the al Sada (death-owl) will continue to hoot over the grave of a murdered man endlessly until his death is avenged.
In many parts of Africa, Owls are recognized as messengers of sorcerers, wizards, and witches. Their call is an omen of evil in West Africa. In Cameroon the Owl is considered too evil to name, and therefore is known only as “the bird that makes you afraid.”
In some cultures Owls are known to endanger children. In Malaya it was believed that Owls ate newborn babies. The Swahili allege that Owls bring sickness to children. In Arabia it is held that Owls are evil spirits that carry children off in the night.
The Hoot Owl of Death is a drawing of an owl, signifying death. The drawing can be used to punish deadly enemies by planting the image in a person’s pocket or bag. Upon discovering this omen on their person, the victim will very shortly afterwards meet their demise. To learn more about the Hoot Owl of Death see the video below.
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