Ancestral energy lives in the stars above us, the stones beneath us. Their memory gathers in oceans, rivers and seas. It hums its silent wisdom within the body of every tree.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Answering for Our Ancestors

What happens when you discover an unsavory character attached to your family tree? It’s a topic that comes up during discussions about ancestor work, as if that discovery re-colors the shade of who you are. It doesn’t. Who you are hasn’t changed. What it does do, is add depth and dimension to your family history, of who your people were, and how they evolved over generations. How would we see the light without the darkness, too?
The reality is that many of us, were we able to trace our family lines fully enough, would find ancestors who fought against native peoples, owned slaves, fought against the suffragette movement, treated their wives and children like possessions, signed documents telling the local Jewish communities to move on, spent time in prison, etc. Serial killers have families, too. Everyone’s family history is riddled with ne’er-do-wells, because once upon a time, those things were the way people were in the world. They were accepted and normative of society. Slavery existed long before people started using other cultures instead of the weak and poor of their own. It doesn’t mean it is okay. But the fact that we believe slavery to be rightfully wrong now, doesn’t re-write how it was or what happened. I would love to believe that my family members have always been righteous, good people, who weren’t afraid to buck a bad system, but it’s just not true.
I expect to find some black sheep, and there probably are more than a few among the names I know already, but census reports and land deeds don’t tell you about the quality of a man. I know that if I were to discover, for example, that one of my wayward ancestors was a soldier who carried out the massacre at Wounded Knee, I would be heartbroken. I would feel as if some of that wrongness was part of me, in me.
That’s what makes free will so important. Our days are filled with choices and actions we take that could lead us along the light path or stray us towards the dark side of being human. Sometimes people fail and their presence in our family tree serves to remind us of that truth- sometimes people fall. And they encourage us to be the best version of ourselves we can be, now and here.
That’s the line of thinking that shapes my ancestor work. I believe that the early colonial settlers were wrong to come over, treat an indigenous culture like they were inferior, and take their land. Simply because my pilgrim ancestors believed they were appointed by God to be here, an entire indigenous population was almost exterminated. In this era, I would never agree with something like that. So what I take away from that chapter of my family history is that I shouldn’t treat other people like they’re beneath me or inferior to me just because they’re different. And I shouldn’t take anything that doesn’t belong to me just because I want it.
I honor those ancestors who came before me. But how do we accept these blemishes from the past and move forward?
I would hope that in this day, we would all agree that slavery is bad. The first slaves white men used were other white men who were poorer than them. And then when they started travelling and discovered white men who looked different from them, they became preferred resources for slaves. And then they found men with other skin colors and they became a preferred resource. And so on. Our ancestors used to treat people as less than them, just because their skin color or belief systems were different. That’s a very simplistic view of all of that history, but if we can look back on it and see those actions as faulty, as a wrongness that shaped Western thinking, we need to bring more tolerance and understanding to our cohabitation on this planet. That’s something we can do as individuals and as a people.
I don’t believe that we, personally, should take on guilt for the choices our individual ancestors made. That would be an exhaustive wave of guilt that would drown most of us out of living our own lives. We’re supposed to be living to make this world a better place. So if you have an ancestor who did a deed so horrible that it makes you feel ill inside, do something for yourself to find closure with that act if that’s what you need.
No one wants to know the blood of a murderer flows in them. Maybe the knowing suddenly feels like a curse. If it does, do something in your life for the world that feels like an appropriate counter-curse. Think about it like relieving that specific spirit of their burdens- whether that ancestor felt guilt over their own actions or not. Break the blood spell and put that family baggage to rest. Do something to better the planet as a means of learning from the mistakes of those who came before you.

The Bigger Picture
We can look at history and see patterns of behavior repeating over and over again, with different groups of people on the receiving end of discrimination and oppression, and in some cases murder and genocide: anyone who wasn’t Roman, Jews, Native Americans, Africans, Japanese-Americans, Jews again, Women, African-Americans, Interracial children, Homosexuals, etc. We slowly move through the pattern of understanding that our way of thinking is wrong. Slowly. I believe that by now we should be much more tolerant of the fact that we all share this world together and trying to force anyone to believe exactly what we believe is futile. Why do we need others to believe what we believe in order to believe it ourselves? We have to stop using what is different than us to define who we are not. Learn who you are, instead.
            I can also apply this pattern-weaving to my own family tree, watching the generations follow their forefathers and then suddenly make a change, move a great distance, switch vocations completely, or something that alters the static course of my bloodline. I am Sarah, born of English Kings and Knights, born of Norman Invaders and Viking warriors, whose own lines faded into merchants and tailors, woolcombers and carpenters, who merged with Irish farmers and Polish woodsmen to break ground in a new world. I am Sarah, born of English Kings, born of indigenous men living in caves in France, whose lines blended with the English and Dutch as refugees fled France, whose lines faded in the growth of a Canadian country and merged with indigenous blood, whose lines later merged with German and Irish immigrants, canal workers and day laborers, breaking their bones to build a new world. All of them, trickling down through the years, leading me here, in this space and time, sharing my work.
May we break the cycles of dis-ease with our fellow men, and find a way to peace and tolerance, that we may all work together to heal the earth that provides for us, without which our lives would fade into nothing more than memory.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Gratitude and Giving Thanks

The first of my paternal ancestors stepped foot on this land three-hundred and ninety-two years ago. If my current research proves correct, my maternal ancestors were already here, living in the areas that have become French-Canada. Without their lives and their struggles, I would not be here. I would not be me. So for all of them, I am extremely grateful.
The history of our country is not easy or pretty. The truth is Western man stole all the land they settled, purchasing it for paltry sums from a people who had a different understanding of ownership. I have done a lot of research on that period of time and that’s pretty much how I feel about it. But there was a moment of peace, and a moment of hope for tolerance in the beginning. And that is the day I am thankful for.
In September of 1620, the Mayflower left England with 102 passengers bound for Virginia in the New World, on a crossing that took sixty-six days. The majority of the voyagers were Separatists who had funded the voyage, having permission to settle at the mouth of the Hudson River. The Separatists were a splinter group of Puritans, who were Protestants that wanted to let the Bible be the final authority on their religion, and encouraged them to have an individual relationship with their God. Whereas the Puritans were taking on trying to convert the Church of England, the Separatists wanted a place “separate” to practice as they believed.
The Separatists of the Plymouth colony followed the teachings of their minister, John Robinson, who believed in and preached religious tolerance, and in this manner were unlike the Puritans who came after them and settled in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. While none of the colonies would allow Quakers or Baptists to settle with them, which is discriminatory but was common practice, the Plymouth Colony did not force its Anglican members to convert. Off course and low in stores, the ship landed off of Cape Cod in November. Five of my ancestors were on board the ship. Francis Cooke, a woolcomber, came over with his oldest son John, to establish a home for the rest of their family, who would wait in Leiden. James, a tailor, and Mrs. Chilton brought their 13 year-old daughter Mary with them. At 64 years of age, James was the oldest passenger aboard ship. They were all Separatists.
Mourt’s Relation: A Journal of the Pilgrims at Plymouth, 1622 was published in England as a means of encouraging people of like-mind to join them in New World, and it details what their first months were like. After anchoring, the ship sent out parties to find wood, fresh water, and survey the land for other resources; they collected juniper wood to burn aboard ship. November 15, they came upon empty Indian homes, harvest fields, and buried caches of corn. They had dug up a mound, and once they realized it was a burial, they replaced everything and reburied it; they disturbed no more. The found corn, they did take for themselves, but the author states their intention of making amends to the corn’s owner when they encountered them.
They made many searches for the indigenous peoples but could not find them. In early December, the men tracing a path along the river were fired upon by arrows and they retaliated. The natives soon disappeared into the woods and they gave chase but found none. Again, they regularly searched out the natives with no luck. One day, after failing to find them, the men shot and ate an eagle for dinner (and noted that it tasted like mutton).
Only half of the ship’s passengers survived the brutal first winter. James Chilton died aboard ship December 18. His wife died in early January in the First Sickness to claim multiple lives. Both of their bodies were buried in a mass grave with others. The location of this gravesite is unknown. They left behind a daughter, my direct ancestress Mary, an orphan at the age of 13. Based on the placement of the share of land she was later given in her parents’ names, it is believed she was taken in by either the Alden or the Standish family. The Separatists were aware that they had no claim to settle there, as their contract was for Hudson Bay, but after losing half of their people and the rest being ill, the group was made a decision.
On March 16, 1621, Samoset, of the Mohegan, approached the colonists in their village. He said his people were a five day walk and one day canoe from where they were, and that he had learned English from the men who fished and hunted with his people. It was Samoset who told the Pilgrims that their settlement land was called Patuxet. Four years prior to their arrival, the Patuxet people had been wiped out by a plague, after white men had come to their land.
Samoset told them of their neighbors, the Wampanoag, whom he was living with, and the Nausets- the ones who had fired upon them in the woods. He explained that when Captain Thomas Hunt came in 1614, he deceived them and took twenty-seven men with him. He sold them into slavery for 20 pound each. Twenty of the men had been Patuxet and seven had been Nauset. When the Nauset saw that the white men had returned, they had attacked before their men were taken again. Samoset helped take the message to the Wampanoag that these white men did not condone what Captain Hunt had done.
A few days later, Samoset returned with Tisquantum, commonly remembered as Squanto, who also spoke fluent English. He was a native Patuxet who had been taken into slavery. He lived first with Spanish monks, second in England with a merchant named John Slaney, and third as a guide for Ferdinando Gorges, coming home on an expedition ship in 1619. Tisquantum acted as an interpreter between the English colony and the local Wampanoag tribe. He helped teach the Separatist farmers to cultivate corn, extract maple sap, catch fish and eels, and how to avoid the local poisonous plants. Their first harvest was a successful one.
Without Edward Winslow’s written account of the first feast, from December 12th, or William Bradford’s reflections on it twenty years later, we would not even know such an event had occurred. What we call Thanksgiving would not become an annual holiday for a couple centuries yet. [Edward Winslow is my 11x Great-Uncle. His brother John Winslow arrived in Plymouth in November 1621; he was not present for this harvest feast. Two years later, John would wed young Mary Chilton.]
Their crops of wheat and barley did well, though the native corn fared far better. Twenty years later, William Bradford wrote about how, that harvest, the colonists were all in good health. There was plenty of cod and bass in store for every family and they were busy storing fowl, wild turkey and venison. They had a good enough harvest that they had a “peck of meal a week to a person.” He says the reports of their plenty were not untrue.
Their harvest in, and Governor William Bradford “sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together.” The men killed as much fowl as would feed the entire colony for a week. Bradford invited the Wampanoag sachem Massasoit and his people to join them. There were 53 colonists and 90 Wampanoag at the first Feast, which lasted for three days. The Wampanoag brought five deer, adding to the feast. Edward Winslow closes his letter with “although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.”
For me, Thanksgiving Day is not about the Separatists who came to this country to make a settlement in their own image. And it’s not about the Wampanoag people whose population would soon be decimated by war with the colonists and disease. For those three days in Plymouth, however guarded, friendship was known between two peoples of different culture and belief, and there was hope and promise of peace between them.
That time in history was so turbulent. I have ancestors who fought against and killed natives at Esopus, who lost wives to native blades at Esopus, who fought the northern natives in the name of France, who lived among the Lenape and was a friend to them, who was raised by the Lenape and taken as a son by the sachem, and who started life in native tribes before white men ever walked the soil. I embrace them all and learn from their stories.
This is the message I remember: Compassion for others. Tolerance for differences. Gratitude for blessings. Every year, in memory of all that has come before, I make a list for what I am grateful for as it unravels through the day, and I will include all those who have come before me whose stories have been my shaper. Wherever you are, remember the things that bring your world joy and fill you with blessing, for those are the things that will light your path on darker days.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Experiencing Death VII: There in the Room

When my Grandfather died in 2004, I was blessed to be there in the room with him. I had missed saying goodbye to my Grandma, a guilt I still carried with me. He had known that, those years in between, and I believe he waited for me to fold time to get there, where he lay unconscious on the bed. His eyes stirred momentarily beneath his closed lids at the sound of my voice and then slowed again. It could have been days, sitting beside him, we were told. I didn’t think it would be. He felt ready to go, and the spirits were gathering close.
Those of us in the room were midwifing death, whether we wanted to or not. Those who stand at a threshold and guard the way between are charged with a sacred task, whether it’s life coming into or out of our world. You don’t have to know what you’re doing to hold space for the dying- and I’m not talking about people who can be saved medically. I’m talking about those on their deathbed. I’m even talking about animals dying at the side of the road. I’m talking about stepping up to face the unknown one last time with someone, when there is no hope left. When the doctor says days and hours instead of weeks and months.
I wasn’t alone in that room. Each of us could tell a very different story of what happened within that final minute in the hospital room. Every single one of those stories is true. Mine just happens to be fraught with more joy and awe than loss and sorrow, which was not what I expected when I entered. My story is the one I’m sharing.
Midwives are best known for birthing babies and bringing lives into this world, bringing spirits into being. Birth is a physical science that is truly magical to me, and all magic comes with a price. With birth, when the being that has been living in the womb for nine months, comes crying out into the world, fully articulated, it’s magic. And with birth comes pain, and afterwards, much joy.
And in death, when the spirit leaves and the physical body finally shuts down, it comes with extreme sorrow and emptiness. It carves out a hollow space inside us that those loved ones left behind, as if that person literally held space within our emotional body. These are the prices we pay for the experience of being human. Because I was able to accept what was coming, and for having the courage to wish my Grandpa peace, even though I could not imagine living without him, I was given a gift.
I am sensitive to spirit world but I never see anything more than what I call emotional shadow. I saw more when I was younger. It’s true that children and animals see more than we grown-ups do, though I personally do not believe that has always been true. When we hit puberty, there is so much expectation on us to fit into our societal constructs that we sever that connection ourselves if we have it. We sever anything of ourselves that makes us different, weird or strange. Something that I hope will change.
My Grandpa’s actual death took a moment. In the span of that second, my Grandpa took a breath in and out, so imperceptible my sister had her hand over his chest and heart to gauge it. And that was it. My partner and I had been singing softly, preparing ourselves for what was to come and opening the way for him, in our hearts, to cross when he was ready. May he be free from pain.
I was sitting just to the left of the foot of his bed. Beside me, a doorway on the wall opened up. Through the doorway poured this wash of green light. It was warm and made the room smell like summer. The March evening smelled like hot tilled earth and peppery tomatoes. I smelled my Grandma, who had passed four years earlier. I heard her clear her throat, tapping her foot, waiting for him. What I would describe as his soul leapt from my Grandpa’s body in human form, with joyful abandon. And then it became a cloud of smoke which swam into the green energy and in a swirl it was gone. The door was closed beside me.
The room was cold and empty, though the number of bodies hadn’t changed. It was over. He was gone.
My partner and I had been singing softly, honoring his life, expressing what he meant to us with voice. But not only that. I was also doing it to accept the grace of understanding that his freedom from sickness meant that I would feel sorrow and pain. May that grace help me to heal.
After that experience, I can imagine the spiritual growth that might also come from being on the living side of death’s door. To be the person who helps birth the spirit into other world at the end of someone’s life. Or even to be someone who simply watches it happen. To sit at a bedside with someone who might otherwise be alone, so that they can cross unafraid. I believe that how you let go of your time in this world is important to what comes after.
Since my Grandpa’s death, I light candles at night for those who die alone and afraid, that their souls might find peace and move on. I do this because I know, even at my young age, that a time will come when I will sit at the bedsides of people I love as they die. More than anything I wish to build up the courage and strength to find the grace in the blessing of being with them at the end of this life and the beginning of whatever comes next.

Relevant Posts:
The Beginning I Saw in the End (published March 23, 2011)
Eulogy I Wish I’d Given (published March 14, 2012)
Experiencing Death: The Unborn Baby (published May 16, 2012)
Experiencing Death II: My Father’s Father (published June 13, 2012)
Experiencing Death III: Squirrel in the Road (published July 11, 2012)
Experiencing Death IV: The Body at Daggett Lake (published August 15, 2012)
Experiencing Death V: Suicide (published September 9, 2012)
Experiencing Death VI: Alone with the Dead (published October 17, 2012)

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Animal Allies: Owls and the Afterlife

“Humans are part of the animal kingdom, which is part of the vast living world around us. In earth-centered circles, we often adopt animal totems as a means of aligning our energies with specifics elements. The animal world is vast and varied and full of natural magic. Animals are helpful guides in ancestor and spirit work. Where we have lost our connection to the natural world, they have not.
Our animal allies are a key to help cross the threshold, something known and familiar, and cultures throughout history have often associated specific animals with this task. We take their lessons based on indigenous mythology and animal behavior. They represent some part of me and the way that part of me relates to the world around me. The energy of those animals walk with me in my life and when I need guidance I turn to the spirit of my personal allies for strength.”
[Abridged from Animal Allies: Hummingbird Messengers, March 28, 2012]

Interactions with Owls
In the late 1990s I worked two years doing summer stock theatre in Highlands, North Carolina. It was my first time in the south, fitting as in my spiritual life I was on the edge of opening up to something bigger than me. At the time I was lost in the internal philosophy of questing to find it. Highlands sits on the top of a mountain peak where the blue and smoky mountains meet. At dusk and dawn every day, the clouds would roll through town. No one drove during these intervals, but many locals laughed at the glee with which the girl from New York greeted the “fog.”
My true spiritual awakening happened on top of that mountain. It came in the form of an owl visitation. I was sitting by the creek near our house as the clouds were weeping through the woods. I could feel the drops of water walking across my skin. It never ceased to fascinate me.
Something large blurred past me, silent. An invisible curtain dropped over the natural cacophony of insect life at twilight time. Right before me, on a low tree branch sat the largest bird I have ever seen that had not been there moments before. It was the first owl I saw in person and I held my breath the whole time. Not because I thought I would spook it, but because it’s presence held me spellbound. In the gloaming it was mostly white with some grey and large dandelion-colored eyes which stared into me, without blinking.
We sat that way for a few minutes. Then the owl spun its head around, cried into the night, a call that shook me to the bone, and then it lifted, silent as an assassin, flying so swiftly over me that I fell onto my back beneath its shadow. Its wingspan was as wide as I was tall. It was a reminder of how small I am to this world, of how I was just one more animal trying to live among others. It was a gift of Other World touching me on a night when I felt most alone and unseen, when I needed it most. And something within me broke open in that meeting place of water, earth, air and owl.
I have walked with Owl watching over me ever since. Just last year I spent a delicious evening meditating in the woods when a barred owl starting calling out. I called back and, in the moment, found I was a fair mimic. Fair enough that the owl hooted back. We called back and forth at each other for twenty minutes. After the first few exchanges, it stopped feeling like mimicry. Even though I didn’t know what I was saying, it was clear that this animal creature and I were interacting. It was wonderful to lose myself in its world. In my life, owl delivers messages to and from Other World, and aids my work.

Meditations on Owl
Owl medicine is helpful with personal growth, something at the core of the Work that I do. The Owl is a silent and swift predator, taking in the woods around him, deciding on the path before him before taking flight and catching his prey. His hearing is remarkable and he knows the difference between a falling leaf and mouse rustling beneath it. Once an owl has digested its meal, it purges up what it does not need and cannot digest in the form of a small pellet. Owl knows when it’s time to remove what is unwanted and needed in order to make way for new growth. When they cough up the parts of their prey that they don’t digest, they reveal the bones and flesh of the animal in its simplest form. Where others may be deceived, those with owl medicine know the truth of what is hidden.
Owl sees that which others cannot, which often lends to its solitary nature, which also lends to its ability to see deeper within. This animal is a strong ally for soul retrieval, for seeing the healing within that needs to be attended to and know what medicine is right to heal it. When you feel lost, owl essence will help you find your way back to your path, to your wisdom. Owl’s senses see beyond shadows. They pierce through fear and darkness, through what stands in the way so that you might see the other side, where light, happiness and knowledge exist. The only way out is through and Owl knows this to be true.

Owls in Legend:
  • Owl fossils have been discovered that date back 60 million years.
  • They are one of the few birds found in early cave paintings.
  • They are associated with prophecy, and their cries hold meaning: 1 for impending death, 2 for success in an imminent venture, 3 for a woman will marry into the family, 4 for disturbance, 5 for imminent travel, 6 for guests arriving, 7 for mental distress, 8 for sudden death, and 9 for good fortune.
  • Mountain legends say the hoot of an owl at midnight means death is coming. An owl circling the sky during the day means bad news.
  • Owl allies bring messages through dreams and meditation.
  • Owls are associated with witchcraft, magic, wisdom, the unknown, medicine, weather, death, perception, deception, and dreams.
Greek & Roman Legend:
  • The Little Owl, Athene noctua, became the companion of Athena, Goddess of Wisdom after she banished the mischievous prankster, crow.
  • The owl was the favored of Athene’s feathered creatures, a symbol of her “light,” allowing her to see beyond half-truths. This owl was protected in Greek culture and lived in the Acropolis in large numbers.
  • Owls accompanied Greek armies to war. Sighting them on the battlefield was a sign of impending victory.
  • Owls watched over commerce and trade. Minted on one side of the Greek coin, they represented good fortune.
  • Roman Mythology tells us that Ascalpus spied Proserpine eating a pomegranate in the garden and told on her. She was only allowed to leave if she didn’t eat anything. For his tattling, he was transformed into “a sluggish Screech Owl, a loathsome bird.”
  • Romans believed that a dead owl nailed to the door averted all the misfortune its presence had caused to the household. Romans also believed that witches transformed into owls to suck the blood of babies.
  • To the Romans, the hoot of an owl foretold death. The defeat of the Roman army at Charrhea, between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, was supposedly foretold by the hooting of an owl. It is said that the deaths of Julius Caesar, Augustus, Agrippa, and Commodus Aurelius were all preceded by the cry of an owl.
  • A 2nd century soothsayer, Artemidorus, claimed that dreaming of an owl meant the traveler would be shipwrecked or robbed.
Celtic Legend:
  • Merlin, of Arthurian legend, had an owl as a companion.
  • In Celtic mythology, the owl is a guide to the underworld, known as “corpse bird” and “night hag,” associated with wisdom and keen sight.
  • Images of owls found in the Celtic Isles pre-date the Greek cults of Athene.
  • The Scottish-Gaelic word for old woman is Cailleach and the word for owl is coileach-oidhche which means “night-cockerel.”
  • Owls were associated with the Crone aspect of the goddess.
  • The owls were guides to the Underworld.
  • The myth of Bloudeuwedd, written in the Mabinogi, speaks of a woman magically created as a wife to Lleu. She tricked him into revealing the secret of his mortality and used that to take his life. He avenged his death by transforming her into an owl. The word Bloudeuwedd is still used in Wales to mean owl.
  • The Welsh saw the owl as a predator whose time of power was dusk, when it was capable of defeating the falcon.
  • The Welsh Goddess Arianrhod was a shapeshifter who transformed into a large owl, looking through owl eyes to see the darkness within humans, as well as the soul.
  • The Welsh believed that if an owl was heard hooting among the houses, a young girl had just lost her virginity.
  • A cauldron was found sunken in a bog in Bra, Jutland which dates back to the 3rd century B.C. It was broken into pieces before being deposited, most probably as an offering. The handle fittings of the cauldron were owls.
European Legend:
  • In the British Isles, owls were associated with death and negative energy. Owl feathers were thought to repel those unwanted energies.
  • In the Middle Ages, the owl was associated with witchcraft.
  • In early English folk remedies, raw owl eggs were used to treat alcoholism. It was believed that children fed raw owl eggs would be gifted a lifetime’s protection against drunkenness.
  • Owl eggs, cooked to ash, were imbibed to improve eyesight.
  • Owl broth was a common remedy for children suffering from whooping cough, specifically in Yorkshire.
  • In the 18th and 19th centuries, poets Robert Blair and William Wordsworth were fond of using the Barn Owl as their “bird of doom.” In other literature of this time period, barn owls were often associated with death. If an owl screeched outside the window of a sick person, it was believed they would die.
  • In English folklore, a barn owl screech meant cold weather or a storm was coming. If the screech was heard during bad weather, it meant a change in storm was imminent.
  • Into the 19th century, it was customary to nail a dead owl to a barn door in order to ward off evil and lightning, and protect the livestock within.
  • Owls were treated with reverence in France, with several species named for dukes. The Long-Eared Owl was called Hibou Moyen-Duc and the European Eagle Owl was called Hibou Grand-Duc. In the Middle Ages, only nobles above the ranking of duke were allowed the honor of wearing a plume of feathers in their cap and it is suspected owls with ears seemed to them to be of nobler rank.
  • Lore in the Lorraine region of France, tells that owls would help spinsters find husbands.
  • In Romania, souls of sinners who repent, fly to heaven in the form of snowy owls.
  • Poland folklore said that unmarried women became doves when they died, and married women transformed into owls.
Native Legend:
  • In Native America, the owl is prevalently associated with death and spirits, though each tribe had a different relationship with the animal. Many saw owls as spirits of the recent dead. Other tribes saw them as underworld messengers who shepherded spirits to the world that comes after death. They are spirit protectors.
  • Many tribes referred to owls as Night Eagles.
  • Some tribes saw owls as healers and would hang feathers in the doorway of a home to keep illness out.
  • The Lenni Lenape (New Jersey) said that an owl shown in a dream would become the guardian of the dreamer.
  • The Hopi (Arizona) believed the Burrowing Owl was the manifestation of their god of the dead, who was guardian of fire and caretaker for all things underground, including seed germination. Their name for the owl is Ko’ko, meaning “Watcher of the Dark.”
  • The Hopi believed that Great Horned Owls helped their peaches to grow.
  • The Mojave (Arizona) believed that in death, everyone became an owl for a short time, then reincarnating as a beetle, until finally becoming pure air.
  • The Navajo (Arizona/New Mexico/Utah) believe that the owl is the messenger guide of the other world and other earth-bound spirits.
  • The Zuni (New Mexico) placed owl feathers in babies’ cribs to keep evil spirits away from the infant.
  • The Newuks (California) believed that brave and virtuous men and women became Great Horned Owls after their death. Those who were wicked of heart became Barn Owls.
  • Tribes living in the Sierras (California/Nevada) believed Great Horned Owls would snatch the souls of the dead and transport them to their underworld.
  • The Cree (Northwest US/Canada) thought that the whistle of the Boreal Owl was a doorway to spirit world. If the person whistled back, and did not hear a response from the owl, it meant they would soon die.
  • The Spedis Owl is a petroglyph found on a rock face at The Dalles, the end of the Oregon Trail along the Columbus River between Washington and Oregon. Figures of this same owl have been found in a wide area in that region, but are focally located on there. Legend says the petroglyph was placed on the rock to protect people from the “water devils” that could pull them under.
  • The Dalles was the rough edge of the Northwest Coast area of native people. The Kwagiulth/ Kwakiutl (Vancouver Island, BC) believed that owls were manifestations of people’s souls. They would not harm owls, for if the owl died, so would the person who the soul belonged to.
  • The Tlingit (Pacific Northwest) thought warriors that heard an owl were receiving a message of coming victory in battle.
  • The Inuit (Alaska) have a story that tells of Snowy Owl and Raven making new clothes for each other. Raven made a dress of black and white feather for Owl. Owl made Raven a white dress. But Raven grew so excited when Owl was fitting the dress that she couldn’t sit still. Owl was angry and threw oil lamp at Raven, which soaked through the white dress, turning it black.
Other Legend:
  • In many countries in Africa, owls are associated with sorcery and dark magic. A large owl spotted outside a house indicates a powerful shaman lives there. Many people believe owls carry messages between the shaman and the spirit world.
  • The Zulu, and other West African nations, believe the bird has strong influence in spellcasting. They think using owl parts imbues the magical user with great strength.
  • The Swahili believe owls bring sickness to children.
  • Algerians believed that placing the right eye of an Eagle Owl in the hand of a sleeping woman was a truth spell that would make her tell you what you wanted to know.
  • Owl amulets were used as protection for pregnant women in Babylon.
  • Food was made from owls in India for medicinal use. Owl eye broth aided seizures in children and owl meat helped with rheumatism. Ingesting owl eyes enabled good night vision.
  • In Russia, hunters carried owl claws, a tool for their souls to climb to heaven should they die.
  • The Kalmuks believed an owl saved Genghis Kahn and held the animal as sacred.
  • Malaysians believed that owls ate infants.
  • The Ainu people of Hokkaidu, Japan trust owls to warn them of approaching evil. They believe it mediates between gods and men. They see Blakiston’s Fish Owl, Ketupa blakistoni, as their god kotan kor kamuv, which mean “god of the village.”
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