Researching a Metaphor – The Owl


Researching a Metaphor- The Owl


Researching a Metaphor- The Owl

By Addy Pitman

“And yesterday the bird of night did sit
Even at noon-day upon the marketplace,
Hooting and shrieking. When these prodigies
Do so conjointly meet, let not men say,
“These are their reasons. They are natural.”
For I believe they are portentous things
Unto the climate that they point upon.”

– William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar


Researching a Metaphor- The Owl – The word owl originates from Middle English owle, from Old English ūle, similar to Old High German uwila owl. First Known Use: before 12th century.

The owl is a bird of prey. It is part of the raptor family of Strigiformes, consisting of nocturnal birds of prey. They have a large head, large eyes, a short hooked beak, soft down feathers, and powerful talons. They vary in size and are found in all areas of the world with the exception of Antarctica and some islands. The Elf Owl is the smallest owl standing at 5 to 6 inches tall and weighing 1 1/2 oz. The North American owl is the largest of all owls and stands at 32 inches tall. A silent flyer with a keen sense of sight and hearing make this bird a perfect night time hunter. Most owls can detect their prey from a great distance, up to a half a mile away. Owls typically hunt other owls, small animals and insects.

According to the Reverse Speech Dictionary the definitions for owl are as follows:

OWL (Structural) see Wisdom, metaphor pair; Owl is knowledge from conscious mind; knowledge that one has reasoned with the intellect; earthly “wisdom”; also honor and integrity. Trance image; an owl

WHITE OWL (Structural) see Wise Owl, metaphor pair, the opposite of; to worship ones intellect as though it was God; this was the crime of Lucifer, he thought he was so wise he was equal with God; this metaphor is very strong and it refers to someone immersed in their head with no spiritual connection; a mighty intellect that is rigid and immovable. Trance image; a large owl, sometimes white sometimes demonic.

WISE OWL (Structural) see White Owl, metaphor pair, the opposite of; take great caution with the documentation of these metaphors, there is a fine line between white Owl and Wise Owl; Wise Owl refers to an intellect that is in contact with the spiritual forces of the unconscious and therefore has true wisdom; White Owl is the opposite and represents one who has no wisdom but thinks themselves to be supremely wise. Trance image; unknown.

WISDOM (Structural) see Owl; Wisdom is unconscious knowledge, Owl is conscious reasoning; Owl is forwards or knowledge, wisdom is backwards or wisdom; sometimes pronounced as “wis-s-hdom” (long, drawn-out “sh” instead of “s”); insight; comes directly from the Soul; to be taken very seriously; profound truth; it by-passes the intellect. Trance image; sometimes messages encrypted onto scrolls.

Symbolic meanings for the owl are:

  • Intuition, insight
  • Wisdom, reflection (advisor)
  • Ability to see through deception and darkness
  • Announcement of change(messenger)
  • Announcement of death, including a symbolic death or life transition

In the Bible, owls are considered to be “unclean” birds, and God had not intended for them to be consumed by the Israelites:

“And these you shall have in abomination among the birds, they shall not be eaten, they are an abomination: the eagle, the vulture, the osprey, the kite, the falcon according to its kind, every raven according to its kind, the ostrich, the nighthawk, the sea gull, the hawk according to its kind, the owl, the cormorant, the ibis, the water hen, the pelican, the carrion vulture, the stork, the heron according to its kind, the hoopoe, and the bat.”
(Leviticus 11:13-19 RSV)

Since owls are active at night and often inhabit caves and deserted land, they became biblically symbolic of desolate places:

“I am like a vulture of the wilderness, like an owl of the waste places; I lie awake, I am like a lonely bird on the housetop”
(Psalm 102:6-7 RSV)

“Night and day it shall not be quenched; its smoke shall go up forever. From generation to generation it shall lie waste; none shall pass through it forever and ever. But the hawk and the porcupine shall possess it, the owl and the raven shall dwell in it. He shall stretch the line of confusion over it, and the plummet of chaos over its nobles. They shall name it No Kingdom There, and all its princes shall be nothing. Thorns shall grow over its strongholds, nettles and thistles in its fortresses. It shall be the haunt of jackals, an abode for ostriches. And wild beasts shall meet with hyenas, the satyr shall cry to his fellow; yea, there shall the night hag alight, and find for herself a resting place. There shall the owl nest and lay and hatch and gather her young in her shadow; yea, there shall the kites be gathered, each one with her mate. Seek and read from the book of The Lord: Not one of these shall be missing; none shall be without her mate. For the mouth of The Lord has commanded, and his Spirit has gathered them.”
(Isaiah 34:10-16 RSV)

Since ancient times, owls have been portrayed in art, pottery, wooden carvings, and small statues. The owl began as a goddess reference figure in early matriarchal societies. Greek goddess Athena and Roman goddess Minerva were often depicted with owls. The owl signified the wisdom and knowledge of the goddesses. It enabled them to speak the truth. A little owl also can be found on the Greek coin from 500 B.C. as well as a 5th century statue of Athena holding an owl in her hand. Early European Celts represented the owl as the Great Mother of fertility well before the Greeks and Romans.

As patriarchal cultures emerged, owls became disparaging omens signifying a looming death. Most likely the owl became associated with the deceased because of its relation to the darkness of night. Death, the eternal sleep, goes hand and hand with darkness. Usually the death of a close relative or public figure would be foretold by the cries or presence of an owl. Romans believed that if an owl was seen hooting from the roof of a public building, it was a sign of the future death of an important public person . The hooting and shrieking of an owl was thought to have prognosticated the stabbing of Julius Caesar by Marcus Junius Brutus.

From China and India to Japan and the Middle East, owls are associated with evil and bad omens. Ancient Egyptians associated the owl with death, but honored the owl as a bird that protected dead spirits as they crossed over into the afterlife. Some Native American tribes such as the Pawnee and the Cherokee have a positive view of the owl as one of protection, power and sacredness. It is often referred to as the “Night Eagle” because of its silence during flight and its ability to see in the dark.

Mirroring that logic, a dream about an owl can be both positive and negative. Seeing an owl in a dream is positive, hearing one is negative. The sounds of an owl in a dream predicts disappointment and potential death. The subconscious is trying to get the attention of the dreamer. Seeing an owl denotes wisdom and intuition. An owl can be a subconscious way of telling the dreamer to move on from the past or negative patterns of thinking and behaving.

A dual symbolism of lightness (wisdom) and darkness (death) is portrayed in the owl. As our collective consciousness has evolved so too as the owl metaphor. The symbol of the owl has transformed over the ages; from the goddess filled with wisdom and intuition, to death as a transformation or change, and to the omen of evil or death. The owl definition in Reverse Speech metaphor dictionary signifies knowledge from the unconscious mind, wisdom, honor and truth. While the metaphor owl is positive, the white owl is a proxy of Lucifer. It is a negative metaphor referring to the sin of Lucifer believing his wisdom was equal to that of God’s; a spiritual disconnection in a person who thinks he or she is wise but is not. The trance image for the white owl metaphor would be a large demonic owl which again is a representation of negativity and darkness. The owl reminds us, if we do not have a connection to God (wisdom/truth), we are in darkness (evil/death).



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