The owl is the bird of the night, never seen but seeing all, the guardian of secrets. It is no surprise then that the owl has become a symbol of cryptic wisdom and has led to the saying 'as wise as an owl'.
The owl was the totem of the Greek Goddess Athena, patron ofAthens. As such the owl was considered sacred by the Athenians, and when it was seen they believed that the Goddess was nearby.
The owl is one the traditional witches' familiars, as all Harry Potter fans will know. The owl has very highly developed night vision, and this may explain its 'seeing' other worlds, explaining its connection with both Gods and wisdom, and also its darker side.
The owl as always had an association with death and all things uncanny, in both ancient cultures and more recent superstition.The witches of Shakespeare's Macbeth used among other nefarious ingredients 'an owlet's wing' in their cauldron-stirring scene. In Britain it was said that if an owl alights on the roof of a house a death is sure to follow. Similarly in Sicily a tradition says that the horned owl sings next to a sick man's house, three days before his death.
A barn owl especially was feared as a terrible portent in Britain. It was incredibly unlucky to see it gliding silently past on ghostly white wings. How very different to today, when to see a barn owl is one of our most special sights. A particularly elusive and rare bird, it certainly seems to mean something when one passes by at night. And now the nights are drawing in, it is definitely something to look out for.