Stories and legends of death and dying: Owls as messengers

Miniature owls inside fruit shells.
Miniature owls inside fruit shells. | Source
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By Mirna Santana


Stories and legends about death and dying are abundant. They are part of the peoples mythologies, family stories, and native stories or local stories. This native stories that once started perhaps as a person's creativity, vision, dream, or perspective of an experience soon enough became a native legends. Many of these legends are now wide spread globally or intermix with new stories. They may or may not have been transformed in the process.

Examples of these are Harry Potter by J.K Rowling, the Percival's adventures, the legends of King Arthur, the Knights of the Round Table and the Grail--as well as the new mythology series for young people. Myths when integrated in our lives appropriately could be of tremendous significance said Joseph Campbell in Myths to live by. This is my reason for sharing one little knows yet fantastic story of owls as death messengers.

Among these, the folk tales or stories of owls as messengers of death are classics. The stories of owls announcing the death of a community or family member are usually not written, but instead belong to oral traditions of places such as China and the Americas.

In some of the legends, the owls come to meet the departing soul and help its transition to a different life state or stage. This is in agreement with peoples beliefs of life after death. The person who dies becomes spirit and returns to heaven said the Christian tradition. The spirit is free of its body and thus able to go anywhere, and take any shape, shamans and pagans would say. Stories of death involving owl messengers are now folk stories being told by Christians, pagans and many people who saw the Harry Potter series (were the owl was a messenger).

The person who is dying or that had died recently is said to be able to communicate with the living using animals or animal shapes. The possibility of this form of communication depends on the recipient own beliefs in life after death or just on that form of communication. I suppose that J. K. Rowling must have come across to similar symbolisms because the owls of the harry potter movies are messengers.

Different religions or philosophical traditions that support the idea of life after death have different symbolism and opinions regarding the end of life, rites of passage or life after death.

In some traditions owls are despised as evil and in such cases the bad or evil spirits are keep at bay using water.

These folk stories are not new. I did not invent them though in a way, I did. Folk stories are alive, as they are born, they are integrated by people into their own legacies. Yet these stories are as old as the Greek Goddess Athena and her companion owl.

In this small town where I was born, owls were considered messengers of death. I grew up hearing those stories, especially from my grandmother, but also from my mom and some of her friends. There is an owl singing near the kitchen ... Perhaps a person have died, they used to say. May it be that person x, who was very sick , had just passed away?

I say goodbye to my grandma when she passed away placing a white owl and some candles on a little table. The owl was not real, but it reminded me of her and her stories of passing. That day, I understood many things about life and death..about good byes and about animal messengers too.

I have come to see that stories is what matter for people. In fact the western world have been greatly influenced by the greek mythologies, the Celtics and Druids, and the many indigenous cultures around. The confluence of people in different regions that brought in their own stories created new mythologies and made the world even more interesting.

If you think of William Faulkner writing the Day when the Animals Talked Back, you will found that it integrates native peoples ideas that animal speak to humans.

If you are interested in the stories and how they create our perspective of the world, you need to get familiar or revisit Joseph Campbell works. For he said, all mythologies are works of art. Interestingly enough, I found out that marketers use the story building system to sell us products....They make the product look as part of our lives. I rather adopt Campbell idea that ''Myths are public dreams, [and] dreams are private myths." You could add that this is true until the dream escapes the dreamer and become a legend. The way we live our lives are is own way of creating mythologies.

Dedicated to the memory of my loving grandmother.

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Comments 3 comments

Binaya.Ghimire 5 years ago

Animals totems are used in many cultures. Owls could be death messenger, but they are also carries of Goddess of wealth in Hindu culture. For Hindus crows are actually messenger of death.


MSantana profile image

MSantana 5 years ago from Madison Wisconsin Author

Thanks for your comments. I agree. Owls seems to be part of many cultures legacies. I did not know about the Goddess of wealth, that is a great addition.


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 5 years ago from USA

I had never heard the stories of owls as messengers of death until I once painted a snowy owl for an art show and was confronted by an customer who told me the superstition. I believe that she was from Mexico and I'm surprised to hear that beliefs that owls are messengers of death are common in the U.S. also. Thanks for an interesting hub!

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