Friday, November 02, 2007

Tawny Owl: The Crone of the Night (Cailleach-oidhche)

(Picture Copyright : The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds(www.

The earliest records show that tawny owl has inhabited Eurasia since the end of the Ice Age. Nesting in tree holes and squirrel dreys, tawny owl is the most numerous owl of the forests. Largely nocturnal, she is extremely adaptable, and has made her home in city parks.

Tawny owl’s distinctive “twit twoo” is well known to people. Some of their many names for her reflects this: Brown Hoolert, Ferry Hoolet, and Hill Hooter. However, the hooting is a mated pair of tawny owls communicating with each other. The male owl says, “twit”, and female owl answers, “twoo”. Together it sounds as if one owl is calling.

The Celtics were of two minds concerning tawny owl. They regarded her to be both wise and a bringer of death. They called tawny owl “Night Hag” and “Corpse Bird”. Her Gaelic name “cailleach-oidhche” is a direct reference to the Celtic Goddess of Death (The Cailleach Bheur), the blue-faced crone of winter and death.

However, tawny owl is one of the five totem animals of the Celts. The earliest story of King Arthur tells of his search for the Divine Youth Mabon. He went to the Blackbird of the forge, who sent him to the Stag, who lead him to Owl of Cawluryd. This Owl guided him to Golden Eagle who took him to Salmon, the Source of All Wisdom. In this myth, each animal imparts a certain wisdom to those who seek them. Owl’s wisdom is that of objectivity and detachment. Adept at disappearing from view, tawny owl came to symbolize esoteric wisdom and secrecy. Druids wore cloaks of owl feathers for this reason.

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