Our first weeks here I’d often take the dogs out very late at night for a last quick walk before bed. I’d look up and there, on the utility pole in our yard, would be a pure white face tracking my every movement.
At first I thought I was seeing things. Our arrival in Zambia pretty much coincided with a new moon so it was really, really dark at night given there are no streetlights out here in the bush. But then I’d walk from one side of the yard to the other and this whole round face would follow me. I really did feel like whatever it was was checking me out. Some quick research revealed it was a grass owl and that I wasn’t seeing a ghost in the night. (This was a relief, let me tell you!) Since then this owl has taken to landing in our yard and/or perching on our deck several times a week.
You can see here how grass owls’ pure white faces really stand out against a dark sky. I discovered that owls swivel their heads to track you because their eyes don’t move. Fortunately, they have 14 vertebre which allow them to rotate their heads 270 degrees!
It’s really quite startling to walk out and see a 3-foot-high creature look at you with its ghostly face and then take launch in slow motion. These owls don’t fly quickly like normal birds do; their take-offs are languorous and heavy, kind of like one of those big trans-oceanic jumbo-jets. When they take off there’s a point where it seems they’re too heavy for flight but impossibly they gain loft with one or two strong flaps of three-foot wings. Their take-offs are completely silent, as is their movement through the sky no matter how low they are. Apparently the front of their wings is fringed which allows for the silence (and is an advantage in hunting prey). The slow, silent take-offs of these white round faces in the black of night is something to beholden!
I was a little worried about what the guards and neighbors would think, seeing that the owls were attracted to our homesite when apparently they hadn’t been before. In Africa owls are feared as being familiars of witches and sorcerers. We asked several people in Zambia what people think of owls (we didn’t let on that they were our only nighttime guards who didn’t sleep through the night) and without exception they said that owls “live with the witches” or “they stay with the wizards.”
I looked up the meaning of owls on several websites and here’s one description that summarizes a variety of websites: When owls appear in mythology, their meaning is often uncertain and complex, neither all good nor all bad. Owls are symbols of wisdom, patience, and learning, yet because they hunt at night, they are associated with secrecy and darkness.
Here are some meanings by culture:
Ancient Greece: A symbol of foresight and knowledge.
Native Americans: Oracles of secret knowledge, symbolize wisdom and foresight.
Africa: Associated with witchcraft and sorcery; birds of the wizards and witches.
Louisiana: The Cajuns believe owls are old people and are to be respected.
Aboriginal Australia: Owls are the souls of women (bats are souls of men) .
Babylon: Owl amulets protected women during childbirth.
Mexico: The Owl makes the cold North wind (the butterfly makes the gentle South wind). Owls are the messengers between the living and the dead.
Ancient Egyptian, Celtic, and Hindu cultures: Owls are guardians of the underworlds, protectors of the dead.
Middle East: Owls are linked with destruction, ruin and death.
Greenland (Inuits): Sources of guidance and help.
Hawaii: Owls feature in old war chants.
In Native American culture every person has a “power animal” or a totem. (It’s actually the same here in Africa; people come from certain animal clans.) The characteristics of an animal that presents itself to you repeatedly are to be studied for their meaning in your life. Here’s what one site says about Owls as one’s totem.
The owl is the symbol of
the feminine, the moon and the night.
The owl is the bird of magic and darkness, of prophecy and wisdom.
The owl is associated with Athena.
An owl totem gives you the power to extract secrets.
Meditate on the owl and things will be revealed.
Listen to its voice inside of you.
You will hear not what is being said by others, but what is hidden.
You can detect subtleties of voice that others cannot.
People cannot deceive a person who has an owl totem.
Owl people can see into the darkness of others souls.
Most owl people are clairvoyant because of this ability.
It can be very scary at times.
Learn to trust your instincts about people.
Let your owl totem guide you.