The owl is a nocturnal bird of prey that has played an important role in art and spirituality for many centuries. Every culture around the world is aware of the owl’s fierce nature and either fears or reveres this bird. As a modern symbol, the owl is appearing in bird tattoos as a symbol of wisdom, darkness, death and knowledge.
The Meaning of Owl Tattoos
Most owls hunt at night, although some species of the bird prefer to hunt at dusk and dawn. Because of the dull color of their feathers, owls can camouflage themselves incredibly well and wait quietly for prey, blending into the shapes and shadows of trees and houses. Because of this long wait for prey, owls have become associated with patience; one of the core values of wisdom. Tattoos of owls are often a sign that the tattoo owner is willing to wait for what they want.
Owl tattoos sometimes show the owl perched on a branch or rooftop. The silhouette of a sitting owl is almost always an oval with two peaks on the head for ears. The shapes created by the folded wings and the feathers around the bird’s eyes have inspired many tattoo designers to get creative with the design. In owl tattoos, the eye feathers are often portrayed in a creative, abstract fashion, drawing attention to the large, bold eyes of the bird.
Tattoos of owls are often chosen as a symbol of mysticism and magic. There are stories from around the world that portray the owl as a messenger between the land of the living and the kingdom of the dead. In many storybooks about magic, including the Harry Potter series, owls are described as being companions for witches and magicians.
Owls are associated with darkness and the night. In many owl tattoos, the bird is accompanied by a moon or stars, each of which add their own meaning to the owl tattoo. The owl is sometimes referred to as the King of the Night because they rule the night skies, bringing silent death from above without warning. Owls can see in the night, a characteristic that tribal people once believed was a magical ability. In tattoos, an owl looking into the darkness is a symbol of courage; the ability to look into the darker aspects of life and not be afraid.
Most European cultures revere the owl as a symbol of wisdom and knowledge. To this end, owl tattoos are often accompanied by other symbols of knowledge such as reading glasses, books and writing instruments. Many children’s books written by European authors include a wise old owl who often wears glasses and reads books. These birds are the keepers of knowledge, either by keeping records and diaries of the goings-on of the creatures around him, or through telling stories that have a moral.
Owl Tattoos; Birds in Body Art
In most cultures, owls are thought to be bringers of omens. Whether the omen is a good or a bad one differs from one culture to the next. In Africa, owls are believed to bring bad luck and to be harbingers of death; to see an owl is to see your own doom. To this day, Africans will stone an owl to death in the hopes of undoing the bird’s perceived curse. Owls are also believed to be a bad omen in some Arabic cultures.
In Europe, owls are associated with the spirit and the realms of the dead. Owls are thought to be able to cross between the worlds of the living and the dead, and are therefore believed to be a messenger between these worlds. Athena, the ancient Greek goddess of wisdom, had an owl as her companion. This has given owl tattoos the meaning of wisdom in Europe. European owl tattoos are often accompanied by books, reading glasses or famous quotes to emphasize the symbols of wisdom and knowledge within the design.
Owls can turn their heads to see behind them, allowing the bird to see danger coming from all angles. Along with their large eyes, this ability to see behind them symbolizes awareness and sight. The owl is described in some fables as being the seer of souls – nothing can be hidden from this watchful bird.
Owl tattoos often have a spiritual meaning to the tattoo owner. An owl tattoo can be worn as a way to honor a deceased loved one, as owls of ancient myths accompanied departed souls to the underworld. An owl tattoo can also have the spiritual meaning of secret knowledge, mysterious wisdoms learned in the darkness of the night and the land of the dead.