What Is the Symbolic Meaning of Seeing an Owl?

Cultures throughout history have viewed owl sightings differently, with some believing that they are reminders to rely on personal wisdom and others that they are harbingers of death, sickness or general misfortune. The Greeks believed that owl sightings were a sign of good fortune. Ancient Greeks portrayed the goddess Athena, who was known for her wisdom, as being accompanied by an owl much of the time.

Human beings have paid special attention to owls since prehistoric times as evidenced by cave paintings depicting the nocturnal birds.

For centuries in much of Europe, owls were viewed as messengers of doom and destruction. The writers and poets of the continent, including Sir Walter Scott and Shakespeare, often included owls in their works as literary devices that portend death. Most famously, Shakespeare imbued owls with premonitions of both Julius Caesar’s and Macbeth’s deaths.

Many Native American cultures viewed the owl as a totem animal representing wisdom and prophecy. They believed that those who saw owls should take the sightings as a sign to stand back from everyday life and turn inward for wisdom found through being quiet and listening to a person’s inner voice. They also considered owl sightings to be signs that release aspects of life, including attitudes, that no longer serve a person.