The role of an owl as a bad omen stretches back to ancient mythology in a number of cultures. Many cultures believe that owls signal an underworld, represent death or human spirits after death. Owls are not, however, universal omens.
According to the Owl Pages, many ancient cultures have viewed owls in negative light. For example in Indian culture, owls were seen as messengers of bad luck or servants of the dead. In ancient Egypt, India, China, Japan and the Americas, owls were considered the bird of death. Even Shakespeare wrote of the owl as a "fatal bellmen" in "Macbeth."
Some cultures, however, viewed owls in a more positive light. For example, owls were seen in ancient Greece as supernatural protectors, and some Native Americans wore owl feathers as talismans.