What Do Owls Represent?

Although the symbolic meaning of an owl varies depending on the culture, the owl most commonly represents death or wisdom. Indigenous cultures in Africa, Asia and the Americas tend to associate it with death, while European and US cultures usually see the owl as a symbol of wisdom.

The owl's reputation for wisdom stems from ancient Greece, where it was associated with Athena, the goddess of wisdom, knowledge and the arts. Its association with death most likely stems from the fact that it is primarily active at night, and darkness is usually tied to death in myth and folklore. Some cultures, including the Hopi, believe that owls represent sorcery and hidden knowledge. Owls are seen as bad omens in some parts of Europe, particularly England. Diverse cultures around the world believe that an owl flying overhead, particularly during the day, means that death is coming.

Some cultures, including some Native American tribes and Finnish people, see owls as stupid, clumsy or clownish figures. This may be due to their awkward-looking bodies and large, wide-open eyes that give them a dazed or surprised look. New Age believers interpret the owl's large eyes and ability to see in the dark as a representation of foresight, intuition and the ability to see through lies. Although they still may associate the owl with death, they see it as a symbolic representation of drastic change.