Owls are one of the oldest species of vertebrate animal in existence, fossils have been found dating back 60 million years, showing the bird to have changed very little in that time. Throughout the history of mankind, the owl has featured significantly in mythology & folklore.
Owls are one of the few birds that have been found in prehistoric cave paintings. Owls have been both revered & feared throughout many civilisations from ancient to more recent times.
British beliefs about owls include the Welsh belief that if a owl is heard amongst houses then an unmarried girl has lost her virginity. Another Welsh belief is that if a pregnant woman hears an owl, her child will be blessed. In Yorkshire owl broth is believed to cure whooping cough, amongst other things (see entries for Barn Owl & Little Owl). Because of its ability to turns its head so far & its habit of watching things intently, it was believed that you could get an owl to effectively wring its own neck by walking in circles around it.
In Welsh mythology, Blodeuwedd, the Goddess of Betrayal, is associated with the owl. According to the story in “The Mabinogion”, Blodeuwedd was created from flowers by the magician Gwydion for the prince Llew Llaw Gyffes. She had an affair with Goronwy & they contrived to kill Llew. On his death, Llew was transformed into an eagle, but was healed & returned to human form by Gwydion. Llew returned to seek revenge, rather than killing Blodeuwedd, Gwydion turned her into a white owl, to haunt the night in loneliness & sorrow, saying “I will not slay thee, but I will do unto thee worse than that. For I will turn thee into a bird; and because of the shame thou hast done unto Llew Llaw Gyffes, you shall never show thy face in the light of day. And thou shall not lose thy name, but shall be always called Blodeuwedd.” The word Blodeuwedd is still used in Wales to mean owl.
A Parliament of Owls
A Wisdom of Owls