Published on December 5, 2012 by Casey
In most Native American tribes, owls are a symbol of death. Hearing owls hooting is considered an unlucky omen, and they are the subject of numerous ‘bogeyman’ stories told to warn children to stay inside at night or not cry too much, otherwise the owl may carry them away.
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In some tribes, owls are associated with ghosts, and the bony circles around an owl’s eyes are said to be made up of the fingernails of ghosts. Sometimes owls are said to carry messages from beyond the grave or deliver supernatural warnings to people who have broken tribal taboos. And in the Aztec and Mayan religions of Mexico, owls served as the messengers and companions of the gods of death.
Owls are not always viewed as eerie harbingers of death, however. In the Hopi tribe, the great horned owl, Mongwu, is a humorless lawman who plays the role of ‘straight man’ against the antics of the Koshari clowns. And in the owl myths of some tribes, the birds are portrayed as bumbling good-for-nothings who are banished to the night-time hours as punishment for their lazy or annoying behavior.
Owls are also used as clan animals in some Native American cultures. Tribes with Owl Clans include the Hopi tribe (whose Burrowing Owl Clan is called Kokongyam or Kokop-wungwa) and the Mohave tribe.