They came in my teens, rustling feathers and taking up residence at the back of my already troubled mind. Drowning in unfamiliar hormones, ravaged with existential angst and doing all the things teenage folk do, this was just one insanity amongst many. I loved them, feared them, had no idea what to do with them. During A Level art I tried making owl plates in an Owl Service style, and taking owl figures from them, and sometimes that helped. I could feel the scrape of their talons, sharp along the edges of my psyche.
For a long time, the sense of owls in my head was tied up with everything I felt uneasy about. A complex, fledgling sexual identity for which I had no language, a knowledge of difference and an inherent pagan-ness I hadn’t yet found a way to explore. Too strong, too wild, too crazy and carefully trying not to get myself formally identified as insane, I did not feel safe about being an owl person for a long time.
Owls are night creatures. They are silent death, falling from the sky onto unsuspecting rodents. They swallow whole to avoid getting blood on their feathers and later cough up what they cannot digest. They are swift, lethal, beautiful. I’ve lain in the night listening to them calling from the nearby woods, a haunting sound, full of mystery and melancholy. Traditionally seen as a bit sinister, and considered bad luck if you encounter one by day, owls are challenging entities to work with. I’m a vegetarian, and more pacifist than not, but I am frequently drawn to predatory creatures.
Becoming more consciously pagan in my late teens, and learning a few handy techniques took me forwards. An opening up of my own creativity, and time spent meditating allowed me to get a lot more comfortable with the craziness in my head. I was particularly inspired by Emma Restall Orr’s ‘Druid Priestess’ which described a process of communing with other creatures and travelling with them, visualising yourself into their form. It is a form of shape shifting that (probably) happens in the mind, and I began to play with it, learning to find my wings.
Flight for me has always represented freedom, and now out of the fears of childhood, darkness feels like peace and comfort. To fly in darkness would be a lovely thing. Wind in my feathers. In Portland this year, I dreamed I was turning into an owl, which felt tremendously hopeful. A finding of wings and power.
Working with spirit is not precisely the same as working with the living, actual creature, although connecting with the latter helps the former process. It’s more about certain kinds of energy, ways of being and perceiving the world. The spirit of owl is traditionally associated with wisdom, but owls themselves aren’t excessively bright – much of their skull capacity is taken up with those huge eyes, and much of the brain is occupied with processing information from said eyes. To what extent our notions of the spirit essence of a thing is ‘real’ and to what extent just the externalising of human concepts, I can’t really say.
It wasn’t until I stopped being afraid of my own power, sexuality and craziness that the owls stopped being a source of fear and became allies. This was an important lesson. Fear puts up barriers and creates problems. Acceptance and openness paves the way to relationship and understanding. They no longer sharpen their talons inside my mind, and I have learned to close my eyes and take wing. They offer liberation, escape, and hope of better things. I do not know where they will take me next, but have no doubt it will be interesting.