Owl Goddesses Across Cultures: Athena, Ragana and More
Our ancient ancestors believed birds were messengers from the gods. They had the ability of bridging land, sea, and sky. Because of this, they were also psychopomps (guiding souls to the afterlife). Throughout the ancient world, every culture and civilization had a fascination with birds. Owls are just one of the sacred ancient birds, and in this article, we identify owl goddesses (goddesses linked to owls) across various cultures.
First, Why is the Owl SO Darn Divine?
The owl is a majestic creature, no doubt about it. Across cultures, the owl has either been revered or feared for centuries. In modern times, owls have become popular in the mainstream and can frequently be seen on clothing, furniture, home décor, company logos and pretty much anywhere. What’s the fascination with our feathery friend? To some cultures, the owl brings bad luck, is an omen of death, or is even considered a shapeshifted sorcerer or evil magician. But to many modern witches, the owl is an otherworldly bird with messages from the goddesses. The owl protects us, guides us, and brings us its primal wisdom.
Amazing Facts About Owls:
Putting aside their obvious spiritual aspects, owls on the physical plane exhibit some truly amazing qualities and abilities. Here are a few I found on the National Audobon Society’s article:
- Owls can rotate their heads up to 270 degrees!
- A group of owls is famously called a Parliament (which is supposedly from CS Lewis’ classic fantasy series The Chronicles of Narnia)
- Owls hunt other owls as food
- An Elf Owl is the tiniest (and cutest) owl in the world standing between 5 and 6 inches tall!
- The idea that all owls hoot is a misconception, some chirp, squeak, or hiss
- A Blackiston fish owl is the largest kind of owl in the world (and rare) with a six foot wingspan!
Now, For Our Favorite Owl Goddesses Worldwide
Quite a few ancient cultures revered the owl and felt some of their deities manifested in the form of this animal. OR believed the owl was sacred to specific deities and therefore should be held sacred to the people. In Medieval Times, as pagans were converted and individuals accused of witchcraft, the owl began to fall out of favor and (SADLY) was often lumped into the category of devil worship and black magic. But let’s go back to ancient times first…
Athena: Ancient Greek Owl Goddess of Wisdom
You might already know the name of one of the popular ancient Greek goddesses—Athena. Athena is the owl goddess of wisdom, war, and crafts. She was the protector of the city of Athens, her namesake, and was born in armor when she was pulled from Zeus’ forehead. Athena is often related to horses and snakes; however, one of Athena’s most sacred animals is the owl.
Athena in Owl Form
Before Athena was depicted in human form, she was depicted in owl form. An owl of Athena adorns the back side of an ancient Athenian silver dollar. In other ancient images, Athena is seen with an owl perched on her hand or flying over her shoulder. The owl’s representation as a wise animal is attributed to Athena’s wisdom. One source states owls were kept in Athena’s sacred temple in Athens in honor of the her. And that to kill an owl surely brought Athena’s wrath down on you.
Blodeuwedd: The Celtic Flower Owl Goddess
Blodeuwedd is an obscure owl goddess of Welsh Celtic mythology. The hero Llew Llaw Gyffes was forbidden by his mother Arianrhod to take a human wife, so two magicians created a wife for him out of wildflowers. Meadowsweet, oak, and broom, specifically. Llew was more than pleased with his beautiful, flower-faced wife. Unfortunately, Blodeuwedd felt enslaved and unable to make her own choices and rebelled against her husband and creators. She fell in love with Gronw Pebr and together they hatched a plan to kill Llew so they could be together.
Cursed to Be An Owl Forever
When their plan for freedom didn’t work and Llew escapes attempted murder, Blodeuwedd is cursed by her magician creators to never see the light of day. The curse turned Blodeuwedd into an owl forever. Blodeuwedd, while portrayed as a traitor and adulterer, in modern times represents feminine strength and liberation of oppressed women. And I don’t know for sure, but I have a feeling the original story of Blodeuwedd went a little different. Perhaps she was once a widely-worshiped goddess that had to be demonized in the written tales to turn pagans from her. Demonizing popular pagan deities was a way to convert the pagans more easily.
Lakshmi: The Hindu Owl Goddess of Good Fortune
Lakshmi is the Hindu goddess of wealth and good fortune. This owl goddess is also recognized in Jainism and Buddhism. She is the wife of the high god Vishnu, and his incarnated consort when he comes to earth as Krishna and Rama. Her symbol is the lotus flower. The Hindu Owl goddess has six sacred abilities and is inherntly present in every living woman on earth.
Lakshmi and the Owl
Lakshmi is often depicted riding an elephant, but she is sometimes seen riding an owl or having an owl guide. In Hinduism, the owl symbolizes the pursuit of knowledge in the darkness. Wisdom. Insight. It’s a reminder to remain humble and seek wisdom, even after abundance has been granted by the universe. This fortuitous owl goddess will bless you, but will also make sure you don’t turn greedy or immoral.
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Lilith: The Dark Owl Goddess
Perhaps one of the most ancient goddesses is Lilith. A popular Lilith-origin theory claims she was Adam’s first wife. And she was created in God’s image, just like Adam. However, when she disobeyed Adam, God threw her out of the Garden of Eden. She then mated with a legion of fallen angels and spawned a generation of demons (or so the story goes). Later legends claim she is the Mother of Vampires. Many modern pagans dismiss accounts of her “wicked” nature and claim Lilith is a powerful owl goddess who was grossly demonized by the Church. Weak men can’t handle a powerful woman.
The Owl Goddess in the Burney Relief
Lilith is thought to be the goddess in the famous Burney Relief (circa 1800 BC, shown below), which shows a woman with “owl” feet, wings, with owls on both sides of her. In a multitude of classic illustrations, Lilith is accompanied by owls. Theory is the association between Lilith being a “demon” or “hag” of the night who flies around and causes nightmares to the unsuspecting. Perhaps when the owl was regarded as sacred, and Lilith was still a goddess, this is where the owl-Lilith connection began. An owl can see and hear in the night, as can a witch.
Ragana: Baltic Owl Witch Goddess
Ragana was once a widely-venerated Baltic goddess, until the people were converted to Christianity and she became an evil witch. The name Ragana became synonymous with the words witch and hag. Sources say worship of Ragana dates to Neolithic times – she was a pre-Indo-European goddess who foretold the future. Ragana was the owl goddess of women, childbirth, menstruation, menopause, and fertility. Ragana was a guide to the other worlds and a powerful healer. When demonized, she became merely a witch who flew with owls in the dead of night.
Witches, Owls and Ragana
Owls are often associated with witches, theories on why vary by scholar. Some say it’s linked to the owl’s sacredness to ancient goddesses, some say it has to do with nocturnal nature of witches and the owl. Ragana shifts into the form of a bird, namely the owl, and flies around at night in Lithuania and Latvia.
Nyctimene: Roman & Greek Owl Princess
Athena wasn’t the only divine figure associated with owls in Ancient Greece. Does the name Nyctimene ring a bell? Truthfully, it didn’t for me the first time I read it. But I quickly realized how fascinating her story is. Nyctimene is a mythical princess in Greek and Roman mythology who was a victim of SA. Depending on the version of the tale, some blame her in a victim-shaming type situation while other tales blame her father solely for the horrible deed. No matter the true story, it’s said the goddess Minerva transforms Nyctimene into an owl. Interestingly, Minerva’s sacred bird the crow seems to be jealous of the owl in another ancient tale.