The symbolic meanings of animals often vary from culture to culture. Different animals and their symbolism can serve as a great comfort and reminder that you are not alone, even in grief.
I live on a beautiful two-acre piece of wooded property that is home to a lot of wonderful wildlife. One of my favorite creatures that have always been here, even before we built our home, are the barred owls. Barred owls are huge birds with wingspans that can reach up to four feet. They are also very good at camouflage and with the lush canopy of trees on the property, they blend right in. But over the years, my husband and I learned how to spot them in our trees and we always loved listening to them call each other at night. Sometimes, my husband would even reach over and wake me up from a deep sleep when he heard the owls calling outside because he knew how much I loved them.
Year after year, the owls always show up on the property, often with a family of two or more babies. Being outside and seeing several of these large birds playing around the property is unlike anything I have ever experienced before. It's just an incredible experience to be able to live side by side with these wonderful, majestic birds and especially their playful, inquisitive youngsters. I've always felt like it was their property first, and they have been very tolerant in sharing it.
I never thought much about any sort of symbolic meaning of the owls until the day my mother passed away. I was outside, just enjoying some quiet time with my thoughts, and one of the huge owls flew down and landed just a few feet from where I stood. I wasn't really afraid, even though I knew that this huge bird easily could have harmed me if it wanted to. But it just sat there on the ground with its head cocked to one side, looking up at me for awhile before it flew away.
When that happened, I decided to learn a little more about owls and their symbolism in mythology.
When you look up the symbolic meaning of an animal, you can often find many conflicting meanings. But one that stuck with me is that owls are often “honored as the keeper of spirits when someone has passed from one plane to another.” Some myths say that the owl “accompanies a spirit to the other world—winging its newly freed soul from the physical world into the realm of spirit.”
Other sources said they are protective spirits, or even souls of living or recently departed people and should be treated with respect. They symbolize intuition, deep wisdom, power, and protection. Owls are thought to help us uncover the secrets and hidden aspects of ourselves that we otherwise couldn’t tap into and can guide us into exploring the unknowns about life.
Wow. After reading all of that, I had a new reverence for the owls. Every time I was lucky enough to see them, my mind would wander. What did they mean that day? Were they bringing me wisdom or strength or just an earthly reminder of all of the beauty that surrounds me every day if I just stop and look for it?
Five years after my mother passed away, I had another devastating loss when my husband, the love of my life, died unexpectedly. He died very early in the morning and later that evening, after a day filled with tears and telephone calls, I was sitting quietly at my desk answering emails when I looked out the window and saw not one, but two of the barred owls sitting on a branch with a perfect view into my office window. They just sat there, staring with their big dark soulful eyes, and stayed there as the daylight faded. When it was so dark that I could no longer see them, I still somehow knew they were there, keeping watch over me.
I see or hear the owls almost daily now. I don't think they are really here any more often. I just always make an effort to check on them. I look for them in the trees or search for a dropped feather or other signs that they have been around. If I can't see them, I go out at dusk when I am almost certain to hear them calling each other. Sometimes they seem to show themselves when I have a visitor to the property and I feel like they are offering their protective presence. Other times, they just seem to sit where they can see into my office window and quietly let me know that they are there.
During COVID, the visits have become even more frequent. I have an arbor outside my office window with a sign on it that says “Welcome to Franz Forest.” The arbor and the sign have been here for years. But until this year, the owls have never used it as a perch. Now I can often look right out my window and see them sitting over that sign ... watching ... protecting ... and reminding me that following my own inner wisdom and intuition will help me get through this phase of life, just as it has helped me through the others.
Read more about the spirituality of animals in “Learning Spirituality From Animals.”