Owls In Norse Mythology

Owls in Norse mythology: The history of the Nordic owl  

The presence of owls in Norse mythology highlights the strong spiritual connection the older Scandinavian communities had with this bird of prey. Norse mythology is packed with references to animals of all kinds, from wolves and bears to Odin’s famous raven.

The “Nordic owl” was one of the most popular birds among Scandinavians, thanks to its link to concepts of wisdom, and enlightenment. Even today, owls continue to carry similar symbolism embraced by the Nordic people for many communities around the world.

Just like the Norse, modern people frequently associate owls with prosperity, fortune, and intelligence. Some companies even embrace the owl as a kind of mascot, to help highlight the values we connect with the bird for their brand personality.

Today, we’re going to take a closer look at owl mythology, and how Norse people perceived the owl so many centuries ago.

Owls in Norse mythology: An introduction

In virtually every community around the world, certain animals are often associated with specific characteristics or ideas. Wolves are often connected with strength and community, while foxes are linked to concepts of cunning and sneakiness.

Owls have earned a unique presence in various mythological texts over the centuries. Some people saw these creatures as a sign of good fortune and prosperity, while others considered the owl to be a bad omen.

Associated with the night and darkness, owls are sometimes seen as mysterious and daunting creatures. Owls in Celtic mythology, for instance, were a sign of the underworld.

According to old Celtic texts, the owl was a symbol of impending death and destruction. This community frequently referred to the owl as the “corpse bird”, and believed spotting an owl would mean you would soon be dealing with death and misfortune.

Owls in Norse mythology took on a very different role. For the Nordic people, owls were a symbol of hope and good luck. It was said these creatures had infinite wisdom, and an ability to perceive things others could not (thanks to their ability to navigate the dark).

While the Nordic owl also had a connection to the spirit world, and the afterlife, it was commonly seen as a “guide” to the underworld, helping people to navigate life after death.

Because owls were commonly associated with spirituality, they were also considered a valuable symbol of personal discovery and enlightenment.

Owls In Norse Mythology

What does the owl mean in Norse mythology?

Owls in Norse mythology are mentioned frequently in reference to both the gods, and personal enlightenment. The ancient Scandinavians, like many civilizations, were firm believers in “spirit animals”, and felt different animals were symbols of specific concepts.

Similar to owls today, the Nordic owl was most commonly connected to enlightenment. People in the Norse landscape believed if someone saw an owl in the daytime, this meant they were on a path towards greater wisdom and discovery.

If you saw an owl in broad daylight, it meant you were on the right path towards your destiny.

Similarly, before a battle, many people believed seeing an owl meant they were going to be successful in their fight. Many Vikings and other cultures believed seeing an owl prior to a battle meant they would perform well, or even win the fight.

Because mythological owls were often considered to be magical creatures, some believed they could even endow people with the ability to see at night.

Like owls in Celtic mythology, owls in Norse mythology also had a strong connection to the underworld. Though the Norse didn’t believe owls were an omen of death, they did see them as a guide to spirituality, and omens for overcoming evil.

Some Norse people believed because owls could see in the dark, they could also see through the “darkness” we hold in ourselves, allowing us to discover and overcome our inner demons.

What does the owl symbolize in Norse mythology?

Owls in Norse mythology shared a lot of the symbolism which continues to accompany these birds of prey today. Norse owl symbolism revolved largely around the “wisdom” of the owl. The “Katyogel”, the Norse god name for the owl, was the goddess of wisdom.

What’s more, many stories from Norse mythology suggest Odin, the all-father, had a pet owl he kept with him at all times.

While in most places, Odin is symbolized by a raven, he was also frequently connected with owls in some sacred texts. Apparently, Odin regarded his pet owl with significant levels of respect.

Outside of wisdom and enlightenment, the Nordic owl was also commonly associated with kindness and compassion.

Owls were considered to be the center of all things magical, and masters of discovery. They were aware of everything happening in the dark, and could navigate worlds we couldn’t dream of as people.

Though the connection between owls and the afterlife may seem scary to some, it wasn’t a negative thing for the Nordic people. Many Norse communities saw the presence of an owl as a symbol of a new beginning, or a path to something greater.

This may be because the Vikings and other Nordic cultures often saw death as a path to a new world, rather than an “end”.

Owls In Norse Mythology

Which Norse gods are associated with owls?

The most common owl associated with a god in Norse mythology is Katyogel, the goddess of wisdom. As mentioned above, mythological owls in the Nordic landscape were symbols of great knowledge, discovery, and enlightenment.

While Odin was said to own a pet owl, he’s most commonly associated with spirit animals like the raven, and wolves. However, Odin’s wife, Frigga, a goddess associated with wisdom, strategy, and motherhood, did have an owl-based spirit animal, according to Norse mythology.

Stories suggest Frigga’s spiritual animal was a great-horned owl.

Another goddess connected to owls in Norse mythology was Idun, the champion of protection and guardianship. Her spirit animal was said to be a barred owl. This highlights the strong connection between owls and protection or guidance in the Norse landscape.  

Owl names in Norse mythology

There are a number of names associated with owls in Norse mythology, and the Old Norse language. The name “Katyogel” for the Goddess of Wisdom is one such example. The actual word for “owl” in Old Norse was originally “ugla”, similar to the old German word “Uwila”.

Some language experts believe this this name was chosen as a description of the unique calling sound of an owl. However, it’s difficult to know where the title came from for certain. In old English, the name “ugla” evolved into “Ule”, similar to the original Dutch word for the bird of prey.

By Middle English, the word evolved to “Owle”, and eventually transformed into the name we know today. Throughout history, various other owl names have been recorded by historians, including Oule, Howyell, and Hoole.

The importance of the Nordic owl

Owls in Norse mythology were seen as symbols of wisdom, discovery, enlightenment, and guidance. While some communities saw the owl as a daunting creature, due to its ability to explore at night, the Norse revered the bird of prey as a magical beast.

Owl mythology shared throughout countless stories in the Nordic landscape over the years constantly refers to the bird as a positive omen and a sign of wisdom.

The connection between owls and one of the most important gods in Norse mythology, “Frigga” demonstrates how much respect older Scandinavian communities had for the bird.

Today, many of the connections and connotations developed by Norse people in relation to the owl have continued to thrive. Many of us still see owls as a sign of wisdom and enlightenment, and some communities still believe they have magical properties.

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