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Native American Owl Mythology

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. 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.

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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), the Tlingit, and the Mohave. On the Northwest Coast, the owl is often used as a totem pole crest. The Creeks also have a Screech Owl Dance and a Horned Owl Dance among their tribal dance traditions.

Native American Owl Gods and Spirits

Big Owl (Apache)
Mongwu (Hopi)
Night Owl (Maliseet-Passamaquoddy)
*Stikini (Seminole)
Uhuapeu, the Owl Master (Innu)

Native American Legends About Owls

*The Owl Husband:
    Legend of a Passamaquoddy girl who married the great horned owl.
*The Story of Redfeather:
    Chippewa Indian legend about a disrespectful boy punished by Owl.
*The Origin of Night and Day: * The Legend of Rabbit and Owl:
    Menominee legend in which Owl unsuccessfully tries to make night last forever.
*The Hunter and the Owl Story:
    Lenape legend about a man who forgot his promise to an owl.
*The Good Looking Woman * The Pretty Maiden:
    Lenape legends about a girl punished for being rude to Owl.
*Frog and Rabbit:
    Cree folktale in which Owl frightens Rabbit into providing meat to his wife as he should.
*Story of White Owl and Raven:
    Eskimo myth about the origin of the snowy owl and raven's feathers.
*Owl Describes Himself:
    Description of Owl from Apache mythology.

Recommended Books of Owl Stories from Native American Myth and Legend
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Owl's Eyes & Seeking a Spirit:
    Two Indian Owl legends presented by the Kootenai tribe.
Owl Lore and Legend:
    Children's book illustrating three illustrated Native American owl tales.
Owl Eyes:
    Picture book for kids based on a light-hearted Mohawk legend about why owls are nocturnal.
Birds of Algonquin Legend:
    Interesting collection of legends about Indian owls and other birds in Algonquian tribes.
Spirits of the Earth: A Guide to Native American Nature Symbols, Stories, and Ceremonies:
    Book by a Karuk elder about the meanings of Indian animal spirits, including a chapter on Native American owls.
Owls in Folklore and Natural History * A Wisdom of Owls:
    Two good books on the meaning of owls in world mythology, including information about Native American owl folklore.
Native American Animal Stories:
    Great collection of American Indian animal tales, told by Abenaki storyteller Joseph Bruchac.

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