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.
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) Cipelahq (Maliseet-Passamaquoddy) Mongwu (Hopi) Uhuapeu, the Owl Master (Innu)