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Owl Beliefs among traditional NDN people.

Discussion in 'Shamanism' started by Historian, Aug 25, 2008.

  1. Historian

    Historian New Member

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    I was recently asked if I knew anything concerning owl beliefs among traditional NDN people. I don't know the traditions of every tribe and nation (as there are currently 562 tribes and nations recognized by the Federal Government), but I will try to give you an idea of some of the things I do know.

    Not every owl is thought of in the same way by traditional NDN people. In other words, some species are seen as particularly charged with spiritual power.

    Two of the owls with tufts on their heads, Great Horned Owls and Screech Owls, are often seen as the most uncanny and most dangerous owls. In fact, some Indian tribes believe that individual examples of these owls may not even be real birds at all, but instead are actually transformed witches or the unquiet spirits of the dead.

    There are a number of reasons these owls might be seen as particularly powerful. First, they have tufts or horns on their heads, and horns are often signs of spiritually powerful beings for many tribes. Horned water serpents are just one example, which are seen as leaders of the underworld powers by many tribes. So the tufts or horns on these owls likely connect them to underworld powers.

    Second, like most owls, Great Horned Owls and Screech Owls are active mainly at night, locating their prey in the darkness, flying on noiseless wings, and communicating with other owls through their weird sounding hoots, unlike most other birds, which are active in the day. Because many tribes associate night with death and the underworld, it is no surprise that some tribes often associate nocturnal owls with death and the underworld, too.

    Finally, specific characteristics of these owls make them stand out from other owls. Great Horned Owls are the largest owl around the Plains, and can take much larger prey than other owls, such as opossums and skunks instead of mice or voles, for instance. The calls of Great Horned Owls can also be especially disturbing to some. Occasionally it utters sounds resembling the half-choking cries of a person nearly strangled, and is sometimes attracted by a campfire and will fly over it, shrieking as is goes.

    Screech Owls, although much smaller than Great Horned Owls, also have ample claims to their weird behavior. First, they come in two color phases; red and gray, and red is often seen as a spiritually powerful color among many tribes. They also utter disturbing cries at night, which have been described by some as screeching and by others as wails. Small wonder then, that many of the positive traits of owls are seen to belong to more normal-seeming species, such as the Barred Owl of the woodlands, also known as the Hoot Owl, or the Short-Eared or Burrowing Owls of the plains.

    Both the Oto and the Ioway had a Hoot Owl Clan for instance, and the Ioway name for that clan, 'Mankoke,' is the same as the Ioway word for the Barred Owl.

    The Ponca once had an Owl Sub-clan and the Osage also are said to have had an Owl People or 'Wapunka inihkacina,' although I do not know if it was a Clan or a Sub-clan.

    Among the Cheyenne, contemporary members of the tribe only considered one kind of owl to be a bird, the Short-Eared Owl, which they know as the "snake-eating owl," an important source of medicine power for doctors or healers. All other owls the Cheyenne class as 'mista,' or "spirits of the night." Even the Cheyenne Contraries or 'hohnuhke' in the Buffalo Days wore the feathers of the "little prairie owl" in their headdresses, but not the feathers of the Great Horned Owl or the Screech Owl.

    Among the Hidatsa, I know of one warrior who had a guardian spirit in the form of a Burrowing Owl or Prairie Dog Owl, which is said to have protected him from being shot.

    Warriors often sought to draw upon owl powers. For instance, Cheyenne warriors attached owl feathers to their shields, or wore them on their arms, to impart the owl's special powers, such as the ability to see in the dark and move silently and unnoticed.

    In a similar way, Creek warriors carried owl feathers so that they would have extraordinary night vision in battle.

    Among the Cherokee, one of four scouts on a war expedition, whose task it was to locate the enemy, wore an owl skin and imitated the owl's cry. The Cherokee also observed Screech Owls closely while they were out looking for the enemy, because these owls were said to be able to foretell victory or defeat in battle.

    Members of many of the warrior societies of the Plains tribes, such as the various Dog Soldier Societies, also wore owl feathers or used them on their ceremonial objects, such as the Arikara Young Dogs Society, and the Hidatsa Dog Society. Several tribes had sacred owl bundles that they used while out looking for the enemy, including the Ioway and the Fox tribes.

    Among the Lakota, there was a 'Miwa'tani' or Mandan warrior society, sometimes referred to as the "Tall Ones" or the "Owl Feather Headdress" society, or the "No Flight" society. The members of this society were "exempt" from serving Aki'cita duties. The society was very old, even in the Buffalo days, and was said to have originated by a man who dreamed of an owl being. Admission into the society was difficult, because one of the requirements was that each member pledged to sacrifice his own life in battle if need be, to save a wounded member.

    The owl's predatory prowess was important to hunters also. The Pawnee have several stories of owls that gave some of their power to individuals so that they could become excellent hunters, with the ability to see at night.

    Among the Hidatsa, a large speckled owl was said to be the chief of the spirits controlling the game, and the bundle used in the Hidatsa Earth Naming ceremony to call for buffalo contained the head, two wings, and two claws of a speckled owl.

    The Menominee were also gifted with hunting power from the owls known as the Spotted Fawn Medicine.

    In many tribes, owls were seen as most closely allied with medicine men, rather than warriors or hunters. Lakota medicine men or 'peju'ta wica'sa' respected the owl because it moved at night when people slept, and the medicine men get their power from dreams at night. Clear dreams, like the owl's sight. Therefore, many Lakota medicine men wore owl feathers and promised never to harm the owl, or else it was believed their powers would leave them.

    Creek medicine men often carried an owl skin or feather as a symbol of their calling.

    Ponca medicine men also used owl feathers in their healing ceremonies, and Ojibwa medicine men placed a stuffed owl near them while they were making medicine, so that it could "see if they do it right."

    The Pawnee used an owl medicine, and among the Pawnee it is said, "the owl is the leading medicine-man among the birds."

    Finally, owls were said by the Alabama, the Caddo, the Cherokee, and the Lakota, to bring prophetic news, either of the future or of events happening at a great distance, to the few medicine men that could understand them.

    The owl's association with medicine men can also be bad news for ordinary folks. If a medicine man used owl power on your behalf to heal, it was great. However, if the medicine man of an enemy tribe used his powers against you, then it was said he could be an 'evil witch' or 'dark' medicine man trying to steal your soul.

    Because witches or 'dark' medicine men were believed to be able to transform into owls, or to use owls to send death or disease, one could never quite be sure if an owl was a real owl, a transformed witch, or an owl sent on a mission by a witch. The owls most often believed to be shape-shifted witches were, the Great Horned or Screech Owls. So among the Cherokee, the same word, 'skili,' was used to refer to both witches and Great Horned Owls.

    The Alabama, Caddo, Catawba, Choctaw and Menominee also associated Great Horned Owls and/or Screech Owls with witches, and the Wisconsin Ojibwa also link witches and owls.

    Its not unusual then that among many tribes, seeing or hearing an owl is believed to be a bad omen, often signaling serious illness or death to come, especially when a night owl is seen during the day, or an owl is found hanging about the home or village instead of the woods. In other words, acting in an anti-natural manner.

    It is the owl's connections with death, the afterlife, and rebirth that truly mark owls as a force to be reckoned with for most tribes.

    First, owls are either considered to be embodied spirits of the dead, or associated with such spirits, by a very wide range of tribes, including the Lakota, Omaha, Cheyenne, Sauk & Fox, Ojibwa, Menominee, Cherokee and Creek. Several of these tribes also have stories of an "owl being" that stands at a fork in the road in the sky, or the Milky Way, that leads to the land of the dead, letting some souls pass, but condemning others to roam the earth as ghosts forever.

    Among the Lakota, the Old Owl Woman or 'hiha'n winu'cala' who guards the road to the afterlife at the end of the Milky Way assesses the merits of the souls of the dead with their deeds on earth, letting the good through and sending the bad over the edge and out of the afterlife to wander earth as a ghost or 'wana'gi' for all eternity.

    A similar belief among the Cheyenne is that the Old Owl Woman, who is the gatekeeper to the land of the dead, sits atop the junction at the fork in the Milky Way and decides which souls are shunted onto the dead-end branch.

    Among the Ojibwa, one word for the bridge over which the dead had to pass to the afterlife is the Owl Bridge. The Lake Superior Ojibwa also mention a spirit being with horns called 'Pacugu' which might refer to the tufted "horns" of a Great Horned or Screech Owl, that stands at a fork in the road to the afterlife, blocking the way for evil souls, but helping good ones along on their journey. Another Lake Superior Ojibwa story mentions that the last obstacle the soul must pass on its way to the land of the dead is an old woman, perhaps an Owl Woman, who questioned the soul about its life and decided which souls to turn back, punish, or let pass. The Wisconsin Ojibwa have a story that relates how the brother of a culture hero called Nanabozho, placed an owl being as the second test for souls as they pass along the road to the afterlife.

    The Sauk & Fox tribe also speaks of a soul-bridge that leads to the land of the dead. They say that there are two paths at the soul-bridge, one is red and one is gray. Men follow the red path, the gray by women. It has been suggested that this is in reference to the two color phases of the Screech Owl, which are also red and gray.

    However, owls were not just connected with death and the afterlife, but also with rebirth through the Calumet ceremony, and the Midewiwin ceremony. Owl feathers encircle the stems of the calumet pipes used for adoption ceremonies among the Omaha, Osage, Kansa, Oto, Ioway and Pawnee. It is said that these owl feathers hanging in an arc, symbolized deer lungs, and together with the stem of the calumet, which represented a windpipe, they were used to symbolically to blow life back into the person being adopted in the Calumet ceremony.

    Owls are also connected with rebirth through their role in the Ojibwa Midewiwin or Medicine ceremony. Not only were owl skin pouches used by various Midewiwin society members, but owls were also carved atop poles that a candidate passed during their initiation into the third and fourth degrees of the Midewiwin.
     
    #1 Historian, Aug 25, 2008
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 25, 2008
  2. fleur

    fleur Active Member

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    Thankyou Historian, any chance you could alter the font size, to make it easier to read??
     
  3. Historian

    Historian New Member

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    Sure. No problem. :cool:
     
  4. Jabba The Hut

    Jabba The Hut Well-Known Member

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    What does NDN stand for?
     
  5. Historian

    Historian New Member

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    Good question. I'm sorry, I should have explained it ahead of time.

    "NDN" is the commonly used text message designation in the U.S. for "Indian" (i.e. Native American Indian).
     
  6. fleur

    fleur Active Member

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    I thought it might short for Indian..when we say it quick...but thought you in a better place than I to explain :cool:
     
  7. sunanda

    sunanda New Member

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    Can I ask something else, Historian? (I was wondering about NDN too BTW.) I was wondering if you are Native American yourself. If not, it did occur to me that possibly all your 'NDM' jokes could possibly be construed as slightly racist. I'm NOT saying you are racist and on the whole, I think some of the jokes are very funny. But to give you an example, here in the UK, comedians used to tell a lot of 'Irish' jokes, implying that the Irish are stupid (we say 'thick'). Now that was obviously not very nice and it's now agreed that this kind of joke which pokes fun at one particular 'tribe' is not politically correct (dreadful phrase!) But it turns out that all communities have a particular butt for their jokes: I remember in the US it used to be that you would tell 'Polack' jokes. In Texas they told 'Aggie' jokes. In Ireland itself they tell jokes about 'Kerry men'. the thing is that most of the good jokes work just as well if they don't centre around 'Blackfoot' or 'Lakota' etc. I told someone the one about the Raffle and I used 'two cowboys' as the subject. I just wondered if your jokes are sympathetic to native Americans or actually poking fun at them.

    Edit to say, sorry for going off topic. This is really interesting as I have an affinity with owls. And you know so much I would take it that you are actually Native American and therefore I guess it's OK for you to tell the jokes! I'm really not attacking you, just curious. I work a lot with Americans and I've not come across NDN jokes before now.

    xxx
     
  8. Historian

    Historian New Member

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    In general, most NDN jokes are told within NDN communities or Pow-wows where NDNs from different tribes come together and visit. Many of the topics in NDN humor is poking fun at themselves or teasing members of another tribe. Teasing is something that goes on a lot with NDN cultures. It's not considered racist, just funny.

    For example:

    Q: What do you call 10 Blackfoot in a sweatlodge?

    A: "Gorillas In The Mist"

    First, let me say that my Blackfoot brother in Bozeman, Montana told me this joke. Next, for this to be funny, you first need to know that Blackfoot men are typically very hairy (i.e. back hair, chest hair) compared to the men of other Plains tribes. You also need to know that a sweatlodge produces steam or mist during the ceremony. Also, there was a movie called "Gorillas In The Mist", which adds another level of humor.

    As far as my background is concerned, I would refer you to my introductory post on "New Forum Members", with the thread titled, "Hau - Howdy - Hey y'all :->"

    Go to: http://www.healthypages.co.uk/forum/showthread.php?t=57248

    Hope this helps. :)
     
  9. sunanda

    sunanda New Member

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    Oh, thank you, historian. I feel quite small now - I hadn't read your introductory post (laziness on my part, I'm afraid.) Now I know more of where you're coming from, I can appreciate the jokes, knowing that they contain no hidden 'digs' but are affectionate rather than derogatory. I did guess that a lot of the jokes depend on knowledge of the perceived characteristics of the various tribes, just as here in UK we tell jokes about the legendary meanness with money of the Scots (short arms, long pockets). Trouble is that it can be easy to offend people....
    I do hope I haven't offended you!

    xxx
     
  10. Historian

    Historian New Member

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    Not at all. :)

    I think your question was quite thoughtful. I also think the world would be a better place if more people asked more questions.

    Besides, I'm not easily offended. :cool:
     
  11. clarity77

    clarity77 New Member

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    Hi Historian

    And what happends to humour when whites come in? I mean if object of "humour" take it offensive how long it is humour? As long as ndn:s keep it as humour? Beat the dead horse cause it is just fun?

    I am not sure but I assume that you have seen posts from ndnz and few other place. There was pics of slaughtered pics for whites etc. Are you saying there is no racistical ndns? No racistical humour?

    And how person who do not know ndn culture could ever know which part of this kind of humour is just fun and what is racism? What about teaching by way of shame? How identify all three?

    I was told by lakota at several times "oh that is just humour" but when I have to puke when I read this kind of "humour" is it really really only humour? Maybe for the ndns but maybe not for the white one.

    If I am allowed to share my experience I want to warning whites to not to listen "that is just this or that". That is because of some may want to lead you take worse and worse because some like to beat dead horse. What are the sockpuppets and chewtoys if not people who are chooced to be a target of cruel game? What is a twinkie and what are racistical opinions from nafps? There is same people than dear venter's corner.

    There is bad history back there between ndns and whites and there is racistical ndns like there is racistical whites.

    As a white person I keep funny as funny when both sides laugh. When another stop laughing that is not fun anymore.

    Thank you if you find time to read this post and maybe also answer if you kindly pass my poor english and my rude white style say things like I see them.
     
  12. wolfen

    wolfen New Member

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    Thx for the owl info historian.....it has filled in a few blanks and questions that i have had re. owl medicine for years as it seems its the most mis-understood of the animal powers, i walked very closely with owl medicine for a few years [ i used to be 'wiseowl' on here] and its not without its problems.....isolation, boardering on desolation is just one of them,
    i was also chastised by one high profile/powerful NA who i approached for advice as he considered all owls were bad/evil...which i just knew was not entirly correct but i did indeed understand how it could be used to that effect if one so choose's [as indeed most powers]...and he reccomended i have nothing to do with owls whatsoever...., now ive tried to break with owl medicine completly but i still get messages etc. from them....infact one woke me the other night with a start and my blood ran cold for a second....i truely understand why many fear them.....or rather mis-understand them which gives rise to fear.
     
  13. wolfen

    wolfen New Member

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    update to above.....

    heard today that my uncle died peacefully in hosp. last night, which was who i linked owl's presence with at the time i heard it...

    thx again to those that sent healing/prayers in the other section.
     
  14. Wingbeats

    Wingbeats New Member

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    Being new to the forum, I am coming in late to this thread. Just wanted to add...Wow, what a fascinating and informative post!

    As a side note: Barred Owls have been showing up for me since 2000-ish. While I was volunteering for a wildlife/bird-of-prey rehabber, I had the honor of releasing a rehabbed Barred Owl back into the wild (the area where he was found injured).
     
  15. OsageJen

    OsageJen New Member

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    Just came across this post while researching. I am Osage and Delaware and have never had close contact with owls until recently. When they used to fly in front of us, my friend would stop the car and put tobacco out and a prayer for protection. I now have about 6 astern screech owl babies and the parents living in the tree across the street. However, they like to be in my tree limbs and the hedges right by my house, especially in the ones right out my bedroom window. I heard something hitting the window the other day and looked out and there were 4 of the staring at me. Just now, I heard and saw them in the hedges again and walked inside to the bathroom and one hit the window again. I don't know what to make of this. I feel like they know where I'm at in the house. Sounds strange, but I don't know how to take them.
     
  16. Energylz

    Energylz Moody-rator ©
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    Hi Jen and welcome to Healthypages.
    It's a bit of an old thread, but that's ok.

    I think in real terms you have to remember that birds often get confused by glass, so it's not uncommon for them to fly at windows thinking they can just fly on through, especially as the reflection may be of the sky, or of other birds (i.e. themselves). This is quite common with young birds too.

    I can't answer from a shamanic point of view as that's not my area of expertise.

    :)
     

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