As I search the net and various sites, I often find practitioner’s and devotee’s who have this idea that there is a connection between Hekate and Owl’s. Some suggest that Hekate uses Owl’s as messenger’s, while others suggest that she hold’s Owl’s to be sacred birds. Still others seem to suggest that the Owl holds some form of “Wisdom” and hints of a connection to the Occult and hidden knowledge or concealed information. Yet regardless of the Practitioner or devotee none of them offer much in the way of source material to support their position except for the occasional notion of UPG (unverified / unproven personal gnosis).
When I look through the old stories and other materials, I do not find any references that connect Hekate and Owls. That are direct references anyway, there are indirect references to other divinities that Hekate is associated with. Yet those indirect references IMHO are such that they would not pertain to Hekate except through her association to these other beings.
Infact going through my own library I only find one reference that indicates any connection between Hekate and Owl’s. That is the book CROSSROADS: The Path of Hecate by Greg Crowfoot (2005), Aventine Press, ISBN: 1-59330-302-5
“Owl: The owl is the sacred messenger of Hecate, heralding Her coming and Her messages. It is closely tied with witches and sorcery. Some sources state that its nocturnal cries traditionally signal the acceptance of any offerings made to Her, and that its presence over the battlefield was considered an omen of victory.
The owl is also a symbol of wisdom, and while this is a quality commonly equated with Athena, it is linked to Hecate in the context of occult wisdom and experiences. For this reason, the ‘wise old owl’ became a emblem of knowledge and figured in fairy tales as a guardian. Eventually this symbolism found its way into European folklore and culture.
Ancient coins from Greece, depicting owls and medusae (also a symbol related to Hecate) suggests the possibility that Hecate was honored on more than one instance of provincial money. Their contemporary identification exclusively with Athena may be an example of scholarly bias and not fact.”
Chapter 5, Hecatean and Greek Symbols and Terminology, Pgs. 157 & 158
So, let’s look at this which I personally do not agree with. Starting with the idea of the Owl being her messenger and herald.
Before we can do so I must point out that The Owl, especially the Screech Owl (properly known as the Tawney Owl today) is sacred to Hades but is also used as the messenger by the underworld gods & goddesses. But how did the Screech Owl gain this position?
To discover that we must look to the story of Askalaphos the Orchardist of Hades. He is a daemon who was turned into a screech owl by the goddess Persephone while Demeter trapped him beneath a boulder for betraying Persephone when he revealed she ate a pomegranate. In other stories he is turned into a horned Owl, but the participants are the same Demeter and Persephone. He later becomes the messenger for the underworld.
So here we have the messenger of the underworld which hardly seems logical that Persephone or Hekate would be utilizing it. Seems unlikely, to me anyway, that Hekate would make it a sacred bird for her. The very creature that betrayed the person she is the guide for and was cursed to take on that form. Especially so given Hekate’s role in the Eleusinian Mysteries and the trinity of Demeter, Persephone and Hekate.
Then add the fact the Screech Owl is sacred to Hades himself. It is seen as his sacred bird both in the underworld and in the mortal world. It is seen as a representation of death and representative of death.
Then let’s look to this “Omen of Victory on the battlefield” statement.
To the ancient Hellene’s the idea of seeing Owl’s flying over the battlefield or prior to the battlefield was seen as a sign of impeding victory. That is a true statement. However, Hekate had nothing to do with that and was the furthest thing from their minds. In fact, the divinities that would be crossing their minds probably would be one of three possibilities. 1. Ares God of War who had 2 Owls who were sacred to him. Those being the Barn Owl and the Eagle Owl. 2. Athena goddess of War who had the Little Owl who was sacred to Her. 3. Hades who had the Screech Owl who was sacred to him.
(Ares - Barn Owl -1)
Ares - Eagle Owl -2)
(Athena - Little Owl or Athenian Owl)
Figure Ares is sort of self-explaining. He’s the god of war. If his Owls are present, then the god of war is looking down on you and it means your going to win. If Athena’s Owl is present then still a good probability your going to win, but her owl represents tactical strength and power. Hades, well, he’s death and the underworld and you know death is going to happen. But it will be a good and honorable death. Realistically they wouldn’t want Hekate to be there as she is associated with the restless dead or those who died badly and weren’t properly buried or given proper honors. That would be a bad sign.
Now let’s look at the idea of the Owl and death again for a moment. It’s a herald and symbol of death. In some instances, it’s been associated with the dead and drinking of blood. As a creature it eats creature’s whole and then spits out the carcass drained of blood and meat. All that is left basically are the bones and some skin and other parts. That ties it into the stories of the walking dead or restless dead who feed upon the living and haunt the forest and wilderness areas, i.e. uncivilized areas.
So yes, it has a connection to Hekate loosely, but it is like her connection to the restless dead. In that regard it’s like her connection to the gorgon in that she is used to protect against it. She would ward you from its influence and presence. Like the gorgon upon the temple pediment to ward away evil and bad daemon’s who seek to harm. Yet she could also be used to summon or dispatch them to punish or inflict punishment upon people. But in that instance, they are a tool not something sacred to her. A tool that can be used to inspire, or a tool that can be used to cause fear.
To try and equate any Owl to Hekate because they are typically nocturnal creatures to me seems to be a false correlation. That they come out during the beginning of the dusk period of day which is a liminal time doesn’t automatically make them Hekate’s. Being predator’s, they are logically going to come out when their prey is out. Such a conclusion would suggest that all rodents by nature are then Hekate’s. For no other reason than when they are most active.
Now we turn our attention to this idea of occult wisdom and experience that is conveyed by the Owl. Again, there is nothing in the lore or tales that come down from antiquity that suggest anything like this that I have found. Yes, we have the idea of the Owl and its idea of knowledge that is associated with say Athena. We have this idea of the owl being able to penetrate the darkness and see things that are otherwise hidden from people with its ability to see things. But that is not specifically occult wisdom or even experience. That is not like Hekate and the “Y” crossroads where she see’s what has been, what could be and what shall be. It’s not seeing the past, the present and the future.
Granted it might be seeing with a clarity of though and knowing over distance. It might be though of as hearing with a clarity of mind without distraction. Heck it might even be though of as the ability to penetrate the shadows and darkness to see the smallest of movements. But is that really wisdom? Yes, I think the Owl teaches one how to see, hear and listen. Even how to do so from various vantage points and angles of movement. But occult wisdom and experience, I do not personally think so. That is the difference between Seeing, Hearing and Listening and knowing how to use it as Athena does as a Tactician.
That the Owl has become connected to witchcraft and sorcery is not in dispute. Does it deserve such a connection? That is not so easily proven or warranted, I think. For certain books, media and the silver screen have definitely established such a connection via the likes of the Harry Potter franchise for instance.
The idea of Hekate having an Owl sitting upon her shoulder appears to have originated in 2008 from a personal description of Hekate Trivia described by Jade Sol Luna. Not only is it an opinion but includes his own invocation and chant to be used for calling her on a specific day of the week. There is an accompanying photo included in the book though no indication if it is copyrighted or public domain.
Jade Sol Luna:
“Hecate Trivia wears a midnight blue dress and has long white hair. She holds a broom in her right hand and a noose in her left hand. She is wild in personality and is accompanied by two black phantoms. An owl sits on her shoulder and she is often found in the forest at night and is sometimes accompanied by Hermes. She has a terrific laugh and sometimes wears a veil. Her invocation is: Zabarbathouch. Her chant is Ego Hecate Trivia Laudo. (for Wednesday)”
The image used in the book is gray scale so the crow appears more like an owl. However it is clearly this image that is used in the book.
Hecate Death, Transition and Spiritual Mastery, page 69 (1st edition) ISBN 978-1438248523 A Create Space Publication (2008); page 113 (2nd edition) ISBN 978-1442184510, India Research Press / Tara Press International (2012)
What appears to have occurred though is that apart from the idea of the Owl sitting upon her shoulder everyone has dropped both the source reference and the rest of his UPG. What started out as the author’s personal thoughts and opinions has crossed over into the realm of implied fact.