My parliament’s a hoot!

Susann 2 croppedThis post is by Nancy Jardine.

I have a collection of owls. Some are tiny. Some are large. They’re made from glass, volcanic lava ( from Mount Etna in Sicily), resin, clay, stone, iron, copper, paper, plastic, gourd (South American), cuddly fur, jacquard, cotton, polyester. They’re to be found all over my house collecting dust and surprise, surprise—some are even in the garden. What I don’t have is a live owl.20160129_163301[1]

There’s generally some catalyst that begins a collection and in my case the habit was formed during my teaching years at Kintore Primary School, the owl being a school symbol to be found in many of the public areas of the school, in different forms. In my own classroom, I used my personal collection of owls as a weekly symbol of excellence. The current ideology was for mixed ability table groupings in the classroom and the table which had the best performance (i.e. via a points system) —based on effort, group co-operation and participation in activities, and general behaviour— ‘won’ the award for the week. This meant their table gave home to whichever of my owls was used that month. When I look back, I’m amazed that my breakable owls survived years of handling by 11-12 year old kids!

The village of Kintore, where I live, has evidence of having had some form of school operating since 1574; though education for the local people was possibly even earlier since the official status of Royal Burgh was granted in 1506 (this was, in fact, a reaffirmation of an earlier status) and money for a school was gifted at this time by the Burgess of Kintore (provost).

Kintore burgh coat of arms
Burgh Coat of Arms

For centuries after 1574, Kintore remained a Royal Burgh giving it prestige not granted to many other villages. However, it wasn’t till 1959 that Kintore was granted an Official Coat of Arms, any previous insignia used for a long time had never been recognised by the Lord Lyon, King of Arms in Edinburgh. As a special event in 1959, the school was also given its own official set of ‘arms’ which could be used as a school badge. In 1959, this cost the Provost of Kintore a whopping £50! I’m not exactly sure, since I’ve not done the research, but I don’t believe many other schools in Scotland would have had this status.Kintore School history book


The first official badge to be worn on a Kintore School uniform blazer incorporated the ‘tree of Knowledge’ symbol, as in the Burgh Coat of Arms, but by the late 1980s the wearing of a school blazer had gone out of fashion. A new version of the school symbol was designed to decorate the new school sweatshirts. Thus, the owl arrived at Kintore School! The tree of knowledge symbol was embedded in the centre of the owl design- the owl being used as a sign of wisdom. I spent a very happy 6 weeks of my summer holiday during 2005 writing the book displayed here on the right- the dates referring to the Victorian school building in the photograph which was demolished in 2006, after we moved to a brand new building to the rear of the old one.

owlWhy an owl? The owl is a long recognised symbol of knowledge and wisdom and has had its own place in the myths and legends across the globe.

It also has, regrettably, an equal reputation of being a ‘dark’ symbol.  In Scotland it was said to be ‘bad luck’ to see an owl in daylight.

I’ve even read on the internet that in the US there’s a lovely saying that “You must return the call if you hear an owl cry, or if you can’t do that you need to remove an item of your clothing and put it on again inside-out.” Owls are revered in some cultures as being birds of power; feared in others for a similar reason of negative power. Varying versions of superstitions are around regarding owls—you’ve maybe heard of some yourself?

The owl has a long tradition in Celtic lore details of which can be found in many internet sites like this one: Owls (Cailleach, Oidhche, Comachag) were most often associated with the Crone aspect of the Goddess but were also seen as a guide to and through the Celtic Afterworld—the state inhabited after a person died and before a soul re-incarnation phase. The owl was lauded as a creature of keen sight in darkness, a silent and swift hunter. An owl was also thought to help unmask those who would deceive you or take advantage of you.

In my Ancient Roman studies, I’ve learned that the hoot of an owl presaged death- as with Julius Caesar “…yesterday, the bird of night did sit Even at noonday, upon the market place, Hooting and shrieking” (from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar). During the period I focus on in my novels—84 AD to 211AD—if a traveller dreamt of an owl it would mean they’d be shipwrecked or robbed. The ancient Romans believed that witches transformed into owls and sucked the blood of babies. Nailing an owl to a door warded off evil and lightning: a superstition which persisted in the UK into the 1900s.

Owl eggs and cooked owl has been used for medicinal purposes for millennia. In England, owl egg was used to treat alcoholism. Some mothers gave their children raw owl eggs believing it would give a lifetime of immunity to drunkenness. Cooked till only ashes were left, owl eggs were used in a potion to improve eyesight. The one I like best of all is that children suffering from Whooping-cough were given owl broth.

Much of owl superstition is negative, i.e. bad things are going to happen, so I was delighted to also find that in northern England seeing an owl is considered Good Luck! That’s just as well since I see them every day in my collection.

One thing I often wish is that I could be a true night owl regarding my writing. I’ve sometimes felt that my best writing has been penned late at night but my problem is that I’m not also a lark. I can’t cope by day if the night has lingered into the wee owl hours!

How about you? 

Wishing you all a fine weekend and hoping you don’t see too many owls if you don’t want to . (except maybe S.J if she’s out hunting them!)

CFS End Sept 2015Nancy Jardine writes historical romantic adventures (Celtic Fervour Series); contemporary mystery thrillers (Take Me Now, Monogamy Twist, Topaz Eyes-finalist for THE PEOPLE’S BOOK PRIZE 2014); & time-travel historical adventures for Teen/ YA readers (Rubidium Time Travel Series).

The_Taexali_Game_Cover_for_KindleShe finds all historical eras are enticing to research about and ancestry research is a lovely time-suck. She regularly blogs; loves to have guests invade her blog; and being on FaceBook is a habit she’s trying to keep within reasonable bounds. Grandchild-minding takes up a few (very long) days every week and any time left is for gardening, reading, writing and watching news on TV( if lucky). Oh, and catching the occasional historical T.V. programme.

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Most novels are available in print and ebook formats from Amazon, Barnes and Noble; NOOK; KOBO; W. H.;; Smashwords; TESCO Blinkboxbooks; and various other ebook stores.





23 thoughts on “My parliament’s a hoot!

  1. I once had a book named “I Heard the Owl Call my Name” by Margaret Craven and never got it read and think I finally gave it away. I think it was about the native Americans thinking hearing an owl meant death but I’m not sure. It’s amazing how different cultures attach such different meanings to the same symbol. Owls may be fascinating because they are creatures of the night usually. You have a beautiful collection! I collect pigs and angels!


    1. Yes, Neva. Natural aspects can be so differently interpreted- and never more so by cultures where superstition is prime. I’d love to see your pig collection!


  2. Great post, Nancy, very educational! I, too, enjoy learning about customs and culture regarding nature. Being part Native American, such lore has always fascinated me. My mom has an owl collection, too, and we often see them around their Montana community. Last summer two owls hung out on my street — it was fun to watch them and listen to them.


    1. You’re probably right, Abbie. That ‘incentive’ system worked when it was fresh and new, but I’m sure some other strategy is in place to encourage active learning in classes just now. Even though it’s only 8 years since I stopped teaching the older pupils, I’m out of touch.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh Nancy, your post reminded my of my mother. She loved owls and had a collection. Thank you for sharing your collection and all the history that goes with it and owls. Doris


  4. I’ve never seen an owl in the wild, but a group of us heard some in the middle of the night on a camping trip. It was one of the most exhilarating events of my life. We stayed up late the rest of the trip hoping to hear them again, but were disappointed.

    As for being a night owl as a writer, my brain shuts down in later afternoon. I’m a sparrow for sure.


  5. Fascinating, fact-filled article, Nancy. I’ve had one encounter with an owl. Back in my Florida days in the mid-80s. The house had a long gravel drive down to the paved road, Sunnyside Drive. One evening I started walking down that drive toward the road. An owl perched in an oak launched from a branch and flew over my head. It was a magnificent sight. With its wings spread, it was quite large. Yes, owls exude power.


    1. I’m just a tad jealous, Mike. I’ve been close to hawks – even had some falconry lessons but not that close to even a barn owl.


  6. Thanks for the fun post, Nancy. I love owls and think they’re beautiful creatures…actually I love all birds (crows, not so much!). How fascinating that if you hear an owl hoot, you should turn an item of clothing inside out. Never heard that one before!


    1. Yeah! That’s the most peculiar one I’ve come across, Sarah, but it might have some relation to the superstitions where you have to turn around widdershins (anti-clockwise) three times -sometimes 9 times for fairy rings-which is supposed to halt the onset of unnatural things i.e. bad events. Though, like many superstitions that are ancient, you’re likely to also see the opposite as a reason.


  7. Great post Nancy. Owls are mysterious and some of the secrecy surrounding them has been passed down through the ages. We know they are wise, but they can also be mean little buggers. We had one that perched outside our back door in Florida and attacked my husband every time he walked outside to smoke. Even after several calls to the DNR, we were not allowed to remove the owl. Turns out she had a nest of young ones and was protected by Florida State Law. We had to wait until the babies grew and she moved them on her own. Imagine being held captive by a tiny owl whenever you walked outside. We used the front door until she moved her brood. They were fascinating to watch though.


  8. I used to have a very large Owl Collection. I gave them all away over the years, mostly because I read a book which talked about your home decorations may influence your child’s adulthood. I wanted my children to be Christians, so I redecorated with photos, plaques, statues, books, etc. that would reflect these thoughts. I still have a couple of Owl’s. I even had a live baby long-horned owls at one time. And with the truck, a white snowy owl flew into the mirror and got stuck there. It was killed instantly. Even in it’s death it was beautiful. I had never heard the quote about owls from the “US there’s a lovely saying that “You must return the call if you hear an owl cry, or if you can’t do that you need to remove an item of your clothing and put it on again inside-out.” It is funny. Cher’ley


    1. Poor owl that got stuck on the truck! That’s interesting about the decorations possibly influencing into adulthood- Cher’ley. There are so many different collections of things in my house ( not only collected by me) that I’m not sure what effect that clutter might produce.


  9. Hello Nancy,

    Somewhere I have video of an owl that used to live in my neighborhood in Berekley. I also remember once driving fast up a wooded hill when an owl dropped out of a tree and flew inches from my windshield. I had to brake not to hit it. That was a crazy list of superstions. I’m glad people have (mostly) past that way of thinking.


    1. I agree about the getting past it, Travis. I hate when I drive around country areas of Aberdeenshire and a pheasant, deer or rabbit runs out in front of my car. I think of a creature maimed, or killed, but I’m not a superstitious person.


  10. Years ago I saw a televised adaptation of Margaret Craven’s I Heard the Owl Call My Name and then read the book. In it, a young Canadian Anglican priest who doesn’t know he’s dying is sent to minister to a community of Native Americans so, his bishop hopes, he can learn what he needs to know before he dies. The people there say that a person who is going to die will hear the owl call his name. Tom Courtenay played the priest. I loved the program and the book. And I love your Parliament of Owls. A veritable wisdom of them.


  11. Actually there are a variety of owls that visit areas within a days drive for me. So yes I will be out hunting them. But I won’t be bringing any back for soup. Thanks for all the interesting lore about owls.


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