This 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.
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).
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.
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.
Why 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: http://livinglibraryblog.com/?p=821 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!)
Nancy 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).
She 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.
http://nancyjardine.blogspot.co.uk http://nancyjardineauthor.com/ Twitter @nansjar Facebook: http://on.fb.me/XeQdkG and http://on.fb.me/1Kaeh5G (for The Rubidium time Travel Novels.) email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Most novels are available in print and ebook formats from Amazon, Barnes and Noble; NOOK; KOBO; W. H. Smith.com; Waterstones.com; Smashwords; TESCO Blinkboxbooks; and various other ebook stores.