Owls in Chinese Culture

Owls in Chinese Culture
Owls. The night birds. My favorite animals. What comes into your mind when you think of owls? Darkness, the night, death, mystery, wisdom, secrets? Are you one of those who thinks that the owls represent bad luck or good luck? The answer this question varies depending on the culture one grew up with. I love owls even though I grew up in a culture where bad news or death is related to the owl. For me, they are the birds of wisdom, intelligence, and mystery.

It’s not right to generalize most of the time but in this article I need to, as I’m not going to be able to explain every different culture and how the owls are related in those. So, we can say that in the Western world, the owls are associated with wisdom, literature, and art while in the Eastern world they are not that favored. I’m sure that you have come across bookstores or art studios that have the owls as their logos. I’m impressed by the owls because they are the wisest animal, at least for me. Enough about me, let’s take a look at how owls are seen in Chinese Culture.

Owls in Chinese Culture

The owls are called mao-tou-ying (cat-headed hawk) and xiao (bravery) in Chinese. Even though one of the meanings is bravery, the owls are not necessarily accepted in a positive way. Being a night bird, having a superb night vision, ability to move its head almost 180 degrees relate the owls to mystery, mysticism, secrets, intelligence, and death.

The hooting sound of an owl means hu in Chinese, which means digging. It can be seen as the connection of death to the owls. When you hear an owl making the hooting sound, it’s believed that there will be illness or death in that house. It’s also believed that the sound is sort of a sign or warning for the household to start digging a grave as there will be a death. You can see owl figures on the burial ceramics of Han Dynasty.

When an owl is seen around a house, dried bushes are burned to keep the owl away because of the smell. Also, people put brooms upside down, outside the house to protect the house and the household from the owls as it’s believed that the owls have spiritual powers that could lead to supernatural consequences. That’s why it’s never preferred to attempt to kill or even touch the owl. Another reason to stay away from the owls is the belief that they snatch away the souls. Despite the fear of the owls, in some parts of China, they are associated with the gods of thunder and lightning and therefore, owl effigies are put on top of the roofs for protection.

How about your culture? Are owls liked or disliked in your culture?

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