Sunday, 13 June 2010

The Bird Of Night I

The bones of woodmice and shrews lay white and bare among the leaves and stones at the top of the crag. The southern edge of this huge ancient woodland is dominated by a steep limestone outcrop that provides a vantage point from which to view the canopy of the oaks, elms and ashes below and beneath that the deep viridian woodland floor, which in early summer is carpetted with dogs mercury, wild garlic and ground elder. It is clear from the white relics among the leaves that this vantage point, a place to look down on the woodland below, is also used by owls.
Dozens of grey owl pellets lie amongs the rocky limestone clints and grikes. Thick and lumpy, misshape, vomited forth from the cruel mouths of predatory, nocturnal psychopomps. In many cultures of the world the owl is an omen of misdeeds and a herald of death. Not only is it a ruthlessly efficient hunter but its eerie, ululating call has that quality which tricks the human mind, so prone to seeking meaning and correspondance where none exists, into believing that it has heard the voice of some wraith or night-gaunt that shuns the day.
Throughout the history of mankind, the owl has featured significantly in mythology & folklore. Owls are one of the few birds that have been found in prehistoric cave paintings and they have been both revered & feared throughout from ancient to modern times, in Cameroon the owl has no name and is only referred to only as "the bird that makes you afraid. Romans saw owls as omens of impending disaster. Hearing an owl indicated an imminent death, the deaths of many eminent figures, including Julius Caesar, Augustus & Agrippa were reputedly preceded by the hoot of an owl, Shakespeare citing in Julius Cease, (Act 1 Scene 3) "And yesterday the bird of night did sit. Even at noon-day upon the market-place, Hooting and shrieking
While the Greeks believed that sight of an owl predicted victory for their armies the Romans saw it as a sign of defeat. They believed that a dream of an owl could be an omen of shipwreck for sailors or an omen of being robbed. To ward off the evil caused by an owl it was believed that the offending owl should be killed & nailed to the door of the affected house, something one presumes was easier soothsayed than done.

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