These encounters with the owls prompted me to do some research to learn more about them. A great resource I found online is The Owl Pages. I also consulted Ted Andrews’ Animal Speak, as always.
I learned that the great grey owl (gray to you American readers) is the provincial bird emblem of Manitoba. According to The Owl Pages, they are known to be very aggressive near their nest, and have driven off predators as large as black bears! I guess I shouldn’t feel too bad. They are one of the largest owls in the world, though the ones I saw were not as large as they can get: 28″ tall with a wingspan of 56″! Evidently they have lived to 40 years of age in captivity. No wonder there is a saying about the wise old owl!
These sources of information are helpful in extracting meaning from the experience, but the deepest meaning must come from within…
What does this have to do with my indigenous soul?
The day after the owl struck me there were scabs on my head. The owl had definitely permeated my physical boundary and entered into my body. I wished I had a wise teacher I could tell the story to, who could tell me what this meant. I wished I was in apprenticeship with a medicine woman or man who would guide and teach me. How can I be the guide, and the one whom others turn to for guidance, when I know so little? I have learned from many wise teachers, and I could have called on one of them to talk about what happened. If fact, I did have the opportunity to do this some weeks later. But at the time of the event, I wished to be part of a community where my medicine teacher was nearby. I have idealized the times when our peoples lived in smaller groups, in communities of people with elders to turn to, and a shaman or medicine woman for counsel, and where each of us had our role or place in the community. I think this desire to live in a close, small community is part of the remembrance of my indigenous soul of an earlier time when we did live together in harmony with the land. It is part of the pleasure of meeting in groups to go on the vision quest. It is a re-creation of how we used to live, and it always feels so right.
And so it is with my loneliness for connection with the animal world. I believe this is an expression of my indigenous soul as well. We grew up and evolved together with the animals. The way we live in now, in a planet shaped by 10,000 years of agriculture, forestry, and domination over the natural world, has made the animals afraid of us. Contact with animals is a gift I have been fortunate to experience many times on vision quests. And occasionally on runs through the woods, as I have described here. My indigenous soul knows that this encounter had meaning and significance. Maybe my indigenous soul even knows what the meaning is. However, my city self, ego self, Karen-in-the-world struggles to find her way to that deeper place that knows the truth about messages from wild creatures.
When I am out on a vision quest, or during those periods of time when I have lived in the wilderness, it is not so hard to know that deeper place. It is much more difficult in the city, in the midst of the daily concerns and pressures of earning a living and meeting responsibilities. It is hard to quiet and slow down enough to tune into the still place of my indigenous soul. But more than this everyday difficulty, when that owl hit me in the head, it reminded me of my father hitting me in the head when I was a child. It was a shock, and I dare say reactivated early trauma. The feeling of betrayal that nature would treat me this way was extremely upsetting and shook my whole view of the natural world as my friend, my safe place, the place that cared about me. It shook my faith in my indigenous soul. It has been hard to find my way back.
The wisdom of the owl
My medicine teacher, when I had the opportunity to talk with her in California a few weeks later, said that the owl put its medicine right in me by striking me on the head like that. This is what I wanted to hear. That there was something good about what had happened. That it meant I was special. This is the truth of the indigenous soul, surely? The message that owl has for me? That I am wise like the owl, have keen hearing, can pierce into the depths of people’s souls and true intentions? This is the kind of meaning I have sought from nature; to know myself and my strengths more accurately.
But you know, I don’t think this is the meaning of the owl encounters. The shock of being struck has kept me from running in that lush green place that was my favourite place to go. There is a learning here about respect. Respect for the wild animals and their ways. Respect for the vast force of nature. Though I am a small part of it, it is not all about me. There are large and mysterious processes at work of which I know little. Perhaps some humbleness is in order. A creature weighing only four pounds scared the indigenous soul right out of me! That should teach me something about respect. Clearly it’s not an either-or proposition of fear or oneness. But a call to a larger view that includes a healthy respect, a wiser understanding of the wild ones, and the oneness too.
At the beginning of this story I was wrapped up in who should do the cooking, and it seemed like a life-or-death question. The owls thought I was a threat to them, and their defensive maneuvers were in response to a perception of a life-or-death situation. I think we were both wrong! In the larger view I can take now, several months later, I think the life-or-death situation is a much bigger one, in which our animal friends are being forced off the planet through human expansion and exploitation. I feel the call to my indigenous soul to bring all of my resources to bear in doing what I can to protect them. I am being called to be much bigger than I ever thought I could. I am considering studying environmental law so that I will have the power and knowledge to do something more concrete to help. May I keep hearing the call of my indigenous soul, and discover the best way that I can help my animal kin. May we all. Continued here…
Photo © Rossano Russo, displayed on The Owl Pages. Used with permission.