For my days are consumed like smoke, and my bones are burned as an hearth.
My heart is smitten, and withered like grass; so that I forget to eat my bread.
By reason of the voice of my groaning my bones cleave to my skin.
I am like a pelican of the wilderness: I am like an owl of the desert.
- Psalm 102, The King James Bible
Few animals hold as ambivalent a place in human culture as the owl. Almost universally a symbol of night and its mysteries, they’re often portrayed as portents of sorrow and death. During the Middle Ages in Europe owls were linked with sloth, sexual vice, and any “who have given themselves up to the darkness of sin and those who flee from the light of righteousness” (Bubo, Aberdeen Beastiary), but also with Christ, who “loves the darkness of night because he does not want sinners – who are represented by darkness – to die but to be converted and live” (Night-owl, Aberdeen Beastiary). Owls’ nocturnal lives also associate them with magical sight, dreams, and wisdom, and in many cultures they are powerful spirits, affording protection in this world and a tangible, living connection with the world to come.
Onyx gemstone engraved with owl, bowl, and poppy. Imperial Rome, 1st-3rd century CE.
In this Roman onyx gemstone the owl references sleep and death – it sits on a bowl, probably for a sleeping draught, containing a poppy, the opium-producing flower that was also symbolic of death.
Kwakiutl cedarwood owl mask. Tom Patterson, British Columbia, 1983.
Many indigenous communities in North and Central America have revered owls. “One of the Pawnee four sacred birds, the owl’s powers were linked with darkness and night. The Kiowa believed that the shaman became an owl after death. The Ojibwa called the bridge over which the dead pass the “Owl Bridge” and buried owl feathers with the dead to facilitate their journey… in Mesoamerica owls were closely associated with liminal passages into the underworld abode of the dead. Owl images appear on cave walls, and owls appear on mirrors, which, like caves, act as thresholds between the natural and supernatural worlds” (Werness, The Continuum Encyclopedia of Animal Symbolism in World Art, p. 306).
Masks are particularly important to First Nation communities of British Columbia, where they are connected with beliefs about the transformational nature of humans and animals. The example above was carved by Tom Patterson, a member of the Nuu-Chah-Nulth tribe of Vancouver Island.
Metal vessel in the shape of an owl with other human and animal figures. Bengal, India, 20th century.
Owls are often associated with feminine powers, from the wisdom of Athena to the witchcraft of early modern Europe. In Hindu mythology an owl serves as the Vāhana, or mount, of Lakshmi, the goddess of fortune and prosperity.
Pyramid of the Sun Turning to Dust 2014 03 10 All we are is dust in the wind, so the saying goes, but it’s troubling when it happens to great ancient monuments that we assume will be around forever.
Pyramid of the Sun, Pirámide del Sol, Teotihuacán, México (Wikimedia Commons)
New Scientist reports that the Pyramid of the Sun in Mexico is turning to dust and could collapse:
The Pyramid of the ...
Elephants Never Forget A Voice 2014 03 10
According to a new study, wild elephants are discerning listeners who can differentiate between various human languages, genders, ages, and more. Such surprising skills continue to marvel researchers.
Not all the intellectual surprises are on the large animal front. Research has shown that crows are extremely intelligent, some dogs recognize over a thousand words and have the intellect of a toddler, ...
RIP, psychiatry: the “chemical-imbalance” theory is dead 2014 03 10 This one is big.
Dr. Ronald Pies, the editor-in-chief emeritus of the Psychiatric Times, laid the theory to rest in the July 11, 2011, issue of the Times with this staggering admission:
“In truth, the ‘chemical imbalance’ notion was always a kind of urban legend — never a theory seriously propounded by well-informed psychiatrists.”
The point is, for decades the whole basis of ...
Space Elevator By 2035, Says International Academy of Astronautics 2014 03 10
Going up? Way up?
The space elevator - An idea which used to be pure speculative science fiction has gained renewed interest.
ExtremeTech.com lays out the technical challenges of the audacious (crazy?) plan to extend the 100,000-kilometers-long tether into space. Especially problematic to the mission is the fact that the materials and technology needed to create the space elevator don’t actually exist ...
One million Britons descended from Vikings says new study 2014 03 10
A new study is showing that approximately 930,000 people can claim to be of direct Viking descent in Great Britain today, especially in the north of Scotland. The ancient Norse peoples’ influence is still being felt in modern times.
Around one million Britons are directly related to Vikings, with people from the north of Scotland most likely to have Viking ...