Great Horned Owl Totem - Viewing the Light through Shadow


A Great Horned Owl looks straight at the camera with large ear tufts and big golden eyes.
Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owls, like other owl totems, is a messenger that links our world to the spirit world, the etheric. For me, I see them as a reminder about our shadow work and the great healing that comes from bravely facing the darkness. Once we walk through those shadows, the light shines brighter and spreads wider in our spiritual journey and healing.


Great Horned Owls are large, weighing between 2.5-nearly 6 lbs. They are a mottled brown, black, and white color, with reddish tones on their faces. They have distinctive feather tufts on their heads that look like ears, though they don't contribute to hearing at all. Like the Barred Owl (which you can read about here), they eat a huge diversity of foods. Also, they live in a wide variety of geographical locations and environments, showcasing their adaptability. They can take down other large predatory birds, making them a fearsome opponent in the bird world


The things that stands out the most about these night lovers, though, is their eyes. golden-framed and black-pupiled, they are almost cat-like in their shape and sharp attention and glow like the sun. Learn more about Great Horned Owl's biology, habitat, behavior, and habits here!


If you have an interest or encounter with the Great Horned Owl as a totem and messenger, you might ask yourself some questions: is there light shining on something you've been working on or concerned about? Have you taken the time to recognize and appreciate the soul work and personal growth you've done to this point? Do other people misread your calmness or quiet nature as weakness in some way and, if so, how can you project your strength without tearing them to shreds? Do you "hear" or sense more than others? Do you feel as though you've had a direct line of communication with Source/Creator/God lately - and even if you haven't, maybe it's time to see that you DO in fact share that same God-spark.


As always, see what resonates with you when it comes to totems (and you can learn more about that here). For the story that I'm about to share, please remember that its illegal to handle or harass wildlife. It's also really easy to get caught up in a moment, but they are wild and can be dangerous. We can never assume to know or understand their way of being or their next move. I'm a biologist and have been trained to handle birds and other wildlife, and have studied wildlife behavior as a professional. (In other words, don't try this at home!)


After my father passed away, I stayed in the area to tend to the end-of-life stuff that remained. It was an incredibly complex, frustrating, and stressful time. At the end of some very long days, I would go for runs on a trail at a local lake close to where I was staying. The sun was going down when I emerged from the forest, out onto a rolling grassy hill. But right as I stepped to the edge of the tree line, something not the ground to my right chattered loudly at me. It scared the life out of me and I jumped, putting 10 feet of distance between me and whatever it was!


I turned to face it and there, on the ground, was a juvenile Great Horned Owl, eyes glowing the brightest gold I've ever witnessed. It didn't fly away and I was mesmerized. It bobbed its head, watching me, clattered a few more times, then went back to its business. As I watched, I realized it was playing with the wood chips of the trail I was running on. It would shuffle through a small pile, pick out a larger piece, toss it into the air, then pounce on it after the chip landed. Each time, the owl would pause and look up at me.


After watching it a few rounds, I decided to play along. Around my feet, without moving too quickly, I looked for a wood chip about the size that it was grabbing. I lifted one up, held it out to show it, and then lightly tossed to toward the observing owl, landing just short of the bird, who then hopped, bobbed, and opened its wings a little. Looking at me, then at the chip, it chose to pounce on the chip I'd tossed. So I found a new wood chip and we did it again.


We played this game until it was nearly dark. I started to feel nervous that I would be dive-bombed by an angry mother soon or that perhaps this owl was unable to fly or even injured. Not wanting to leave a potentially-injured bird out there on the ground, I decided to move a bit closer to see its reaction. Gingerly, I took one step and stopped. The Great Horned Owl didn't like this, but remained, just readying its wings a little. As I talked to it, I took one more step, but that was obviously out of its comfort zone: without a sound, it lifted into flight and flew up into a high tree. I never encountered it out there again.


I ran home that night like I was the one flying. The encounter with that messenger left me feeling high, exuberant, and bewildered. Most of all, for me during that time and under those circumstances, it reminded me that I was taking all the "real world" work and the "spirit world" work of my dad's death and dying process very seriously and I needed to see the light in the work and experience - I needed to stop and play.

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