Monday, October 31, 2016

Halloween High Flyers

Art Dolls /Stick Dolls : copyright Wilma Simmons 
I confess to being a fan of Angry Birds and challenging myself to a game of Angry Birds Ham'O'Ween will be about as far as I will go to celebrating Halloween here in Australia. However it did start me thinking about how birds became associated with this celebration with its Celtic origins. I can understand spiders, bats and even black cats  and wolves associated with spookiness, but birds?

Halloween Art Tag :  copyright Wilma Simmons 
It appears that the black raven has long been considered rather ominous, in spite of  a harmonious history of sharing the environment with human beings. Associated with wizards and witches,  the raven supposedly inherited some secret powers "to carry magic across long distances  and collect secrets to bring back ... " (from   Add this information to its throaty  territorial "kraa" call and scavenger habits, it is no wonder that the raven might seem rather spooky on an eerie night.  And if you have been watching the BBC series 'Wolf Hall", you might be interested in this piece of  historical trivia. It is said that if anything happened to the six ravens kept in the Tower of London, then some terrible fate would befall the Crown of England.

However, it seems hard to imagine with currently so much "pretty" owl merchandise for clothing and home decor, how the owl has become such a popular Halloween symbol or maybe not?
Art Doll - Owl : from the collection  of Marcia Griggs , copyright Wilma Simmons
Portrayed typically as a companion to witches and Hedwig's popularity as Harry Potter's pet, the owl's connection with Halloween may be a little more obvious. Its screech in the dead of night has been likened in many stories to a witch's cackle.  Perhaps a more prosaic explanation for owls being considered rather scary at this time of the year is that it is Autumn in the northern hemisphere. In Autumn, tawny owls in particular stake out their territory by their nightly screeching and swooping, so it's not hard to imagine being terrified on a black night by those piercing eyes and a rushing advance of wingspan.  So, besides Halloween, what do these two high flyers have in common? Their intelligence?
Owl Woman and Owl : from the collection of Marcia Griggs, copyright Wilma Simmons 
The owl's association with Athena, the Greek Goddess of Wisdom, has helped to make it a symbol of enlightenment, cleverness and wisdom. While owls are extraordinary creatures with amazing hunting ability and super eyesight, they are not any more intelligent than other birds. Why then "wise as an owl" - they look smart ! Its fixed large eyes give an owl an intelligent probing glaze. The truth is that the owl uses its brain to process information from the optic nerves to allow it to filter light and to develop the super powers of phenomenal peripheral night vision. So perhaps from a human perspective, owls may not be wise, but there is an awful lot going on its brain. ( The raven, on the other hand, is really smart and named in scientific studies as the most intelligent bird, displaying an aptitude for using logic in problem solving, imitating other bird calls, interacting with other animals, performing multi-task sequences  and managing a highly complex social lifestyle. This often maligned bird has the largest bird brain and lives a long life both in the wild and in captivity. Interesting? Here is a video of  some clever ravens.... Happy Halloween!

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