The Snowy Owl is a striking bird that is strongly associated with cold weather and the winter season. This association is well earned, as the Snowy Owl is aptly named. Snowy Owls are equipped with “snowshoes” of feathers on each foot, feathers around the beak to prevent freezing, and perfect white camouflage for the Arctic tundra which they call home. (1)
In popular culture, the most well known depiction of the Snowy Owl is in JK Rowling’s “Harry Potter” book series and their film adaptations. The titular Harry is a budding wizard whose companion animal is a female Snowy Owl named Hedwig. This series is so popular that many people think of Hedwig whenever they see a Snowy Owl. Rowling’s choice to depict Hedwig as such is not too surprising to anyone who has studied the Snowy Owl. These birds are mysterious and strikingly beautiful and have long been associated with mysticism, otherworldliness, and the occult.
Owls, across many cultures, have connotations of mystery, of luck both good and bad, and of powerful magic. Though many traditions treat owls as harbingers of disaster or as negative omens, many more see them as guiding spirits, benevolent forces, or ambassadors of nature’s wild beauty.
Somewhat more elusive than their more common cousins the Snowy Owl is a treasured winter visitor in the Southern reaches of their migration territories. Uniquely beautiful and striking, the Snowy Owl is the embodiment of winter itself. Birders everywhere dream of encountering this incredible raptor. Like the familiar Hedwig, many see these birds as messengers. Whether you seek spiritual guidance regarding Snowy Owls or are simply interested in the history and symbolism of these Arctic birds, read on to learn all about the Snowy Owl. For a more general look at owls, check out our article on owl symbolism too!
Snowy Owl Symbolism and Meaning
The Snowy Owl has many different possible meanings. Cultural interpretations of owls in general can vary greatly. Commonly, though, owls of all sorts are associated with wisdom, guidance, protection, and magic.
The Snowy Owl is one of a few owl species that is active and hunts during the day time. (2) For this reason, the Snowy Owl may be associated with winter days, or with individuality.
Harry Potter’s famous Snowy Owl companion was primarily used as a messenger who delivered letters throughout the magical landscape of the series. Many people still associate Snowy Owls with the role of the messenger.
Snowy Owls are fantastically camouflaged to hunt in their snowy habitats. They are also notoriously silent in flight. This attribute makes them very difficult to detect. For this reason Snowy Owls can represent concealment or hidden danger.
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Snowy Owl Native American Symbolism
In most Native American cultures, owls are connected to death. Some traditions believe owls to be messengers of the dead while other legends portray them as shape shifters. One common belief is that owls are the restless spirits of the departed. (3)
Snowy Owl Christianity Symbolism
In Christian traditions, owls are typically associated with wilderness and nature. Snowy Owls may have an added layer of symbolism connecting them to purity, as the color white is often associated with peace, purity, and honesty.
Snowy Owl Celtic Symbolism
In Celtic traditions, owls are often associated with femininity, witchcraft, and cunning. Additionally, the color white and white animals are associated with sacredness.
Snowy Owl in Dreams
In the winter season, you may find yourself especially likely to dream about Snowy Owls. When these startlingly white birds appear in dreams they often leave the dreamer with lots of questions. Here are a few of the possible ways to interpret a Snowy Owl visit in a dream.
A dream in which a Snowy Owl appears in flight can represent change. Snowy Owls are migratory, unlike many other raptors, and are prone to wander the Arctic North. In some cases, irruptions of Snowy Owls breach Southern regions. (4) Dreaming of a Snowy Owl may indicate restlessness or the craving for a change of scenery.
A dream in which a Snowy Owl’s eyes are visible can be a sign that your spirit is under protection from negativity or evil. The sharp eyes of the Snowy Owl are often associated with vigilance and protection. On the flip side, such a dream may be a warning to keep your guard up and be watchful for potential threats or treachery.
Dreaming of Snowy Owl chicks can represent the ability to thrive in difficult situations. Winter is harsh, cold, and unforgiving. Even so, Arctic wildlife persists through adaptation and grit. If you dream of Snowy Owl chicks you may be faced with a difficult set of circumstances. However, rest assured that you are equipped to take on anything the winter has to throw at you!
Snowy Owl Encounters and Omens
Encountering a Snowy Owl is certainly a very memorable experience. The beautiful white plumage and piercing golden eyes of the Snowy Owl are sure to leave a lasting impression on anyone who sees them. Because Snowy Owls are commonly thought of as messengers or spiritual guides, such encounters can be very informative.
If a Snowy Owl lands outside your home it can mean that a deceased loved one is attempting to visit you.
If a Snowy Owl appears to you in winter, it is a sign of good luck and a prosperous future.
A Snowy Owl flying overhead may indicate that you’re feeling lost or directionless. Like the migratory Snowy Owl this encounter may be a sign that you need to seek out a change of scenery.
One final note regarding Snowy Owl encounters: It is not uncommon for Snowy Owls to appear in areas far South of their native ranges. These instances are referred to as “irruptions.” They usually occur because of a shortage of food in their normal habitats. Though such sightings are very exciting, the birds in question are often exhausted, malnourished, scared, or sick. It is very important that humans do not approach them or do anything to make their survival any more difficult than it already is. (5)
Snowy Owl in Mythology & Folklore
Owls are impactful animals, and are present in the myths and traditions of many different cultures. Below is a summary of the significance of owls in general, and of Snowy Owls specifically, in a number of different cultural traditions.
Native American Mythology:
As stated previously, Native American cultures often connected owls with death. In some cases, the god of death was even represented by owls.
In Scottish and Irish mythology, the Snowy Owl can be connected to a hag character called “Beira.” Beira is a “Cailleach,” which is a sort of mythological hag or witch. Beira is sometimes called the “Queen of Winter.” She was said to be a one-eyed giantess with white hair and blue skin. As the Queen of Winter, Beira was responsible for cold, snow, and even for forming the shapes of mountains. Beira is connected to the Snowy Owl because she has been said to occasionally appear in the form of a massive snow-white bird. (6)
In Welsh mythology, the closest allegory to the Snowy Owl can be found in the story of Blodeuedd. Blodeuedd was the wife of a legendary hero named Lleu Llaw Gyffes. She was created out of flowers and enchanted into life by the magician Gwydion for the purpose of marrying his nephew Lleu. Blodeuedd, though, eventually began an affair with a hunter she met whilst walking. They longed to be together and devised a plan to slay Lleu Llaw Gyffes. Lleu was almost immortal but could be killed through an unlikely series of highly specific circumstances. Because he trusted Blodeuedd so much, Lleu explained how he could be killed to her when she asked him. Once she had uncovered how to do it, she and her lover attempted to slay Lleu. They succeeded, however, Gwydion retrieved his nephew from the land of the dead. As punishment for her betrayal and treachery, Blodeuedd was transformed into an owl and renamed “Blodewedd.” This name means “flower-face” and is a Welsh word for owl to this day. (7)
In Indian mythology, it is common to associate owls with evil and negativity. White owls, however, are instead considered to be positive omens that bring good luck and wealth. (8)
Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth, is sometimes depicted riding an owl. (9)
In Japan, owls are associated with wealth and good fortune. The Japanese word for owl, “fukuro,” comes from the word “fuku,” meaning luck. (10)
For the native Ainu people of Northern Japan, the owl is an important animal who represents a major deity. The Cikap Kamui, or “owl god,” is the god of the land which governs human behavior. (11)
In Greek mythology, the owl is the votive animal of the goddess Athena. It is said that Athena, the goddess of wisdom and strategy, came to love owls for their solemn appearance and watchful eyes. (12)
In some instances, the presence of an owl on the battlefield was believed to be good omen anticipating victory.
Snowy Owl Spirit Animal
If the Snowy Owl is your spirit animal, you may empathize with the tendency of this bird to camouflage itself against the snowy regions of Arctic tundra. In fact, people with the Snowy Owl as their spirit animal are often introverted and secretive.
Despite this introversion, people with the Snowy Owl as their spirit animal are rarely timid and often enjoy adventure. They are frequently possessed by an urge to wander and explore. Ultimately, they may feel trapped when forced to live a sedentary lifestyle.
People with the Snowy Owl spirit animal tend not to be very expressive. As such, others may see them as hostile or mysterious when, in fact, they tend to have a very pronounced sense of humor. Though they might not always show it, silliness and creativity come naturally to those with the Snowy Owl spirit animal.
Snowy Owl Totem Animal
The Snowy Owl totem animal is defined by its honesty and curiosity. People with this totem animal often feel a sense of devotion towards the truth. They are often very trusting. However, they will never forget when that trust has been violated.
This love for truth often feeds the curious side of the Snowy Owl totem animal. Individuals with this totem animal may enjoy learning new things as a way of finding new truths.
People with the Snowy Owl totem animal cannot stand liars. Though they often conceal their true feelings, they are staunchly against fabrications. As such, people with this totem animal have a tendency to be somewhat literal and gullible.
Snowy Owl Power Animal
As a power animal, the Snowy Owl represents adaptability. Active both day and night, specially evolved to tackle inhospitable weather, the Snowy Owl is an animal that thrives at meeting nature’s challenges.
People who have the Snowy Owl as their power animal are skilled at adapting to overcome challenges. When they are not sufficiently challenged, though, people with this power animal have a tendency to fall into restrictive routines. Boredom is a formidable enemy to those with the Snowy Owl as their power animal.
Snowy Owl Tattoo Meaning
A Snowy Owl tattoo is often a surefire sign that someone is a fan of Harry Potter. Not all Snowy Owl tattoos are meant to depict Hedwig, though!
For many, a Snowy Owl tattoo represents a love of winter and the wildlife of winter climates.
In some cases, a Snowy Owl tattoo may represent wisdom, knowledge, or mysticism.
Snowy Owl tattoos may also represent conservation efforts because Snowy Owl populations are threatened by habitat loss.
The Snowy Owl is perhaps the most instantly recognizable species of owl. The lovely plumage and unique features of these raptors make for a stunning impression. It’s no wonder that these birds are treasured additions to so many birdwatcher’s “life lists.”
In the harsh cold of winter, we often see the environment as bleak and lifeless, choked by ice and snow. The beauty of the Snowy Owl lies in its role as an ambassador for the freezing wilderness. The Snowy Owl reminds us that the true power of life on this planet lies in its uncanny ability to overcome even the harshest environment and carve out a home. For the Snowy Owl, the frozen tundra is not a wasteland but a winter wonderland.