The Bird of Shadows

April 4, 2019
owl amulet
Re-creation of an amulet appearing in Frederick Thomas Elworthy’s The Evil Eye.

The following is an excerpt from a chapter in Invoking Animal Magic.

Western traditions regard the owl with ambivalence. She is a repository of wisdom, but a harbinger of death or other unwelcome news. Not only Shakespeare, but Spenser and Chaucer describe the owl as presager of doom, making the verdict of the English literary giants unanimous. Yet the owl only goes visiting if the messages are unclaimed. When the situation becomes dicey enough for her to hunt down the recipient, can she be blamed if the news is dire? 

Distinctive in tone, varied in repertoire, hidden under cover of night, owl talk strikes the listener as steeped in significance. In talking to their own kind, owls can be establishing territory, courting, migrating, defending themselves or calling for mother. But of course we know they are mostly talking to us. Not only do owls carry messages, they carry secrets. Spells from archaic Roman and English sources use the owl to pry secrets from a sleeping victim. The owl is an emblem, by admission or reputation, of various secret societies, including the Masons, the Bohemian Grove and the Illuminati. On the corner of the one dollar bill there is a minute figure that could be an owl, which people who subscribe to conspiracy theories attribute to an occult fraternity among the Founding Fathers. 

The owl’s most conspicuous feature is her large eyes, which give the impression of seeing everything. Most birds, including other birds of prey, obtain a field of vision approaching 360 degrees by having eyes located on either side of the head. The owl’s forward facing eyes give her excellent depth perception— important for seeing in low light—and make her appear more human. Her flexible neck allows her to turn her face to the rear. She needs large eyes and wide head movements because her eyes are fixed and cannot move, hence the staring that unnerves some people. Her immovable eyes seem supremely confident and all-knowing. Since the owl sees so clearly into the night, she is credited with the comprehension of death, evil, uncomfortable truths, disquieting outcomes and everything else we place in the rubric of “shadow.”

Now is the Time to Buy

August 7, 2015


I happened to notice the other day that my book Invoking Animal Magic: A guide for the pagan priestess is priced at $16.56 at right now at That’s over $10 off the cover price and lowest I’ve seen it offered yet. So, if you haven’t read the book yet or you’re thinking about getting it for a friend, this might be the time.

I was thinking the other day that although I have an excerpt at the book’s website,, and excerpts have appeared in quite a few magazines, I’ve never put one on my blog. So here is a retelling of a traditional folk tale from the book.

Why the Owl Hunts by Night

There are many tales explaining mobbing. A few have beauty as the rationale. An English fable has the owl mobbed for stealing a rose set aside as a beauty prize, while in a Polish tale the owl must hide from other birds bewitched by her beauty. In an Aesop story the owl’s intellect provokes the jealousy of mobbing birds. Another Polish tale claims the owl is mobbed because she once got too drunk and obnoxious at a wedding. The following story comes from Brittany.

Who should be designated king of the birds is not easily detected at first. Would that be the biggest bird, the prettiest, the bird with the sweetest voice? If the king of birds is the wisest, perhaps that would be the owl, but she suggested the honor go to the bird which could fly the highest. The other birds flocked to this suggestion and agreed the one who could fly the highest should be crowned king.

The owl and the eagle, as giant birds of prey, were the main contestants for this prize, but the wren, unbeknownst to anyone, decided to enter the contest secretly. She hid in the feathers of the eagle and rode far up in the sky. When the eagle, having passed the owl, tired and could fly no higher, the wren sped out of her hiding place and climbed as high as she could go. “I’m it!” she cried excitedly. “I’m king—queen—leader—whatever you call the best of all birds.”

The other birds puzzled over this development, but there were many witnesses to the feat, and the wren was duly crowned.

In most tales, the story ends here. But there is a sequel, because birds are not fools. The owl had not seen the wren pass her, and the eagle had felt the wren’s wings beat against him. Through much discussion, the bird kingdom spotted the ruse and confronted the wren, who was immediately imprisoned. The owl was given the job of guarding the wren in her hole while the other birds determined punishment.

It took them a very long time. Everyone had something to say about the trick—a suggestion to make or a desire to spout off about the indecency of the stunt. As the hours dragged by, the owl began to get sleepy. Her eyelids became heavy and she lapsed into a doze. The doze became a snooze and the snooze became a slumber. The wren jumped out of her hole and flew away.

Oh, the other birds were mad! All of the fury they had saved for the wren became directed at the owl. They flocked around her and pecked and menaced and screamed, and the owl had to fly very high and very far to get away.

They are still angry about it. To this day the owl hides by daylight and does not leave her roost until all the other birds are asleep.

Radio Interview with Susun Weed

December 6, 2013

Susun Weed interviewed me about animal magic on her Wise Woman Radio program.


Order Invoking Animal Magic on Amazon here,

Or go to book website here.

nationwomencoverI still have three sections on Gunlog Fur’s A Nation of Women to share. The next will be about marriage (check back on December 13) and the final two about gender.

Invoking Animal Magic

May 3, 2013

I am pleased this week to write about my forthcoming book Invoking Animal Magic: A guide for the Pagan priestess. The book reflects my research into the legends and folklore of various animals, as well as my direct experience in ritual and spellcasting. Rather than write an exhaustive encyclopedia of the “meanings” of different animals, I have elected to identify some of the principles of animal magic in Euro-shamanism and discuss them in a general way. The nine animals I have chosen to explore in depth are representative of different types of animals: those that live underground, those that migrate, those that fly, those that hibernate, etc.

Nine is the number of pregnancy, and while I have no illusions that a book is anything like a baby, the process of bringing forth a book is like giving birth. The book is something that came from me, but at the same time is not me. I keep thinking about the last lines of Sylvia Plath’s poem “Metaphors”:

Money’s new-minted in this fat purse.
I’m a means, a stage, a cow in calf.
I’ve eaten a bag of green apples,
Boarded the train there’s no getting off

Yes, the train has left the station. All the revising, the endless fact checking has to come to an end somewhere. Errors in fact and grammar must now stand. Even scarier is the thought that decades later I may disagree with what I’ve written. How much of what I thought twenty years ago is true for me today?

But mostly I’m excited about the start of another journey, looking forward to talking to people about my ideas and curious about the direction they will take me and others.

The website for Invoking Animal Magic has more information and an excerpt. The book will be available to hold in your hands in a few months. If you live in the UK, you can pre-order on Amazon. You can receive an email when the book is ready for purchase by going to the US Amazon page or leaving your email address under “subscribe” on the Invoking Animal Magic webpage. Even better, ask your local metaphysical store to carry the book. If you are interested in writing a book review from a pdf copy, let me know.

Here’s to an intriguing and illuminating adventure!

A Look Ahead

January 4, 2013

Eve. Lucien Levy-Durmer, 1896
Eve. Lucien Levy-Durmer, 1896

This week marks the one year anniversary of this blog. I started with the goal of producing one post each Friday, and I more than realized this objective with sixty-eight posts for 2012, only a few of them past my self-imposed deadline. My visitors have increased steadily over the year, and I know that it’s not charitable friends and acquaintances building up my traffic because they tell me they hardly ever go to the site. The old adage that one can never be a hero in one’s own country comes to mind here, not that I’m a hero for having a blog. Yet I cannot say that Gertrude Stein’s observation that “I write for myself and strangers” applies to me, since through comments about my posts on blogs and social media I feel like I know you.

When my blog was a month or two old I ran across an enterprise called “The Pagan Blog Project.” Started by Rowan Pendragon, it was a challenge to pagans to write a year-long blog for 2012 related to their practice, with one entry per week made every Friday. I had enrolled in the project before I heard about it! Strictly speaking, participants are supposed to spend two weeks on topics related to a different letter in the alphabet, starting with “A” and moving in chronological order to “Z.” I have enjoyed seeing what bloggers do with the letters “Q,” “X,” and “Z,” but I have usually bowed to other pressures when selecting topics. My first obligation is to my readers, and I choose my topics based on your questions and requests. I also try to be somewhat timely in my posts, moving with the seasons and responding to current events. I recognize that I have a handful of readers in the Southern Hemisphere, and I will try to keep that in mind when choosing topics for the coming year.

Aside from this blog, I have many other projects on the burner for 2013. I will continue to contribute to the Return to Mago blog. I have also agreed to serve on the advisory board of the Mago Circle. Mago is the Great Goddess recognized by peoples of East Asia, particularly Korea, since matriarchal times, and the Mago Circle is a cross-cultural spiritual group.

Late spring 2013 will see the publication of my first book, Invoking Animal Magic, published by Moon Books. The book will discuss my research and experience with animal deities and will include a fair amount of mythology. I will be sharing more about the book in the weeks ahead.

Later this year I hope to begin offering webinars on various topics related to nature and Goddess worship. The webinars will be offered as one-time sessions rather than a series of classes and will be accessible through your computer or phone. A syllabus and other details will be forthcoming.

This blog is meant as a resource for those who worship the Goddess in her many forms. It has a particular focus on the natural elements that form the basis of Pagan beliefs and practices. If you have comments/questions/requests of a general nature please share them. I am vigilant about monitoring for spam and I use spam filters, so if your comment or site registration is deleted it was probably inadvertent.