Owls have long been a part of human interest. We look at these creatures with awe for their mysticism and wisdom. Now, it still remains as a symbol of majesty, wisdom, intelligence, and mysticism. There is no surprise it is a favorite subject among tattoo enthusiasts. Owl tattoos are as popular as ever.
Owls are also often known as sentinels of the night. These birds are nocturnal, meaning they are active at night and asleep by day. Apart from wisdom, they also represent those who love the night and darkness.
In tattoos, owls have various meanings. It could vary from person to person. However, the main value of an owl tattoo is its aesthetic value. Just as owls are incredibly photogenic, they are also best captured in drawings and tattoos. There is something mystical about them as art subjects, especially their eyes. So, the next time you have your owl tattoo, you might want to focus on those.
Brief History of Owls
Owls are among the oldest lifeforms in the world. Their remains can be traced far back as the Paleocene era which is 66 million years ago. However, these birds got the attention of humankind back during the peak of Native American tribes and Ancient Egypt civilization.
The Native Americans worshiped owls. They believed that these animals hold the truth; the very secret of the universe. Meanwhile, Ancient Egyptians created hieroglyphs for the bird. They look at the creature as guardians of the realm of the dead as well as protectors of lost soul. Celts and Hindus have similar beliefs. This could be closely related to the owl’s nocturnal activities.
For some cultures around the world, owls are something to marvel at and fear. They are known as harbinger of death for the Kikuyu tribes of Kenya. Arabs see them as bad omens. Aztecs and Mayans believed that owls serve as a warning for impending doom. In fact, the saying “when an owl cries, an Indian dies” is still popular in Mexico.
Owls are also linked to various deities around the world. The most notable is the Greek goddess Athena. She was often depicted with an owl and Greeks see these birds as her favored animal. In Hinduism, owls are known as the avatar of the goddess Lakishmi.
Owl Tattoos and their Meaning
Just as in their history, owl tattoos represent many different things. It depends on the culture and the influence and whoever is wearing the tattoo.
The most notable is being the symbol of wisdom. Getting an owl tattoo often indicates the wearer’s journey to seeking knowledge. More often, they are also people with wisdom. Popular media has also jumped into the bandwagon and often denotes the wisest characters as owls.
The meaning may have derived from being affiliated with the Greek goddess of wisdom, Athena. Or it could stem from the fact that owls have incredible eyesight. People rich in wisdom are often known for the intelligence in their eyes. The same goes for owls. Many legends tell that they can see through the surface and into a human’s mind and soul. The truth is, owls’ eyes are made for night. They have 270o field of vision to hunt for their prey. Their eyes could follow a target wherever they are without moving their body. Their formidable eyes makes it easy to believe nothing gets past through them.
Apart from wisdom, here are more meanings for owl tattoos:
- Prophecy and foresight
- Silence and stealth
Variations of Owl Tattoos
There are as many owl tattoos variation as there are many owl species out there. You can have a tattoo of the common barn owl or a beautiful white owl. You can also get a tattoo influenced by a number of cultures or styles. In short, there is a whole plethora of owl tattoo design ideas that you can choose from.
Here are some of the most common owl tattoo designs:
- Barn owl – This species is a strictly nocturnal animal and a well-known predator. It’s best known for its amazing sense of night vision sight and stellar hearing.
- Celtic owls – Owls, for Celts or generally the European area, has mixed meanings. They are known for being representations of wisdom and intelligence. On the other hand, they are said to be harbingers of death. The Celts believed that hearing or seeing an owl is a lot like getting an invitation from Death. They believed these animals are guides of the souls into the underworld and protect them from dark forces. Celtic owl tattoos draw from this concept.
- Owls and keys – This tattoo idea is known as the guardian of secrets. It’s a common concept for tattoo enthusiasts who love the idea of unlocking new wisdom and knowledge.
- Flying owl – A flying owl has a slightly different meaning than a normal owl tattoo. Oftentimes, it is more related to the owl’s proud demeanor. It’s also a good representation of freedom and power.
- Owl feather – Native Americans are among those who believe that owls are closely related to the afterlife. They believe that a feather holds the soul of the bird and even protects the bearer to the afterlife. As a tattoo, it could mean spiritual guidance.
- White owl – A white owl is as astonishing as its real life counterpart. It usually means purity but it can also be a powerful symbol of the dualities in life. This include “good versus evil” or “life versus death.”
- Snowy owl – This bird is a symbol of self-awareness and higher consciousness in some pagan and Native American cultures. As a tattoo, it could also represent motherhood or fatherhood. This is largely due to the snowy owl’s protectiveness towards its eggs.
Of Magic and Dreams
Others consider owls as related to magic. No, not magic tricks that involved pulling rabbits out of hats. It is more on the mystical and powerful forces in the cosmos. Owls reside in the dark and the darkness is well connected to mystical forces. It’s like how the deep space feels so mystical and powerful.
Various legends also say owls are dream-catchers. They capture and send messages from a realm far beyond what our eyes could reach. Many dream catchers often have owls as designs and it is no surprise seeing the legends.
Monochromatic or Colored Owl Tattoos?
The design is often a tough choice for many tattoo enthusiasts. Even first-timers get this problem. However, this actually depends on your preference. Many choose a simpler design while others wanted a more complicated or realistic one. As for owl tattoos, monochromatic and colored ones are pretty amazing.
Black and white designs are perfect for those who wanted to make their design more mystical and majestic. It is also best for those who love the concept of owls as guide and protectors of the underworld. The darkness of the black ink goes well with the owl’s nocturnal characteristic which sparked the legends related to the afterlife.
Monochromatic owl tattoos also uses shading and highlighting to make realistic tattoos. More often than not, these designs are more complicated as they have to give life to a design with just two colors. The color also tends to give depth to the design and makes your owl tattoo look even wiser and powerful.
Celtic and tribal owl tattoos would also work best with a monochrome design. Both of these styles are well-known for their thick and bold black lines and knots so it’s much better to have it in black and white.
Nonetheless, colorful designs are also getting more popular these days. It is much easier to give character to the design with more colors. You can make it look more powerful or more friendly based on the color scheme you use. It’s also easier to make a fun and unique design.
Most colored owl tattoos are modern tribal in style. They fill in geometric patterns using various colors for a hypnotic and yet majestic effect. It’s also possible to make hyperrealistic tattoo designs with colors exactly from the real one.
Owl Tattoo Placement plus Tattoo Ideas
Placement is as important as the tattoo design itself. You need the perfect placement for your owl tattoo. While the pain factor plays a great role in choosing a spot, the design is also important. Here are the most common placement of owl tattoos plus some design ideas to spark your creativity:
Chest – The chest area is one of the most popular placement ideas for any tattoo. This is because it is a wide space so it is easy to make it a blank canvas. One design you can get on your chest is a flying owl. Its wings could spread and reach both shoulders. The shape makes it perfect for the placement. You can also add other elements to your design such as a skull. An owl gripping a skull on its feet could be a great way to represent the bird as a guide and protector of the afterlife.
Shoulders – While others choose the chest, some like to focus their design on the shoulder area. Extending the tattoo is also a popular choice. Some choose to extend to the shoulder blades while some extend it for a quarter or half sleeve. Nonetheless, a good design is an owl’s portrait, focusing on their all-knowing eyes. A bird extending its wings upward is also a common design.
Half or full sleeve – While sleeve tattoos are usually a choice for men, this has become popular for women as well. The arms is an elongated space rather than wide so the best choice for the design is often a full-bodied owl. This is where you can get creative. Have the feathers in different colors, one with a hat and glasses on, or perhaps tribal or Celtic owl. Great horned owls and barn owls are very common.
Back – The back is much like the chest. However, the back is a more preferable space for women as they can work with the space without worrying over sensitive areas like the breasts. The designs for both the back and the chest are pretty similar; with owls spreading their wings and showing power and dominance. However, a small and cute owl on the base of the neck is also a popular choice for women. An owl perched on a branch of a dead tree with the night as the background is also a very common choice. Owls on dreamcatchers are also getting more hype these days.
Ankles and wrist – These areas are perfect for smaller tattoos. Usually, the designs are cuter and more girly. Owls have big doe eyes and very simple designs.
Finding a Tattoo Parlor and Artist
One very important aspect of getting a tattoo is finding the perfect tattoo parlor and artist. While this is pretty much a personal preference, you need to always consider a few things:
- They should be able to do the design you want or you can clearly communicate with them to achieve the best results.
- The area is clean.
- Your tattoo artist takes your safety as their priority. For that, they should always use clean surgical gloves and dispose it after. They should also use new and clean needles for your tattoo.
Owls have long been part of history and since then, many stories and legends have surrounded this creature. Many see it as a sign of wisdom and intelligence thanks to its affiliation with the Greek goddess of wisdom, Athena. Many see it as majestic and affiliated with mystical forces. Some parts of Europe and Native American tribes believe the owl is a harbinger of death; guide and protector of spirits in the afterlife.
You would want to owl tattoos if you want to communicate the following:
- being mysterious
- mark of independence and freedom
- sign of holding secrets
- emblem of strength and power
- show of courage and pride
- mark of intelligence and thirst for knowledge
- belief in the afterlife
- sign of ongoing transition
- symbol of rarity
In the end, what your tattoo tells is entirely up to you. Owls could be more than just a symbol for you or it could be one part of your story.