For the ancient Egyptians, Celtics, and Hindus owls were connected to guardianship of the underworlds, and protection of the dead. In this light, the owl was ruler of the night and seer of souls, a suitable association for the most mysterious, magical, and powerful bird of the forest.
A misunderstanding of this necessary relationship gave the owl negative associations with death. Because of their wings (which give owls the ability to fly away from earth and shuffle off this ‘mortal coil’) birds in general are symbolic messengers between the earthly and spirit realms.
Note that, while there is a concept of death involved here, it’s only “death” in the sense of being an open doorway from physical to spiritual; more precisely, from the temporary material world we live in now back to the spiritual source from whence we came, and are now traveling toward.
The concept of death is very important in the mystical traditions of the Secret Societies. It is, however, the death of the lower self, and not the soul, that is being affirmed: this death is in fact a doorway back to the Self, revealing the soul inside.
In other words, to transcend death we must realize that we are a higher eternal Self (soul) incarnated in a lower, temporary self (body). Since humans do not realize this, we are, in a sense, “imprisoned” in the body, and must transcend it to free ourselves and realize our own inner divinity.
A “resurrection” back to the true Self is needed, as it were. And for there to be a resurrection, there has to be a sacrifice. This sacrifice is care, the ego, the lower bodily self (lowercase “s”).
In practically every ancient culture, solitary nocturnal creatures are symbolic of these ideas, of inner-knowing, psychic ability, and intuition; all of which are traits of the soul within, not the physical body.
The owl is a perfect example of such a creature. The owl knows all of this. The owl is wise, and always deeply connected with magic, shamanism, and heightened senses throughout the ages.
Owls have been thought of as “cats with wings,” sharing similar characteristics with cats, who are of course the familiars of witches and sorcery (interestingly, owls tend to be the familiars of male mages or wizards):