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In an anthropomorphic fashion the face of an owl resembles ours. The large blinking eyes seem almost capable of human expression. The upright stance, round head, high brow, and short "nose" mimic us. Our fascination with this bird dates back to the dawn of history when primitive man with poor night vision longed to hunt quietly in the dark as owls did. Many cultures attributed the owl's hunting prowess to powers, and felt since our eyes resemble theirs, we could be transformed into spirit owls.

Lilith, the Mesopotamian goddess of death and Athena the Greek goddess of war, were both depicted as accompanied by owls. This led to the superstition that owls foretell death, a belief the Romans inherited. Horace, a Latin scholar of the first century B.C., associated these "funeral birds" with . So great was their fear of owls that Romans killed the birds on sight, cremated the remains and then threw the ashes into the Tiber River. When Swedish taxonomist Carl Linnaeus named the boreal owl in 1758 he chose the Latin term funereus, or funeral owl. The Roman word "striges", plural "strix", referred to both witches and owls. Early Anglo-Saxons referred to both witches and owls as "hags". Owl comes from the Old English word "ule", onomatopoetically referring to its witchlike cries. If an owl perched on a castle a family member was doomed. The barn owl was called the "death owl" in medieval Britain. Edmund Spenser, the 26th century poet, dubbed the bird "death's dread messenger". Shakespeare wrote in A Midsummer Night's Dream:

The screech owl, screeching loud,
Puts the wretch that lies in woe
In remembrance of a shroud.

Interestingly parallel myths developed with some of the North American native peoples, about owls being harbingers of death. Early Christian churches seized upon the owl as a perfect symbol for demonic possession. Religious illustrations combined owls and apes, for apes represented the Devil himself. Just as the Devil cunningly trapped human souls so the ape sent the owl to possess the unwary. In darker rituals still performed on Witches' Sabbaths, 'sending the fetch', the fetch being an owl, is supposedly how demoniacs perform astral projection. The owl is the sorcerer's Doppelganger.

Doppelganger means "double walker", a shadow or second self that accompanies every human or counterpart of a living person. Some believe only the owner of this precise image can see it, otherwise it is invisible to human eyes. Dogs and cats have been reported to have seen doppelgangers.

A doppelganger almost always stands behind a person, and they cast no reflection in mirrors. They are prepared to listen and give advice to humans, either by implanting ideas in their heads, or by way of a sort of osmosis. It is said to be bad luck to see one, and rarely will a doppelganger make itself visible to friends or family, often causing great confusion. Doppelgangers can be mischievous and malicious.

Another very ancient belief is that each person has an identical "twin" somewhere, although they are probably unrelated. Sometimes this Doppelganger is the direct opposite personality of the real person. Legend says that if the two should ever meet they will both die. Other interpretations describe the Doppelganger as the soul, embodied as an astral projection or aura. This double most often presents itself as a warning. According to an old superstition, anyone who wants to know who will pass away in the coming year has only to stand vigil near a church door on April 24th, the eve of the feast of St. Mark. At midnight the airy doubles of all who will die, file in a solemn processional into the church.  If the watcher is unlucky enough to see his or her own image there, their time is not far off.

Some feel that the double is a second passionate self, haunting the real self or even feel that the double is some overlooked aspect of their self that is important to the rational self.  Fictional examples of the doppelganger are: Dr. Frankenstein and the monster; Dr.Jekyll and Mr.Hyde; and Marlow and Kurtz (Heart of Darkness).

Madame Blavatsky of the Theosophical Society presumptuously tried to define doppelgangers at the turn of the last century.  She claimed there were three kinds of "doubles" and she tried to rationalize spirit mediumship through the first two parts of her definition.

        "First, man has his original "double", a personal
        essence of self around which the physical body
        of the fetus is built. The imagination of the mother,
        or an accident which affects the unborn child, will
        also affect this astral body. The astral and the
        physical both exist before the mind has developed.
        This "double" is born with man, dies with him, and
        can never completely separate itself far from the
        body during life, and though surviving the body for
        a short time, it disintegrates, with the corpse. It is
        this double that is sometimes seen over graves like
        a luminous figure of the man that was. This double
        can be found in many forms including the
        manifestations generated by mediums. These
        manifestations, when appearing long after a death,
        are projections and adjustments of the mediums'
        own astral bodies to represent the person in question.

        The second is the "Thought" body.  During life this         body is the vehicle both of intellectual thought and of         the animal passions and desires, drawing from the         lowest parts of the mind's desires. It is dual in its         potentiality and after death it forms what is called the         "Spook."  This is what supposedly affects the         appearance and actions of apparitions called up by a         medium.  (Thus a trance or being possessed when the         living person joins his or her own astral body with         someone else's spook.)  This double remains in the         ether until the person completes their transition to a         different world.

        The third "double" is the "Karmic body."  Karma, or         action, is the cause that produces incessant rebirths         or "reincarnations."  Similar to the Christian and other         Trinities with "three Gods," there are three doubles.         But in truth there is only one body under three aspects         or phases: the most material portion disappearing with         the physical body; the middle one surviving both as an independent but temporary entity in the land of shadows; the third, immortal unless Nirvana puts an         end to it."

Every country in the world believes more or less in the "double" or doppelganger. The simplest form of this is the appearance of a man's phantom the moment after his death, or at the instant of death, to his dearest friend. It is a double; because it was produced by the thought of the dying man. The dying man does not generally do it knowingly; nor is he aware that he so appears. What happens is as follows:  If he thinks very intently at the moment of death of the person he either is very anxious to see, or loves best, he may appear to that person. The thought becomes objective; the double, or shadow of a man, being nothing but the faithful      reproduction of him, like a reflection in a mirror. This is why the phantoms are often seen in such cases in the clothes they wore at the particular moment of their death, and the image reproduces even the expression on the dying man's face. When the dying man longs to see someone; his thought telegraphs to his friend, consciously or unconsciously along the wire of sympathy, and becomes recognizable. The double can appear in several places almost simultaneously.  But it must be understood that not the entirety of even the astral body is present in each appearance.

From my perspective, my image in the mirror is quite enough of a double for me and owls are merely wise and old, not omens of death and definitely not someone's double trying to astrally spy on me!


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This page was updated 2010-03-11.