Richard Hale is a tattoo enthusiast who studies and researches tattoo symbolism, meanings, and history.
The owl is a beautiful and meaningful tattoo choice. Owl tattoos aren’t necessarily mainstream, but they are popular as they worn by both men and women. Often colorful and detailed, they commonly portray the owl alone, but may include other symbols and elements.
In this article, we will discuss owl tattoo designs and symbolism. We've included photos of some truly stunning owl tattoo designs. We hope that you leave inspired, with plenty of ideas for your next tattoo.
The owl is the wisest of all birds because the more it sees, the less it talks.
— African Proverb
Owl Tattoo Symbolism and Design
Just like most animal tattoos, the owl tattoo has a rich symbolic value. The owl is a symbol of wisdom, knowledge, and transition.
The owl has been associated with many different ancient civilizations over time, all over the globe. The owl plays a part in Hindu, Egyptian, and Celtic lore and mythologies. These cultures believed that the owl was the protector and guardian of the dead and believed it was able to communicate with the departed. The Romans believed that an owl hooting atop a public building predicted the death of an important public figure. Because of this, the owl is commonly called the "angel of death" and was believed to guide or carry recently-departed souls to the underworld. For ancient Greeks, the owl was sacred to Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom.
The owl was also symbolic to Native Americans who believed it was the guardian of sacred knowledge. They would also look to the owl to forecast the weather. Several cultures believed that the owl would accompany the soul in the afterlife and some believe if you see an owl in your dreams, it means that you or someone in your life will experience death.
When we take a closer look at the owl, we can better understand all the symbolism behind the animal. They are known for their large eyes and skillful hunting abilities. Their eyes are designed to see far in low light and they hunt quietly, barely making any noise at all when they fly, for they have evolved extra-soft plumage which gives them "acoustic stealth" and allows them to sneak up on their prey. Owls have a mysterious vibe, perhaps because they are nocturnal and rarely seen during the day. As most winged animals do, the owl symbolizes freedom, but they also represent vision, due to their ability to see so far at night.
You can do a lot with an owl tattoo. These designs look good in vibrant color or black ink, in intricate realistic detail or in abstract or cartoon design, as large or small tattoos; the owl can be sitting on a branch or flying, wings stretched out or hugged tight. Because of this, owl tattoos can be placed nearly anywhere on the body. Owls are often portrayed with other symbols: a key, a clock, a flower, whatever looks and feels right.
When designing your owl tattoo, take the time to explore the possibilities and find out what your tattoo artist has to offer. Make sure that you take the time to view as many owl tattoo designs as you can, as this will give you an idea of what is possible.
Night is purer than day; it is better for thinking and loving and dreaming. At night everything is more intense, more true. The echo of words that have been spoken during the day takes on a new and deeper meaning.
— Elie Wiesel
Owl Tattoos: Meanings and Ideas
Considering the rich symbolic history and the colorful beauty of owl tattoos, it is no wonder that they are so popular. As mentioned before, both men and women can wear owl tattoos. If you want something cute, you could go with a cartoon design. If you're into something more serious, you could go for a fully-detailed realistic design.
Tattoo artists have gotten creative over the years and taken owl designs in many directions; you'll see owls with jewel eyes, or holding lanterns in their talons. The owl is associated with time, so it is not uncommon to see owls with clocks or hourglasses. Some parents have tattoos of baby owls to represent their children. You can have your children's names under the baby owls.
What Does an Owl Tattoo Represent?
Death (Literal or Symbolic)
Before You Tattoo
There are some important things you should remember before you get a tattoo.
- Make sure you take the time to research thoroughly before you decide.
- Make sure you know exactly what it stands for—you don't want to get a tattoo and find out later that it represents something different from what you thought.
- Don't rush to get tattooed if you are not sure! Make sure you are completely sold on your tattoo.
- Those that rush to get inked usually have regrets later on down the road. Remember, even with laser removal and cover ups, all tattoos can't be fixed. Make the right choice the first time around.
The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea-green boat
— Edward Lear
A wise old owl sat in an oak;
The more he saw the less he spoke;
The less he spoke the more he heard;
Why can't we all be like that bird?
Jason on August 30, 2019:
What does an owl & rose mean
Allen Adkins on March 08, 2019:
Absolutely blown away by the information provided about the Owl. This provides affirmation to me in getting and I will tattooed on my leg, with that be my very first tattoo. Thanks!
Ginny on January 25, 2018:
What does a male black widow mean
Tjw on November 30, 2017:
Hi Norman, not as far as i am aware of. Your tattoo artist should be able to advise you but i have never heard / seen this.
Norman on October 22, 2017:
Does owl tattoo have anything to do with gang affiliation before I get one I would like to no
Lindsay Langstaff on August 07, 2017:
I like getting tattoos that I think are representative of who I am as a person, so a tattoo of an owl might be a good idea. Thank you for the inspiration!
tawnyowl on August 27, 2016:
Add Your Comment. The owl tattoos are awesome . I collect owls and hope to get an owl tattoo soon. ..
Michelle on June 13, 2014:
Thank u so much for all the information u provided this was the most helpful site I've found
Richard Ricky Hale (author) from West Virginia on November 24, 2013:
Lucas, thanks for the comment. I've never heard such a meaning. I know plenty of people with owl tattoos, both men and women. The owl is a symbol of wisdom, knowledge, and vision. Owl tattoo designs rock!!! There's so many different ways to make a bad $$$ tattoo. Fear not my friend.
Lucas on November 20, 2013:
I wanted to tattoo an owl in my leg but my dad said that it represents homosexuality , is it true ? Cause i wanted to do it to represent the secret knowledge of the universe but now i'm a bit afraid that people will think i'm gay or something
cooper cook on November 08, 2012:
Ever since I got my first tattoo, I have become obbsessed with getting them. And I already have 4 and my next one I'm planning on getting a owl for in memory of my sister, because owls were always her favorite animal. So this tattoo with hold very special meaning.
Richard Ricky Hale (author) from West Virginia on July 28, 2012:
*Jen, thanks for taking the time to drop by. Glad you enjoyed the owl tattoos. Best wishes.
*Michael, appreciate the great comment. Glad you found it insightful. If you have ever seen an owl in nature, they are quite mesmerizing. Their traits and personality is amazing.
*Gypsy, I am always appreciative to have you come by. I hope you enjoyed them.
*Alocsin, thanks for reading this pal. Your right, there is a variety when it comes to owl tattoos. Something for everyone.
*Aviannovice, glad you enjoyed the history surrounding the owl and the owl tattoo.
*Max, always great to hear from you sir Max. It is a good mix. I guess it is all depending on what you are looking for. Do see a lot of women with them though.
*Frank, thanks for the comment and your time Frank. Best wishes.
Frank Atanacio from Shelton on July 24, 2012:
amazing owls are so amazing bless you bro..:)
BeyondMax from Sydney, Australia on July 24, 2012:
It's quite interesting that most of the pictures show ladies. I thought that owl tattoos would be more favored by guys. But than again, some of them are kind of cartoon-ish.
Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on July 23, 2012:
Some good history and great tattoos!
Aurelio Locsin from Orange County, CA on July 23, 2012:
I love these tattoos because they range from cartoony and cute to realistic and fierce. Voting this Up and Beautiful.
Gypsy Rose Lee from Daytona Beach, Florida on July 23, 2012:
These are colorful and amazing. Love owls.
Michael Fielder from North Central West Virginia, where the green grass grows... on July 22, 2012:
What a great and learning read. I have always looked at the owl as mysterious and never really voiced why. I also have appreciated and enjoyed them when I have seen them and would gaze at the few I have seen as though in a trance, forgetting the time. And never really had a thought as to why? Was just one of those oh so many awe inspiring things in nature which always grabbed me.
I used to have a farm and there was an owl there I would "commune" with. It simply made me feel safe and secure at some deep non-verbal level. Also, the last place I lived, I delayed moving for two seasons because of the owl (which I never did see) outside my bedroom window fallinng asleep and waking up to its low gentle "Hoo, Hoo."
And now, I know why! The twelve meanings you associate with the owl above, are all ingrained deeply in my spirituality. I can now go forth and understand myself so much better.
Thank you for a great read.
Jennifer Stone from the Riverbank, England on July 22, 2012:
Wow... some amazing tatts here, I especially love the one on the womans left shoulder. Great hub, thanks. Voting up and stuff, Jen