Interestingly enough the owl has quite a few connotations with death which precede the association with wisdom in modern culture (usually attributed to Athena the Goddess of Wisdom in Greek mythology). The link seems to be across different culture and continents. The native Americans considered the owl to be a method of communicating with the dead (carrying messages between living humans and the graves), Medieval Europeans believed an owl could be a witch’s familiar (either an animal with which a witch had a spiritual connection or an animal the witch could actually shapeshift into.) and over in Africa owls were viewed as having the power of foretelling imminent death.
I did a bit of research to try and find out the origins of the link with death and a lot of it seems to be about the fact that owls are nocturnal and associated with the dark and the witching hours. However I did find some interesting information relating to the Vikings who apparently used to use the hoot of an owl to let their enemies know they were coming to do battle. There is also a link to the Aztecs who used to paint their God of death sitting beside an owl.
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