The story of “The Owl Husband” originates from the Passamaquoddy. It’s a tale of how a father—in a desire to marry off his snooty daughter—said he’d give her to any man who could make the embers of a fire blaze by spitting on it.


Doing such a thing is, of course, impossible. Unless you are an owl, with an owl-auntie that has a knack for making potions. Such was the case for the Great Horned Owl in this story. He took on the disguise of a handsome young man and, having drunk a potion from his aunt, spit on the embers and made the fire blaze. As agreed upon, he took the haughty girl for his wife.


Unfortunately, she soon saw his horned owl-ears poking through his hair, got scared, and ran away. Not wanting to lose his wife, the Great Horned Owl took on the disguise of a different handsome young man and again approached the girl and her village with promises of a feast. While they are dining, the girl tells him to lift up his hair and show his ears so that she can whisper a secret. The owl refuses, but eventually his owlish ears are shown and everyone runs away in fear.


Refusing to give up, the Great Horned Owl returns to his auntie and gets from her a magical flute that will make any girl run into the arms of the man who plays it. The owl husband waits quite a while for his bride to come close enough. But when she does, he plays the flute and bewitches her. He then swoops her up and takes her to his owl village. In time, the girl becomes used to being married to an owl. The moral given with this story is that all women must “get used to their husbands, no matter who they are.”


Call me weird, but I think the story is a cute one. The owl seems to be a good sort who treats his wife well. And the moral speaks of a time when marriage came first, and getting to know one another came second. Considering the circumstances, it’s good advice.



Source: Erdoes, Richard, Ortiz, Alfonso, “The Owl Husband”, American Indian Myths and Legends, Pantheon Books, 1985.


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