The Ainu’s lucky or unlucky owl stories

There are variant versions and differing accounts of owls being lucky (bringers of great luck) or unlucky (bringers of ill fortune) among the Ainu people. Below are two contrasting accounts:

The [Horned] Owl.

   There are six owls,—brethren. The eldest of them is only a little bigger than a sparrow. When perching on a tree, it balances itself backwards, for which reason it is called “The Faller Backwards.” The youngest of the six has a very large body. It is a bird which brings great luck. If anyone walks beneath this bird, and there comes the sound of rain falling on him, it is a very lucky thing. Such a man will become very rich. For this reason the youngest of the six owls is called “Mr. Owl.”

[The rain here mentioned is supposed to be a rain of gold from the owl’s eyes.]—(Translated literally. Told by Penri, 16th July, 1886.)

Source: Basil Hall Chamberlain’s “Aino Folk Tales

The Little Horned Owl

Why you want this bird to look you full in the face, and why you should start praying if you see an owl fly across the face of the moon at night
The Ainu look upon [the little horned owl] as a demon who really desires to harm mankind, and they naturally consider him to be a bird of evil omen. He is also said to be able to tell a good man from a bad one at sight. When caught, the people say that he will not look at a person if that person be of a bad disposition, but will keep his eyes merely closed, just peering through the slits between the lids. This act is called ainu eshpa, i.e., “man-ignoring.” If the person before whom the bird is brought be of a good character, he will stare at him open-eyed. This act is called ainu oro wande, i.e., “searching out the man”….

I once had the misfortune to catch an owl of this kind in the daytime and so unwittingly went through the ordeal of having one of these birds before me. It looked at me with eyes nearly closed and at an Ainu by my side with them wide open. The word was whispered among the people nishpa eshpa, i.e., “the master is ignored.” I then and there went down in the Ainu estimation about 99 percent. But the man who was stared at by the owl was lord of all he surveyed for a time, for had not the owl “searched him out” and shown him to be a good man and the better of the two? Surely so.

Even this very day, while penning these words, my manservant proudly informed me that owls always looked at him with eyes wide open. He leaves me to draw the inference….

I find that the people are very superstitious about seeing owls flying during the night. Moreover, it is considered to be a very unfortunate thing for one to pass in front of or immediately over a person … Ill fortune or danger is certain to be near at hand in such a case, and the only way to avoid the impending evil is to expectorate as much and as fast as possible for a time. By doing so, the demon of evil foreshadowed by the owl may be thrown out of the mouth instead of being swallowed.

But woe betide the man who should be unfortunate enough to see an owl or any kind of night bird cross the moon’s face! In such a case the intending evil is very serious and great, and the only way of avoiding it or its demon is to change one’s name, so that when he comes for a certain individual named so-and-so who saw the bird cross between himself and the moon, he may not be able to find him.

Source: NOVA Online Ainu Legends: The Little Horned Owl

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