Saturday, September 21, 2013


Stein River owl, from York, "They Write Their Dreams 
on the Rocks Forever", p.221.

Fig. 156. Stein Valley Owl, York, "They Write Their 
Dreams on the Rocks Forever", p.236.

A variation of the owl figure in rock art that I find to be very compelling is from the Stein River Valley in British Columbia, Canada. The Stein River Valley owl has large eyes and a graceful curve to its wings that make it very attractive designwise, and it symbolizes deeply spiritual themes to the people there. It has complicated meanings including not only owls and their attributes, but also it is identified with the two-headed spirit snake Sisiutl. This owl is very often illustrated with its outstretched wings embracing or encompassing game animals. This leads to interpretation as representing spiritual power over game animals and thus, the Stein River owl is part of a hunter’s magic.

A variation of the Stein River Owl pictograph
with its wings encompassing game animals.

That association is explained by Annie York below: 
“A more intellectually complex visualization is found in Fig 156, - it has been adopted by common usage as the Stein Valley “owl” logo.

Fig. 100, York, "They Write Their Dreams
 on the Rocks Forever," p.149.

This is the dream form of the hunter’s spirit helper. Annie explained this image as the dream form taken by men who have a well-developed hunting power. Their specific power may emanate from a natural creature such as the rubber boa ( Sisiutl, appearing above the owl in the illustration above, see my column of May 1, 2010 – Sisiutl – The Two-Headed Serpent ), the eagle or the owl, and then, in the dream, it can transform itself into the directed will of the hunter, portrayed in its dream form as a semi-human, semi-bird encompassing the game.
The dominant shape of this figure is a strong vertical body and two arched and encompassing arms.

Fig. 145, York, They Write Their Dreams
on the Rocks Forever, p. 212.

 It is strikingly similar to the forceful image of the joined eyebrows and nose in many petroglyphs such as Fig. 145, and in the famous Tsagaglalal petroglyph portrayal of a face at Long Narrows, Columbia River.” (York 1993:236)

So, on the one level we have meaning found in its identity as an owl and all of the qualities attributed to that bird. On the second level we have meanings that arise from its association with Sisiutl. And then on a third level we have the association with other rock art of the Northwest based upon the similarity of the shape of the wings of the Stein River owl with the eyebrows of petroglyph faces supposed to represent spirit or ancestor figures, and it is also seen to be similar to the Spedis Owl (August 2, 2010, Birds in Rock Art – The Spedis Owl).
This is a pretty large role to play for such a small character.


York, Annie, Richard Daley, and Chris Arnett,
1993    They Write Their Dreams on the Rocks Forever, Rock Writings in the Stein River Valley of British Columbia, Talonbooks, Vancouver, B.C.

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