Pelayo Benavides and José Tomás Ibarra: “Uncanny Creatures of the Dark.” Exploring the Role of Owls across Human Societies


Belief systems of human societies are deeply related with animals, which are symbolised in traditional narratives. Here we review reported cases from around the world and our own ethnographic observations from southern Chile, to analyse beliefs associated with owls. In particular, we explore the role that owls play in traditional narratives and the likely reasons of their saliency, including their connections with the extraordinary. For the latter, we utilise the concept of “the uncanny” to analyse how owls generate a feeling of something not simply mysterious but, more specifically, something strangely familiar. Owls trigger unsettling experiences of the “normal,” with the ensuing feelings of unhomeliness, which may explain their saliency across human societies. Finally, we discuss that the uncanny nature of owls is precisely what locates them in a culturally stimulating position and what should be considered by conservationists and politicians to tackle a more integrative approach to owl conservation.

[Chile, Mapuche, traditional narratives, the uncanny, owls]