An Exploration of Owl and La Bruja
In his novel Bless Me, Ultima, Rudolfo Anaya weaves together pagan spirituality and Catholicism, allowing each a place in his characters’ consciousness and effectively creating a space where magic and witchcraft are very much parts of his characters’ realities. I was intrigued by several of the myths in the text, as well as by the scenes of magic involving Ultima and the Luna family. I wanted to find out more about Mexican ‘bruja’ (witch) myths, particularly the relationship between witches and owls referenced in the story, so I decided to do an internet search to learn more. Because I recognized owls as a symbol typically associated with magic (Hedwig and Harry Potter immediately came to mind), I decided to also do a broader search on owls and magic outside of Mexican myth.
My search brought me to a site called “The Owl Pages: World Owl Mythology” which alphabetically listed countries and briefly outlined the relationship between magic and owls in each one’s particular tradition. For the most part, owls represent an evil portent. For example, “the Swahili believe the owl brings illness to children,” and in Cameroon the owl is “too evil to name” and known only as “the bird that makes you afraid” (http://www.owlpages.com/articles.php?section=Owl+Mythology&title=World). However, in Bless Me, Ultima, the owl that comes with the curandera Ultima is a positive creature, whose “soft hooting was like was like a song....[that] calmed the moonlight hills and lulled [the children] to sleep” (14).
However, traditionally, the Mexican bruja is believed to have shapeshifting capabilities, transforming into the owl in order to more effectively spy on her victims. Thus, I am inclined to believe that the safety and security offered by the owl in the story (which is intimated to be the shapeshifting of Ultima) is a creation of Anaya’s in his desire to create a positive shaman character “who uses her positive power to do good” (viii). As Anaya says, “‘witches are people whose work may be viewed as good or evil, depending on the needs of those who ask for their assistance” (viii).