This small owl is made of carved ‘Bog Oak’ with glass eyes. If you look closely you can see how the carver has indicated the plumage of the owl, this can’t have been easy as ‘Bog Oak’ is a particularly hard material. During the mid to late nineteenth century the majority of ‘Bog Oak’ jewellery was made in Ireland. It is impossible to tell where this brooch was made as there are no marks on the back. The rest of the brooch is made of brass. The combination of an owl and a crescent moon is both an interesting and unusual subject for a brooch. Is there any significance?
In folklore and tradition, the owl does not have a good reputation. A saying found in Wales (1909) states “When a screech-owl is heard crying near a house, it is an indication of death on the premises. When a barn-owl alights on a house, hoots and then flies over it, an inmate will die within the year”. And, in Geoffrey Chaucer’s poem ‘Parliament of Fowls’ (c1380) “The oule eke, that of deth the bode bringeth”.
In Greek mythology, a little owl accompanies Athena, the goddess of wisdom. Sometimes an owl is referred to as the ‘owl of Athena’ and used as a symbol of knowledge and wisdom. The little owl has the scientific name of ‘Athene noctua’ because the goddess Athena can be represented by an owl.
Athena holding a helmet and a spear, with an owl, attributed to the Brygos Painter (circa 490–480 BC) in the Metropolitan Museum of Art
An Athenian Owl Coin 5th century BC
The moon is symbolic of passing time and renewal and for Buddhists the circle of the full moon symbolises perfect truth. A waxing moon symbolises creativity and regeneration.
‘Bog Oak’ is wood (it can be oak, fir, pine or yew) which has been fossilized in peat marshes or bogs turning it hard and black or very dark brown in colour. In Russia ‘Bog Oak’ is called ‘chernoderevshchiki’ and was used to construct the throne of Peter the Great. According to legends, ‘Bog Oak’ has a magical force.