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
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.