Owls have captured the imagination of humans across cultures for millennia. With their large, forward-facing eyes, cryptic camouflage, and silent flight, owls seem almost supernatural or otherworldly. In Mexico, owls have taken on rich symbolic meaning and are featured prominently in folklore, mythology, art, and cultural celebrations.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Owls play an important role in Mexican culture, often seen as symbols of wisdom, death, or the supernatural. They appear in Aztec and Mayan myths as well as modern depictions like the beloved cartoon owl, La Lechuza.

In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the origins and evolving roles of owls in Mexican legend and modern culture. We’ll learn about the revered Mesoamerican owl gods, mystical folktales featuring owl witches like La Lechuza, owl symbolism in Mexican art and literature, and popular owl-themed festivals.

Owls in Aztec and Mayan Mythology

Owl Gods and Goddesses

Owls played an important role in the mythologies of ancient Mesoamerican cultures like the Aztecs and Mayans. The Aztecs worshipped an owl god named Tezcatlipoca who was associated with sorcery and the night. Tezcatlipoca was one of the main Aztec deities and the god of the night sky.

His name means “Smoking Mirror” in the Nahuatl language. According to Aztec legends, Tezcatlipoca could see everything at night with his owl eyes. He was a powerful god who could change into an owl or jaguar to trick people.[1]

The Mayans also had an owl god named Cabrakan who protected mountains and earthquakes. Cabrakan was the god of mountains and earthquakes in the Mayan pantheon. His name meant “Earth-Shaker” in the Mayan language.

The Mayans imagined Cabrakan as a giant who could make the earth tremble and trigger earthquakes when he moved mountains. According to the Popol Vuh legend, Cabrakan was defeated by the Mayan Hero Twins and turned into an owl.[3]

Similarly, the Mayans saw owls as creatures of darkness who traveled between the world of the living and the underworld of Xibalba. The screech owl’s calls were thought to represent the weeping of souls in Xibalba. If a Mayan heard a screech owl, it meant someone was about to die.

So the owl served as a messenger from the underworld, carrying tidings of death back to the world of the living.[4]

Owls and Magic

Owls were linked to witchcraft and magic in Aztec and Mayan culture. Aztec sorcerers and healers would wear owl feathers and claws as symbols of power. They believed owls helped them fly into the spirit realm at night.

There are even reports of Aztec priests dressing up in owl costumes to perform magic rituals! [5]

Mayan shamans also associated owls with supernatural abilities. They thought owls allowed shamans’ souls to travel outside their bodies. Mayan sorcerers would incorporate live owls in their rituals because they believed owls were vessels for spirits.

And owl parts like feather or claws were used in Mayan magic charms and potions.[6]

La Lechuza and Mexican Folklore

Origins of the La Lechuza Legend

The legend of La Lechuza has its roots in ancient Aztec and Mayan folklore. According to myth, La Lechuza was once a woman who practiced witchcraft or committed an act that warranted punishment by the gods.

As retribution, she was transformed into a giant owl-like creature destined to roam the night preying on victims. Her name “La Lechuza” comes from the Spanish word for owl, “lechuza.” Some versions say she was an Aztec princess punished for disobeying her father, while others describe her as a woman who sold her soul to the devil in exchange for magical powers.

Many Mesoamerican cultures like the Aztecs and Mayans revered owls as creatures connected to the underworld and death. The owl’s association with nighttime and stealthy hunting capabilities contributed to beliefs that they were harbingers of misfortune.

La Lechuza’s origins as a shape-shifting witch fuse Mexican owl folklore with European concepts of witchcraft brought over by Spanish colonizers.

Common Depictions and Symbols

La Lechuza is usually described as an abnormally large owl or raptor-like creature, often standing over 5 feet tall. Her feathers are black or brown, sometimes with a white facial disk and dark rings around piercing yellow eyes.

Other depictions show La Lechuza as a hideous bird-woman hybrid with claws and wings. She is frequently portrayed perched on a tree, post, or roof before taking flight to attack her prey.

Some key symbols and elements commonly associated with La Lechuza include:

  • Glowing yellow eyes
  • Large sharp talons
  • Distinctive owl or witch-like screech
  • Feathers or owl outlines drawn around victims’ homes
  • Appearing outside windows or on rooftops around midnight

Spotting these signs near your home is believed to indicate La Lechuza has marked you as her next target.

Protective Measures Against La Lechuza

Many methods are used in Mexican folk magic to ward off La Lechuza. Some common protective measures include:

  • Placing a bowl of water outside your home – La Lechuza will become distracted by her reflection and leave you alone.
  • Drawing a cross on your door in holy oil – prevents her from entering.
  • Lighting candles in your windowsill – keeps her away.
  • Wearing a coat inside out – makes you invisible to her.
  • Sprinkling salt outside entry points – acts as a barrier against evil spirits.

In rural areas, shotguns may be fired into the air to scare her off. However, aggression is ill-advised as it may anger the creature and put you more at risk. Other recommendations include refraining from calling her name out loud, avoiding whistling at night, and being indoors after dark.

Owls in Modern Mexican Culture

In Art and Literature

Owls have become popular subjects in modern Mexican art and literature. Painters such as Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo occasionally incorporated owls into their works, using them as symbols of wisdom or spiritual vision.

Contemporary artists continue this tradition, with vivid owl paintings and sculptures displayed in galleries across Mexico.

In literature, owls appear in poetry and novels as messengers or harbingers. Well-known authors such as Laura Esquivel and Carlos Fuentes have featured owls in their writing. For example, in his 1975 novel Terra Nostra, Fuentes poetically describes the “round, vigilant eyes” of an owl perched on a windowsill.

In Cartoons and Media

Owls are also present in Mexican cartoons, animations, and other media. The popular children’s cartoon character La Lechuza is an anthropomorphic owl, portrayed as a superhero with magical powers in the town of Puebla de Los Angeles.

Some analysts see La Lechuza as a cultural symbol linking modern media to Mexico’s ancient owl myths.

In cinema, owls have appeared in Mexican fantasy and horror films, often representing wisdom, secrets, or ominous warnings. For example, Guillermo del Toro’s 2006 movie Pan’s Labyrinth features a large barn owl that guides the film’s young protagonist on her symbolic journey.

In Cultural Festivals and Celebrations

Owls are incorporated into contemporary Mexican cultural events and holidays across various regions. During Day of the Dead festivals, sugar skulls and candies in the shape of owls are popular. The Feast Day of Santa Lechuza in August features owl art, costumes, and themed snacks in Puebla city.

These celebrations link Mexico’s ancient owl folklore to modern cultural pride and identity.

Other festivals include Oaxaca city’s Night of the Owls in December, which has outdoor light displays and owl puppet shows, and Monterrey’s Festival of Owls each March welcoming the spring migration of wild owls through the area’s mountains and forests.


For thousands of years, owls have been powerful symbols in Mexican legend and culture. From revered Aztec owl gods to the modern mystical legend of La Lechuza, these mysterious birds continue to capture the Mexican imagination.

Today, images and mythology around owls can still be seen in art, media, literature, and festivals across Mexico.

With their air of magic and connection to the spirit world, owls will likely continue to influence Mexican culture for generations to come. Their large eyes and silent flight never fail to spark intrigue and a touch of wonder, even in our modern times.

Similar Posts