If you were a Brownie as a girl, you likely have fond memories and impressions of your Brown Owl, Tawny Owl, and Snowy Owl. I sure do. But when I got to thinking about it, I couldn’t remember their proper names. And then I thought a bit more about it, and realized that I’m not supposed to. That’s part of the magic… we’re charged with anonymously carrying on the tradition.
In talking to my sister, she remembered that Margaret Atwood wrote about Brownies in some of her books – and Margaret is much better at describing the whole thing than I ever could be.
From Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing (page 149) by Margaret Atwood:
“When I was nine, I was enrolled in a secret society, complete with special handshakes, slogans, rituals, and mottoes. The name of this was the Brownies, and it was quite bizarre. The little girls pretended to be fairies, gnomes and elves, and the grownup leading it was called Brown Owl. Sadly, she did not wear an owl costume, nor did the little girls wear fairy outfits. This was a disappointment to me, but not a fatal one. ”
And from Lady Oracle:
“The lady who ran the pack was known as Brown Owl; owls, we were told, meant wisdom. I always remembered what she looked like: the dried-apple face, the silvery gray hair, the snapping blue eyes, quick to stop a patch of tarnish on the brass fairy pin or a dirty fingernail or a poorly tied shoelace. Unlike my mother, she was impartial and kind, and she gave points for good intentions. I was entranced by her. It was hard to believe that an adult, older than my mother even, would actually squat on the floor and say things like, “Tu-whit, Tu-whoo” and “When Brownies make their fairy ring, They can magic everything!” Brown Owl acted as though she believed all this, and thought that we did too. This was the novelty: someone even more gullible than I was.”
“Occasionally I felt sorry for her, because I knew how much pinching, shoving and mudging went on during Thinking Time and who made faces behind Brown Owl’s back when we were saying, “I promise to do my duty to God and the King and to help others every day, especially those at home.” Brown Owl had a younger sidekick known as Tawny Owl. Like vice-principals everywhere, she was less deceivable and less beloved.”
My Mom told me that my Brown Owl from the 1st Whitney Pack was named Mrs. McRae. I don’t think I would know her if I saw her today, but I do remember that she and the other Owls were wise, patient, imaginative, fun, musical and caring.
Because of my Owls and Guiders (at least in part) I love the outdoors, pick up litter without thinking about it, I can sew on a button, and I can confidently light a match (one year as a Guide we made burnt matches into crosses for Easter and had to light and burn a whole pack. It was really cool to be trusted with matches – and after the first few, you got the knack and weren’t scared anymore – smart thinking).
Because of their example I learned that I could try anything, including the Brown Owl job. I wonder if they know what an impact they had on me?
In the words of the Brownie Story … “Twist me and turn me and show me an elf, I look in the water and there see… myself”. Maybe I’m gullible, like Margaret says, but I do believe in the magic of the wise old Owl.
By guest blogger Cara Hicks – Community Guider, Brown Owl and Blogger. Read previous posts written by Cara on GirlGuidesCANBlog: Simple Flag Ceremonies, Junior Leaders: How to Make the Best Use of Their Generosity?, What I Would Tell a New Guider, Online Resources: Guiding in the Cloud, and Getting Started: What to do About Badges, Key to Brownies: Getting to know you with a Beaded Bracelet and Friendship Bracelets World Record.