What is the significance of Ultima's owl early in Bless Me, Ultima?

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The owl is commonly associated in myth and legend with wisdom. Someone renowned for their wisdom is often referred to as a "wise old owl." Ultima certainly falls into that category; she's a very wise old lady who displays exemplary wisdom in her capacity as Antonio's spiritual guide. But as well as symbolizing Ultima's wisdom, the owl also represents her darker, more vengeful side. As a witch, Ultima has the capacity for both good and evil, and the owl reflects this. We see this in the incident where the owl savagely rips out one of Tenorio's eyes. Even though he's a thoroughly unpleasant character, Tenorio doesn't really deserve such a hideous fate.

Most importantly of all, however, the owl symbolizes the relationship between Antonio and Ultima. At first, he's somewhat frightened of the owl, just as he is of his beguiling grandmother. But in due course, he comes to see Ultima—and the owl—as his protector, as the very soul of nature.

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The appearance of the owl serves to articulate and symbolize Ultima's special understanding of/with nature.

Antonio learns many lessons from Ultima, one of the most important being that nature has a power and should be respected. Humans are a part of a larger circle of being.  

To Tony she says, “You have been seeing only parts . . . and not looking beyond into the great cycle that binds us all.”

Ultima's owl arrives with Ultima at Antonio's family's house, symbolizing the idea that Ultima is bound with nature. As an active character, the owl protects Ultima and the family and watches over them. Though Antonio initially is disturbed by the owl (because witches/brujas have been known to take the shape of owls), he quickly comes to realize that Ultima's owl is a protective presence. 

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