1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Animal Worship

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ANIMAL WORSHIP, an ill-defined term, covering facts ranging from the worship of the real divine animal, commonly conceived as a “god-body,” at one end of the scale, to respect for the bones of a slain animal or even the use of a respectful name for the living animal at the other end. Added to this, in many works on the subject we find reliance placed, especially for the African facts, on reports of travellers who were merely visitors to the regions on which they wrote. Classification.—Animal cults may be classified in two ways: (A) according to their outward form; (B) according to their inward meaning, which may of course undergo transformations.

(A) There are two broad divisions: (1) all animals of a given species are sacred, perhaps owing to the impossibility of distinguishing the sacred few from the profane crowd; (2) one or a fixed number of a species are sacred. It is probable that the first of these forms is the primary one and the second in most cases a development from it due to (i.) the influence of other individual cults, (ii.) anthropomorphic tendencies, (iii.) the influence of chieftainship, hereditary and otherwise, (iv.) annual sacrifice of the sacred animal and mystical ideas connected therewith, (v.) syncretism, due either to unity of function or to a philosophic unification, (vi.) the desire to do honour to the species in the person of one of its members, and possibly other less easily traceable causes.

(B) Treating cults according to their meaning, which is not necessarily identical with the cause which first led to the deification of the animal in question, we can classify them under ten specific heads: (i.) pastoral cults; (ii.) hunting cults; (iii.) cults of dangerous or noxious animals; (iv.) cults of animals regarded as human souls or their embodiment; (v.) totemistic cults; (vi.) cults of secret societies, and individual cults of tutelary animals; (vii.) cults of tree and vegetation spirits; (viii.) cults of ominous animals; (ix.) cults, probably derivative, of animals associated with certain deities; (x.) cults of animals used in magic.

(i.) The pastoral type falls into two sub-types, in which the species (a) is spared and (b) sometimes receives special honour at intervals in the person of an individual. (See Cattle, Buffalo, below.)

(ii.) In hunting cults the species is habitually killed, but (a) occasionally honoured in the person of a single individual, or (b) each slaughtered animal receives divine honours. (See Bear, below.)

(iii.) The cult of dangerous animals is due (a) to the fear that the soul of the slain beast may take vengeance on the hunter, (b) to a desire to placate the rest of the species. (See Leopard, below.)

(iv.) Animals are frequently regarded as the abode, temporary or permanent, of the souls of the dead, sometimes as the actual souls of the dead. Respect for them is due to two main reasons: (a) the kinsmen of the dead desire to preserve the goodwill of their dead relatives; (b) they wish at the same time to secure that their kinsmen are not molested and caused to undergo unnecessary suffering. (See Serpent, below.)

(v.) One of the most widely found modes of showing respect to animals is known as totemism (see Totem and Totemism), but except in decadent forms there is but little positive worship; in Central Australia, however, the rites of the Wollunqua totem group are directed towards placating this mythical animal, and cannot be termed anything but religious ceremonies.

(vi.) In secret societies we find bodies of men grouped together with a single tutelary animal; the individual, in the same way, acquires the nagual or individual totem, sometimes by ceremonies of the nature of the bloodbond.

(vii.) Spirits of vegetation in ancient and modern Europe and in China are conceived in animal form. (See Goat, below.)

(viii.) The ominous animal or bird may develop into a deity. (See Hawk, below.)

(ix.) It is commonly assumed that the animals associated with certain deities are sacred because the god was originally theriomorphic; this is doubtless the case in certain instances; but Apollo Smintheus, Dionysus Bassareus and other examples seem to show that the god may have been appealed to for help and thus become associated with the animals from whom he protected the crops, &c.

(x.) The use of animals in magic may sometimes give rise to a kind of respect for them, but this is of a negative nature. See, however, articles by Preuss in Globus, vol. lxvii., in which he maintains that animals of magical influence are elevated into divinities.

Bear.—The bear enjoys a large measure of respect from all savage races that come in contact with it, which shows itself in Animal cults. apologies and in festivals in its honour. The most important developments of the cult are in East Asia among the Siberian tribes; among the Ainu of Sakhalin a young bear is caught at the end of winter and fed for some nine months; then after receiving honours it is killed, and the people, who previously show marks of grief at its approaching fate, dance merrily and feast on its body. Among the Gilyaks a similar festival is found, but here it takes the form of a celebration in honour of a recently dead kinsman, to whom the spirit of the bear is sent. Whether this feature or a cult of the hunting type was the primary form, is so far an open question. There is a good deal of evidence to connect the Greek goddess Artemis with a cult of the bear; girls danced as “bears” in her honour, and might not marry before undergoing this ceremony. The bear is traditionally associated with Bern in Switzerland, and in 1832 a statue of Artio, a bear goddess, was dug up there.

Buffalo.—The Todas of S. India abstain from the flesh of their domestic animal, the buffalo; but once a year they sacrifice a bull calf, which is eaten in the forest by the adult males.

Cattle.—Cattle are respected by many pastoral peoples; they live on milk or game, and the killing of an ox is a sacrificial function. Conspicuous among Egyptian animal cults was that of the bull, Apis. It was distinguished by certain marks, and when the old Apis died a new one was sought; the finder was rewarded, and the bull underwent four months' education at Nilopolis. Its birthday was celebrated once a year; oxen, which had to be pure white, were sacrificed to it; women were forbidden to approach it when once its education was finished. Oracles were obtained from it in various ways. After death it was mummified and buried in a rock-tomb. Less widespread was the cult of the Mnevis, also consecrated to Osiris. Similar observances are found in our own day on the Upper Nile; the Nuba and Nuer worship the bull; the Angoni of Central Africa and the Sakalava of Madagascar keep sacred bulls. In India respect for the cow is widespread, but is of post-Vedic origin; there is little actual worship, but the products of the cow are important in magic.

Crow.—The crow is the chief deity of the Thlinkit Indians of N.W. America; and all over that region it is the chief figure in a group of myths, fulfilling the office of a culture hero who brings the light, gives fire to mankind, &c. Together with the eagle-hawk the crow plays a great part in the mythology of S.E. Australia.

Dog.—Actual dog-worship is uncommon; the Nosarii of western Asia are said to worship a dog; the Kalangs of Java had a cult of the red dog, each family keeping one in the house; according to one authority the dogs are images of wood which are worshipped after the death of a member of the family and burnt after a thousand days. In Nepal it is said that dogs are worshipped at the festival called Khicha Puja. Among the Harranians dogs were sacred, but this was rather as brothers of the mystae.

Elephant.—In Siam it is believed that a white elephant may contain the soul of a dead person, perhaps a Buddha; when one is taken the capturer is rewarded and the animal brought to the king to be kept ever afterwards; it cannot be bought or sold. It is baptized and fêted and mourned for like a human being at its death. In some parts of Indo-China the belief is that the soul of the elephant may injure people after death; it is therefore fêted by a whole village. In Cambodia it is held to bring luck to the kingdom. In Sumatra the elephant is regarded as a tutelary spirit. The cult of the white elephant is also found at Ennarea, southern Abyssinia.

Fish.—Dagon seems to have been a fish-god with human head and hands; his worshippers wore fish-skins. In the temples of Apollo and Aphrodite were sacred fish, which may point to a fish cult. Atargatis is said to have had sacred fish at Askelon, and from Xenophon we read that the fish of the Chalus were regarded as gods.

Goat.—Dionysus was believed to take the form of a goat, probably as a divinity of vegetation. Pan, Silenus, the Satyrs and the Fauns were either capriform or had some part of their bodies shaped like that of a goat. In northern Europe the wood spirit, Ljesche, is believed to have a goat's horns, ears and legs. In Africa the Bijagos are said to have a goat as their principal divinity.

Hare.—In North America the Algonquin tribes had as their chief deity a “mighty great hare” to whom they went at death. According to one account he lived in the east, according to another in the north. In his anthropomorphized form he was known as Menabosho or Michabo.

Hawk.—In North Borneo we seem to see the evolution of a god in the three stages of the cult of the hawk among the Kenyahs, the Kayans and the sea Dyaks. The Kenyahs will not kill it, address to it thanks for assistance, and formally consult it before leaving home on an expedition; it seems, however, to be regarded as the messenger of the supreme god Balli Penyalong. The Kayans have a hawk-god, Laki Neho, but seem to regard the hawk as the servant of the chief god, Laki Tenangan. Singalang Burong, the hawk-god of the Dyaks, is completely anthropomorphized. He is god of omens and ruler of the omen birds; but the hawk is not his messenger, for he never leaves his house; stories are, however, told of his attending feasts in human form and flying away in hawk form when all was over.

Horse.—There is some reason to believe that Poseidon, like other water gods, was originally conceived under the form of a horse. In the cave of Phigalia Demeter was, according to popular tradition, represented with the head and mane of a horse, possibly a relic of the time when a non-specialized corn-spirit bore this form. Her priests were called Poloi (colts) in Laconia. In Gaul we find a horse-goddess, Epona; there are also traces of a horse-god, Rudiobus. The Gonds in India worship a horse-god, Koda Pen, in the form of a shapeless stone; but it is not clear that the horse is regarded as divine. The horse or mare is a common form of the corn-spirit in Europe.

Leopard.—The cult of the leopard is widely found in West Africa. Among the Ewe a man who kills one is liable to be put to death; no leopard skin may be exposed to view, but a stuffed leopard is worshipped. On the Gold Coast a leopard hunter who has killed his victim is carried round the town behind the body of the leopard; he may not speak, must besmear himself so as to look like a leopard and imitate its movements. In Loango a prince's cap is put upon the head of a dead leopard, and dances are held in its honour.

Lion.—The lion was associated with the Egyptian gods Rē and Horus; there was a lion-god at Baalbek and a lion-headed goddess Sekhet. The Arabs had a lion-god, Yaghuth. In modern Africa we find a lion-idol among the Balonda.

Lizard.—The cult of the lizard is most prominent in the Pacific, where it appears as an incarnation of Tangaloa. In Easter Island a form of the house-god is the lizard; it is also a tutelary deity in Madagascar.

Mantis.—Cagn is a prominent figure in Bushman mythology; the mantis and the caterpillar, Ngo, are his incarnations. It was called the “Hottentots' god” by early settlers.

Monkey.—In India the monkey-god, Hanuman, is a prominent figure; in orthodox villages monkeys are safe from harm. Monkeys are said to be worshipped in Togo. At Porto Novo, in French West Africa, twins have tutelary spirits in the shape of small monkeys.

Serpent.—The cult of the serpent is found in many parts of the Old World; it is also not unknown in America; in Australia, on the other hand, though many species of serpent are found, there does not appear to be any species of cult unless we include the Warramunga cult of the mythical Wollunqua totem animal, whom they seek to placate by rites. In Africa the chief centre of serpent worship was Dahomey; but the cult of the python seems to have been of exotic origin, dating back to the first quarter of the 17th century. By the conquest of Whydah the Dahomeyans were brought in contact with a people of serpent worshippers, and ended by adopting from them the cult which they at first despised. At Whydah, the chief centre, there is a serpent temple, tenanted by some fifty snakes; every python of the danh-gbi kind must be treated with respect, and death is the penalty for killing one, even by accident. Danh-gbi has numerous wives, who until 1857 took part in a public procession from which the profane crowd was excluded; a python was carried round the town in a hammock, perhaps as a ceremony for the expulsion of evils. The rainbow-god of the Ewe was also conceived to have the form of a snake; his messenger was said to be a small variety of boa; but only certain individuals, not the whole species, were sacred. In many parts of Africa the serpent is looked upon as the incarnation of deceased relatives; among the Amazulu, as among the Betsileo of Madagascar, certain species are assigned as the abode of certain classes; the Masai, on the other hand, regard each species as the habitat of a particular family of the tribe.

In America some of the Amerindian tribes reverence the rattlesnake as grandfather and king of snakes who is able to give fair winds or cause tempest. Among the Hopi (Moqui) of Arizona the serpent figures largely in one of the dances. The rattlesnake was worshipped in the Natchez temple of the sun; and the Aztec deity Quetzalcoatl was a serpent-god. The tribes of Peru are said to have adored great snakes in the pre-Inca days; and in Chile the Araucanians made a serpent figure in their deluge myth.

Over a large part of India there are carved representations of cobras (Nāgas) or stones as substitutes; to these human food and flowers are offered and lights are burned before the shrines. Among the Dravidians a cobra which is accidentally killed is burned like a human being; no one would kill one intentionally; the serpent-god's image is carried in an annual procession by a celibate priestess.

Serpent cults were well known in ancient Europe; there does not, it is true, appear to be much ground for supposing that Aesculapius was a serpent-god in spite of his connexion with serpents. On the other hand, we learn from Herodotus of the great serpent which defended the citadel of Athens; the Roman genius loci took the form of a serpent; a snake was kept and fed with milk in the temple of Potrimpos, an old Slavonic god. To this day there are numerous traces in popular belief, especially in Germany, of respect for the snake, which seems to be a survival of ancestor worship, such as still exists among the Zulus and other savage tribes; the “house-snake,” as it is called, cares for the cows and the children, and its appearance is an omen of death, and the life of a pair of house-snakes is often held to be bound up with that of the master and mistress themselves. Tradition says that one of the Gnostic sects known as the Ophites caused a tame serpent to coil round the sacramental bread and worshipped it as the representative of the Saviour. See also Serpent-worship.

Sheep.—Only in Africa do we find a sheep-god proper; Ammon was the god of Thebes; he was represented as ram-headed; his worshippers held the ram to be sacred; it was, however, sacrificed once a year, and its fleece formed the clothing of the idol.

Tiger.—The tiger is associated with Siva and Durga, but its cult is confined to the wilder tribes; in Nepal the tiger festival is known as Bagh Jatra, and the worshippers dance disguised as tigers. The Waralis worship Waghia the lord of tigers in the form of a shapeless stone. In Hanoi and Manchuria tiger-gods are also found.

Wolf.—Both Zeus and Apollo were associated with the wolf by the Greeks; but it is not clear that this implies a previous cult of the wolf. It is frequently found among the tutelary deities of North American dancing or secret societies. The Thlinkits had a god, Khanukh, whose name means “wolf,” and worshipped a wolf-headed image.

Authorities.—For a fuller discussion and full references to these and other cults, that of the serpent excepted, see N. W. Thomas in Hastings' Dictionary of Religions; Frazer, Golden Bough; Campbell's Spirit Basis of Belief and Custom; Maclennan's Studies (series 2); V. Gennep, Tabou et totémisme à Madagascar. For the serpent, see Ellis, Ewe-speaking Peoples, p. 54; Internat. Archiv, xvii. 113; Tylor, Primitive Culture, ii. 239; Fergusson, Tree and Serpent Worship; Mähly, Die Schlange im Mythus; Staniland Wake, Serpent Worship, &c.; 16th Annual Report of the American Bureau of Ethnology, p. 273, and bibliography, p. 312. For the bull, &c., in Egypt, see Egypt: Religion. (N. W. T.)