The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Zoolatry

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Edition of 1920. See also Animal worship on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

ZOOLATRY, the worship of animals. This seems to have passed through three stages: (1) The animal was reverenced and propitiated as possessing a power greater than that of man. (2) It was regarded as an incarnation of some deity or spirit. (3) It was raised to the position of a tribal ancestor. Zoölatry had its origin in the belief of primitive man that all nature was endowed with life and that many beings were possessed of great and magical powers. Animals were believed to be especially endowed with such powers. They were also thought to have their chiefs and tribal organizations just as man had, and their great magicians who were powerful enough to bring confusion upon their enemies. Hence primitive man attempted to conciliate all the mysterious forces and powers of nature, among them, those of the animal kingdom. Out of this, through successive stages, grew animal worship, with all its attendant ceremonies, forms and incantations. In the early history of the the human race zoölatry of some kind was very prevalent. Traces of it appear in the Bible, as in the story of the Golden Calf made by the Israelites (Ex. xxxii). Zoölatry took deep root in the religious life of the ancient Egyptians, and all three forms flourished among that people. Juvenal opens his 15th satire with a scathing invective of Egyptian zoölatry, and detailed accounts of it occur in Herodotus, Plutarch, Strabo and Cicero. In the present day zoölatry survives chiefly in India and among the snake-worshippers of the west coast of Africa. See Nature Worship.