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Animals: Gods, Spirits and Stars

A Dose of Good Dogma

Good Dogma has been training humans and their dogs since 1996. Readers are invited to submit questions to gooddogma@hotmail.com. Contact information for all offered services can be found on our website www.GoodDogma.net

March 1, 2024

In the middle of the night, considering an article topic, because that’s what I think about at 2 a.m., it struck me that almost every culture around the world uses animals to represent gods, spirits, and constellations, among other things. This year, the Chinese celebrate the year of the dragon. All these animals, whether real or imagined, are immersed in and guide belief systems. Why do humans look to animals, to represent beliefs and deities? I did a little research to help me understand.

Gods: In ancient Egyptian “religious” art, animals were used to illustrate characteristics of the Gods. The Egyptians did not worship animals and the depictions were not literal. Says the Pitt River Museum at Oxford, “Several animals might depict one God…revealing different aspects of their character. For example, Thoth was depicted as both a baboon and an ibis. The same animals could be associated with several gods.” However, in later periods, some specific animals were held to be sacred.

Hinduism: According to the National Hindu Student’s Forum, “The cow symbolizes all other creatures. The cow is a symbol of the earth; the nourisher, the ever-giving undemanding provider.” The cow represents life, the sustenance and “the virtual sustainer of life for many humans.” It is seen as a symbol of grace and abundance. Reverence of this bovine “instills in Hindus the virtues of gentleness, receptivity and connectedness with nature.”

Totems: For Native Americans, there are Totems. From Native American Legends, “Native American tradition provides that each person is connected with nine different animals that will accompany him or her through life, acting as guides.”  Also called “spirit guides or power animals”, these creatures come in and out of our lives depending on the direction that we’re headed and the tasks that need to be completed along our life’s journey. A Totem animal is one that is with you for life, in both the physical and spiritual world. Though people may identify with different animal guides during their lifetime, it is only one totem animal that acts as the main guardian spirit.

The Zodiac: Although the ancient Chinese and Egyptians are known to have applied symbolic sky maps, the origins of the patterns is not clear. Most of the constellation names we know came from the ancient Middle Eastern, Greek, and Roman cultures. They identified clusters of stars as gods, goddesses, animals, and objects of their stories. There are 42 animal constellations. Chinahighlights.com says, “The Chinese legend goes that the Emperor of the Heavens ordered all the animals that inhabited the earth to congratulate him on his birthday. He…selected twelve animals that arrived first to be guardians of the Heavenly Gate, so they could take turns on duty in order to prevent deities from secretly descending to the earth. The people created the twelve Chinese zodiac signs according to the arrival order of the twelve animals. Each zodiac sign is designated to a specific year, so, the same zodiac sign returns every twelve years.

Heavens ordered all the animals that inhabited the earth to congratulate him on his birthday. He selected twelve animals that arrived first to be guardians of the Heavenly Gate, so they could take turns on duty in order to prevent deities from secretly descending to the earth.” The people created the twelve Chinese zodiac signs according to the arrival order of the twelve animals. Each zodiac sign is designated to a specific year, so, the same zodiac sign returns every twelve years.

Constellations: Animals have always been credited with crafting elements of the dark sky. There are Native American tales in which the coyote created the constellations and, in some, he’s to blame for the fact that they don’t really resemble what they should. The impatient canine carelessly tossed the stars up into the sky instead of placing them carefully in the right pattern. 

I think my favorite is a Cherokee story which tells the tale of a dog that was caught stealing from a mill. When he ran away, the trail of grain spilling from his mouth created the Milky Way.

Good Dogma has been training humans and their dogs since 1996. Readers are invited to submit questions to gooddogma@hotmail.com.  Contact information for all offered services can be found on our website www.GoodDogma.net   

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