Mythology has always been an intriguing subject. There are so many stories and legends in mythology that force us to think about their existence. They are stories about gods, supernatural humans, magical plants, and many more. Moreover, you witness the reflection of mythologies in art, literature, and culture which further raise our curiosity. Today we will look into a significant part of mythologies, animals.
It is very easy to find books, shows, and movies about mythological animals. Disney movies are the best example of animals and the extraordinary characteristics they have. Be it “The Frog Princess” or “Beauty and the Beast”. Furthermore, there are stories about shape-shifters. The most common shape-shifters are werewolves and vampires and how significant they are. Werewolves can turn into humans and wolves whereas vampires can turn into bats and humans. Moreover, some animals have two different characteristics in one body like centaur and pegasus.
The significance of animals varies from different mythologies. In some mythologies they act as messengers of gods, in others, they are the vehicle of gods. In some, they act as guardians, and in others, they are guides for different realms. Ever heard the term “as brave as a lion” or “ busy as a bee”? These terms are famous for the characteristics that animals have. Let us take you through different mythologies and see what they have to say about different animals.
Diving into Greek mythology is like diving into the sea. It has so many different stories and legends. Apart from a vast number of gods, demi-gods, and humans, it also has different animals. Furthermore, these animals have different significance and characteristics. Everybody has heard about a phoenix. People get tattoos of phoenix as it is the symbol of strength. Ever wondered what is the origin of the phoenix? It comes from Greek mythology. Phoenix is an immortal bird that rises from its ashes. The life of a phoenix is a cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. It is said that the phoenix dies when it catches fire and is reborn from its ashes. Phoenix symbolizes birth, death, and rebirth. Moreover, it is the symbol of strength and renewal. Since a phoenix rises from its ashes, it signifies or motivates a new journey after failure.
Centaurs are mythological creatures half human and half horse. They have the head, arms, and torso of a human and the lower body and legs of a horse. They are independent and chaotic. Furthermore, they also represent the wild child everybody has inside. Pegasus is another important animal of Greek mythology. It is a white horse with strong wings. Born to the Olympian god Poseidon, Pegasus is the symbolism of spiritual freedom. Moreover, it is the representation of our accomplishments and ideals.
Hindu mythology says that all life on earth is equal and nobody is inferior. Many animals are considered sacred and are worshipped. Moreover, animals are the vehicles of gods and goddesses in Hindu mythology. Cows hold special significance in Hindu culture. It symbolizes motherhood, compassion, divinity, and purity. Kamdenu is a heavenly cow, who is considered the mother of all cows. Moreover, Hindus worship cows as Mother Goddess.
Elephants symbolize strength, intelligence, and royalty. Lord Ganesha, son of Shiva has an elephant head which represents knowledge. Moreover, Indira has Airavath as his vehicle. It is believed that Airavath emerged through the churning of the ocean for the elixir. Elephants were also used in wars. King Porus defeated Alexander, the Great due to the elephants in the war. Another significant animal of this mythology is the monkeys. Monkey holds an important place in Hinduism for their connection with Lord Rama. Lord Rama with the help of Hanuman and “vanar sena” or the monkey army rescued his wife Sita from Lanka. Furthermore, there are many temples in India where monkeys are welcomed despite their mischievous behavior.
Traditions of Animal Worship
Many temples in India worship the animal incarnations of gods and goddesses. Moreover, there are several festivals to celebrate these incarnations. The Narasimha avatar (incarnation) of Lord Vishnu depicts the victory of good over evil. Narasimha avatar is the one where Vishnu had the head of a lion and a human body. It is celebrated as Narasimha Jayanti. Moreover, it is also celebrated as Holi, the festival of colors. There are several temples all across India to worship Narasimha.
Another example is Bhramari Devi. Bhramari Devi is the incarnation of Goddess Parvati. Bhramari means “ Goddess of bees”. She was incarcerated as Bhramari to defeat the demon Arunasura. Bees are clinging to her in her pictures. Shri Bhaamari Devi Shaktipeeth is the main temple to worship her. Moreover, it is in West Bengal. There are so many mythological stories about animal worship in India that you can read on and on.
You will often find animal statues outside various Japanese temples. They have an important significance in folklore. These animals are the messengers of gods or protectors of the temple. Komainu, also known as the shrine guardian is half lion and half dog. Komainu originated from the Tang dynasty of China. They are the guardians of the shrines in Japan. Moreover, they are present in pairs at the entrance of the shrines. While some shrines have komainu as the guardian others have animals like foxes, rabbits, and wolves.
Foxes are another significant animal in Japanese legends. Kitsune, are the shape-shifting foxes. Kitsune is considered a trickster spirit who transforms into a beautiful woman. According to legends, kitsune have nine tails. Their every tail represents each life. Moreover, there are thirteen types of kitsune. Kitsune also associates with Inari, goddess of the harvest. They are the messenger of the goddess. Furthermore, they guard the Inari shrines all over Japan. If you are visiting the Inari shrine, you will find a fox statue at the entrance. Moreover, there can be two or hundred foxes guarding the shrine. In Japanese mythology, white snakes are the messenger of Benzaiten, goddess of the river. They symbolize new life. Moreover, they are also associated with metal(coins). Hence, with prosperity and wealth.
North American Mythology
People of North America believe in spirit animals known as totem animals. Totem animals are spirit animals. These animals connect with the soul of a person. Also, totem animals are there with you for a lifetime guiding you. Animals have different characteristics. Butterfly signifies life and the ability to change according to the circumstances. Though butterflies are small organisms, their symbolism is important. They help people understand that change is the only constant. Dogs symbolize loyalty and nobility. They are faithful and never leave their master alone.
Wolves are usually considered cunning and shrewd. But they symbolize loyalty, determination, and guardianship. Moreover, they also represent the value of the family system. They teach us to stick with the family in difficult times. Totem is also a symbol or sacred object that represents different families and communities. People used to make statues of their totem animal outside their homes and communities to tell people about them.
Thousands of years ago, people used to be close to animals. Just like these mythologies they had a spiritual connection with them. They were more than mere pets. Now it is time that we establish that connection again. Not because of the mythological stories but because they are living beings too. They are the breathing organisms like we are. Therefore, we should be more empathetic towards them. On a lighter note, which animal fascinated you the most? Do you also feel like writing a story about one of them just like Harry Potter or The Chronicles of Narnia? Well go ahead and try.