Animal Symbolism and Zoolatry

Humans have had relationships with animals for thousands of years, be it cattle, horses or domesticated animals like dogs and cats. Some religions hold certain animals in high esteem, and others see all sentient life as being important, especially religions, and philosophies that believe you’ll gain enlightenment through reincarnation.

BUDDHISM

In Buddhism all animals are classified as sentient life, and are eligible for enlightenment, and any animal could potentially be a reincarnation of a family member or a loved one, so they are seen in high regard, and this is one of the reason why many Buddhists prefer to live as vegetarians. They believe that morality is indistinguishable between the treatment of humans and animals and we are connected. In Buddhism they have something known as the Five precepts, which is essentially their version of the Ten Commandments, and the first precept is not to take any life, animal, insect, bird, fish or human.

• to refrain from taking life, ie killing any living creature

• to refrain from taking what is not freely given

• to refrain from misuse of the senses or sexual misconduct

• to refrain from wrong speech

• to refrain from intoxicants that cloud the mind

‘Siddhārtha Gautama‘, or as he’s commonly known, Buddha, claimed that all sentient life contained Buddha nature, and due to the continuous rebirths throughout time, every animal has been a person at some point. Buddhism’s sister religions, Hinduism and Jainism share a similar belief system which is about reaching a truer level of reality through enlightenment. Buddha said in the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra, that the eating of meat isn’t permitted under any circumstance, but some people who follow Buddhism claim that buying food at a supermarket, or restaurant hasn’t been killed for them, so it’s permissible.

“In every country in the world, killing human beings is condemned. The Buddhist precept of non-killing extends even further, to include all living beings.” – Monk Thich Nhat Hanh

HINDUISM

Hindus see all life as having equal spiritual power, and in Hindu scripture many stories are about animals who are classed as divine. Hindus, like Buddhists believe in reincarnation, and karma, and with the belief in karma comes dying and being born as an animal if you repeatedly make the same mistakes. Ahimsa is the principle of respecting the rights of animals and see that no harm comes to them. They also believe that humanity should always try to create an equilibrium with the world they live in, and living unselfishly is expected. The cow is the sacred animal in Hinduism and it’s seen as a symbol of life and Earth, and is heavily respected as it’s used widely in farm work. They believe that humans weren’t put on Earth to dominate other species, which is in direct opposition to Christianity as god promotes dominionism in Genesis.

“No person should kill animals helpful to all. Rather, by serving them, one should attain happiness.” – Yajur Veda

SIKHISM

Whilst Sikhs don’t worship animals, they believe in reincarnation also, and believe god put all life on Earth for a purpose, so animal cruelty is forbidden. They believe that bodies are clothes for the soul, and we can enjoy life as human or animals before we are released from reincarnation to live with god. Even though they respect all life, Sikhs only believe that humans can break away from reincarnation, as we have morals whereas animals rely on instincts. Sikhs believe that if they are to eat meat, the animal must be slaughtered immediately so that the animal experiences little to no suffering, so because of this they are forbidden to eat kosher or halal meat from ritual slaughtering. Because of this many Sikhs actively choose to be vegetarians to preserve life.

“In so many incarnations, you were a worm and an insect in so many incarnations, you were an elephant, a fish and a deer In so many incarnations, you were a bird and a snake In so many incarnations, you were yoked as an ox and a horse Meet the Lord of the Universe – now is the time to meet Him After so very long, this human body was fashioned for you.” – Guru Granth Sahib ji

ANCIENT EGYPT

Zoolatry, which is the worship of animals was extremely prevalent in Ancient Egypt, and as well as being seen as idols, the majority of households had pets ranging from domestic, to more extravagant like Lions, Tigers, Elephants and Crocodiles. And 1 in 4 hieroglyphs discovered feature animals of one description or another. Many of the gods were either depicted as animals, or at least had an animals head on a human body. The Egyptians were mystified by the seemingly magical abilities that certain animals had; be it flight, heightened awareness, stealth, agility and hunting abilities. They didn’t see the animals as gods themselves, but believed they were the means that the gods could manifest themselves. Mummified remains of animals have been discovered in tombs, where they’ve been left with much wealth which was a gift to the gods, and in ‪Beni Hassan there’s a tomb with an estimated 80,000 feline burials.‬

‪”You are the Great Cat, the avenger of the gods, and the judge of words, and the president of the sovereign chiefs and the governor of the holy Circle; you are indeed the Great Cat.” – Valley of the kings inscription ‬

TAOISM

Taoism, or Daoism, is a religious philosophical Chinese tradition and originated from the School of Yin-yang. Yin-Yang are opposites; Yin is female, and Yang is male; female is darkness; male is lightness; female is absorption, male is penetration. The school of shin-Yang also studies the Five Elements (water, fire, wood, metal, and earth). The Tao is the single principle that controls the universe, and it’s separated into two opposite principles of Yin and Yang, and they accomplish changes in the universe through the Five Elements. The Chinese Zodiac originated from studies by Taoist priests who nominated twelve animals for a twelve-year cycle. The yellow Emperor, or Emperor Huang Ti created the Chinese lunar calendar in 2637 BCE, and this paved the way for the Chinese Zodiac.

Yang: (1) Rat, (3) Tiger, (5) Dragon, (7) Horse, (9) Monkey, (11) Dog

Yin: (2) Ox, (4) Rabbit, (6) Snake, (8) Sheep, (10) Rooster, (12) Pig

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