Animals are a big part of our life in Australia and a huge part of our national identity. We are lucky enough to have a huge array of animals that call Australia — and only Australia — home, so we like t0 think we treat them well. But, we’re not the only country with animals at the centre of our identity – in fact, some of these places treat animals like royalty.
In Christian countries, snakes are seen as an evil creature, but in North America, they’re revered by the Hopi people as a symbol of fertility. There was even a Snake Clan who worshipped the snakes, and performed a Hopi Snake Dance in order to attract fertility to agricultural practices. In Native American folklore, the snake is both a creature to be in awe of but also to be careful of. In folklore there are tales of those who disrespect snakes and live to regret it, and those who break laws or act badly and then get bitten.
While most of us will scrunch our noses at the thought of worshipping a rat, in India there is a temple dedicated to their worship, where people travel great distances to pay their respects. Some even lay down on the temple floor and have the rats crawl on them. The Karni Mata Temple is home to about 25,000 black rats and the odd white rat, which are considered especially holy. People bring offerings for the rats, including large plates of milk, while eating food that has been nibbled by the rats is considered a great honour. While there are several stories about the origins of the rat temple, it’s said the gods’ reincarnated souls enter the rats. So, if a rat is killed, it must be replaced with a solid silver rat.
Dogs are humankind’s best friend the world over, but in Nepal they take a day out to pay homage to our furry counterparts. Held as part of the five-day festival of Tihar, the second day is devoted to dogs where they are dressed up in flower garlands, typically made of marigolds and are covered in colourful powdered dyes. The dogs are given treats and play games with each other in the street. Police dogs are involved in competitions and ceremonies to honour their service. Needless to say, there are a lot of tails wagging on this day each year.
4. Cows, India
Cows are considered a holy animal in India as they are an important part of the Hindu religion, and are also the providers of milk and ghee, milk being considered a highly prized food item, and ghee being important for cooking and worship. Cows also provide manure for agricultural work and house plants, and their urine is said to be a good antiseptic. There are local laws in place to protect cows, including a maximum prison sentence of 10 years for slaughtering a cow, and five for selling their meat.
Tigers are the crux of Korean folklore and mythology and are a favourite topic in Korean art. It’s said that a tiger that has overcome the trials and tribulations of the world and is full of knowledge turns white, making it a particularly sacred creature. Tigers once roamed Korea in their droves, but haven’t been seen in the country for decades due to the destruction of their habitat as well as hunting. Still, the tiger is seen as the symbol of the Korean people, and the death of the last known tiger in Korea was said to be a foreshadowing of the Korean war, which divided the country.
Have you seen any of these examples of animal worship? Tell us about it in the comments below.