We are so used to living side by side with animals that we don’t really realize just how important they are. Ancient people lived much closer to animals, both domesticated and wild, that’s why they revered them more and often worshipped in forms of deities. Ancient gods and goddesses could turn into animals and had certain animals as their sacred vehicles. In other cultures animals became sacred as the main source of livelihood (like holy cows in India) or were closely associated with the forces of nature. Even the Chinese Zodiac is based on animals! Here are 7 sacred animals from around the world you need to know about.
Cow is the most sacred animal in India and there are numerous reasons for that. Cows have always been closely linked with people’s livelihood in India – they gave milk that was used to make dairy products, butter, and sweets, while their dung was used as a field fertilizer. Cow’s dung is still used to create incense in India! As cow is considered a sacred animal its urine can be used in religious ceremonies, too. In Hinduism, Lord Shiva’s most devoted follower was Nandi, a bull, who was so close to his beloved god that in Shiva temples you will always see a statue of a bull near the entrance. In Hindu mythology there was also a wish-fulfilling cow named Kamdhenu that lived in the realm of the Gods.
Ancient Egyptians loved cats above all other animals. They were the protectors of people, who killed poisonous snakes and got rid or rats and other harmful rodents that raided their fields. If someone harmed a cat, a punishment would follow immediately, sometimes resulting in death. Cats were glorified so much that they were even mummified after their death along with the most respected people of Ancient Egypt. Goddess Bastet was depicted with a head of a cat – that’s probably one of the reasons why ancient people respected cats so much. She warded off evil spirits and helped with various diseases.
Elephants are greatly respected all over Southeastern Asia, but this animal is most sacred in Thailand. It’s been the national symbol of the country since ancient times and was used as a part of the national flag until 1917. White elephants have always been considered the most auspicious animals that brought prosperity, health, wealth, and luck. They were also closely linked to royalty and high status. Elephants are sacred in many other cultures as well – in India the god of wisdom and prosperity, Ganesh, is depicted with a head of an elephant.