Animals were deified because they reside in the prima materia, the five elements, the unattainable, the unmasterable by man or woman. We never mastered the oceans without help, nor without aid flew the heavens, nor without a bore drove into the earth. So, in fact, we admired our industrious co-habitants.
Over the millennia, in our fascination for them, we have deified, mastered, tamed, disciplined, traded, studied and killed what we have worshipped. We worshipped animals not only for their food and protection, but the companionship they provided us through our long journeys of discoveries as shepherds and herders. They have delighted us in reminding us of play, mirth and freedom.
We believe that we invent symbols. The truth is that they invent us; we are their creatures, shaped by their hard, defining edges ~ Gene Wolfe
In the ancient mystics’ lore man’s body was revered as the miniature of the macrocosm – as can be seen in the Masonic symbols of the emblematic hand mysteries, for example. As such symbols of the inner and the outer universe took on meanings of comparison deeper than man itself, all within the windows given us for what we could perceive then, with the tools we had then.
The theory emerged that every living creature manifested some aspect of the intelligence of what was then called “the eternal one who can never be known, save through the study of his numbered but inconceivable parts.” (Manly P. Hall). In other words, every creation became the face of our highest selves, and every animal an expression of the will of a mystery, a life, or power with us.
If you are a Jungian Theorist you too will appreciate the depth of symbolic richness our minds need acknowledge in animal symbols. Also, they had interesting emblemized and political meanings.
Starting with fish and cold blooded creatures: the fish have a deep Christian origin, also because it comes from the water of life, the feminine principle, and has thus has always been seen as primal emergence. But long before the scriptures, ancient peoples knew that the seas and the skies were inhabited by more than just the form of man and began putting them together to understand the different forms of man’s consciousness. There are much deeper stories that are wound around these intricate creatures – some well worth a study. This can be seen in the Egyptian (Anubis, Man, head of Jackal ), Greek (Centaur, the half man half horse) and Persian Mysteries (Homa, or Griffin ).
For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they are more finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear ~ Henry Beston
Much later, this emerged again, for example in the west in 1609 in Henry Khunrath’s highly contentious mystical and scientific writings the Ambphitheathrum Sapientiae Eeternae was published, and in it was a plate that discussed the bigotry and the attacks being leveled against the Hermetic sciences at the time. So Khunrath drew up a table of all the composite beasts in contempt of his slanderers. He names each slanderer as a beast, and it became a political discourse, giving each character a different part of an animal.
Insects were seen as inhabitants of both worlds, often able to transcend nature and able to converse with demons, with their little human-like bodies. Later in the 19th century they were even changed into what we have come to know as the most beautiful the most comforting of mythical creatures, Faeries.
Insects were very important emissaries, such as the Scarab, who was the Emissary of the Sun. A little dung beetle, it has the wings of brilliant rainbow in the sun’s rays and on the ground, as it rolls its dung backwards, turns back time. A scorpion stings with its tail, thus called a “back biter”, but were also seen as Guardians of Ra (the Sun). Of course the orb, the sun itself, was also no master of the animal kingdom, being also chased by the Serpent Apep. This fantastic story is that of the Sun and the Moon, seen through the Egyptian mythos. Apep is a Serpent who wants to slay the Sun, Ra. Ra is being devoured every night. Interestingly, Ra can in some forms of Egyptian art take on the form of a cat and bring back the day, and slay Apep in that form. And Ra’s protectors, watch for Ra to help illuminate yet another day.
Serpents though were also seen as regenerative, healing, and infinite, and was also delivered infinite knowledge, offering wisdom through temptation, not evil through knowledge, as often has been thought, which can be seen in the symbol of Asclepius.
The turtle is seen as longevity and many other creatures have a wealth of symbolism and protection to offer as I shall be discussing throughout the next few essays.
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