The cult of the leopard is widely found in West Africa. Among the Ewe a man who kills one is liable to be put to death; no leopard skin may be exposed to view, but a stuffed leopard is worshipped. On the Gold Coast a leopard hunter who has killed his victim is carried round the town behind the body of the leopard; he may not speak, must besmear himself so as to look like a leopard and imitate its movements. In Loango a prince's cap is put upon the head of a dead leopard, and dances are held in its honour.
The lion was associated with the Egyptian gods Rē and Horus; there was a lion-god at Baalbek and a lion-headed goddess Sekhet. The Arabs had a lion-god, Yaghuth. In modern Africa we find a lion-idol among the Balonda.
The cult of the lizard is most prominent in the Pacific, where it appears as an incarnation of Tangaloa. In Easter Island a form of the house-god is the lizard; it is also a tutelary deity in Madagascar.
In India the monkey-god, Hanuman, is a prominent figure; in orthodox villages monkeys are safe from harm. Monkeys are said to be worshipped in Togo. At Porto Novo, in French West Africa, twins have tutelary spirits in the shape of small monkeys.
The cult of the serpent is found in many parts of the Old World; it is also not unknown in America; in Australia, on the other hand, though many species of serpent are found, there does not appear to be any species of cult unless we include the Warramunga cult of the mythical Wollunqua totem animal, whom they seek to placate by rites. In Africa the chief centre of serpent worship was Dahomey; but the cult of the python seems to have been of exotic origin, dating back to the first quarter of the 17th century. By the conquest of Whydah the Dahomeyans were brought in contact with a people of serpent worshippers, and ended by adopting from them the cult which they at first despised. At Whydah, the chief centre, there is a serpent temple, tenanted by some fifty snakes; every python of the danh-gbi kind must be treated with respect, and death is the penalty for killing one, even by accident. Danh-gbi has numerous wives, who until 1857 took part in a public procession from which the profane crowd was excluded; a python was carried round the town in a hammock, perhaps as a ceremony for the expulsion of evils.
The rainbow-god of the Ewe was also conceived to have the form of a snake; his messenger was said to be a small variety of boa; but only certain individuals, not the whole species, were sacred. In many parts of Africa the serpent is looked upon as the incarnation of deceased relatives; among the Amazulu, as among the Betsileo of Madagascar, certain species are assigned as the abode of certain classes; the Masai, on the other hand, regard each species as the habitat of a particular family of the tribe.
In America some of the Amerindian tribes reverence the rattlesnake as grandfather and king of snakes who is able to give fair winds or cause tempest. Among the Hopi (Moqui) of Arizona the serpent figures largely in one of the dances. The rattlesnake was worshipped in the Natchez temple of the sun; and the Aztec deity Quetzalcoatl was a serpent-god. The tribes of Peru are said to have adored great snakes in the pre-Inca days; and in Chile the Araucanians made a serpent figure in their deluge myth.
Over a large part of India there are carved representations of cobras (Nāgas) or stones as substitutes; to these human food and flowers are offered and lights are burned before the shrines. Among the Dravidians a cobra which is accidentally killed is burned like a human being; no one would kill one intentionally; the serpent-god's image is carried in an annual procession by a celibate priestess.
Serpent cults were well known in ancient Europe; there does not, it is true, appear to be much ground for supposing that Aesculapius was a serpent-god in spite of his connexion with serpents. On the other hand, we learn from Herodotus of the great serpent which defended the citadel of Athens; the Roman genius loci took the form of a serpent; a snake was kept and fed with milk in the temple of Potrimpos, an old Slavonic god. To this day there are numerous traces in popular belief, especially in Germany, of respect for the snake, which seems to be a survival of ancestor worship, such as still exists among the Zulus and other savage tribes; the "house-snake," as it is called, cares for the cows and the children, and its appearance is an omen of death, and the life of a pair of house-snakes is often held to be bound up with that of the master and mistress themselves. Tradition says that one of the Gnostic sects known as the Ophites caused a tame serpent to coil round the sacramental bread and worshipped it as the representative of the Saviour. See also SERPENT-WORSHIP.