Animal Worship, an ill-defined term, covering facts ranging from the worship of the real divine animal, commonly conceived as a "god-body," at one end of the scale, to respect for the bones of a slain animal or even the use of a respectful name for the living animal at the other end. Added to this, in many works on the subject we find reliance placed, especially for the African facts, on reports of travellers who were merely visitors to the regions on which they wrote.


Animal cults may be classified in two ways: (A) according to their outward form; (B) according to their inward meaning, which may of course undergo transformations.

(A) There are two broad divisions: (1) all animals of a given species are sacred, perhaps owing to the impossibility of distinguishing the sacred few from the profane crowd; (2) one or a fixed number of a species are sacred. It is probable that the first of these forms is the primary one and the second in most cases a development from it due to (i.) the influence of other individual cults, (ii.) anthropomorphic tendencies, (iii.) the influence of chieftainship, hereditary and otherwise, (iv.) annual sacrifice of the sacred animal and mystical ideas connected therewith, (v.) syncretism, due either to unity of function or to a philosophic unification, (vi.) the desire to do honour to the species in the person of one of its members, and possibly other less easily traceable causes.

(B) Treating cults according to their meaning, which is not necessarily identical with the cause which first led to the deification of the animal in question, we can classify them under ten specific heads: (i.) pastoral cults; (ii.) hunting cults; (iii.) cults of dangerous or noxious animals; (iv.) cults of animals regarded as human souls or their embodiment; (v.) totemistic cults; (vi.) cults of secret societies, and individual cults of tutelary animals; (vii.) cults of tree and vegetation spirits; (viii.) cults of ominous animals; (ix.) cults, probably derivative, of animals associated with certain deities; (x.) cults of animals used in magic.

(i.) The pastoral type falls into two sub-types, in which the species (a) is spared and (b) sometimes receives special honour at intervals in the person of an individual. (See Cattle, Buffalo, below.)

(ii.) In hunting cults the species is habitually killed, but (a) occasionally honoured in the person of a single individual, or (b) each slaughtered animal receives divine honours. (See Bear, below.)

(iii.) The cult of dangerous animals is due (a) to the fear that the soul of the slain beast may take vengeance on the hunter, (b) to a desire to placate the rest of the species. (See Leopard, below.)

(iv.) Animals are frequently regarded as the abode, temporary or permanent, of the souls of the dead, sometimes as the actual souls of the dead. Respect for them is due to two main reasons: (a) the kinsmen of the dead desire to preserve the goodwill of their dead relatives; (b) they wish at the same time to secure that their kinsmen are not molested and caused to undergo unnecessary suffering. (See Serpent, below.)

(v.) One of the most widely found modes of showing respect to animals is known as totemism (see TOTEM and TOTEMISM), but except in decadent forms there is but little positive worship; in Central Australia, however, the rites of the Wollunqua totem group are directed towards placating this mythical animal, and cannot be termed anything but religious ceremonies.

(vi.) In secret societies we find bodies of men grouped together with a single tutelary animal; the individual, in the same way, acquires the nagual or individual totem, sometimes by ceremonies of the nature of the bloodbond.

(vii.) Spirits of vegetation in ancient and modern Europe and in China are conceived in animal form. (See Goat, below.)

(viii.) The ominous animal or bird may develop into a deity. (See Hawk, below.)

(ix.) It is commonly assumed that the animals associated with certain deities are sacred because the god was originally theriomorphic; this is doubtless the case in certain instances; but Apollo Smintheus, Dionysus Bassareus and other examples seem to show that the god may have been appealed to for help and thus become associated with the animals from whom he protected the crops, etc.

(x.) The use of animals in magic may sometimes give rise to a kind of respect for them, but this is of a negative nature. See, however, articles by Preuss in Globus, vol. lxvii., in which he maintains that animals of magical influence are elevated into divinities.

Animal Cults.