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7 Animals with Spiritual Significance

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7 Animals with Spiritual Significance

By Shyla Batliwalla, DivineCaroline

In India, cows rule the roads. Taxis, rickshaws, even ambulances all come to a screeching halt when a cow steps hoof onto the highway (which, I might add, is rather often). Growing up traveling to India every other year, I didn’t think much of it. In the Hindu religion, cows are sacred; clearly they should always have right-of-way. Whenever I tell my stateside friends this, they think it’s completely ridiculous, and I guess it does seem pretty odd. While cars here might come to a full stop on a major highway to let a herd of cattle cross, it’s mainly to avoid an accident. And cows rarely roam onto the road or hang out in the streets. They’re animals, and in the United States, that means they’re penned up.

Hindus, however, are not the only religious group to worship four-legged folk. Numerous ancient societies believe that animals have a special spiritual significance. Animism is the belief that all creatures, even inanimate ones, have a soul. Though more actively practiced in folk religions and in ancient times, animals still play an integral role in our society and our religious beliefs.

Holy Cows
In Hinduism, the cow is a symbol of food and life. Vedic scripture dictates they should be treated “with the same respect as one’s mother.” They should never be killed or eaten. Cows are a symbol of the earth. They provide so much nourishment—in the form of milk for food and dung for fuel—and need little in return. Although Hindus do consider the cow as sacred, they do not worship bovines; they simply regard them as one of God’s gifts. In rural India, a cow is considered the most generous and pious of all gifts. and is often traded in the form of dowry.

Bear Worshipers
Arctolatry, the worshipping of bears, is one of the world’s oldest religious beliefs. Dating back to Neolithic times, the bear has always been a highly revered animal. Primarily a North American and Eurasian belief, bear worship dates back to Neanderthal societies. In ancient Western European society, the goddess of wildlife always appeared as a bear. Similarly, the Greek goddess Artemis appears in the form of a bear. The Nivkhs, an Ancient Russian society, offer a bear in celebration to honor a fallen solider. In Japan, the Ainu people name bears kamui, which means “god.” The Ainu people would eat bear, as they believed that the animal’s fur and meat were a gift from the gods.

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At DivineCaroline.com, women come together to learn from experts in the fields, of health, sustainability, and culture; to reflect on shared experiences; and to express themselves by writing and publishing stories about anything that matters to them. Here, real women publish like real pros. Together, with our staff writers, they’re discussing all facets of women’s lives from relationships and careers, to travel and healthy living. So come discover, read, learn, laugh and connect at DivineCaroline.com.

230 comments

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8:51AM PST on Feb 23, 2012

Thanks for sharing, nice to see that some animals are ALWAYS respected , in some places..

4:08PM PST on Dec 28, 2011

Hi, I am an animal respecter myself. I cannot understand how people can "own" birds and not care for the tiny sparrows that suffer our indifference. We blow their food away with leaf blowers, we shoo them away from our restaurants and all they want is something that is as small as a thumbnail to eat. In my town they send security guards out to watch you as you try to feed the freezing little things that are hiding in bushes. An I do mean freezing temperatures. No living thing can stay out in freezing weather - duh - that is why there are no birds in anartica or the north pole. The cities think - at least my city thinks that it should be against the law to feed them. Even just a little bird seed.
And just last night I read that two young boys were out in ski masks hunting down feral cats - putting them in boxes and stabbing them to death.
And finally to top the list - some crazy guy was arrested for having sexual relations with a little chihuahua.
And we are "civilized" ?

5:19PM PST on Dec 9, 2011

Plant mint around your foundation, keeps away ants. Animals are very important in our society. How we treat animals says something about the way we treat other humans.

4:33PM PDT on Apr 19, 2011

I love this article. I wish everyone treated animals how people in India treated cows. They aren't sacrificed, or allowed to be eaten, they aren't worshiped, but they are respected. If everyone saw animals in that way, this world would be such a better place. There would be no McDonalds, there would be no deforestation that has to do with cattle farming, people would have better, healthier lives, and animals and humans could live as one. Not caged, tormented, and beaten, but loved, respected, and cared for, as if they were humans. Just because they are animals doesn't mean we have this authority over them that makes us better, I bet in a lot of ways animals are wiser than us. They've been around so much longer than humans, never destroying this world like we did. We owe animals so much, for we've taken so many of their lives. I hope people start realizing this. I understand that killing animals for meat is just a part of the food chain, but we've taken it waay to far. Anyways, I love the Gandhi quote, it's so true. And I think owls represent wisdom, if not, I'm a goner, because for the last year I've been encountering and hearing so many owls.

7:41PM PST on Jan 22, 2011

thank you

4:21PM PST on Jan 9, 2011

interesting read

1:11PM PST on Dec 22, 2010

ty.

7:16AM PST on Dec 13, 2010

I traveled in India a few months back and the way the cows roam the streets is very mystical almost. The Hindus are very spiritual people and their daily rituals, numerous temples and multitude of Gods and Goddesses make for a very magical and spiritual way of life.

5:52PM PST on Dec 12, 2010

Enjoyed reading this! Finally a nice human legacy (because it's not western probably!!?)!

8:27PM PST on Dec 11, 2010

Very interesting! Thanks for posting!

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people are talking

Licorice root makes a delicious sweet tea. Thanks for letting me know it also fights cavities.

Thanks for sharing!

I guess I'll re-do the last couple sentences to my comment since it got "chopped off"...lol---->E…

Sounds good but maybe cut the sugar in half?

One of my cats does this, she doesn't like to be picked up either.

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