Goddesses Of Animals


Both wild and domesticated animals appear as goddess images. 

In at least one case, we find a wild and a domesticated version of the same animal representing separate god desses: Egyptian Bast (domesticated cat) and Sekhmet (lioness). 

In all circumstances, however, the goddesss familiar animal was common in the area where she was wor shiped; goddesses are not represented by exotic or alien fauna. 

One of the most important animal images for the goddess is the cow. 

Domesticated in Egypt approximately 5,000 years ago from wild cattle (where cows were honored as images of the goddesses Hathor and Neith), the cows nourishing milk symbolically connects this animal to human mothers. 

In a few cases, the goddess is seen associated with a bull. 

Greek Europa was carried across the sky by a bull, Mesopotamian Innana owned the bull of heaven (see Eastern Mediterranean), Irish Medb kidnapped a mag ical bull (see Celtic). 

But most commonly, the milch cow serves as a symbol of the abundant and nurturing goddess. 

In Scandinavia, the cow was a primal being, Audhumbla, who freed the first beings from the primordial ice in which they were frozen. 

Among the Irish Celts, we find Boand, ‘‘she of the white cows, who brought fertility to the land through the waters of the river that bears her name (Boyne). 

Honoring the ‘‘sacred cow, embodiment of the Hindu goddess Prthvı, in India gives religious support for respecting the cows economic and nutritional importance. 

In the same culture, the goddess of wealth, Laks˛mı, appears as a beautiful cow, and cows are called by her name. 

In Egypt, Hathor was depicted with the horned head of a cow, which had huge wings rising from her shoulders; in this shape, she gave birth to the universe. 

Anahita (see Eastern Medi terranean) was embodied in herds of cows on whose brows moons were branded. 

Nearby, Ugaritic Anat took on the form of a cow to mate with her beloved brother, the god Baal. 

The cow was not only an earthly creature but was imagined as heavenly as well. 

When a greedy person milked Irelands Glas Ghaibhleann (see Celtic) into a sieve, the animal was so insulted that she levitated into the heavens where she walks the ‘‘White Cows Path, the Milky Way. 

The Greeks connected this broad band of stars with the cow goddess Hera, who sprayed the heavens with milk while feeding her son Heracles. 

In some Christian narratives, the starry road was formed from the milk of the virgin Mary (see Eastern Mediterranean). 

The Egyptians saw the sky as a great cows belly, with the sun rising between the horns of the solar cow Hathor. 

Another domesticated animal that provided meat and milk, as well as skin for leather, was the goat, whose usefulness became part of her symbolic importance. 

The hollow horn of Greek Amaltea became the cornucopia, symbol of abundance. 

The Scandinavian heavenly goat Hedrun provided endless intoxicating mead that fed heroes in the afterlife. 

Goats were offered as sacrifices to Hittite Wurusemu (see Eastern Mediterranean). 

Other goddesses to whom goats are sacrificed are Tibetan Tara (see India) and Ethiopian Atete (see Africa). 

Used less often for food than for transportation, the horse appears connected with goddesses prominently in the mythologies of most Indo-European cultures as well as that of other lands. 

Goddesses can appear in horse form, accompanied by or riding horses, or drawn by them in a chariot. 

Many are associated with celestial powers, including the sun and moon. 

Celtic Epona and A ine may have represented the sun that speeds across the sky in a chariot drawn by horses; the folkloric English figure Lady Godiva (see Celts) may descend from a horse goddess. 

The feminine solar horse appears in India as well, in the figures of Samjn a and the dawn maiden Usas, who drove a chariot pulled by red horses. 

Two divine horses pulled the chariot of Scandina vian Sol, while Hungarian Xatel-Ekwa rode three horses simultaneously. 

Occasion ally, a lunar goddess was associated with the horses that pull the moons silver chariot; Greek Selene rode in such a chariot. 

Persian Anahita (see Eastern Mediterra nean) rode in a chariot drawn by four white horses signifying her control over the weather. 

Although typically connected with light, horses can also be associated with goddesses of darkness. 

A nightmarish horse, Russian Mora (see Slavic), killed people as they slept. 

In Scandinavia, the goddess Nott drove black horses that pulled the dark ness across the sky at nightfall. 

As horses were often used in battle, it is not surprising to find goddesses of war associated with this animal. 

In Greece, horses were connected with the warrior women called Amazons, who bore horse-names like Hippolyta and Melanippe. 

In Scandina via, a similar group of horsewomen, the Valkyries, brought dead heroes from the battlefield to heaven. 

In Ireland, the war goddess Macha was identified with horses, for she could outrun them even when nine months pregnant. 

Horses can represent transformation, as with Sumerian Ereshkegal (see Eastern Mediterranean), whose horse rode the boundary between death and life, or Greek Medusa who gave birth to the winged horse Pegasus, symbol of transformative poetry. 

Medusa may be connected with an obscure form of the grain goddess Demeter, who was impregnated while wearing a horses head. 

In the Baltic, the death goddess Giltine˙ drove two black horses, while in Wales the goddess Rhiannon rode a white horse from the Otherworld and was later forced to carry people on her own back like a mare. 

In hunting societies, wild herd animals like deer and buffalo appear as divinities, sometimes pictured in whimsical fashion. 

In Scandinavia, the Skogsfruen (see Busch frauen) herded wild animals and, when not otherwise occupied, liked to knit socks. 

But the underlying image of the goddess of wild herds is as a cosmic game warden, controlling access to the beasts and thus to the meat they provide. 

In southeastern Europe, Dali was goddess of mountain sheep who appeared as a nubile woman with whom male hunters had intercourse, which empowered them to become great hunters. 

Yet, like other goddesses of the hunt, she put prohibitions on hunters and killed any who broke her commands. 

The connection of goddesses with hunting is common, despite similarly common prohibitions on human women hunting. 

Greek Artemis wanders through the forests accompanied by her Nymphs, tending to woodland creatures and helping animals safely bear their young. 

Other such goddesses are Celtic Arduinna and Artio, Irish Flidais (see Celtic), Finnish Mielikki, Eskimo Sedna, and Siberian Umaj (see Circumpolar). 

In North America, Wohpe, the white buffalo calf-woman of the North American Sioux, is not only a guide to correct behavior when hunting but a general power of order. 

Such woodland goddesses set the rules and expectations for hunters, who were rewarded with success if they treated the goddess with respect. 

Dogs often appear as goddess images, as do their wild counterparts, wolves. 

Often the dog appears as a companion of the goddess rather than an embodiment of her, as with Celtic Nehalennia, Greek Hecate, and Hawaiian Pele (see Pacific Islands). 

Eskimo Sedna (see Circumpolar) lived with a dog, described sometimes as her hus band. 

Scandinavian Frau Goˆde (see Holle in Scandinavia) always traveled with a dog, which she used to annoy people who did not sufficiently respect her. 

Babylonian Gula was always shown accompanied by dogs, and dogs were buried in her temple, suggesting that they were connected with her healing powers. 

In rare cases, as with Irish Uirne, the divine figures are themselves canine in form, but more typically we find the dog by the goddesss side. 

Wolf goddesses, by contrast, were embodied in wolf form rather than merely traveling in their company. 

The related Roman figures of Rhea Silvia, Lupa, and Acca Larentia show the goddess in both human and lupine form. 

Both as dog and as wolf, the goddess appears more protective than threatening, although as Brimwylf (see Scandinavian) she can appear monstrous to those who would threaten her child. 

Like canines, felines can appear as both wild and tame in goddess iconography. 

However, when the tame cat appears as the wild lion, she changes from an affectionate goddess (Egypts Hathor, with her cat ears; Scandinavias sensual Freya; Chinese Wu Lo, goddess of fertility) to a fierce one (Indias Durga, a warrior goddess; Babylonian Eriskegal, queen of death; Egypts raging Sekhmet). 

At times, a complex but generally kindly goddess such as Cybele (see Southeastern Europe) or Chinas Xiwang Mu appeared accompanied by lions or tigers, which suggest the goddesss fiercer powers. 

Among other wild animals that serve as goddess images or vehicles, the bear appears as both the goddess herself (Greek Callisto and Artemis, Celtic Artio) and as her mate (Tlingit Rhpisunt; see North America). 

The goddess appeared as a fox in Japan (Inari), where she could transform herself into a beautiful woman to seduce and kill men. 

Finally, occasional goddesses take on animal forms appropriate to a spe cific region, such as Egyptian Taweret (hippopotamus). 

~ Kiran Atma

You can learn more about Goddess Symbolism here.