In Animal Underworld: Beast Worship Henry Rollins explores the variety of deep connections that humans have with animals. The human relationship with animals is a complicated one that is steeped in an individual’s beliefs and experiences. While there is some commonality across cultures and nations, you can expect to discover the unexpected when traveling with Rollins. Amazingly, animals that are reviled in some cultures are revered in others. Consider a few of these divine animals.

Divine Cats

While some cultures turn a suspicious eye to cats as witches’ familiars and especially black cats as bad luck, some cultures worshiped cats. In Ancient Egypt, Bastet was a goddess initially depicted as a lion and then as a cat-headed woman. An entire festival was dedicated to her in the city of Bubastis, she was so popular.  Herodotus reported that at least 700,000 people would arrive to pay their respects. Domestic cats were considered to be a representation of the loved goddess and were sacred by their divine association. Cats were sacrificed to Bastet during her festival and also mummified just like humans, sometimes to join their owners in the afterlife.

Worshipped Wolves

In many modern country wolves have long been eradicated as dangerous predators. In ancient times, however, wolves were revered. The ancient Romans believed that Rome has been founded by Romulus a son of the god of war, Mars. Romulus and with his twin brother Remus had been reared by a she-wolf. Wolves were sacred to the Romans, especially considering it was a wolf that made it possible for their founding father to survive childhood in the wilderness. It wasn’t just the Romans who revered wolves either. In Japanese folklore the wolf, although now extinct in Japan, was considered a protector of man and spirit of the forest. A person traveling alone and in danger in the forest, might be followed by a wolf who would protect him.

Venerate Crocodiles

While crocodiles are normally portrayed as terrifying beasts that date back to the dinosaurs, some religions have worshiped them.  Ancient Egyptians kept crocodiles in many places as the living representation of the god Sobek, a symbol of the pharaoh’s power. The largest shrine to Sobek was at Crocodilopolis in Fayum.  The crocodile in myth was considered alternately dangerous and protective. In Pakistan and India, some tribes along the Ganges River still give offerings to a crocodile god as well, although it is more to appease the dangerous animals that are the god’s incarnation.

Revered Rats
Saddled with the blame for the Bubonic Plague (or at least for carrying the fleas that spread it) and considered a disease carrying nuisance, most societies do everything they can to rid themselves of rats. However, a Hindu temple in Rajastan built to honor the rat goddess, Karni Mata, is a place of rat worship and not just statues. Some 20,000 rats inhabit the temple and it is considered good luck when they run across the bare feet of patrons. Of course, Henry Rollins is game for a visit and asks the visitors feeding the rats why they have come to pay their respects.

Not all societies agree on which beasts to worship or why and Henry Rollins is looking to find out if there is an animal underworld.

Tune in to the three-part series Animal Underworld Monday, May 28th starting at 8P et/pt.

Comments

  1. DEBERA DELGATTO
    May 26, 2012, 9:54 am

    I HOPE THERE ISN’T ANY ANIMAL CRUELTY SHOWN ON THIS SERIES. I AM SO TIRED OF ANIMAL ABUSERS. THEY ARE EVIL…ANYONE WHO HURTS OR BENEFITS FROM ANIMAL ABUSE SHOULD BE SEVERELY PUNISHED….WE ARE THEIR VOICE…

  2. karni pratap singh
    bikaner rajasthan india
    February 15, 2013, 9:44 pm

    hello folks I am a localite of this rat temple and yes these rats are sacred and no disease has been prevailed here since 1460
    And thanks for coming to the temple NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC team