While many animals are celebrated in cultures as symbols of good tidings and fortune, not all animals are so highly esteemed. There are some animals in Western Culture of which people are consistently wary, especially when these animals make an unexpected appearance. Such animals are considered by some to be bad omens and sometimes even the embodiment of evil. Here are a few animals commonly seen as an evil omen.
Snakes, with their legless bodies and bellies to the ground have long been considered a bad omen and a symbol of evil. Snakes have been getting a bad rap since the story of Adam and Eve. According to the bible, if it wasn’t for the snake encouraging Eve to bite into that forbidden apple, mankind would never have been cast from the Garden of Eden. Snakes have frequently represented evil in literature and folklore. One of the feats of St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland was to banish all snakes from the island country, metaphorically driving out evil and bringing about a new age.
Bats with their nighttime flights, favor of dark places and unusual faces have long inspired fear and dark omens. It also probably does not help their reputation that a few species drink blood. European and Western folklore consistently translates the appearance of a bat as a bad omen and they are even seen as being the embodiment of evil. Bats are often thought to be an indicator that a house is haunted or worse. There is an old German myth that if a bat flies into your house, the devil is after you. Many myths from Slovinian, German, and Jewish immigrants suggest that bats in an attic foretell a death in the house. Many other cultures have folklore that a bat doing nothing more than flying over a house can mean death.
Black cats with their sleek coats, blazing eyes and ability to nearly disappear in the darkness have long been seen as bringers of bad tidings. Worldwide black cats are considered bad omens. In the United States, some still believe that a black cat crossing your path is bad luck. Black cats were also seen as witches’ familiars, companions that assisted with evil doings. Animal shelters often refuse to adopt out black cats during Halloween because of this folklore and the fear that the cats might be used in some sort of ritual sacrifice. Fortunately researchers do not believe that this fear is well-founded. Black cats, however, still hold a place on the list of bad omens.
With their nighttime habits and predatory behavior, owls have instilled fear in many cultures and a great many myths surround them, proclaiming them bad omens. In particular, the barn owl which flies with total silence is considered a bad omen in Europe and the United States. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the poets such as William Wordsworth used owls in their writing as a symbol of doom. In William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, owls foretell the murder of Caesar. In the folklore of many cultures, the screech of an owl is considered to be a harbinger of death. Misunderstood animals such as owls are often considered signs of bad things to come.
In Animal Underworld: Beast Worship, Henry Rollins investigates the ways humans connect animals to the supernatural and finds out firsthand how some cultures connect not only with animals considered symbols of good, but also with animals that are considered dangerous and evil.
Tune in to the three-part series Animal Underworld Monday, May 28th starting at 8P et/pt.