Animal worship (or zoolatry) refers to rituals involving animals, such as the glorification of animal deities or animal sacrifice. When a god is respected or worshipped by means of a representative animal, an animal cult is formed. Animal cults may be classified according to their outward form or according to their inward meaning, which may of course undergo transformations. The popular and culturally significant ritual of animal worship or zoolatry regards some animals as sacred and as venerable deities with divine characteristics.
Cow is regarded as a holy animal in religions like Hinduism, Jainism and Zoroastrianism. The ancient Egyptians, Romans, Greeks and Israelites also revered these sacred mammals. For the most part, the cow’s holiness is due to its usefulness as a species. Its nutrient-rich milk is used for dairy purposes and its dung is used as fertiliser. Historically, they have been used for tilling the fields. Also, it is said that drinking cow urine bestows one with good health, fortune and prosperity.
Serpent deities have an important place in Indian culture. During 'Nag Panchami', Hindus worship the serpent deities, and offer their prayers and warm milk. The festival is celebrated on the fifth day of the bright half of the Lunar month of Shravan (Hindu calendar). The Hindu God Lord Vishnu is depicted as seated on a 'Sheshanaga'. (ruler of all nagas). Lord Shiva is depicted with a snake wrapped around his neck. In many places, a serpent symbolizes fertility.
According to the Korean folklore, the tiger is regarded as guardian of the west and a divine spirit. They symbolize power and courage and are believed to ward off evil and bring about good luck. The white tigers are especially regarded as sacred creatures as they have apparently overcome the ordeals and attained a state of higher understanding about the world. Also, their white fur is the symbol of their wisdom. The other cultures also regard tigers in high esteem. A tiger festival called Bagh Jatra is held all across Nepal. And, the villages in Vietnam have temples dedicated to this mighty and divine creature.
Dogs, man's best friend, is also worshiped during the Kukur Tihar festival in few parts of Nepal. During this festival, dogs are treated with delicacies, and honored by garlanding them with marigold flowers, applying a tilak, and burning incense sticks. In Hindu culture, Lord Dattatreya is depicted with four dogs, and these dogs represent the four Vedas (Rig-Veda, Sama-Veda, Yajur-Veda, and Atharva-Veda).
Elephants, the largest terrestrial animals on our planet, are especially celebrated as the highest-ranked animals among Hinduism by the concept of reincarnation. That’s because of they have many positive traits such as serenity, strength, wisdom and royalty. All over the southern India, the majestic elephants are worshipped in the temples. The Hindu mythology even has a deity called Ganesha- the Elephant God.
The goat is one of the 12 zodiac animals of the Chinese Zodiac. The Karnak temple of Egypt has ram-shaped sphinxes. The Greek mythological characters Silenus and Satyr had a goat-like appearance. The Greek mythological Gods 'Fauns' were said to be half-human and half-goat. The Greek God 'Pan', God of Flocks and Shepherds, also has a goat-like appearance, with a tail, horns, and the legs of a goat.
The people of the ancient Egypt regarded pigs as sacred and as an important deity. Their deity appeared as a pig with erect bristles who kept an eye on storms, chaos, deserts and darkness. Also, it is known that the pigs were sacrificed in the name of God. The Greeks are also known to perform the ritual of sacrificing pigs to their goddess Demeter. Demeter is the goddess of grain, fertility, purity. According to Chinese zodiac, pigs are among one of the twelve auspicious animals. The Celts also worshiped a ‘god of swine’ named Moccus. And after the prayer ceremony, serving cooking pork was one of the rituals.
Hayagriva, an incarnation of the Hindu God Lord Vishnu, is horse-faced. The chariots of the deities are often driven by horses. He is said to be a symbol of knowledge and wisdom. In Greek mythology, Poseidon is one of the important deities, who is said to create the horse, one of the most beautiful creatures in the world, in order to woo Demeter.
The people of Ancient Egypt were especially known for cat worshipping. The cat’s ability to control snakes and vermin made them a symbol of poise and grace. And, killing a cat was a punishable offense among Egyptians and some deceased cats were mummified like humans so as to preserve their bodies.
The lion is used as a symbol of power and nobility in many cultures. Hindu culture depicts Goddess Durga as having a lion as her vehicle. In China, the lion symbolizes a protector of evils, and temples often have a guardian lion. In ancient Egypt, many gods, such as Aker, were lion-headed. In the Narasiṁha avatar, Lord Vishnu acts as a protector against evil, and killed the demon Hiranyakashipu.
In Hinduism, monkeys are regarded as culturally significant. The highly revered monkey god Hanuman is widely worshipped throughout India. The Sacred Monkey Forest in Bali comprises of several crab-eating macaques, who reside in temples that honors ‘Tri Hata Karan’, the Hindu principle that encourages people to live harmoniously together.
Ancient Roman legend states that, Goddess Luperca, a she-wolf, nursed Romulus and Remus (twin siblings, children of Rhea Silvia and Mars). In fact, Turkic mythology states that, they are descendants of the wolf. Even Native Americans worshiped the wolf as god, and saw it as a symbol of courage, direction, family, endurance, and intelligence.