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Gods and Their Animals

In the yoga glossary there is information about some gods and goddesses that are mentioned below. And on the next page there is more information about key Vedic gods.

Bastet, Bast

Bronze cat from ancient Egypt. Marseilles.
Ancient Egyptian bronze cat

Bastet, the daughter and/or wife of the Sun god, became a national deity of Egypt in about 950 BC. She represents gladness, good fortune, music, dancing, healing, good motherhood, also protection by perfumes. Bast expresses qualities of the cat family, beauty of movement, caution and so on. Her major symbol is the sistrum, an ancient Egyptian percussion instrument. Also: the Uraeus, or Serpent of Wisdom. She also holds the ankh, a sistrum (musical instrument), or a papyrus wand.

Cats, her sacred animals, were highly regarded in ancient Egypt. They also protected the grain from mice and rats. Families owning cats took care that they got due attention and respect. Killing a cat was punished with death.

Vehicle Animals: On Top: A Big Boar

In some myths a "Top hog" is God. In classical Hindu mythology God Vishnu (a Preserver) descended into animal form to do his work:

  • In the form of a boar (varaha), Vishnu brought the earth out of the waters into which it had sunk, and laid it on a lotus flower, and thus saved it.
  • As the fish Matsya, God saved the originator Manu (Noah of Hindus) from the deluge and restored to Brahma (God) sacred texts that had been stolen by a demon.
  • As the tortoise Kurma he acted as a pivot to allow the gods and demons to churn the ocean to get the nectar of immortality (Amrita).
  • As a Lion-man he killed a boastful king and saved that king's pious child Prahlada.

Vishnu saw it fit to change into a seducing woman too, on some occasion.

Be that as it may, Hindus reckon with ten avatars (descents) of Vishnu, including these four first ones. Apart from this they also think of partial avatars, and then there are those persons who express divine qualities - Hindus call some of them avatars for that reason. Thus we have titles like "premavatar" (love-incarnation, i.e., divine love descended into flesh), "jnanavatar" (wisdom-incarnation, i.e., divine wisdom descended into flesh), and so on.

Gods represented: animals

Have you ever seen an elephant ride on a mouse? Imaginative ability is called for, presumably. There is much imaginative prowess of Hindu portrayal. Thus, when Hindu gods are portrayed as having one or more vehicles, it represents something to ponder for those who care.

In a world where old gods are all around you, they could sit on or ride on some of the creatures you see all around too . . . and "rise to the occasion".

Below is a very sketchy briefing of relationships, as the iconology of Hinduism is an intricate matter. The "Who is an animal of whom" in Hindu Mythology:

AnimalsOf these Gods
An elephantvehicle of Indra
A tortoise on which the Earth rests
An antelopevehicle of Vayu and Chandra
Half horse and half birdone of the horses of the moon
A he-buffalovehicle of Yama
Three-headed dogCerbura, the the three-headed infernal dog of the Krishna legend. Compare the Greek hell-dog Cerberos.
A crowvehicle of Shani (Saturn)
A dog and horsevehicle of Shiva as Bhairava
A vultureor half man and half eagle, vehicle of Vishnu
A big bearally of Rama
A cowthe cow of plenty. Cows are holy animals to Hindus
A sea monster, Makara or Jalampahalf dolphin, half crocodile (a mythical creature), the vehicle of Varuna (god of water)
A mousevehicle of Ganesha, the pot-bellied, elephant-headed God of Success, and a scribe
A bullvehicle of Shiva and Parvati
A peacockvehicle of Kartikeya (second son of Shiva and Parvati)
A parrotvehicle of Kamadeva (passion). It can be associated with other gods too.
A ram or he-goatvehicle of Agni
A particular dogdog of Indra
A serpent (Seshna, Ananta)The infinite - the king of serpentine energies, vehicle of the bed that Vishnu rests on
Seven horsesvehicle of the Aditiyas
Thousands of horsesvehicle of Vayu (Wind-God)
A swanvehicle of Saraswati (also peacock at times) and of the sitting Brahma
Seven swansvehicle of Brahma when he is not sitting, and also of Varuna
An owlvehicle of Lakshmi (it is the bird of Greek Athena too)
A winged horse, Tarkshyawinged horse personifying the Vedic Sun
A horse with eight heads, Uchchaih-sravasthe horse produced during the churning of ocean (Milky Way)

Such energies are dormant or present in man too. They are wild, animal energies. Compare:

Pekka and Taivonen visited Berlin during the Second World War. After a drinking spree till late at night they barely reached their hotel. In the night Berlin was bombed. Next day, when Taivonen woke up, he looked out of the window and turned terror-stricken to Pekka, saying,

"Pekka, we cannot pay for this." (Herzberg 1997:152)

An Example, the Supreme Swan

The swan in the list, Hamsa, represents divine attainment. Hamsa is made up of components that are translatable into "I am Me (He)", which at best is a facet of enlightenment. The Ramakrishna Society has found it fit to use the swan in the middle of their icon for that reason. Hamsa is for attunement with God the Creator - the master of all the beauty and grace in the world. In mythology it is also held that the swan can separate milk from water - hence discriminative activities originate on high, according to yoga too.

Here the swan is explained as a vehicle Godwards. An ancient yoga technique uses a word sound like "hamsa" for diving inwards: [Link]

Gods and associated animals, Literature  

Barbara, Hannah. The Archetypal Symbolism of Animals: Lectures given at the C. G. Jung Institute, Zurich, 1954-1958. Ed. David. Wilmette, IL: Chiron Publications, 2006.

Herzberg, Birgit. Hva ler vi av? Om nordmenns forhold til humor. (What do we laugh at? On how Norwegians relate to humour). Oslo: Pax, 1997.

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