Many of us begin and end our day with prayers to god. Gods differ from religion to religion. Some of these are said to be in human form, some others are in the form or animals and plants and few more have no form as such. In India, it is common to find people worshiping nature and also animals like cows, snakes etc. But did you know that even the pets we have in our houses are also considered to be gods? We may not worship them but a lot of other people in various parts of the world do pray to them.
Dogs have been a part of various religions around the world. They are considered to be sacred in certain beliefs and defiled in few other beliefs. Nevertheless, they occupied a prominent position in some religions as sometimes, they too were buried after death. Some of the references to dogs in ancient religion and mythology are as follows-
1. Dogs in Egyptian Mythology
Anubis was an ancient Egyptian god of the underworld who guided and protected the spirits of the dead. He was generally depicted as a black jackal-headed man, or as a black jackal. Ancient Egyptians associated their dogs with this god and therefore they even buried some of their domestic dogs as sacred animals in the Anubieion catacombs at Saqqara.
Set was a storm god associated with strange and frightening events such as eclipses, thunderstorms and earthquakes. His divine dominions include storms, deserts, darkness, foreigners, and chaos. He is represented as having the body of a man but the head of an animal that is not sure to be a dog or a jackal or some other species that went extinct.
His name means “opener of the roads”. He was said to lead the deceased through the underworld and guard over them on their perilous journey. But he was also thought to act as a scout for the army, “opening a path” to allow them to proceed. Some scholars argue that he was a wolf and others argue that he was either a jackal or a dog. He is said to be a dog because of these animals being good fighters and path finders.
Canines have been associated with death and after life because they were usually found lurking around the ancient Egyptian graveyards. But this might have been because the embalming process in mummification of dead bodies, included materials whose different scents attracted these animals which have a strong sense of smell.
2. Ancient Aztec mythology
Often depicted as a skeleton, a dog-headed man, or a monster animal with reversed feet, Xolotl was the Aztec god of lightning and fire, sickness and deformities. He was said to guard the sun on its nightly journey through the underworld. In some myths, he also aided the dead in their journey to the afterlife. The name of a real species of dog is inspired by him. Xoloitzcuintli is the official name of the Mexican Hairless Dog.
3. Ancient Greek mythology
• Cerberus or Kerberos
Known to be the loyal watch dog of Hades, Cerberus had three heads of dogs, the tail of a dragon, and on his back the heads of all sorts of snakes. He guarded the gates of the underworld. He was a fierce, flesh eating hell hound that would not let the living enter the land of the dead. Even the gods feared him but he was overpowered by the mighty Hercules who kidnapped him and brought him to the world of the living.
4. Ancient Norse mythology
Fenrir is the son of the demoniac god Loki and a giantess, Angerboda. The gods feared the strength of Fenrir and thus they tricked him and chained him with a magical chain. It is said that he will remain chained until the day of Ragnarok (doomsday), when he will break free and kill the chief god, Odin. Later Odin’s son will avenge his father’s death by killing Fenrir.
Norse mythology also makes references to Garmr, a blood stained watch dog that guards Hel’s gates. He too, is associated with the Ragnarok.
5. Ancient Mesopotamia
The godess of healing, Bau was a dog headed patron deity of the ancient Babylonia “bow wow”. In her cult, dogs were given a lot of importance. They were used in oaths and were sometimes referred to as divinities. There is a temple in Isin, Mesopotamia, named é-ur-gi7-ra which translates as “dog house”. More than 30 dog burials, numerous dog sculptures, and dog drawings were discovered when the area around this Ninisina temple was excavated.
The Parsis consider dogs to be exceptionally important beings. It is even written in their sacred books that dogs must be taken care of and treated just as humans would be treated. A dog’s gaze is said to be purifying and one that drives away demons. The Chinwad Bridge to Heaven is said to be guarded by dogs in Zoroastrian scripture. Thus the dog is regarded as an especially beneficent, clean and righteous creature.
In the North-East of India, Hindus worship dogs as a part of the Tihar festival. They are said to guard the gates of heaven and hell and people believe that kindness to dogs paves the way to heaven. A dog is the amount of the god Bhairava.
Although in the religions mentioned above, the dog is believed to have a divine authority, there are quite a few religions around the world that look down upon dogs. In Islam and Judaism, dogs are regarded as ritually unclean scavengers. But in most other religions they are revered. In Persian mythology, two four-eyed dogs guard the Chinvat Bridge. In Philippine mythology, Kimat who is the pet of Tadaklan, god of thunder, is responsible for lightning. In Welsh mythology, Annwn which is the other world of paradise is guarded by the canine, Cŵn Annwn. In Christianity, dogs represent faithfulness. In Asian countries such as China, Korea, and Japan, dogs are viewed as kind protectors. The dog is one of the 12 animals honored in Chinese astrology. The second day of the Chinese New Year is considered to be the birthday of all dogs and Chinese people often take care to be kind to dogs on that day.