Animal Worship

Since the beginning of mankind people have believed in the superhuman qualities of animals. This belief originates in animism. Early people honored animals for having a spiritual life or soul similar to their own. They also honored the animal’s superior strength, speed, and fertility, and the animal became recognized as symbolizing these powers.

These people always held the animal sacred because it shared a vital part of their lives, and they recognized their dependency upon the animal.

The spiritual life or soul of the animal was believed to exist after death, and remained powerful to promote good or evil. All animals, especially snakes and birds, eventually were venerated by early cultures who adopted prayers, rituals, and built temples in which to worship them.

The ancient Egyptians paid homage to almost every ordinary animal. Different animals were sacred in different districts which gave rise to many disputes and fights. A person might get even with an enemy by killing his sacred pig or cow which was not sacred to that person.

The falcon and ibis were sacred throughout the country. In most regions of Egypt the bull was sacred. At Memphis, the sacred bull Apis was worshiped as the actual incarnation of the god.

To the Greeks the sacred animal was the eagle of Zeus. An early Gnostic sect, the Ophites, as was as the Buddhists, and the American Indians all venerated the snake. The Aztec and the Toltec had the Quetzalcoati bird.

Such are examples that there has always existed a belief in animal transformation or lycanthropy, i.e., in folklore, the ability to take on the form and characteristics of a wolf. A.G.H.


Definition and Meanings

The belief in the superhuman qualities of animals and their veneration is a theme that spans across various cultures and epochs, deeply rooted in animism and the recognition of the interconnectedness between humans and the natural world.


Animism and the Spiritual Life of Animals

  • Animism: This is the belief that all elements of the natural world, including animals, possess a spiritual essence or soul. Early humans saw animals as kin, sharing a vital force similar to their own.
  • Recognition of Animal Qualities: Animals were revered for their strengths, such as superior speed, strength, and fertility. These qualities led to animals being symbolized as powers within nature.


Sacred Animals in Various Cultures

  • Dependency and Reverence: Early humans recognized their dependency on animals for survival and thus held them in high regard.
  • Afterlife Beliefs: The belief that an animal’s spirit or soul persisted after death, capable of influencing good or evil, was common in many cultures.
  • Veneration Practices: Different cultures adopted practices like prayers, rituals, and the construction of temples to worship and honor animals.


Examples from Ancient Cultures

  • Ancient Egypt: Almost every animal had some sacred significance. The falcon and ibis were universally revered, while in Memphis, the bull Apis was worshipped as an incarnation of a god.
  • Greece: The eagle was sacred to Zeus, symbolizing power and divinity.
  • Gnostic and Eastern Traditions: The Ophites, an early Gnostic sect, along with Buddhists and various indigenous cultures, venerated the snake.
  • Mesoamerican Cultures: The Aztecs and Toltecs revered the Quetzalcoatl, which was depicted as a feathered serpent or a bird.


Animal Transformation and Lycanthropy

  • Belief in Transformation: The concept of lycanthropy, or the ability to transform into an animal (commonly a wolf), is found in many folklore traditions. It symbolizes the deep connection and sometimes the interchangeable nature between humans and animals in spiritual and physical realms.


Cultural and Religious Significance

  • Moral and Ethical Lessons: These beliefs often carry moral and ethical lessons about respect for nature and the balance between humans and the natural environment.
  • Cultural Identity: Animals often play a key role in the cultural identity and mythology of a society, embodying various virtues, fears, and aspirations.


Modern Perspectives

  • Cultural Heritage: Today, these ancient beliefs are seen as part of the rich cultural and spiritual heritage of human societies, offering insights into how our ancestors viewed and interacted with the natural world.
  • Continued Relevance: In many indigenous and traditional societies, these beliefs continue to be an integral part of spiritual practices and worldviews.



Riland, George, The New Steinerbooks Dictionary of Paranormal, New York, Warner Books, Inc., 1980
Nigg, Walter, The Heretics, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1962. [Ed. and transl. by Richard and Clara Winston] Shepard, Leslie A., ed., Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology, 3rd ed., Detroit: Gale Research, Inc., 1991