Sacred and Mythological Animals

A Worldwide Taxonomy


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About the Book

From the household cat to horses that can fly, a surprisingly wide range of animals feature in religions and mythologies all across the world. The same animal can take on different roles: the raven can be a symbol of evil, a harbinger of death, a wise messenger or a shape-changing trickster. In Norse mythology, Odin’s magical ravens perch on his shoulders and bring him news.

This compendium draws upon religious texts and myths to explore the ways sacred traditions use animal images, themes and associations in rituals, ceremonies, texts, myths, literature and folklore across the world. Sections are organized by the main animal classifications such as mammals, birds, reptiles, fish, amphibians and insects. Each chapter covers one significant grouping (such as dogs, cats or horses), first describing an animal scientifically and then detailing the mythological attributes. Numerous examples cite texts or myths. A final section covers animal hybrids, animal monsters and mythical animals as well as stars, constellations and Zodiac symbols. An appendix describes basic details of the religions and mythologies covered. A glossary defines uncommon religious terms and explains scientific animal names.

About the Author(s)

Yowann Byghan is an author, poet, playwright and a practicing Druid for 50+ years. He is a Bard of the Cornish Gorsedh, and speaks fluent Cornish. His knowledge of Scottish Gàidhlig, Irish Gaeilge and Welsh, as well as Latin, has allowed him to research source texts in the original languages as well as in translation. He lives on a small island in the Inner Hebrides in Scotland.

Bibliographic Details

Yowann Byghan

Format: softcover (7 x 10)
Pages: 445
Bibliographic Info: glossary, appendix, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2020
pISBN: 978-1-4766-7950-1
eISBN: 978-1-4766-3887-4
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vi
Preface 1

Sacred Animals and Animal Classification
1. Sacred Animal Traditions 4
2. Classification 9

Mammals (Mammalia)
3. Dogs (Canidae) 16
4. Wolves, Wild Dogs and Foxes (Canidae) 25
5. Cats and Wildcats (Felidae) 38
6. Big Cats, Hyenas and Mongooses (Felidae and Viverroidea) 46
7. Cattle (Oxen), Antelopes and Hippopotamuses (Artiodactyla: Bovidae, Hippopotamidae) 62
8. Sheep and Goats (Caprinae) 77
9. Deer, Elk and Moose (Cervidae) 85
10. Bears, Pandas and Raccoons (Ursidae, Procyonidae) 95
11. Horses and Rhinoceroses (Perissodactyla: Equidae and Rhinocerotoidea) 106
12. Camels and Giraffes (Artiodactyla: Camelidae) 120
13. Pigs and Hedgehogs (Suidae, Erinaceidae) 127
14. Elephants (Proboscidia) 135
15. Monkeys and Apes (Primates) 142
16. Hares and Rabbits (Lagomorpha) 151
17. Mice, Rats and Beavers (Rodentia) 156
18. Bats (Chiroptera) and Other Odd Animals 165
19. Weasels, Otters and Badgers (Mustelidae) 173
20. Seals and Walruses (Pinnipedia) 179
21. Whales, Dolphins, Porpoises and Sirens (Cetartiodactyla, Delphiniodae, Sirenia) 185

Birds (Aves)
22. General Birds and Crows (Several Orders and Corvidae) 198
23. Raptors (Several Orders and Families) 208
24. Freshwater Birds (Several Orders and Families) 220
25. Sea Birds (Several Orders and Families) 232
26. Chickens and Peafowl (Galliformes) 238
27. Perching Birds and Singing Birds (Passeriformes) 244
28. Cranes and Cuckoos (Gruiformae, Otidimorphae) 253
29. Hoopoes, Hummingbirds, Doves and Woodpeckers (Several Orders and Families) 259

Fish and Sea Animals (Several Orders and Families)
30. Sea Fish (Several Orders and Families) 268
31. Freshwater Fish (Several Orders and Families) 278
32. Crabs, Clams, Conches and Corals (Crustacea, Mollusca, Cnidaria) 285

Amphibians (Amphibia)
33. Frogs, Toads, Salamanders and Newts (Several Orders and Families) 294

Insects and Other ­Creepy-Crawlies (Insecta, Arachnidae and Gastropoda)
34. Flying Insects (Insecta, Several Orders and Families) 302
35. Creeping, Crawling Animals (Insecta, Arachnidae, Gastropoda, Several Orders and Families) 312

Reptiles (Reptilia)
36. Snakes and Lizards (Squamata) 328
37. Crocodiles and Turtles (Crocodylia, Testudines) 344

Mythical Animals, Hybrids and Animal Gods
38. Dragons 352
39. Animal Hybrids and Monsters 357
40. ­Human-Animal Hybrids 364
41. Animals in the Sky 378

Glossary 391
Appendix: World Religions and Mythologies 401
Chapter Notes 409
Bibliography 419
Index 423

Book Reviews & Awards

“Many animal books center around animal behavior and physical description; a small minority deal with hunting and animal husbandry. Byghan has written an animal book with a twist: his subject is the sacredness of animals. …Byghan provides a worldwide taxonomy of animals and their sacredness. …Each entry is concisely written and well documented…thought-provoking comments…recommended”—Choice