Sacred Animals — Living Statues?

Awhile back I was looking at how the gods of Egypt may have evolved into the loving animal-people who know now. I was mulling over the ideas of pre-creation and post-creation, how the gods were/are part of each other. Where they may have all began. It was suggested I look into animal cults as those were very old and may be that stepping stone between the first shamanic religion and Egyptian religion.

Prehistoric Egypt is hard to really wrap your mind around. We sometimes get stuck in thinking that that culture was always how we believe it was. It is just so old that it is hard to imagine much older sometimes. As I was reading about the little everyone knows about the previous cultures, earliest known up until the Unification, it was really hard to put together. But since I am still trying to find the link between the very primitive shamanic religion and the Egyptian religion I am just going to take my time on it.

One thing I did see was how animals played a huge role in religion. Three types of sacred animals were categorized and how people connected with them. The most well known are the various bulls such as the Apis bull. These animals were seen almost like a Dalai Lama. After one passed great funeral was given to it, then the search for the next one went on. They were like living statues of the specific god associated with them. They were seen as possessing the essence of deity and through that the animal was made divine.

The second type of sacred animal mentioned were mass. Flocks of ibis, colonies of cats, and more. These guys were part of a huge industry. Similar to the slaughterhouses of today, they were raised and at a certain point extinguished. But instead of their meat being used these animals’ bodies were mummified. A regular person could pay to have a certain type of animal mummified, provide for in the afterlife, and left for a specific god. And the person would be looked upon favorably for doing that for the animal. Sometimes a prayer would be written along with the animal. They were votive offerings.

The third type of sacred animal were the household animals. Kept in cages or safe in the home to better connect with the god. They represented the living image of the god and the god could come to alight in them anytime. There is still some difficulty identifying pets versus sacred animals. Still the idea of the bringing the divine into a home through the care of an animal is special. Dogs, cats, and more were treated this way. Once the animal lived its full life it was buried.

From the little I have dug up so far, its easy to see how special animals were in the lives of people from the beginning. While its upsetting to think of the killing of animals for votive offerings, it was an industry created by the temples. And if you killed an animal of the gods outside of this industry people were just as upset as they are today. There seemed to be a distinction between the way temples managed this mass votive offering industry and regular people.


With all this going sitting in my brain I think back on how people may have started this relationship in pre-history. How a wandering jackal in the graves of a community may have been offered to. How it started to eat offerings and leave the grave alone. What the ancients might have deduced from this. Maybe the jackal was a spirit and just needed to be recognized, through offerings, to give its blessing (or tolerance) to the community. Maybe the appeasement of Sekhmet started by offering to a man-eating lioness. Giving her some things to eat other than people.

It is clear that the animals possessed something inside of them worthy of honor. Whether that was their innate spirit or the gods we can’t really know.


One thought on “Sacred Animals — Living Statues?

  1. This was thought-inspiring and educational.

    Personally, I’ve always connected with the idea (I can’t recall exactly where I read it) that any animal N is the ba of the god associated with it. So for example, if I recall all this correctly, all cats can be seen as representations of Bastet, all crocodiles are bas of Sobek, all hawks were bas of Heru, etc. To appreciate and honor them is to honor their respective gods; to look in awe and wonder upon them is to look in awe and wonder up on that Netjer. But I don’t interact with most of these animals the way you talk about the ancients interacting with jackals (I guess because I don’t see the world that way, and I have less contact with critters than they might have). But I like this view…it goes beyond appreciation and wonder, to interaction (when possible).

    That’s certainly some food for thought. It makes me think differently of my own critters. It makes me realize I haven’t been really delving into the implications/possibilities afforded to me by my own attempts to see animals as counterparts of the Netjeru. So thank you for that!


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