The World Myth
Fertility and Animal Gods
Are animal deities a significant part of the world myth?
As we have seen, deities with animal characteristics are common, especially in Egypt, where gods are commonly depicted with animal heads, and in animistic cultures, such as those in Africa and North America. Often humans associate particular animals with particular characteristics transferable to themselves. The lion is powerful, as is the Egyptian lion goddess Sekhmet. Bulls are symbols of power and fertility and are associated with figures such as Poseidon and Baal. Zeus takes animal forms to assert his sexual power over mortal women. In China, dragons are positive power symbols and, therefore, appear as the actual heads of powerful gods such as Fuxi and Nuwa. Athene is wise and is sometimes linked with the owl. Various animals as avatars are embodiments of the great Hindu god Vishnu. Quetzalcoatl, a central mythological figure of Mesoamerica, is the feathered serpent; serpents are symbols of mysterious power that comes from the earth. The Great Mother Goddess of Minoan Crete holds snakes in her raised hands as if to celebrate that power.
In animistic cultures such as those of Africa and Native North America, animals are animated by the same spirits that give soul to humans. The totem relationship with animals perhaps points back to a time when animals and humans were seen as living in full communication together.
Tricksters often take animal shapes. The African Ananse and the Native American Iktome are spiders. The Native American Coyote and the Great Hare take primary form from the animals for which they are named.