Animals Category: Mythology, Totems, Spirit Guides, Popular Culture and Best Friends

Animals Category: Mythology, Totems, Spirit Guides, Popular Culture and Best Friends
April 22, 2022 Rachel Biel
Shop handmade animal themes on Artizan Made.

Our Animals Category is one of my favorites! They show up in all kinds of products, from cute and funny to mythical and strange. Humans have had a close connection to animals since the beginning of recorded history.  In 1940, four teenage boys went looking for a lost dog and stumbled on to the discovery of a cave filled with drawings of animals:

Located in southern France, the Lascaux Cave houses some of the most famous prehistoric cave paintings, dating to approximately 15,000 BCE. The cave contains nearly 1,500 engravings, and around 600 representations of animals, such as deer, bison, and even some felines.  -Daily Art magazine

There is only one drawing of a human in that cave and it has a head like a bird. Nobody really knows why these paintings were created with the biggest theories centering on some kind of ritual of protection or perhaps simple story telling. Check out this article in the Daily Art Magazine.

Aurochs, Horses and Deer, Lauscaux Cave, Montignac, France. Photo by Prof saxx via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0).

Aurochs, Horses and Deer, Lauscaux Cave, Montignac, France. Photo by Prof saxx via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0).

The horse was the most common animal depicted in the cave and we see similar paintings in Native American art, on a different continent, all of those centuries later: bison and horses, along with other animals.

 

Native American Dakota Tipi

Native American Dakota Tipi

We know a lot more about Native American culture as it is still a living practice.  Of painted tipis, Wikipedia notes:

Historically, most tepees in a village would not be painted. Painted tepees often depicted note-worthy historical battles and often featured geometric portrayals of celestial bodies and animal designs. Sometimes tepees have been painted to depict personal experiences such as war hunting, a dream or vision. When depicting visions, “ceremonies and prayers were first offered, and then the dreamer recounted his dream to the priests and wise men of the community. Those known to be skilled painters were consulted, and the new design was made to fit anonymously within the traditional framework of the tribe’s painted tipis.”

In many cultures, animals depict either domesticated or wild creatures who ensure livelihood (bison for food, horse for transport, elephants for strength, dogs as companions) or their enemies (lions, foxes, and other predators). Taking on one of these as a symbol could mean seeking that quality or conquering them by becoming one with them. So, the animal becomes a totem, a spirit guide, an extension of the human capacity. The chart below shows some Native American animal totems. Any culture that has a written language or symbols will have their own animal symbols. Think of how revered animals were in Ancient Egypt, how the Chinese have an animal zodiac calendar, and how so many cultures even have gods that are half animal, half human.

 

Native American Animal Spirits

 

Philip Pullman reaches back into this history and creates a new world with his “Golden Compass” trilogy. Everybody has a “daemon”, but children get to experiment with shape shifting. Their daemons are an extension of themselves, symbiotic. What one feels, so does the other. The shape solidifies when the child matures into adulthood. The book (and movie) explore what happens when these children are severed from their daemons, when they are stolen, abducted. Basically, they are left without a soul.

Humans are connected deeply with animals. Did you know that a dog can hear your heartbeat from 10 feet away? It knows when you are nervous, panicky, or content. Humans lower a dog’s blood pressure and the dog does the same for a human. A dog can smell cancer, know when someone is going to have an epileptic episode. I was talking to a man once about our dogs and he said he had a lab and two small children and he would tell the dog to watch the kids. The dog would knock them over and hold one under each forelimb until he told it to let go.

The featured image at the top of this post is a carving of The Three Wise Monkeys at the Tōshō-gū shrine in Nikkō, Japan. We know them as the monkeys who hear no evil, see no evil and speak no evil. I was surprised to find that the three monkeys have an old, old history, going all the way back to the 4th Century, back to Confucius! The story is complex, but check it out here on Wikipedia.  Animals are featured in religion, folk lore, slang, everywhere! Aesop, of course, immortalized many of the characteristics we think of through his fables. Ironically, Aesop himself is probably a myth….

This all leads us to anthropomorphism, the attribution of human traits, emotions, or intentions to non-human entities. Wikipedia again (donate to them!):

It is considered to be an innate tendency of human psychology.

Personification is the related attribution of human form and characteristics to abstract concepts such as nations, emotions, and natural forces, such as seasons and weather.

Both have ancient roots as storytelling and artistic devices, and most cultures have traditional fables with anthropomorphized animals as characters. People have also routinely attributed human emotions and behavioral traits to wild as well as domesticated animals.

Think about Disney and other animators who have created beloved characters who are animals with improbable personalities. A mouse who has a pet dog? Yet, these characters are now a part of our psyche and they are recognized all over the world!

 

Humor is a big part of what makes us relate to animals with human personalities.  One of the geniuses in the animation/claymation/cgi genres is Nick Park of Aardman. Shaun the Sheep probably has the most fame of his creations, but I especially like his Creature Comforts series, where zoo animals are interviewed on how they like living there. My favorite is the Brazilian puma who is talking about how he has everything he needs at the zoo except for Space! and Meat!  The others are great, too!

 

 

What does the Fox Say? by Ylvis has 1,059,261,994 on YouTube at this posting. It went viral back in 2013 and was so strange that I went down a rabbit hole (see the animal reference there?) after I first saw it and learned about the two Norwegian brothers who have had a crazy comedy career (with many truly funny and off beat skits and videos and others that are just bizarre…).

 

Good editing tools have made it easier to create funny videos at home. I don’t know if this is a home video, but it’s creepy and funny at the same time, cats spelling out their superiority to humans:

 

 

Humor can also be about real life. Ze Frank does nature videos about animals, birds, sea creatures and anything that moves and he teaches suggestively, like a 9th grader, tee-heeing his way through what they all do. His descriptions are anthropomorphic because the creatures are described as if they had a human agenda or thought process… I think he is pure genius!

 

 

The pet industry is a multi-billion dollar concern, valued at around $99 billion in 2020. Animals are our best friends, right? I cannot imagine living without them. I have a chihuahua, four cats, and five parakeets, all rescues. They each have their own needs and personalities. Or, should it be dog-anality, cat-analities, and bird-analities?  They are not persons and yet I feel like I know them deeply and that they know me. I grew up in Brazil and we had several pets that ate out the same big bowl, a mash that was created for them from leftovers. At one time we had two cats, two dogs, a chicken and a white rat and they all ate from that bowl. Now new designer foods and comforts are pushed, all of the things and fancy toys our animal friends really must have now, when they are just as happy with a cardboard box.

Our connection to animals also has deep roots in religion. The Judeo-Christian tradition tells the story of Adam who names all of the animals, of Noah who saves them from the great flood, and in the New Testament, of Christ as both Shepherd and sacrificial lamb. Other religious traditions also have their own animals, often embodied as gods and goddesses. There is a tension between our roles, of protector, of hunter, of friend and whether we see animals as having equal rights in the natural order of things or if they must be subjected to whatever we see fit. We eat them, we poison them, we destroy them. Yet, we love them. Hunters are often big supporters of environmental causes because they are tuned into seeing, to understanding, to binding to their prey. They want their forests and streams to be healthy places for the meat.

At this point in our history, we are the destructive force, killing species and ruining their habitats at a rate never seen before. We are also their biggest advocates. How will we balance the two? I eat meat. I know that it is an animal that has died for me. It’s tough to justify my actions, especially when we have so many excellent vegetarian options these days. Whatever choices we make, they should be the least painful and healthiest, both for animals and for people.

What is it called when the reverse is true? When people are described with animal traits? I don’t know. But, when you call someone an “animal”, it means that they are savage, have no moral compass, are governed by their impulses, not by their brains. And, who is more “animal” than humans? As I post this, Russia is annihilating Ukraine. No animal of the jungle or savannah would do this. They kill to eat, to survive, not to annihilate, to inflict cruelty. There are animals who may have crossed wires and who are dangerous because something is wrong with them, but never as destructive as humans. We are the number one predator on this planet.

“The Animals” talks about the effect of war in “When I Was Young”.  Eric Burdon was already so young when this was released, but World War II was still fresh in the memories of so many in Europe during the 1960’s.  He is one of my favorite singers ever and has had a career of speaking up about injustice all along.  Check out “Gotta Serve Somebody“.

 

 

Whether animals are bonded to us in spirit or through the complexities of our food chain, they shape our understanding of culture and art. They come to us as symbols, as guides, as inspiration, as comfort, and sometimes as threats. In the big picture, imagine a world without them!  I was shocked to read an article recently about how many wild animals the US Wildlife Service is killing a year:

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services reported killing 404,538 native animals in 2021, according to new data released by the program today. The federal wildlife-killing program targets wolves, coyotes, cougars, birds and other wild animals, primarily to benefit the agriculture industry in states like Texas, Colorado and Idaho.

According to the report, the multimillion-dollar program last year killed 324 gray wolves, 64,131 coyotes, 433 black bears, 200 mountain lions, 605 bobcats, 3,014 foxes, 24,687 beavers, and 714 river otters. These figures almost certainly understate the actual number of animals killed, as program insiders have revealed that Wildlife Services kills many more animals than it reports.  Biological Diversity

Why? It seems like we are on a path of total self destruction and annihilation and we should know better by now! We must change how we approach the natural world if we want to survive as a species ourselves. To be clear, so far I have made a distinction between humans and “animals”, and yet, we are one, too, an animal. Perhaps our old spirits, our core, recognizes that we are family which is why we need the totems, the spirit guides, the cartoons, and all of the merging that makes us understand each other.  We ARE animals.

Featured Members

Linnea Pergola

About horses. Linnea Pergola is our horse woman. She has worked with them and they are prominent in her art. She worked at a horse ranch in Arizona where they swam the horses as a part of their therapy and many of her pieces feature horses in water. I love this one because it seems to be grinning!  Linnea is using our cart to sell her work. See her shop on Artizan Made and her website to learn more.

Mare swimming by Linnea Pergola.

Mare swimming by Linnea Pergola.

Lynne Brotman Fiber Art

Lynne has been inspired by tribal art and music that has shaped important parts of her life. This piece speaks to me as an archetypal story, such as you would see in totemic art.  She is also using our cart to sell her work. This piece, “A Song for You” is listed here. Visit her website to learn more about her.

A Song for You by Lynne Brotman

A Song for You by Lynne Brotman

 

Laura Lee Burch Textile Art

Laura has a deep love for animals, wild and tame ones. She is a painter and needle felter and her subjects have often been endangered species and pets. Her needle felted works are joyful and full of life, as are her paintings, although they have more realism and intensity than the needle felted ones. She accepts commissions for both types of work. She made a painting of my chihuahua, Tor, which unfortunately got lost in the mail, but I still treasure the image. Visit Laura’s website and Etsy shop.

Tor by Laura Lee Burch

Tor by Laura Lee Burch

Kahiniwalla

Marita and Austin Miller represent a wonderful fair trade group in Bangladesh, Pebble, which produces crocheted toys for children. Many of the designs are animals. They are cute, educational and children love them! Visit their website.

Kahiniwalla fair trade organic crocheted farm animal toys

Kahiniwalla fair trade organic crocheted farm animal toys

 

Our Market Animal Category

Random products from our Animal Category are shown here. Click on them to see the listing and you will either be able to visit our member’s shop or be able to purchase here.

Go here to see all of our products tagged with animals.

What about you? Do you have an animal you especially love or fear? Do you have an animal story you would like to share? Let us know in the comments!

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