When I began painting animals in the spring of 2011, I quickly became aware of the ubiquitous use of animal imagery to represent human qualities. I wondered why? It is so common that it is almost goes unnoticed. The following is what I've observed and learned regarding this phenomenon.
The Big Four--The Lion, the Bull, the Angel, and the Eagle
I guess I should say 'the big three' because one is an angel.
They show up everywhere...
The Beasts of the Apocalypse
Book of Revelations 4:6-8
... And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like an eagle in flight. And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say,
“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,
Who was and is and is to come!”
The four Evangelists, Matthew, Luke, Mark, and John are attributed with writing the Gospels of the new testament, and are represented by the Eagle, the Bull, the Lion and the Angel respectively.
In the Tarot
The Initiates of ancient Egypt, forced to flee their country, created the Tarot as a way to both preserve and conceal their spiritual truths. They became known as Gypsies.
The Fixed Signs of the Zodiac
In Astrology the lion is Leo, the bull is Taurus, the angel is Aquarius and the eagle, as shown below, was the original symbol for Scorpio.
The Four Great Group Souls
Rudolf Steiner, the early 20th century clairvoyant and founder of Anthroposophy, most popularly known for Waldorf Education and biodynamic farming, describes the evolution of the human being from pure spirit to the material form of the present day. This ‘materialization’ of spirit unfolds as a accumulation of four different ‘bodies’ coming together. The four bodies are: the physical- the oldest and most perfected, the etheric, the astral and lastly the ego.
The ego body being the newest is the most immature. Before the ego body joined the other three, man did not have an the individual soul as he does now, but instead a group soul, similar to animals. During this pre-ego phase there were four great group souls, and these were –The Lion, the Bull, the Angel and the Eagle. The souls belonging to each particular group shared certain qualities.
Myth or Memory?
One of the more controversial claims of Edgar Cayce, the ‘Sleeping Prophet’ is that before God provided a perfect vehicle for the soul (Adam and Eve) disembodied souls in striving to experience the sensations of earth (this has become known as ‘the fall of the angels’) ‘mingled’ with nature.
“Souls, longing to feel the beauty of the seas, the winds, the forest, the flowers, mixed with them and expressed themselves through them. They also mingled with the animals, and made, in imitation of them, thought forms; they played at creating; they imitated God. They had to go along with it in the bodies they had themselves created. They were strange bodies: mixtures of animals, a patchwork of ideas about what it would be pleasant to enjoy in flesh. Down through the ages fables of centaurs, Cyclopes, etc., have persisted as a relic of this beginning of the soul’s tenancy of earth.”
The Story of Edgar Cayce: There is a River by Thomas Sugrue
Very Important Mixtures
The Sun God Ra, shown here with Nefertiti is the first and most important god of the Egyptian religion. Ra makes the sunrise every day.
Egyptian god Thoth, attributed with the invention of symbols and mediator of good and evil, among other things. The Egyptian pantheon has many 'mixture' gods.
Ganesh the Indian god, revered as the 'remover of obstacles'.
Hanuman with 4 avatars, Vahara - boar/man, Garuda - eagle-man, Namasimha - lion/man and Hayagriva - horse/man. Facing North, West, South and skyward respectively, with Hanuman facing East.
Is it possible these are vestiges of the big four?... the Lion, the Bull, the Angel and the Eagle?
Conventional wisdom attributes mixtures to mistaken visions; men first seeing other men on horseback- centaurs, sailors too long at sea coming upon dolphins - mermaids. Others to folklore, the unicorn, Pegasus, Minotaur. I wonder does one person think it up and everyone just go along? Is it first a story and then an image? Why does one mixture get perpetuated and what mixture doesn't make it? Why?
Zodiac means 'small animals' in Greek. Perhaps nothing else so obviously epitomizes the notion that animals are perfect for representing human nature than the zodiac.
Astrology is Latin for 'knowledge of the stars' and dates as far back as 2000 BCE. The ancient Chaldean priests saw the planets and stars as the bodies of spiritual beings. It was the role of these great spirits to influence human destiny. Reincarnation is implicit in astrology and the qualities and experiences of an individual are related to past lives. In astrology this is only 'one life among many.'
Most of us have had the experience of relating to the traits of our sign. The symbol and the planet that represents the sign is the origin of the characteristics. For example are you a Leo the Lion ruled by the Sun? Do you like to be the center of attention? Proud, courageous, confident? Is your 'mane' important to you? Or are you an Aries the Ram ruled by Mars. Do you go at life head first? Are you impulsive, pioneering, impatient? Do you have scars on your nose or forehead?
Game of Thrones
Game of Throne families have a house sigil; a symbol, motto and colors that represent the family. Not all, but most are animals.
Contrade of Siena
A contrada (singular) is a district within an Italian city. The most popular of today are the 17 of Siena. Each is named after an animal or symbol and each has its own long history and complicated set of heraldic and semi-mythological associations. One contrada in the north east of the city is called the Giraffa, and affluent sections originally the home of painters. Its colors are red and white. Another neighborhood Leocorno (unicorn) was the home to goldsmiths. Each summer a horse race, Il Palio, is run with all contrade competeing. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contrade_of_Siena
This category could go on forever... but I noticed almost no animals in soccer.
In Popular Culture
Daemons and Patronus'
In Philip Pullman's Dark Materials series, the characters each possess a daemon, an animal representing the soul or moral life of the human they are attached to. In the Harry Potter series each character possess a patronus, a spirit animal whom they can call on for protection.