Sunday, 17 August 2014

Messenger Animals as Omens

"Sulphur Crested Cockatoo" by lithas-alterego
For me, being open minded about the potentiality of omens is part of polytheistic practice – omens being signs from the Gods indicating their will, favour or disfavour, as well as being divine signals indicating present or near future auspiciousness or inauspiciousness. In ancient Rome divination of omens could take any number of forms but the most common methods included observing the manner of the flight of birds; observing the way that birds ate; studying the state of the internal organs of sacrificial animals (haruspicy); analysing one’s dreams, and being alert to the import of unusual natural phenomena (Shelton at 375; Turcan at 15; Kamm at 83-84). Tacitus records  that as well as the casting of lots, which appears to an early form of reading the runes, the following means of divination were common amongst the ancient Germanic tribes:
“The widespread practice [in the Roman world] of seeking an answer from the call or flight of birds, is, to be sure, known here too, but it is a specialty of this people to test horses as well for omens and warnings. The horses are maintained at public expense in … sacred woods and groves; they are pure white and undefiled by any kind of work for humans. They are yoked to a sacred chariot and the priest or king or chief of the state walks beside them, taking note of their whinnies and neighing. No kind of omen inspires greater confidence, not only among the common people but even among the nobles and priests, who regard themselves as but the servants of the Gods, the horses as the Gods’ messengers [Tacitus at 42].” 
Thus it seems that signs communicated through what we might call messenger animals were key means of divination in the ancient world. Even before I consciously embraced polytheism I considered the behaviour of certain birds as capable of indicating auspiciousness, and since then it has seemed to me that certain animals may be associated with certain deities. Divination of omens through the observation of animals, or their presence in our dreams, is often an inexact art. In an effort to make sense of these potential omens I have put together the following alphabetical list, which records which animals are associated with which Gods, usually via myths. I note that Roman augury, as practiced by priests, involved very specific methods, some of which are described in my earlier post, Jupiter - Lord of the Heavens. Regarding unanticipated omens, it is the unusual behaviour of animals, their sudden and unexpected appearance, or their presence in dreams which tends towards indicating an omen, and one should take care not to become hyper-vigilant or superstitious, by imagining that there are signs in essentially mundane occurrences.

This list is mostly based on the Roman pantheon; it is not comprehensive, nor is it infallibly correct.

"The Black Cat II" by moroka323
Ass – (1) Vulcan; (2) Vesta; (3) Bacchus.

Bat  see "flying fox".

Bear – (1) Diana; (2) Odin (equated with Mercury).

Bee – Magna Mater.

Boar – (1) Diana; (3) Freyja (equated with Venus).

Bull – (1) Neptune; (2) Jupiter; (3) Apis, Egyptian God associated with Isis, who has been equated with a  number of major Roman Goddesses, including Ceres and Venus; (4) Mithras; (5) Shiva (who may be equated with Mercury), via Nandi. See also “cattle”.

Buzzard-hawk – Diana.

Cattle – (1) Mercury; (2) Mars; (3) Apollo; (4) Faunus. See also “bull” and “cow”.

Cat – (1) Bastet, Egyptian Goddess (equated with Diana); (2) Freyja (equated with Venus). See also “lion lynx“panther and tiger.

Cockerel – (1) Mercury (2) Apollo (as Sol); (3) Latona.

Cow – (1) Juno; (2) Hathor, Egyptian Goddess of fertility and love (equated with Venus); (3) Indra, Hindu God of thunder (equated with Jupiter) via Kamadhenu, the wish-granting cow. See also “cattle”.

Crane – (1) Juno; (2) Vulcan.

Crocodile – Sebek, Egyptian God; came to be associated with Re, God of the sun, thus Apollo.

Crow – (1) Juno; (2) Minerva; (3) Apollo. See also “raven”.

Cuckoo – Juno.

Currawong – see “magpie”.

Deer – Diana.

Dog – (1) Diana; (2) Trivia; (3) Vulcan; (4) Venus.

Dolphin – (1) Neptune; (2) Apollo; (3) Venus; (4) Bacchus.

Donkey – see “ass”.

Dove – (1) Venus; (2) the Muses.

Eagle – Jupiter.

Eagle-owl – Mars.

Elephant – (1) Ganesha, God of beginnings (equated with Janus); (2) Indra, Indian God of thunder (equated with Jupiter).

Falcon – Freyja (equated with Venus).

Ferret – Trivia (for ferrets are domesticated polecats).

Fish (from the sea) – (1) Neptune; (2) Venus; Freshwater fish – (1) Neptune; (2) Diana.

Flying fox – (1) associated with sociability and nightlife, thus perhaps Bacchus; (2) also associated with disease, thus perhaps Apollo, as God of disease; (3) they are bats, which are traditionally associated with the night and magic, thus perhaps Trivia. See for more.

Frog – Venus.

Gecko – Ceres.

Goat – (1) Mercury; (2) Bacchus; (3) Faunus; (4) Venus; (5) Thor (equated with Jupiter).

Goose – Venus.

Grasshopper – Apollo, as God of disease.

Guinea fowl – Diana.

Hare – (1) Venus; (2) Mercury.

Hawk – (1) Mercury; (2) Juno; (3) Magna Mater.

Hippopotamus – Taweret, Egyptian Goddess of fertility and childbirth; may be equated with Juno.

Horse – (1) Neptune; (2) Castor and Pollux; (3) Trivia; (4) when white, Apollo (as Sol); (5) Odin (equated with Mercury).

Ibis – Thoth, Egyptian God of writing and language (equated with Mercury).

Jackal – Anubis, Egyptian God and psychopomp, sometimes equated with Mercury.

Kangaroo – surely Diana, as kangaroos are the deer of Australia; they are wild and they are game (wild game animals are normally associated with Diana).

Kookaburra – unknown, I tend to regard them as heralding something unpleasant; see for more.

Lion – (1) Magna Mater; (2) Juno; (3) Venus; (4) Jupiter (according to Mithraism).

Lynx – Bacchus.

Magpie – Mercury. Regarding Australian magpies see

Monkey – Hanuman, Hindu God of strength and courage (equated with Hercules).

Mouse – (1) Apollo; (2) Ganesha, Hindu God of beginnings (may be equated with Janus).

Mussel – Venus.

Owl – Minerva.

Panther – Bacchus.

Parrot – there are many species of parrot and individual species may be associated with various Gods, however on the whole it seems to me that the beauty, plus the fun loving and highly sociable nature of parrots indicates an affinity with Venus. For more on (Australian) parrots as omens see See also “sulphur-crested cockatoo” and “rainbow lorikeet”.

Partridge – (1) Diana; (2) Venus.

Peacock – Juno.

Pig – see “swine”.

Pigeon (1) Venus, as Doves are associated with Venus; (2) perhaps Mercury, as they are associated with carrying messages.

Polecat – Trivia.

Quail – Diana.

Rabbit  see "hare".

Rainbow Lorikeet – perhaps Flora, in ancient Rome people dressed in brightly coloured clothing on her festival day. As a Goddess associated with sexuality and spring, Flora may be an aspect of Venus. Lorikeets are very fun loving birds and they especially love (Australian) flowers, which are their primary food source; thus they sensibly fall under the protection of (1) Flora and/or (2) Venus.

Ram – Mercury.

Rat – Apollo, as God of disease.

Raven – (1) Apollo according to Hellenic thought (Apollo is said to have changed the colour of the raven from white to black as a form of punishment); (2) Mercury according to Mithraism; (3) Odin (equated with Mercury) according to Germanic thought. Note that according to Greek myth Mercury invented the lyre and yet the lyre is associated with Apollo, after Mercury gave the God of music this instrument. If we wish to, we might suppose that though ravens were once associated with Apollo they have since become associated with Mercury. As ravens are associated with death (through their blackness), shrewdnesstrickery and thievery I think they are more suited as companions to Mercury than Apollo. I associate ravens with Odin-Mercurius. For more on Australian ravens see  

Rooster – see “cockerel”.

Scorpion – (1) Diana; (2) Selket, Egyptian Goddess associated with the afterlife, magic, protection of children/the innocent and pregnant women.

Screech-owl – (1) Pluto; (2) Proserpina; (3) the Furies.

Seal – Salacia.

Serpent (non-poisonous/benevolent) – symbolises life, health and fertility (1) Aesculapius; (2) Salus; (3) Ceres; (4) Trivia; (5) Wadjet, Egyptian Goddess commonly equated with Latona. Poisonous or otherwise dangerous serpent – (1) Apollo; (2) the Furies.

Sheep – (1) Mercury; (2) Faunus (3) Pluto, regarding black sheep.

Shellfish – Venus.

Snake – see “serpent”.

Sparrow – Venus.

Spider – Minerva.

Stag – Diana. See also “deer”.

Sulphur-crested cockatoo – surely Apollo; one’s heart fills with optimism and well-being almost every time one sees or hears these truly sacred and majestic birds, in my view their golden crests marks them out as birds sacred to Apollo.

Swallow – Venus.

Swan – (1) Apollo; (2) Venus; (3) Jupiter; (4) Castor and Pollux.

Swine – (1) Venus, (2) Ceres; (3) Vesta.

Tawny Frogmouth – unknown, but is owl-like so possibly Minerva. See for more.

Tiger – Bacchus.

Tortoise / Turtle – (1) Mercury; (2) Venus.

Turtle-dove – (1) Venus; (2) Ceres.

Vulture – (1) Mars; (2) Nekhbet, Egyptian Goddess associated with protection of upper Egypt, had a martial aspect; may be equated with Bellona.

Wallabies – see “kangaroo”.

Wattlebird – as they are strongly associated with (wattle) flowers, either (1) Flora or (2) Venus (or both – Flora may be an aspect of Venus).

Weasel – (1) Trivia; (2) Latona; (3) Lucina, who is an aspect of Juno.

Wolf – (1) Mars; (2) Jupiter; (3) Apollo (protection from wolves); (4) Faunus (protection from wolves); (5) Odin (equated with Mercury).

Woodpecker – Mars.

Sources: (re Australian animals); Shelton, As the Romans Did, Oxford University Press; Turcan, The Gods of Ancient Rome, Routledge; Kamm, The Romans, Routledge; Tacitus, Agricola and Germany: A new translation by A. R. Birley, Oxford World’s Classics.

Written by M. Sentia Figula. Find me at neo polytheistRoman Pagan and on Facebook

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