I was five, and he was the greatest thing in the world. I dressed him up in doll clothes and ferried him around in a red wagon. His name was Pablo, the family cat, and if I could have built a pyramid in his honor I would have. When he passed away, his ashes were displayed proudly in the center of the house. He was a member of the family, after all.
How many of us worship our pets? If worship is too strong a word, then how many of us venerate, revere, or adore our pets? There is no shame in it. Just look at President Obama’s attachment to his First Dog, Bo. In addition, almost every religion and spiritual tradition in the world makes room for animal veneration in one way or another. Recall the “lamb of God” in Christian scriptures and the sacred cow in Hinduism. And my specific brand of animal adoration – cat worship, or ailurophilia – provides the topic for this week’s episode of The Chopra Well’s Holy Facts, hosted by Gotham Chopra.
First stop, naturally, is ancient Egypt. The Egyptians venerated cats for their ability to hunt rodents and snakes. They considered cats to be graceful and poised, and eventually began worshiping the goddess Bast (or Bastet), who was depicted in cat form. Cats received formal funerary rites, including embalming and burial in prominent tombs and cemeteries. From an inscription on the Royal Tombs at Thebes:
Thou art the Great Cat, the avenger of the gods, and the judge of words, and the president of the sovereign chiefs and the governor of the holy Circle; thou art indeed the Great Cat.
But that was ancient Egypt, the same place where a teenage Cleopatra married her younger brother, only to later assassinate him and usurp the throne. Those were strange times. On second thought, some things haven’t changed. Not the marrying of the brother bit, but the animal worship thing. In India, people will sit in traffic for hours rather than hassle a wandering cow. Cattle are revered for their ability to produce life-sustaining milk. Similarly, the Inuit of Alaska have traditionally considered whales to be sacred, as they depend on their meat and skin for sustenance and warmth.
Even more broadly, there is an animal associated to every astrological sign, countless words in the English language that derive from animal names (guess where the words “chivalry,” “muscle,” and “porcelain” come from…), and nearly 165 million dogs and cats owned, total, in the United States. Call it worship, adoration, or downright obsession, but we sure do love our non-human companions.
Is your pet an angel, a demon, or a little bit of both? Let us know in the comments section below!
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