While many representations of deities throughout history have taken the form of humans or ethereal spirits without bodies, there have also been a number which took after animals. Whether or not they were idealized for their specific traits, such as strength or intelligence, the animal kingdom has given humans plenty of inspiration when it comes to our gods.
Pantheon: Native American
Literally represented as a talking coyote, this deity was extremely popular in Native American myths, especially those involving the creation of humans and Earth itself. Known to some tribes as Old-Man, Coyote was seen as a trickster god, popular for his efforts to aid humans, usually against the will of the other gods. One his most popular myths mirrors that of Prometheus, the ancient Greek Titan, and it involves Coyote liberating salmon from the gods, for the benefit of mankind.
However, he is not always benevolent, as seen in the myth which features Coyote as the god who made death permanent. (Although, it may have been for the best, as he did it to avoid the overpopulation of Earth, through resurrected dead people.) Sometimes he can be a pest, like he was the time the moon was stolen. Coyote offered to stand in until it was found out he snooped on all the other deities, exposing their secrets, until they voted to take him down.
Lesser known than his more famous cousins Anubis or Sekhmet, Babi was a bloodthirsty deity and the alpha of all baboons, animals noted for their anger and sexual activity. Greatly respected for his own strength, as well as his virility, ancient Egyptian males who wished to, shall we say, continue to give their wives full salutes in the afterlife would pray to Babi. His phallus was said to adorn the doors to the kingdom of heaven, as well as functioning as the mast for the Underworld ferry.
Babi’s diet consisted entirely of the entrails of the dead, a task he relished thanks to his nature. Sometimes, he would even take the place of Ammit (the “Devourer of the Dead”) and consume the souls of the unrighteous after they had been judged. Because of his all-consuming rage, spells were needed to protect oneself from Babi, as he was prone to murder without provocation.
Hanumam, one of only three major Hindu gods with animal characteristics, is known as a vanara, an ape-like humanoid that has the power to transform his shape at will, as well as other powers. The son of a cloud nymph cursed to be a monkey and Vayu, the wind god, Hanumam inherited a curious nature, as well as a troublesome streak. Over the years, Hanumam was slowly stripped of his powers by the other deities, as punishment for his numerous transgressions, such as trying to eat the Sun, which he mistook for a fruit.
After becoming king of the monkeys, Hanumam led them to help the god Rama recover his wife, Sita, from the demon Ravana. It was during that fight that the most prevalent image of Hanumam emerged: the god with the blackened face and tail. He was caught trying to escape Ravana’s palace, after some successful espionage, and the demon tied Hanumam up and lit his tail on fire. However, the monkey king escaped by transforming to an immense size, breaking free of his bonds, and burning down Ravana’s city.
An ancient Mesopotamian god, Dagon was commonly represented as a half-man, half-fish in the existing evidence we have of him, most likely due to the fact that the ocean was the supreme source of food for the people of the area. However, when the plow came along, which Dagon was said to have invented, he became more of a vegetation god, while still maintaining his fish-like characteristics.
At one time the second most important deity in the area, Dagon was eventually succeeded by his son, the storm god Baal. As with many of the gods of his time, there are not a lot of surviving myths about Dagon; though, just like his invention of the plow, he is credited with discovering grain and giving it to mankind. Nevertheless, he was extremely popular, thought to have been worshipped by the Babylonians, the Assyrians and the Akkadians, and perhaps the Philistines of the Christian Bible as well.
The cousin of his Greek counterpart Pan, Faunus was the horned god of the forest, and he was commonly seen in the countryside, as he was responsible for the procreation of livestock. Depictions of his physical appearance varied but most of them made him look like a satyr, but wiser even though fauns were traditionally dumber than satyrs. It was even said that the sounds of the forest were his voice.
Being one of the oldest of the Roman gods, Faunus had a complicated origin story and Virgil described him as a legendary king, who was blessed after death for the deeds he performed in his life, especially those related to agriculture and hunting. Much like Pan, the festivals in his honor soon evolved into an orgy of debauchery and moral abandonment. Perhaps due to that fact, Faunus remained popular, with his worship lasting longer than most of the Roman deities.
The reason for the sacredness of cows in Hinduism, Kamadhenu, is a goddess otherwise known as the “cow of plenty” or “wish cow,” for she grants the wishes of her owner. She is also unique as to the fact that there are not very many buildings or areas dedicated to her honor; rather, all cows are considered avatars, or physical representations, of Kamadhenu.
During the Churning of the Milky Way, Kamadhenu came forth and was given to the sage Vasishtha as a gift. Another sage, Visvamitra, grew covetous of the luxury with which the goddess’ owner lived and conspired to kidnap her. He was foiled at every turn and Kamadhenu later became the mother of all cattle, one of the reasons they are venerated.
An ancient Sumerian god, Gugalanna took the form of a bull and was the husband of Ereshkigal, the Queen of the Underworld. However, his will was at the mercy of Anu, the sky god, which is the main function of the only myth we know of him. When the great hero Gilgamesh was approached by Ishtar, he rebuked her seductions, infuriating the goddess. Filled with righteous fury, she demanded that Anu send Gugalanna down to Earth to punish Gilgamesh.
He conceded and the great bull fought Gilgamesh, and his friend Enkidu, eventually falling in battle and being dismembered by his foes. The “Bull of Heaven” as he was otherwise known can be seen in the constellation Taurus, which dipped below the horizon at the spring equinox when his myth first arose, as inspiration for his symbolic death and resurrection.
Bearing a striking resemblance to his North American cousin raven, Kutkh (pronounced ‘koot-cha’) is a major player in Slavic mythology. Whether it was the creation of Earth by dropping a flower in the ocean, or the creation of mankind, Kutkh had his hand in everything. Volcanoes are said to be the burning hearts of men who lusted after the first woman he created.
Just like Coyote, Kutkh enjoys playing tricks on the unsuspecting saps that surround him, which are usually other deities. Much to his chagrin, he is often duped by those he tried to trick. Another role he was said to have encompassed is that of teacher. Fire, language and even sex are said to have been given to humans by Kutkh, although he had no benevolent intentions. On a slightly more disgusting note, much of the existing land is sometimes said to be the hardened excrement of the raven god.
A fertility god, as well as a god of agriculture, Kamapua’a is a popular and important deity in indigenous Hawaiian mythology. He is a shapeshifter, prone to mischief while in the form of a pig (his natural state) and susceptible to the wiles of human women while disguised as a mortal. He is remarked to be an amazing lover, thanks to his insatiable thirst for pleasure.
His name translates as “pig child” and he is one of only a few men lucky enough to be with Pele, the fire and volcano goddess, and live to tell the tale. It is Kamapua’a’s own stubbornness which is said to be the reason lava is able to be turned into fertile soil. In fact, in one version of the myth, Pele and Kamapua’a make love for so long that Pele’s sisters fear for her life and intervene. Perhaps being called a pig in bed is actually a compliment.
One of a multitude of canine-related deities in Egyptian mythology, Wepwawet was nearly always depicted as a full-fledged jackal, rather than a human with the head of a jackal. He was one of the earliest gods worshipped, reaching the height of his popularity during the Old Kingdom, until Osiris and Anubis absorbed most of his duties. Wepwawet translates as “opener of the ways” and may have referred to his role as guide to the Underworld or his role as the harbinger of the choices one makes in one’s life.
He was also closely associated with the living pharaoh, accompanying him on hunts and helping ferry messages back and forth between the mortal and the gods. As his central city of worship was Lycopolis, it is often erroneously believed that he was a wolf, rather than a jackal.