Visual Images: Ancient Influences-Dogs

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Dogs

In Celtic, Norse, and Egyptian myth the dog was associated with death and the afterlife, particularly the darker side. The dog was also associated with divination and healing in Celtic belief. Witches in the 15th-17th centuries were often said to have both of these abilities. In Norse myth, the dog or wolf appears during the destruction of the world. Dogs were associated with death and the judging and punishing of souls in the afterlife in ancient Egypt. In general dogs were associated with death because they were believed to be carrion-feeders, along with vultures.

 

France, Celtic hound from a wine flagon, 4th-century B.C.

 Dogs were connected with the Otherworld in Celtic mythology. Because they licked their wounds, they were believed to have magical healing abilities, and it was common to find representations of them at sanctuaries devoted to healing.

Arawn, the Celtic ruler of the Otherworld, had a pack of white dogs with red-tipped ears. The color red was associated with death.

The Druids foretold the future by cracking open the bones of dogs, cats, or 'red' pigs, then chewing on the marrow or raw flesh.

 

Denmark, detail from Gundestrupp Cauldron, 3rd-century B.C.

 This is possibly a mother goddess associated with war. Next to her right hand is a wolf or dog.

In Norse myth, two wolves chased the sun and moon across the sky in order to make them move fast (apparently they needed some incentive). On the day of Ragnarok, the apocalypse, "the wolf chasing the sun will finally swallow it, to everyone's horror...a second wolf will catch the moon, and that will be equally disastrous" (Fleming, Husain, Littleton, Malcor, p. 130).

One of Loki's, the trickster god's, kids was a giant wolf called Fenrir that had to be fettered in order to be controlled from its violent behavior. Odin, the ruler of the gods, would have to do battle with him on the day of Ragnarok. On that day, "Fenrir will advance with his mouth gaping so wide that his upper jaw will rest against the sky and his lower jaw against the earth--it would gape even wider if there were more room...flames will flare out from his eyes and nostrils" (Fleming, Husain, Littleton, Malcor, p. 133). Odin would be killed and he would be avenged by his son, who would finally kill Fenrir by pulling his jaws apart.

 

Egyptian, Tutankhamun as Anubis, from his tomb 1323-1333 B.C.
 In Egyptian myth, dogs and cats were kept as pets as guardians of the home. Anubis, the jackal-headed god, was the guardian of cemeteries in his dog form. The jackal is a member if the canine family. Anubis was responsible for weighing a person's heart during his or her journey to Osiris' kingdom, the land of the dead. The heart was put on one side of the scales and the feather of truth on the other. If the heart weighed more than the feather it meant that it was filled with sin and was beyond redemption. Such a heart was then eaten by Ammut, a monster with the head of a crocodile or dog, who sat crouched under the scales.

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