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Home > Dog Symbolism

Dog Symbolism
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Widget the WonderdogThe dog is a propitious symbol, standing for faithfulness, companionship, protectiveness, loyalty, watchfulness, courage and skill in the hunt. A powerful totem, dogs display blind love and obedience. They symbolize the sun, wind and fire and are believed to share the after-life with humans.

Dogs are the first domesticated animal, although no one is sure when and where they became domesticated. They’ve been companions and helpers throughout most of man’s recorded history, coming to symbolize loyalty and protective vigilance.

Both dogs and cats were held in high esteem in ancient Egypt; the city Cynopolis took its name from cynos, meaning dog. The law required its citizens to provide for all their stray dogs, and they even went as far as going to war with a neighboring city when one of their dogs was eaten.

Sirius and OrionEgyptians venerated Sirius, the dog star and brightest in the sky. The rise and fall of the Nile controlled their livelihoods and the rising of Sirius told them that floods were coming and the New Year would begin. They honored the faithful Sirius who never failed them.

The governor of Babylon owned so many dogs that four towns were made exempt from taxes provided the inhabitants fed their dogs properly. An Assyrian king in the 7th century BC had dogs named ‘He-Ran-and-Barked’, ‘Producer-of-Mischief’ and ‘Seizer-of-His-Enemies’.

In many ancient cultures and myths dogs had ties to death. They are believed to be able to see ghosts, with the ability to warn of invisible dangers. Their companionship in life and their supposed knowledge of the spirit world made them suitable guides to the afterlife.

cerberusIn Greek mythology, Cerberus was the three-headed dog that guarded the gates of the realm of the dead, acting as a spirit guide and mediator for those who crossed over. The dogs of Hades represent darkness and danger. The Norse dog Garmr guards the underworld and its howl signifies the coming of Ragnarok.

They also appear in this role as the jackal-headed Egyptian god Anubis as well as in Central America where they carried souls across the river of death in Mayan myths. Xoltl, the Aztec god of death and the setting sun had a dog’s head and was the patron of dogs. He led the sun through the nocturnal underworld and was reborn with it at dawn.

Maori carvings of dogs symbolize departed spirits and are thought to protect the tribe. Dogs are believed to have clear vision, enabling them to see into the spirit world.

anubisAs hunting dogs, hounds often accompanied Celtic heroes, leading them into or out of the underworld. Dogs are benign symbols in Celtic iconography, the companions of many goddesses associated with healing. The Greeks linked them with the physician, Aesculapius; the dog healing by rebirth into a new life, its fidelity surviving death.

In early Christianity, the dog was a symbol of guardianship (as in the sheepdog) and it was an allegory for the priest. The name Dominicans, an order of friars, literally means ‘dogs of the Lord’.

Dogs as winds can chase away the boar of winter or drought. The hound of Lugh, the Irish sun god, had god-like abilities; its bathing water turned to wine and it could not be defeated in battle. King Arthur’s hound Cabal helped chase the boar Twrch Trwyth into the sea. The hounds of the Celtic sea god Mannanan also hunted a mythical boar. In Ancient Greek myth, the hunter Orion was accompanied by the vigilant dog Sirius. The goddess Artemis/Diana’s priestesses called themselves hunting dogs.

Dogs have been used as a symbol of motherhood because dogs are caring and nurturing parents. They are almost universally shown with Huntress and Mother Goddesses. In many histories the Mother Goddess is portrayed as a whelping bitch (female dog).

Most Native American tribes had dogs for protection and warnings. For many tribes the dog is interchangeable with the coyote. As such, it is a thunder animal, a rain-bringer, and a fire-inventor. As the coyote it is a culture hero and mythical ancestor; an intercessor and messenger.

Some African cultures regard the wise dog as the ancestral father of civilization and bringer of fire. In some cultures it invented fire by friction, or in others by watching the masculine secret of fire-making, reporting it to the women.

Lion Foo DogThey are guardian symbols in Japan and China, although less consistently because they often have demonic significance. In Buddhism the guardian Lion Dog is a defender of the law, displaying motionless obedience, subjugating passions through the law.

People born in the Year of the Dog, the 11th sign in the Chinese Zodiac are thought to be honest, affectionate, fair and open-minded. The dog represents fidelity and unswerving devotion. The coming of a dog signifies future prosperity. As a lunar animal, the dog is an intermediary between moon deities. It is solar as a yang animal in the daytime, but yin at night. The red celestial dog, T’ien Kou is yang and helps Erh-lang drive off evil spirits, but as guardian of the night hours the dog becomes yin and symbolizes destruction and catastrophe and is connected with meteors and eclipses with the dog goes mad and bites the sun or moon.

In many parts of Central Europe the dog-spirit is believed to live in the fields of ripening corn; when the wind rustles the corn like waves it is said the mad dog is in the corn. This dog is believed to stay in the corn-field until the last sheaf is left standing. He runs before the reapers, seeking sanctuary in the last sheaf before being finally caught.

There are other beliefs, many from the United States. A yellow dog following you or a strange dog going home with you means good luck. A dog rolling over continually means visitors are coming. A dog eating grass foretells rain. A dog howling at night is a death omen – because of the old belief in the dog’s supernatural perceptions, enabling it to see the approach of Death himself.

The dog’s habit of attaching himself to man and identifying with his master’s interests is one of the reasons why this animal has been worshiped in many places and held in high esteem.


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