10. Man to animal


This is the deeper meaning of the cult of the hunter. An inner transformation from man to animal and demon. From prehistoric Egypt[1] comes this procession of strange animals. The first one is the animal of Seth. It has been the object of some debate what zoological species could hide behind this creature and a Danish scholar has carefully sifted the material[2]. I am not able to accept his conclusion that it must be a giraffe. It is obviously some kind of greyhound. The problem is the tail which clearly has a tuft at the end. The explanation is that the tail, as in Mesopotamia where the lion´s tail is often turned into a coiling or ascending snake, is a symbol of raised mystical power: the upright tail has the mystical flower at its end.



The next animal is the griffin, an animal composed by panther and bird, the last animal is the lion-snake, a lion with a long snake-like neck. These composite animals must be seen as demons following Seth, his pompê. Mithras has much later a similar train of followers: the snake, the black raven, the lion, the dog, the scorpion – and we have an important man-into-lion symbolism in the mysteries of Mithras. The train of demonic animals following him is characteristic of the hunter. Resheph is hunting together with lion, dog, scorpion, snake and bird.

Nonnos writes that Actaeon was sitting high in an oak tree when he spied on Artemis and her bathing nymphs. He is changed into a stag and torn to pieces by his own dogs. His mother is seeking him and mourning over him and is in this situation called “bride”. Finally she finds his bow. In the Ugarit text about Aqhat being torn to pieces by birds of prey his bow is the reason for Anat wanting him dead. She wants to buy the bow, but he refuses. Also in the myth about Actaeon the bow plays an important role: The ghost of Actaeon prays that his bow may be planted on his grave, but then utters fear that the bow-mad Artemis may take it[3]. The identity between the two seems clear: Actae-on and Aqhat are the same person.

Apollodor[4] writes that the dogs of Actaeon were for a long period straying and seeking their master until they came to the centaur Cheiron, who, to comfort them, made a statue of their master. A newly found papyrus fragment adds that the dogs were cared for by Cheiron until they joined the train of Dionysos[5]. P.Chuvin[6] thinks that there is “a Dionysian conversion-rite” hiding behind the myth. A bloody act marks the consecration of the “dogs” to the god Dionysos. Fragments of ivory found in the oldest layers of Theben show a dog presenting a stag as sacrifice beneath a sacred palm tree.[7]



To shed further light on the cult of Dionysos some scholars have pointed to the ecstatic practice of some North African brotherhoods. The so-called Aissâoûa[8] form seven groups: camels, jackals, cats, wild pigs, dogs, panthers, lions. The panthers still carry bits of panther's skin, the lions only a mat imitating the lion´s hide. With the exception of the pigs and camels, the initiated are called frassâ (Arab: farasa = tear up). At their feasts they tear up and eat quite a considerable number of cattle (mostly goats and sheep), and the tearing up is accompanied by a mad frenzied dance. This passion for being an animal, a demon and experience the kick of violence and of forbidden lust is the key to the cult of the hunter.

In Iraq the myth of Adonis has given some extra colour to the memory of the death of Hussein[9]. In the tradition about this event, the thirst of Hussein is stressed, also his horse suffers from thirst, and his little son has thirsted for three days, but his murderer refuses to give the dying man water to drink. “The burning hot summer causes the spring to vanish from thirst”[10]. Before the last fight, Hussein asks his murderer to show him his face, and it appears that his opponent has a dog´s nose and the rough bristles of a boar.

[1] P.E.Newberry: Beni Hassan II, 1894, pl.4, 13

[2] Ad.S.Jensen, The sacred Animal of the God Set, 1934, Det Kgl. Danske Videnskabernes Selskab. Biologiske Medd. XI, 5

[3] Nonnos V 525ff

[4] Bibliot. III 4,4

[5] E.Lobel, Oxyrhynchus Papyri 30, 1964 no.2509

[6] Nonnos de Panopolis vol 2, 1976, pp.100-3

[7] S.Symeonoglou in Kadmeia I, 1973, p.52, pl.70-73, cf. M.A.V.Gill, “The Minoan Genius”, Ath. Mitt.79, 1964, pp.1-21.

[8] René Brunel, Essai sur la confrérie religieuse des Aissâoûa au Maroc, 1926

[9] B.Meissner, “Babylonische Bestandteile in modernen Sagen und Gebraüchen”, ARW 5, 1902, pp.232f.

[10] Meissner