Monday, June 22, 2009

The dog, a symbol of death and protection

Dogs are both guardians and harbingers of death. They are portrayed so in different cultures, places and era.

An Indo-European ritual has the dog as the symbol of death. In the beginning of the New Year at the winter solstice, boys were initiated into manhood and became warriors according to Indo-European mythologists. At the mid-winter initiation ceremony, young men witnessed the death of both the old year and their old identities, while as warriors they would become men who fed the dogs of death by killing enemies. The priests who officiated over the midwinter rite were called dog-priests, the Vrâtyas.

There is the 'black dog' also known as 'spectral hound', 'death hound', 'hound of hell', 'Black Angus'. A howling dog is also interpreted as an omen of death. With the powerful sense of smell of dogs, these animals can smell chemical changes that take place in the body before death. Perhaps leading them to howl.

The dog’s appearance also meant flooding of the river Nile in Egyptian mythology. Orion, the great hunter, had a dog named Sirius seen in the constellation of the same name. Sirius, who played a role in Egyptian mythology, heralded the annual flooding of the Nile. Sirius’ signal was shown in a light having blended with the morning sun.

The dog as a symbol of death is also manifested among the indigenous Igorots of the Cordillera. The dog is offered as a sacrifice in a ritual to guard the spirit of one who killed somebody whether in a battle or other encounter. The ritual is called ‘daw-es’ or ‘sumang’.

A soldier from ethnic tribes’ populated Mountain Province, who served in the Philippine Army years ago had to practice ‘daw-es’ when he went home after military duty. Based now overseas, he say "daw-es is done to protect or strengthen his spirit (ab-abi-ik) in case he is harmed or killed by somebody”. It is also the belief that the spirit of the ones harmed or killed won't be able to defeat his spirit, in case they come back for revenge. The subject is not also allowed to partake in eating the dog meat used for the ritual.

The butchering of dogs then is not just done to appease the appetite of one who wants to eat dog meat as what is happening in the current world. Butchering dog talks of death or misfortune having happened prior to the ritual. In such case, a firm believer of the ritual would not like to be butchering a dog just to appease an appetite to eat dog meat.

It the highlands of the Cordillera region of the Philippines, the practice of ‘daw-es’ is also done in cases where there is misfortune or pestilence which afflicted a person or a village. Butchering a dog means warding off evil and bad luck.

That is, the dog while it portrayed a symbol of death also portrayed a symbol of protection. This is portrayed in mythologies and in ethnic culture of some indigenous tribes.

In Greek and Roman mythology, Cerberus is a multi-headed dog who guards the gates of Hades, to prevent those who have crossed the river Styx from ever escaping; or rather, guarded the entrance to the Afterworld.

Hounds, in Celtic cultures, have been known for seeing into the Otherworld and perceived as guardians of the World people are now in. And in Chinese mythology, the part lion and dragon Fu dogs are meant to guard homes and businesses.

So sacred an animal that the capital city of Manila, Philippines, passed an ordinance specifically banning the killing and selling of dogs for food. The ordinance is based on the Philippine Animal Welfare Act 1998, ‘prohibiting the killing of any animal other than cattle, pigs, goats, sheep, poultry, rabbits, carabaos, horses, deer and crocodiles’ except in some instances.'. One exception is when it (dog) is done ‘as part of the religious rituals of an established religion or sect or a ritual required by tribal or ethnic custom of indigenous cultural communities’.

The Province of the Benguet homeland of indigenous Ibalois and Kankanaey tribes in the Philippines, passed a resolution declaring, among other things, "it has been an evolved cultural practice of indigenous peoples of the Cordillera the butchering of animals, dogs included, as part of their rituals and practices leading to its commercialization to a limited extent…’

While this is the case, some dog meat eating Filipinos consume around 500,000 dogs killed annually, reports Dog Meat, an organization working in the Philippines to eliminate dog meat eating in the country.

Meantime in Iran, the dog symbolizes the West. One can be charged for ‘moral corruption’ for owning a dog and a dog is caged for ‘walking on public’. Interesting.

While that is so, it is despicable to note how some 50 Igorots were displayed and made to butcher and eat dog meat during the 1904 St Louis Fair in Missouri, 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific (AYPE) Exposition in Seattle and the 1913 World’s Fair in Ghent Germany. How the indigenous Igorots were made to eat dog meat on almost a daily basis talks of exploitation of a sacred ritual.


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