Outside the Middle East, major religions were and still are
more dog friendly. Zoroastrianism became established well over 3,000 years ago
in what is now Iran. Although its sacred literature was not written down until
500 CE, one of its sacred books, Fargard 13 of the Vendidad, which forms part
of the Zend Avesta is devoted to the dog. In an English translation dated 1887,
in Part VIII of Fargard 13 it says: “A dog has the characters of eight sorts
of people. He has the character of a priest. He has the character of a
warrior. He has the character of a husbandman. He has the character of a
strolling singer. He has the character of a thief. He has the character of a
disu (a wild beast). He has the character of a courtesan. He has the
character of a child.”
An explanation follows. He’s like a priest because he’s “patient
and easily satisfied”, like a warrior because he “fights for the benefit of the
cow”, like a husbandman because he’s “first out of the house in the morning and
last in at night”. The analogies continue and to me they accurately reflect an
excellent understanding of dog behaviour. Dogs are “fond of sleep, full of
tongue, fond of singing, fond of darkness, shameless eaters, tender like snow”.
They can be “ill-trained, wound those who get too near, roam the roads, dig the
earth with their paws”.
With the expansion of Islam from the west, the centre of
Zoroastrianism moved east from Persia into India where it survives. (Queen’s
late Freddie Mercury, the music conductor Zubin Mehta, the Canadian novelist
Rohinton Mistry and the industrialist Ratan Tata are internationally famous
present day Zoroastrians are Parsees.) According to Khojeste P. Mistree, who I
contacted through a veterinary colleague who practices in Mumbai, even today at
a traditional Zoroastrian funeral ceremony, a dog is brought into the room
several times to view the corpse before it is placed in the “Tower of Silence”.
A dog that has two white markings above the eyes has a gaze that is said to
frighten away evil. The gaze of this so-called “four-eyed dog” can frighten
away the demoness that is said to pollute the corpse at the time of death. The
dog accompanies the soul of the deceased as it proceeds to judgement at the
Bridge of the Separator. In the Zoroastrian creation story, the dog is seen as
the collaborator of Srosh, God’s vice regent on earth. The barking of a dog is
said to frighten away evil, particularly at night.
In Hinduism the dog is included in the autumn Tihar festival
in Nepal. Religious belief says that the dog is a messenger of the angel of
death, and dogs guard the doors of Heaven. Dogs are said to protect homes and
their inhabitants. In order to please the dogs that they will meet at Heaven’s
door, in order to be allowed into Heaven, people in Nepal mark the 14th day of
the lunar cycle in November as Kukur-tihar, the dog’s day. On that day, dogs
are garlanded with marigolds, incense is burned and a vermilion dot is applied
to the dog’s forehead. Dogs are also offered special food on that day. In
Zoroastrianism, dogs fulfil a similar role. A soul cannot pass the Chinvat
Bridge and go to heaven without passing the dog who guards the Gates of Heaven.
Buddhism is also dog friendly although the religion can be
surprisingly negative about dogs, as it can be about all animals. As do all
major beliefs, Buddhism teaches love and kindness for all animals, including
dogs. A dog is as capable of perfect enlightenment as a person is but the
concept of karma teaches that wrong behaviour can lead to your soul being
reborn in the body of a non-human animal and this includes a dog. I know lots
of people who’d love to be reborn as beloved pet dogs, but in Buddhism, being
reborn as a dog is a serious spiritual setback. That’s because dogs can’t
engage in conscious acts of self-improvement so that means continually being
reborn as a dog and never being able to resume your quest for nirvana.
The dog is a good friend in Chinese tradition??The dog is
one of the 12 animals honoured in Chinese astrology. The second day of the
Chinese New Year is considered to be the birthday of all dogs and Chinese
people often take care to be kind to dogs on that day. In Chinese tradition,
the dog is an auspicious animal, a friend who understands the human’s spirit
and obeys its master, whether he is wealthy or not. Chinese tradition says that
if a dog comes to your house, you should adopt it for it symbolizes the coming
of fortune. (Or meals on wheels. I’ll explain that other popular Chinese tradition
– ancient and modern – of eating dogs, later on.) A person born in the Year of
the Dog has a straightforward character. In their career and in love, they are,
like the dog, faithful, courageous, dexterous, clever and warm-hearted although
women born under this sign “lack stability”. In case you want to check whether
this is you, previous Years of the Dog are 1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994
and 2006. The next Year of the Dog is 2018.
Dogs and death are often associated??Regional religions
throughout the world frequently associate dogs, as Hinduism does, with death.
Dogs are often the companions of the dead, gatekeepers or guardians of the
underworld or intercessors with the gods. In many Central Asian regions, by
feeding human corpses to dogs the souls of the dead passed directly to dogs.
Cerberus, the three-headed dog of Greek myth, guards the entrance to Hades
while hounds accompanied Hekate, the somber Greek goddess who haunted tombs and
crossroads and to whom dogs were sacrificed. In Scandinavian lore the dog Garm
was a sinister creature while in the Americas the dog-headed Aztec god Xolotl
led the sun through the nocturnal underworld until it was reborn with the
following dawn. In Mayan myth dogs carried human souls across the river of
death. In North America, the white dog was sacred to the Dog Feast, a widely
held practice of both plains and eastern Native Peoples such as the Ojibwa in
which a white dog was strangled, seared over a fire and eaten.
As the first true dogs spread around the world, our
ancestors’ attitudes towards them were almost always practical and utilitarian.
Sometimes dogs were simply irritating. At other times they were useful. But in
our early relationship with them dogs seldom filled the social and
psychological roles that dogs like Bean do today. Or did they? Native American
sayings may be genuine or the products of vivid modern minds but there’s one I
like that says. “God Made the earth, the sky and the water, the moon and the
sun. He made man and bird and beast. But He didn’t make the dog. He already had