Harbingers of doom or bringers of light?
August 31, 2012 6:19 PM   Subscribe

What are some great myths about animals?

I've been having odd encounters with animals on the hiking paths of Vancouver Island (luckily no cougars so far) and it has peaked my interest of learning myths and stories that grew through time surrounding these magnificent creatures.

Seeking myths you have heard, websites to peruse, easy to digest stories. Trying to avoid dry editions of Norse mythology I tried reading when I was younger and always fell asleep to.

I'd like the focus to be those found in the forests (especially ravens as I just saw two the size of medium size dogs) around the world.

Bonus points if the stories tie in with Jungian psychology in any way or if relate to Canadian First Nations - west coast focused.
posted by kanata to Media & Arts (13 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
I like what the Japanese think about foxes. In particular, the idea that as they grow older and more powerful they grow additional tails, up to a maximum of nine.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:27 PM on August 31, 2012

By the way, in Japan you answer the phone by saying moshi moshi. That's how they say "Hello". The reason? According to tradition, a kitsune cannot say the nonsense word moshi so if you greet someone by saying that, it proves you are not a kitsune in disguise.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:29 PM on August 31, 2012 [14 favorites]

A Lenape tale: Rainbow Crow.
posted by Jeanne at 6:34 PM on August 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ravens feature prominently in PNW Native mythology, amongst other cultures. I've seen ads for jewelry mimicking PNW artistic styles with Raven keeping the Sun in a box.

Coyote is a big figure in the mythology of many California tribes. From Encyclopedia Brittanica: Among the hundreds of tales in the Coyote cycles are a series in which Skunk and Coyote demonstrate their extraordinary incompetence as hunters; another in which Coyote tricks Porcupine out of a portion of buffalo meat, incurring Porcupine’s revenge; an incident in which Coyote is tricked into dumping his grandmother’s acorns into a river; and a tale of his transformation into a platter in order to be heaped with food to satisfy his voracious appetite.
Here's page full of myths, mostly from the Plains tribes.

Owls are frequently believed to be harbingers of death.
posted by LionIndex at 6:54 PM on August 31, 2012

A lot of freaky animal myths started with Pliny's Natural History. A lot of it was folk stuff that he copied down most like, but some say he was also pulling a lot of it right out of his cūlus.

Online version with footnotes.

Free audiobook.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 7:05 PM on August 31, 2012

There is a story that in the ancient times, all the animals were of one kind. Man lived like an animal, among the animals, naked like an animal. One day, a great earthquake rent the ground, and a giant fissure tore apart the land where all the animals were grazing, hunting, sleeping, and doing their animal things. The animals all shook with fear and took off running, flying, crawling and slithering towards the mountains in the distance, except the man, who'd been shaken off his feet and was lying on his backside, on the far side of the crack in the ground. The earth was still shaking, and the crack was still spreading, and all the animals were fleeing, except the dog, who loved the man. The dog looked at the animals, and looked back and the man, and looked back at the animals. At the last second, the dog ran away from the other animals and with a great leap he flew across the chasm, and he landed in the dust next to the the man. Since that time, people and dogs have been best friends, separate from all the other animals.
posted by jeb at 7:13 PM on August 31, 2012 [4 favorites]

I've always like this story about Doug Fir cones.
posted by humboldt32 at 7:20 PM on August 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

There are many myths ascribing the creation of the world to beavers. Many first nations'
stories are referenced here. And here's another one. Contemporary proof includes the recent discovery of a beaver dam visible from space.

Beavers are, of course, the national animal of Canada. Beavers' contributions to the economy (fur trade) and their engineering prowress is reflected in their status as the mascot of, respectively, the London School of Economics and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as well as the California Institute of Technology. And Oregon State.

Sadly, vulgarians have besmirched the beaver's proud name. As a result, both Beaver College and The Beaver, the Canada National History Society's magazine felt obliged to change their names in part because kids were unable to access their websites due to poorly constructed internet filters.

posted by carmicha at 8:56 PM on August 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Australian Aboriginal mythology has a tonne of these, most famous of which is the rainbow serpent.
posted by smoke at 9:38 PM on August 31, 2012

Beginning in 1646 the English doctor and philosopher Thomas Browne published a work called Pseudodoxia Epidemica in which he discussed, and sought to disprove, a wide range of myths and superstitions that were in common currency at that time. The third book of this work, available here, is devoted to myths about animals ('That storks only live in Republics'; 'That beavers bite off their testicles to avoid hunters'; 'That badgers have legs shorter on one side than the other'; 'That elephants don't have knees' etc etc). Like all Browne, the prose takes a little getting used to, but it's a fun read.
posted by hydatius at 10:31 PM on August 31, 2012 [3 favorites]

Plenty of Greek myths involve gods or humans transformed into animals. There's at least one about ravens: Cornix was turned into a crow by Minerva for protection when Neptune tried to rape her.
posted by dontjumplarry at 4:07 AM on September 1, 2012

Myths about hares. I especially like the Japanese version of "the rabbit on the moon."
posted by Paris Elk at 11:06 AM on September 1, 2012

How about Rudyard Kipling's 'Just So Stories'? How the Leopard Got His Spots, How the Whale Got His Throat, How the Camel Got His Hump ... I used to love these when I was younger.
posted by Dorothea_in_Rome at 2:42 PM on September 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

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