Animal Personalities in Culture

Chinese Zodiac

Chinese Zodiac

Recognition of the intimate connections between animals and humans dates back tens of thousands of years. The ancient Chinese developed a distinctive calendar system that described twelve animal personalities: Rat, Tiger, Rabbit, Ox, Dragon, Rooster, Snake, Horse, Ram, Pig, Dog, and Monkey. While the precise origins of these animals are unknown, Chinese astrologers considered them to be a reflection of the universe itself.

Native American Headdress on Horns

Native American Beliefs

Native Americans also recognized the intractable bond between humans and animals. For many young men, trekking into the forest to find their spirit animal was a rite of passage. Reverence for animals was almost universal among the Plains Indians, who dedicated a great deal of energy to paying tribute to their companions of the prairies. Spiritual beliefs were formed in large part by their close survival bonds with North American wildlife. Bison were not viewed simply as a food source but were recognized to be an essential element in the grand scheme.

Contemporary Literature book Animal Farm

Contemporary Literature

There is a great deal of writing found in contemporary sources that reflects our connections to animals with rich references in language. We refer to people as being bitchy, foxy, slothful, and catty. People work like horses, eat like pigs, and are as stubborn as mules. 's classic Animal Farm explored this idea to its limits, and animal characters dominate comic pages. The Pulitzer Prize winning Maus, by , detailed his father's concentration camp experiences and used animal personalities to depict the drama of the Nazi atrocities; mice were used to portray victims, cats to represent the Germans, frogs the French, and pigs to describe the Poles.