For centuries, people have associated certain breeds of cats and dogs with mythical legends, and some are still believed today.
Shih Tzu – One of the 14 oldest dog breeds, “the Lion Dog” is the smallest of the Tibetan holy dogs. In Buddhist mythology, Buddha rode to earth on a lion and carried a Shih Tzu. The dog was bred to resemble a lion, and was given high honor as the dog loved by Buddha. It was believed Shih Tzu dogs were incarnations of mischievous household gods. It was also thought they carried the souls of lamas searching for nirvana.
Norwegian Forest Cat – This large feline originated in Norway, and sailed with the Vikings to control rodents. The cat evolved by natural selection some 4,000 years ago, and has a role in Norse mythology. Viking gods are divided into two groups, Aesir and Vanir. Aesir gods were connected to war and victory, and Vanir gods were wise with magical skills. One of the Vanir gods, Freya, was the goddess of beauty and love. During battle against the Aesir, Freya’s chariot was pulled by two large Norwegian Forest Cats.
Mastiff – In Greek mythology, a gigantic three headed dog, Cerberos, guarded the entrance to Hades, letting souls in and preventing their escape from the underworld. Cerberos is depicted as a huge Mastiff-like dog with a serpent’s tail, a mane of snakes and claws of a lion.
Russian Blue – This green eyed cat is nicknamed “the Archangel” cat. The Russian Blue originated 150 miles south of the Arctic Circle in the Russian port city of Arkhangelsk. She traveled far and wide with the Cossacks on their ships, and according to Russian legend, brought good luck and processed healing powers.
Xoloitzcuintli – Also known as the Mexican Hairless, the Xolo is a rare and ancient breed native to Mexico. In Aztec mythology, the Xoloitzcuintli was created from a sliver of the Bone of Life by the Aztec god, Xolotl. The connection bound dog to man, and it was the job of the dog to guide the dead through the underworld to protect the soul until it reached the Heaven’s Evening Star. To this day, people believe the breed has mystical healing powers that can cure insomnia, toothaches, rheumatism and other ailments.
Egyptian Mau – It’s believed the Mau is the oldest domesticated cat breed, dating back as far as 3,000 years. She’s one of the only two naturally spotted breeds still around today. The rare Bahraini Dilmun Cat is the other one. The Egyptians held the Mau in high regard and worshiped them as a god. The compassionate sun god Ra was depicted in the Book of the Dead as a spotted cat that struck down the evil serpent of darkness. When a cat died in ancient Egypt, she was mummified and placed in a tomb with plenty of mice to accompany her into the next life.
Chinese Shar-Pei – This rare breed dates to around 200 B.C. The original purpose of the dog was as an all around farm dog, used to guard livestock and property, and for hunting and herding. The wrinkly Shar-Pei shares his unique purple-blue tongue with one other dog breed, the Chow Chow. According to Chinese folklore, the Shar-Pei’s purple tongue and wrinkled skin could chase away ghosts and evil spirits.
Korat – This is an ancient silver-blue cat with origins in Thailand. Brides would often receive a gift of two Korats on their wedding day as a token of good luck for a happy marriage. Folklore said cats with a kink in their tail would bring their owner good luck. Rarely sold, felines were given as gifts to people who were highly respected.
Pembroke Welsh Corgi – According to Welsh legend, children playing in the fields while tending to the family cattle found two puppies. They thought the pups were foxes, but something wasn’t right, so the children took the pups home. Their parents said the pups weren’t foxes and explained they had come from the fairies that lived in the fields. The little dogs were ridden by fairies into battle and used to pull their carriages. The proof is on the back of the dogs. Marks indicate where the fairy saddle was placed on the shoulders of the canines, proving their everlasting bond with the fairies.
Chihuahua – The smallest breed in the world, this ancient dog hails from Chihuahua, a region in Mexico that borders Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. According to folklore, these little dogs, like the Xolo, were thought to help guide and protect souls through the underworld. They were revered by the upper class and used in religious ceremonies.
Top (Shih Tzu) by cheriejoyful
Middle (Russian Blue) by cotaroba
Bottom (Pembroke Welsh Corgi) by Daniel Stockman
Read more articles by Linda Cole