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.
The Norwegian Forest cat is, as its name indicates, a cat of Scandinavian descent. A breed believed to be between 1,000 and 2,000 years old, the “Wegie” was the cat of the Vikings, living as a ratter on both farm and ship.
Breeders from Finland describe the cat as the “mystic wildcat of the fairy tales.” Norse mythology tells that these cats were the favorites of Freyja (also spelled Freya, Freja, or Frejya), goddess of love, fertility and the hearth. Freyja traveled in a chariot drawn by either two white or gray Wegies.
Legend says that the goddess’ presence passing through the countryside caused seeds to sprout and grow. Farmers that left out pans of milk for her divine cats were blessed with bountiful harvests.
Freyja also symbolized domesticity and was often portrayed with Norwegian Forest cats playing around her feet. Lovers wanting to marry asked the blessing of Freyja and her cats. Because of this custom, many superstitions about weddings and cats began. Some of these were:
* Girls who value cats will definitely marry * Giving newlyweds a black cat as a gift represents good luck * If someone steps on a cat’s tail, that person will not marry for a year * If a woman feeds a cat before she goes to her wedding, she will have a happy marriage * Scandinavians believed that feeding a cat well would guarantee sunshine on the day of a wedding.
Besides the Norwegian Forest cat’s role in transporting Freyja about the countryside, they drove her into battle against the Aesirs (or Asers), the gods of the dark side. They also pulled her chariot to the funeral of Balder, the god of beauty and kindness.
Called Norsk Skogkatts or Skaukatts in their native Norway, these cats were originally thought of as fairy cats. A naturally large breed, Forest cats were said to be so huge that not even the gods could lift them. One tale relates how Thor, the strongest of the gods, lost a contest of strength to Jormungand, who was disguised as a Forest cat. (Jormungand was the serpent son of Loki, god of mischief and deceit.)
Old though the breed is, their mythology continues into the present. Stories as recent as the 1930s spin mythological narratives about Wegies turning into trolls, and trolls turning into Wegies. Today’s breeders still name their catteries after ancient Norse myths.
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