Post 733 -by Gautam Shah
Human and Animal body limb combinations constitute a very large set of images, revered by people across cultures and ages. Remarkably, lone human body forms, were less frequently revered, but the human and animal combinations were revered as deities, minor divinities, magical and mythical figures. These are found as figurines, statues, drawn and sculpted forms, narratives, descriptions, masks, costumes and outfits for performing arts. The personifications include whole body, parts, limbs, static and in-action poses, as stand-alone symbols, patterns, motifs.
The body-limb compounding offered greater potency and exclusivity. In many instances there are multiple anecdotes, how these forms came to be joined together, begotten from ordinary humans and live life like normal human beings. So the form or image was more a symbolic one, either angelic or diabolic, but always a latent super human.
In spite of so many varieties of humanoid or animalistic forms, there are no known incidences of compounding with minor insects and vegetation. Vegetation and derivative forms(Green-Man) were part of abstract or non-iconic worship of nature. The Green Man with a foliated head appeared in pagan period across Europe. Deities in Asia, are worshipped against such natural forms, or as related incarnations. Animals are shown in their original shape, usually executing abnormal feats like flying in air, spouting fire, water or poison.
Revering the nature was taking place with the classification of the material world in many part of the world, like, ancient India, Egypt and Greece. These were all real matters, Air, Earth, Fire and Water. These real matters originated as philosophical thoughts, first worshipped in an abstract manner, without any association or identification with human or animal forms. But, over a period of time these were personified in multiple deities, in different regions, at nearly same time. The assigned images and related mythological narratives had a great deal of convergence.
The inclusion of a metaphysical element, the sky (space -Avakash) and ether, was a strange thing. The real matters were easier to deify, but a metaphysical element (sky-ether) that could not have any iconic imagery, was difficult to handle.
There have been eulogistic mentions of the basic four/five natural elements, the earth, water, air, fire with later day inclusion of sky or ether.
The Indian beliefs were elements of nature, as the basis of existence (Sansāra –Sanskrit=world of existence). These elements were self-centred or sufficient (Ātman –Sanskrit=within), complete in own-self. The European conceptualization was of a deified superficial creator. The image as a representative or a formal deity was the belief in the existence of an external supreme being.
There are several instances where the natural elements have deified in the form of animals, birds or humans. Was it because the natural elements had no representable image?
In various mythologies, there are numerous forms of human-animal and animal-animal combinations. Animal head and Human body constitute a very large set of combinations. These occur as descriptions, in performing arts’ narratives, drawn and sculptural forms. The animalistic or humanoid forms have been used as stand-alone symbols, deities, minor divinities and motifs. Egypt, India and Asia Minor have very large number of such representations. In India Vishnu has several avatars, representing the stages of evolution of life on the Earth. Egyptians have more such gods than purely of human forms.
Contrary to this, the Greek-Roman mythologies, have Animal body + Human head to dominate the scene. Many such forms gradually disappeared from worship practices with Christianity. But some reappeared with arrival of Goths. These forms, however, continued as part of folklore and performing arts. Some of the features were used to generate satanic scenes and narratives.
The ‘Green Man’ with a foliated head appeared in pagan period. The Green Man images occurred in wood and stone carvings in churches, chapels, abbeys and cathedrals in Europe. Green Man remained a mysterious design motif, flourishing with cultural and regional transformations.
1 Animal or Bird Head > Hathor (woman with a cow’s head), Thoth (ibis, baboon, or moon head), Satyrs (goat head), Anubis (jackal head), Siren (bird-woman), Inpu or Anpu (jackal or canine head), Amun (ram head), Bastet (lion or cat head), Horus (falcon head), Sobek (crocodile head), Taweret (hippo head), Avatars of Hindu Lord Vishnu (Matsya-Fish, Kurma -turtle, tortoise, Varaha -boar, wild swine, Narasimha -lion, Vamana -dwarf, Ram, Krishna, Buddha, Kalki, Hanuman (monkey head), Ganesh (elephant head).
There are many combinations of Human and Animal (birds, fish, insects) body+limbs, such as,
2 Animal or Bird Body > Sphinx, Centaur, Greek Echidna (snake body), Harpies (bird body), Minotaur (bull body),
3 Mixed Animal Head + Animal Body > Griffin (Bird head -lion body), Chimera (lion + goat + dragon), Cerberus (multi-headed dog), Hydra (multi headed serpent monster), Pegasus (bird-winged horse), Seth (beast composite of aardvark, donkey, jackal, fennec, fox), Khepri (exclusively beetle).
There were few combination forms which were not venerated, but part of the folklore, such as Mermaid (fish body), Vegetable lamb (plant-animal), Barnacle goose and mandrake (plant-man). The combination forms also reflect mixed progenies, caused by the curse, relations of convenience, or forceful sex. These, however, have scarce stories of origin. To complicate the scene, some transient or fluid forms, such as the Proteus (shepherd of the sea’s flocks or seals) who, changed the character, scale, shape or form, have also flourished.
Folklore is full of body-form transformations, from humans, plants and animals, into the mammals, birds, aquatic creatures, insects, reptiles, amphibians or plants. Stories, such as, Beauty and the Beast, Metamorphoses (a man into a donkey by Lucius Apuleius), Frog King, Swan maiden, Werewolf or Vampire, are part children’s stories. Few such transformational changes relate to veneration.
Performance arts have extended the anthropomorphic range, (anthropomorphism involves a projection of human characteristics onto something non-human), because what was not possible to draw or sculpt is acted out with descriptions, sounds, masks and other theatrical effects. Mask allowed transformation into a new character, and freedom to perform sexual acts and ghastly sacrificial acts.
Animalistic expressions have been morphed on Human characters primarily through masks, makeup, adornments, and descriptions. The demons, Raksasa (India), devils, dragons, Guardians of Doors (China and India), and warriors, etc. are examples of fearful expressions.
Zoolatry is the worship of animals. The Egyptian culture has several anthropomorphic deities, animal and human gods. There are several distinguished classes. The animal was revered as with powers, different and greater than of the human being. 2 The exclusive image of the animal (or bird, etc.), could not have a spiritual connection, and so the image had to be a mix of several animals and with human beings. 3 The common practice was to transplant the head of an animal over the human body, but occasionally head and body of different species were combined, and human head was joined with animal body. 4 The anthropomorphic image was enhanced through elaborate details in the folklore and additional decorations during rituals. 5 Many such images were accepted as tribal benefactor.
Several articles on related Topics have been published in my Blogs.
REVERING THE NATURE – Part-I Human-Plant Lineages https://interiordesignassist.wordpress.com/2020/09/24/revering-the-nature-part-i-human-plant-lineages/
REVERING THE NATURE – GREEN MAN
860 MASCARON -sculpted human head forms
720 GREEN-MAN and HUMAN-PLANT LINEAGES
703 GROTESQUE or EPIMORPHIC FORMS https://designsynopsis.wordpress.com/2020/03/17/703-grotesque-or-epimorphic-forms/
670 ANIMALISTIC or HUMANOID FORMS in DESIGN https://designsynopsis.wordpress.com/2020/01/30/670-animalistic-or-humanoid-forms-in-design/
658 HUMAN and ANIMAL FORMS in DESIGN
575 MORPHED HUMAN and ANIMAL FORMS in ARCHITECTURE