I am flipping through my favorite mythology book today, The Dictionary of Mythology by J.A. Coleman, and we come upon T for Tiger. My source for this post is that book, p 1018 (yes, it’s a big ol’ beauty of a book.)
There is something beautiful about a tiger, something that reminds us of our (relatively) harmless pets back home, while at the same time we look at the size of their paws – as big as my head – and would be idiotic to forget just how powerful and dangerous they can be.
Tigers also show up in supernatural mythology.
Certainly you’ve seen pictorial representations of the tiger (along with the dragon) in Chinese culture. It inspires awe with its power and vitality within the culture – as it does in most places. If you wear a Tiger Claw (hu chao) amulet, it is said to ward off fear and to give the wearer the courage of the tiger. This animal is also the favorite transportation for deities (yes, if I was a god, I’d want to ride a tiger too, wouldn’t you?). Winter and the north are represented by the Black Tiger, while fire and the south are represented by the Red Tiger. East and Vegetation get the Blue Tiger, and the center and the sun get the Yellow Tiger. I am somewhat curious if the tiger is literally blue, red, and black.
Mr. Tiger shows up again in the East Indies where there is a myth about a race of men who could transform into tigers. Related to that, in Sumatran lore, a sinner who prays for reincarnation may leave his grave in the form of a tiger. (Hmm … those two myths are a story waiting to be written, aren’t they?)
In Hindu lore, as in the myths of the Chinese, the deities use tigers for transport, in this case Shiva. The Rajput people / line themselves claim to be descendants of tigers, which of course leads to more intriguing possibilities of body shifting and transformation.
In Japan, the tiger is the warriors’ emblem, and is said to live for 1,000 years. (I suppose living that long would be very helpful if you’re a warrior heading into battle. I’d want to be thinking in tiger-terms, too, never mind great ferocity in battle.)
Finally, in Malaysia tigers offer more intriguing possibilities and stir the imagination. They are said to be the incarnation of the dead or of the souls of sorcerers. Plus, it is said that a man can purchase the magic necessary to transform himself into a tiger both in life and after death. I wonder here if this is related to the East Indies belief where a penitent sinner can be reincarnated as a tiger?
So, have I inspired a shape-shifter story yet? Come on, I’ll convert you to a passion for shape-shifters yet. 😉
What do you think? Do intriguing possibilities lay in these myths? Have you heard any interesting myths / legends about tigers or other animals?
Thanks for reading, and hope you have a great week.
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