Early human civilisations relied heavily on the cycles of the natural world for their survival and these elements included the movement of the stars, the changing environmental conditions, as well as local flora and fauna. Over long periods of time, certain civilisations began to attach significance to these cycles of the Earth, believing that they were under the control of omnipotent beings or gods with special powers to determine the lives of human beings.
Often these beings known as gods were depicted in animal form in paintings and manuscripts and many of them became ‘sacred’, generating traditional ceremonies and rituals as illustrated by the cat in ancient Egypt. Primarily an agricultural society, rats presented serious issues for the Egyptians in terms of hygiene and food production, and it is thought that cats became revered in their culture due to their ability to keep the rat population down. Cats were considered so sacred that there were severe punishments for harming one, even if done so accidentally, which often resulted in death.
Rituals were constructed around these sacred animals, many of which were based on sacrifice, a widespread practice which involved killing and offering animals to the gods in exchange for favours. People would pray for good harvests, or to prevent bad weather or natural disasters, and in some cultures, for example the Sumerian, people believed that the thoughts of the gods could be seen by examining the internal organs of goats or sheep. They thought that by being able to predict the thoughts of the gods, it would be possible to keep them contented and in turn they would be blessed with good fortune.