13 dark and spooky animals (and charities to help them)

This Halloween, spare a thought for all those dark and creepy animals that are often regarded with fear and repulsion in some cultures, but revered in others. I’ve also included links to charities that help protect their welfare, if you want to do more to help them.

13. Toad

In Western societies, toads have long been associated with witchcraft, from serving as a component in spells to being a witch’s familiar. Their warty appearance and poisonous skin has generally lead to toads being much maligned as symbols of evil and impurity. However, in China the toad is a symbol of wealth and considered a lunar deity. In reality, thanks to their unique skin secretions, toads have played an important part in traditional and modern medicine.
Toads are vulnerable to habitat loss, and in the UK they are protected from law from trade. One organisation helping to protect toads and other amphibians is Froglife, http://www.froglife.org/.

12. Octopus

The octopus has long been a sinister symbol of fear and misfortune in many cultures; legends of giant octopuses sinking ships can be found worldwide. However, real octopuses are becoming increasingly renowned for their astonishing intelligence and problem-solving abilities, which rival that of many mammals. The octopus is also now viewed with affection by many lovers of steampunk, perhaps thanks to its appearance in “Jules Verne’s novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.”
Certain species of octopus are threatened by marine pollution. The World Wildlife Fund does work to help protect the habitat of animals like the octopus, and you can even “Adopt an Octopus” through them (the adoption pack comes with a cute cuddly octopus). http://gifts.worldwildlife.org/gift-center/gifts/Species-Adoptions/Octopus.aspx

11. Vulture

As carrion feeders, vultures have become a symbol of death and doom. However, in classical and Egyptian mythology the vulture was associated with a number of deities and considered sacred.
Sadly, vultures in south Asia and parts of Africa have declined dramatically in number, and many species are now endangered. The Royal Society for the Protection Birds is one of the organisations that are working to save them from extinction. http://www.rspb.org.uk/supporting/campaigns/vultures/index.aspx

10. Scarab Beetle

It’s bizarre to think that a species of dung people could be venerated, but in ancient Egypt the scarab was revered as a symbol of the sun god. Today, ancient Egyptian symbols including scarabs are often worn by Goths, in addition to followers of Wicca and paganism.
While the scarab beetle is not endangered, many other beetles are, including some British species. One charity dedicated to helping them is Buglife. http://www.buglife.org.uk/

9. Scorpion

A member of the arachnid family along with spiders, the scorpion is often regarded with fear due to its intimidating appearance and its sting (it should be noted that less than 2% of scorpion species have lethal venom). Scorpion is of course the symbol of Scorpio, the zodiac sign associated with sensuality, healing, magic, secrets and the forces of life and death. In ancient Egypt, the scorpion was used to represent the goddess of healing, and in the modern world scorpion venom has indeed been used in medicine.
Several species of scorpions are endangered, through habitat loss and by collection for the pet trade. The Scorpion Systematics Research Group is studying scorpions in order to better understand their populations and how they can be protected. http://scorpion.amnh.org/

8. Owl

Due to its nocturnal habits, its piercing gaze and its unsettling ability to turn its head almost a full 180 degrees, the owl is generally regarded worldwide as an omen of misfortune, darkness and death. But it is also true that the owl has also been used to represent wisdom and learning – it is a symbol of the Greek goddess of knowledge, Athena. The appearance of owls in the Harry Potter series has reinforced the owl’s image as a bird of magic and intelligence.
Like so many birds, owls are threatened through the loss of woodlands. To help protect owls, you can support the World Owl Trust, http://www.owls.org

7. Rat

We tend to associate rats with disease, impurity and death, and they are frequently a source of revulsion. In reality, domesticated rats are intelligent and clean animals that make good pets, as many Goths will testify. It should also be noted that the rat is considered sacred in Hinduism, while the Chinese see the rat as a symbol of wisdom, creativity and ambition.
Because they are commonly regarded as vermin, rats are vulnerable to abuse and cruelty. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is one organisation that protects the welfare of all animals, including rats. http://www.rspca.org.uk/

6. Wolf

From fairy tales to werewolf legends to mythology, wolves are repeatedly cast as the “bad guys” of the animal kingdom. They symbolise death, hatred, corruption and destruction in many societies. But there have been some ancient cultures in which wolves have been worshipped, including Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Celtic and native American.
While it is true that wolves can be dangerous, wolf attacks on humans are comparatively rare. Sadly, wolves have been killed in tremendous numbers by humans (they have been extinct in the UK since the 1700s. Wolves are still under threat, but organisations such as UK Wolf Conservation Trust are working to protect them. http://ukwct.org.uk/

5. Cat

One of the world’s most popular pets, cats have long been associated with magic in many cultures, probably thanks to their association with the Greek goddess of witchcraft, Hecate, or with the Egyptian goddess Bast. Cats have also been associated with evil forces in both Europe and Asia, and even today, some people consider black cats (most beloved of Goths) unlucky.
Like many animals domesticated by man, too many cats have suffered from neglect and other cruelty. Cats Protection helps to stop the abuse of pet cats. http://www.cats.org.uk/

4. Snake

Few animals have such a complex and deep cultural relationship with humans as snakes. The venom of several snake species is deadly to humans, and so they are naturally a source of fear. The snake is even symbolic of the Devil, the ultimate evil, in Judeo-Christian traditions.
But even more cultures have revered the snake; its shape is suggestive of male fertility, and its ability to shed its skin and be “reborn” led people to believe that snakes have regenerative and healing powers (indeed, their venom has been used in modern medicine). Snakes have also widely been regarded as a symbol of wisdom and spiritual wisdom. The belief of an enormous serpent that encircles the world is found in African, Norse and Australian Aboriginal mythology, and snakes have been revered as deities in ancient Egyptian, Hindu, Celtic and Aztec beliefs. The symbol of the Chinese dragon, one of the most spiritually important symbols in East Asia, is probably a stylised representation of a snake.
Many species of snake are endangered, through habitat loss, collection for the exotic pet trade and slaughter for their skins. Amphibian & Reptile Conservation (formerly The Herpetological Conservation Trust) are working to save them. http://www.herpconstrust.org.uk/

3. Crow

The Crow family of birds contains several species with Goth appeal, including ravens and jackdaws. Crows are an important symbol in many traditions. Due to their black colouration and carrion-feeding, they are often considered an omen of death. To a number of Native American tribes the crow is considered a trickster spirit. Crows and ravens were sometimes regarded as sacred in ancient Greek, Celtic and Norse traditions. Today, crows and ravens are a prominent motif in Goth culture, partly thanks to Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “The Raven” and partly thanks to the comic book and movie, “The Crow.”
If you want to help crows, you can support Raven Haven, which rescues ravens and other wild birds that have met misfortune. http://www.ravenhaven.co.uk/

2. Bat

Due to their associations with vampire mythology, bats are one of the most popular animals among Goths. Although bats have long been association with death and dark powers in many cultures (probably due to their nocturnal habits), some cultures have seen them as a more positive symbol – in China, they are a common symbol of good luck, health, wealth and happiness.
One of the organisations dedicated to the conservation of bats, and which has a large Goth following, is the Bat Conservation Trust. http://www.bats.org.uk/

1. Spider

One of the most Goth-friendly creatures of all – not only the spider itself, but its beautiful web commonly features in Goth fashion.
Spiders are also evoke more fear and repulsion than perhaps any other creature; arachnophobia is one of the most common phobias in existence. However, spiders are not universally regarded as a negative symbol. The most famous spider in mythology is probably the African spider-deity Ananse, considered a trickster and story-teller. Other cultures that have regarded spiders as deities include ancient Egypt, native American and Australian Aboriginal.
A UK organisation devoted to the research and preservation of spiders is the British Arachnological Society. www.britishspiders.org.uk

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