Tuesday, April 17, 2018

BATS in Myth and Legend

Posted by: Dani Harper, AUTHOR
National Bat Appreciation Day is upon us!

Image: Bigstock.com
April 17th is an annual opportunity to wonder anew at this amazing and mysterious creature. Humans have always been fascinated by bats – and maybe a bit envious too. After all, these little mammals can fly – not leap or glide, but truly FLY. Bats traverse the darkness easily, and sail fearlessly into the blackness of caves without hesitation. The echo-location and sonar capabilities that we can now create with sophisticated technology, have always been possessed naturally by bats.

It’s no wonder that throughout history we’ve attributed both good luck and evil to them, told stories about them, and even deified them. 

Here are just a few examples:

As a rule, bats haven’t enjoyed a great reputation in Western Culture. As a creature of the night, they were easily associated with evil, death, and the underworld. Superstitions abounded that claimed the bat was a messenger between witches and the devil, that bats could steal souls, or spread disease and misfortune. (And this was centuries before Bram Stoker penned his famous novel,“Dracula”!)

Old Scottish superstitions claimed that if a bat flew toward you, it was a sign that someone was trying to place a curse on you. It might also indicate that you will soon be betrayed by someone. If a bat is seen to rise quickly and then swiftly descend to the ground, you knew that the Hour of Witches had arrived. This meant that unless you had protected yourself against them (such as by keeping flint arrowheads in your pocket or wearing amulets fashioned from rowan wood), all witches had great power over everyone during that time.

Old illustration of Vampire Bats
Image: Bigstock.com
The bat might also be a faery in disguise. In Celtic folklore, the Pooka (also Puca or Pwca, according to which UK country you’re in) was a trickster fae who could transform into any creature it pleased. Although it seemed to favor the forms of horses, goats, and rabbits, stories exist where the Pooka shapeshifted into a bat. The wise took care not to go outside at night, for fear of meeting the Pooka. It could be merely mischievous – or it could be deadly.

While some people in the UK and Europe believed that harming a bat was bad luck, most did not. In fact, a bat flying into the house was often thought to signify that a death would soon occur in the family. This could only be averted by killing the unfortunate bat! Similar superstitions are also found throughout North America. One claims that simply dreaming about bats means the death of a dear friend.

It was a widespread belief throughout Europe that bats were used as familiars by witches. This sadly led to the wrongful conviction of many people. In 14th century France, for instance, a noblewoman was burned at the stake simply because bats were seen to fly around her home!

So, are there any positive superstitions about the poor bat? Thankfully, YES!

In many eastern countries, bats are appreciated. A common belief is that a bat flying into your house is considered a sign of good things coming your way. And the more bats, the better!

Intricately carved facade of Goa Lawah Bat Cave Temple.
Image: Bigstock.com
An 11th century Hindu temple was deliberately built around a cave housing a colony of thousands of bats in Bali, Indonesia. The images of bats were incorporated into the stone façade of the temple itself. To this day the worshippers co-exist with the animals, and it’s now become a tourist attraction largely due to the bats’ presence.

In Chinese Feng Shui, bats are associated with happiness and wealth. Symbols and images of bats (sometimes shown with coins in their mouths) are deliberately placed on the door of a house, on the front of a business, or on a pendant around the neck in order to attract positive “chi” (energy). The Chinese word “”, when spoken, means “bat”. It also sounds exactly like “good fortune”, so the character for good fortune is often included on any images of bats.

Chinese pendant showing lucky 5 bats
surrounding the word for good fortune

Necklace owned by Dani Harper
In the Qing Dynasty, pictures of bats were embroidered onto royal robes and painted on walls and ceilings. They were carved into furniture and thrones, and adorn the doorways of many buildings. Even in the Forbidden City in Beijing, you can find many examples of stylized bats.

The number of bats incorporated into a symbol is very important too. For instance, a pair of bats doubles the luck they attract. Five is the most desired number of bats because they represent the five most important blessings: prosperity, virtue, health, long life, and a peaceful natural death. This might be why a bat symbol is sometimes hung on a window to ward off illness.

The ancient Mayans of South America counted Camazotz among their deities. First mentioned around 100 AD by the Zapotec tribe, this bat-god possessed the body of a man and the head of a leaf-nosed bat, plus bat wings. He lived in the underworld, and was mostly associated with night, with sacrifice, and with death. Although he looks terrifying, Camazotz is credited with negotiating with another god so that mortals could have the gift of fire. And thus the bat-god is also known as the god of fire!

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2 comments:

  1. I love this article. Didn't know any of this. Now I'm glad I chose a bat for my second book.

    Ann

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Ann! I'm glad you enjoyed my post. I've always been fascinated by bats.

      Delete

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