Thursday, September 27, 2007

Interpretations of the Dog Husband Theme

The dog husband theme has been interpreted in different ways by researchers. I am referring here to the specific theme as mentioned in the last blog post rather than the more general motif of dog-men alone. The most common explanations for the dog husband theme are the following:

* The dog husband represents questions about the paternity of children -- a Freudian-like analysis.

* The dog husband represents a totemic male lineage, or the emblem of a particular ancestor, group, family, community, etc.

* The dog husband represents "the Other," in the sense of foreigners.

* The marriage of the dog husband to a chief's daughter, princess or goddess represents the division of classes or castes. Examples include the division of their progeny into two equal or unequal parts, each becoming associated with opposite poles in the social hierarchy. Often resorted to in Marxist interpretations of history and myth.

* The dog husband represents the existence of cannibalistic practices.

* Bestiality is represented.

* Dog and Woman represent the opposition of Earth and Heaven or vice a versa (or similar dual concepts).

* The close early relationship of humans and dogs is represented. Dogs are the only domesticated animal found in all human populations preceding the modern era.

My own interpretation is that the dog husband myth originally does represent the totemic ancestor of a chiefly/royal lineage that merged with the priestly function.

The dog was probably taken as the animal double of the founder of the lineage and then viewed as a totemic ancestor by his descendants. The original chiefly/royal status was conveyed to the dog husband through the woman ancestress who was a type of heiress princess and who was related by blood in some way to the dog-husband. The dog-man may represent a type of royal ritual priest associated with forests, and the two functions of ruler and priest are combined in the union.

Through the process of diffusion, the association of the dog with royalty combined with ideas of sacred regicide passed into the civilization of ancient China and India and even well beyond.

In China, for example, I have mentioned that Fu Hsi's name contains elements of the dog-man motif. Fu Hsi and Nu Gua have a son who is often described as a formless lump or dumpling resembling in many aspects the primordial dog-shaped Huntun/Hundun. According to Girardot, this child is in at least one version named "Huntun." Fu Hsi is known as the first legendary king, and Huntun is called the "Emperor of the Center."

Shang-Ti, the deity to whom the Shang, Qin and Han dynasties traced their houses was apparently a dog-shaped god of rice. The lei ritual of the Qin and Han dynasties involved offerings of dog flesh and rice in an apparent simulation of the division of Huntun into parts in order to create the world.

In the story of the marriage of the dog-man Panhu to the daughter of the Chinese emperor we probably see a mutation of the heiress princess motif.

In modern age India, royal dynasties are closely associate with Bhairava, a god that either appears with a dog vehicle (vahana) or as partly or completely in canine form himself. There are many indications that this dog connection has much more ancient roots.

In the Rajasuya tale of Sunahsepa in India, 50 sons of Visvamitra become dog-cooking forest tribes. The other 50 are priests with an original kingly lineage as Visvamitra is a king of the noble Kshatriya caste who becomes a brahmin priest. This is similar to Southeast Asian themes in which the primordial gourd or lump associated with the first couple, is divided into two equal or unequal parts, sometimes also split into two parts of 50 each, with the two groups corresponding to opposite sides of the social ladder.

Visvamitra adopts Sunahsepa as his eldest son -- the latter a brahmin who for a while acts as a royal sacrifice substitute and whose name means "dog's penis" or "dog's tail."

According to the Mahabharta, the World King (Cakravartin) Yudhishtira refuses to enter heaven without his pet dog upon which the dog reveals that it is really the god Dharma. Some traditions make this Dharma out to be the same god that is described as the father of Yudhishtira. Other versions identify the deity as Yama, the first king and model of kingship in Indian lore, who like Yudhishtira was also called Dharmaraja. Either way, the dog as Dharma here is very significant.

In the Asvamedha royal ritual, a black four-eyed dog is sacrificed at the start of the ceremony underneath the sacrificial horse. This is likely an allusion to Yama Dharmaraja's black four-eyed dog named Syama.

Yama and Bhairava are closely associated in Tantric theology and its quite possible that Bhairava originates from some conflation of the gods Siva/Rudra, Yama and the divine dog Syama (Rudra is also associated with dogs).

Opposition of the dog and woman's children by caste/class and kingly/priestly function is mythologized into the opposition of Earth and Sky. That's not so unusual in my scheme of thinking as I have suggested before that the Nusantao trading clans divided into two camps associated with the double mountain motif. In some variations of the dog husband theme, this duality is expressed in the sense that all male children of the union were dogs like the father and all female children women like the mother.

I don't see that the dog as "other" is central to the dog husband theme. David G. White and others have suggested that numerous peoples who hold this myth actually internalized views that civilized outsiders had of themselves as dogs. This seems unlikely for a number of reasons. First of all the geographical distribution of this theme rules out the possibility. Next, various streams of evidence suggest the diffusion of this theme predates the scenarios usually offered for this explanation.

Also, it seems unlikely that so many people would take a derogatory view of themselves from outsiders and adopt such views in their own origin stories. A more common reaction, of which there are many historical examples, would be to strongly reject the association, or at most to adopt it in the same way, i.e., to also negatively view foreigners as dogs. Furthermore, there are many examples of totem practices associated with these beliefs such as taboos on dog-eating or, on the other hand, ritual dog sacrifice and ritual consumption, that indicate a totem origin.

While some cultures have viewed outsiders as dogs or other animals/creatures, I would say it is much more frequent that both insiders and outsiders are viewed as animal types. Certainly this is the case in totemistic cultures. The fact that the vast majority of known cases where outsiders viewed certain peoples as dog-men actually coincided with the belief of those peoples in their own dog origin, suggests the latter were the original source.

Paul Kekai Manansala

Related links

Dog as deity, ancestor and royal animal
Article: Dog reverence in Southeast Asia and Pacific
Deluge, Gourd, Dog Husband
Rajasuya , Sunahsepa and the Royal Dog
Single origin for domesticated dog in Southeast Asia and South China


Girardot, Norman. Myth and meaning in early Taoism, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983.

Hopkins, Edward Washburn . "The Dog in the Rig-Veda," The American Journal of Philology, Vol. 15, No. 2 (1894), pp. 154-163

White, David Gordon. Myths of the Dog-Man, University of Chicago Press, 1991.