It is funny to think of chickens being an important part of any religion, but for some religions they are a cornerstone of certain important ceremonies. Here are some of the most common religious beliefs surrounding chickens throughout the ages.
Hindu Cremation Ceremony
Also known as Antyeshti, this is the ceremony in which the deceased is freed from their mortal body and allowed to travel, escorted, to the afterlife in which they are judged and given their designation in the next life. The chicken plays an important role in this tradition. The bird is tied by the leg and kept at the ceremony as a vessel for any evil spirits that would seek to torment family members present. Once the ceremony is over, the bird is taken home and released back into its normal, happy chicken life. It is not ritually slaughtered or treated specially.
Ancient Greece and Rome
The ancient Greeks did not usually sacrifice chickens as they were a somewhat exotic and rare bird. Because Roosters were believed to display the virtue of Valor, they were considered and attribute of Ares, Heracles and Athena. The Greeks believed that even the king of beasts, the lion, feared the rooster. Allegedly, Socrates last words were a request that a rooster be sacrificed to Asclepius, the god of medicine and healing.
Ancient Rome is field with myth and superstition regarding the chicken. They used as oracles when flying and feeding. A hen entering from the left was viewed as a good omen. They received special care from the pullarius and special cakes when readings were needed, and even in this there was superstition; angry or agitated chickens making noise or beating their wings were a bad omen, while those that indulged in the cake were a good omen. One Roman general who threw his chickens overboard was tried and fined severely for the act.
Early Christianity and Judaism
Christ was known to make two references to chickens in the gospels. One, found in both Matthew and Luke, in which he referred to himself as a mother hen saying "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those who sent you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. (Matther 23:37)" The rooster also became a symbol of vigilance and betrayal for early believers as Jesus told the Apostle Peter, "... before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me. (Luke 22:34)"
During Yom Kippur, the ritual known as kapparos involves the swinging of a chicken around the head and then slaughtering it. The animal symbolically takes on the sins of the person and through its sacrifice they receive atonement for their sins. The meat was then donated to the poor. In the Talmud, individuals are taught to learn how to treat their mate from the rooster. It is believed this refers to the way the rooster will call his hens to eat first before himself.
Most people who have eaten at a Chinese restaurant have seen the placemats with the animals of the Zodiac and know that the chicken is one. However, few may know that it is also rarely eaten in China, and used as an offering for the ancestors and village deities. Those deities, such as Buddha, that are vegetarian are not offered chicken. Many times it is offered with a serious prayer, rather than the joyful celebration that comes with roasted pork. In certain weddings, a chicken can be used as a substitute for a recently deceased or too ill to travel relative. A red silk scarf is placed on the head of the chicken and a close relative holds the bird.
Chickens are an important part of the Voodoo religion. They are sacrificed and their blood used as an offering to the Ioa, or gods. In some cases, the Ioa may accept roasted chicken meat or eggs. Though it may appear to be savage and cruel, however strict adherence to hygiene is used. The death of the bird is also rather humane as in the religious beliefs, waste is abhorred. Chicken's feet are also important as they are used as talismans to ward off evil spirits.
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