Snakes, crows, bears, owls… Why are these animals always scary?

The scary stories and legends celebrated on Halloween often feature animals. Even if it means permanently scratching the image of some of them. In the Refuge de l’Arche (Mayenne), a park specialized in receiving abandoned or captured wild animals, we decided to have an interest in the phenomenon and dedicate a special animation here for two days entitled ” The animals of the fear”. Interview with Eric Moeglen, former naturalist guide, now cultural mediator at the refuge.

Eric Moeglen, cultural mediator at the Refuge de l’Arche (Mayenne). – F. Brenon/20 Minutes

What are these beasts of fearful beliefs and superstitions?

There are many of them, they vary according to time and culture, but it is true that some come back more than others, such as the crow, the bear, the owl, the snake, the tiger, the lion, the lemur, the parrot, just to name a few shelter resident There is also a wolf, of course, which is not on our site, but is often mentioned in stories.

Why are these species the subject of fear to the ancestors?

It started a very long time ago, in ancient times. The beast is everywhere and begins to evoke fears and fantasies. Sometimes there is a good reason, because some animals were really dangerous for our ancestors, sometimes in a completely artificial way. The first cases of worship in human history were, during the Palaeolithic, types of chapels where the skulls of cave bears were placed, and some were also buried.

Tell us about the bears…

We have forgotten it now, but the bear remained the king of animals in Europe for a long time. His name is literally forbidden. Out of fear, we preferred to say “the autumn sleeper” rather than wake him up directly. Later, in the 13th century, the Church wanted to demystify this aura in the population by organizing a deliberate campaign of destruction. We stick to the bear four of the seven deadly sins, we associate it with the devil. We tried to mock him, to make a fool of him. This is where the tradition of bear tamers comes from.

What about crows and crows? Why do they suffer from a bad image?

These are the birds that often visit us, very opportunistic, have learned to take advantage of our lips, they are the first to return to the battlefields or feast on the hanged. In addition they are black, have a particular cry. All this caused them, like many scavengers, to be considered dirty. They have long been criticized for announcing death when they land on rooftops. That they are possessed by murder victims, that they see in the past or in the future, that they talk to witches.

Pythons at the Refuge de l'Arche, in Mayenne.
Pythons at the Refuge de l’Arche, in Mayenne. – F. Brenon/20 Minutes

Snakes, on the other hand, arouse worldwide fascination?

It is perhaps the most represented animal in all traditions. On all continents, including Scandinavia or Ireland where there are none, snakes are linked to mystical stories. There seemed to be an awareness everywhere that, before man, there was a world of reptiles. It is the fire-breathing serpent, the winged serpent, the feathered serpent… They are also associated with symbols such as secrets, resurrection, sexuality. They are still hunted because they cause fear, even though they are of great ecological importance.

There are also unexpected cases like the fennec fox…

We never thought that this cute little fox, who was trafficked because he looked like a stuffed animal, was associated with dark stories for the people of the Sahara. It is associated with evil spirits, perhaps because it lives underground. Amulets are made from its bones, its skin is worn to guard against demonic powers. Desert Shepherds, for example, will have specific rituals if they camp near an area where a fennec has been sighted.

All these ancient beliefs therefore end up influencing us to this day?

They remain in the collective unconscious. It is to an extent that these animals are still present in phobias and in dreams. However, there is no need to fantasize things to realize that they have extraordinary abilities beyond us, us humans. They don’t see the world like we do, they have a different relationship with life. We can look at them with our modern eyes as quite magical creatures. And they usually fear people more than the other way around.

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