Myths About Elephants

Written by joel le blanc
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  • Introduction

    Myths About Elephants

    The elephant is a giant figure in world mythology, representative of power and strength, as well as wisdom and grace, and is associated with the weather, clouds and lightning. From the Old Testament to Indian Hinduism, different myths survive detailing how elephants were created and how they came to possess the form they are known for today.

    Elephants are considered sacred and intelligent animals throughout the world. (Hemera Technologies/ Images)

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    The Old Testament

    According to the Book of Job in the Old Testament (40:15-24), the elephant is described as a "behemoth" that was created right alongside mankind. God speaks to Job to some detail about elephants, praising them for their many strengths, including having bones like iron and brass, a tail that moves "like a cedar," and godly virtues such as faith and restraint.

    The Old Testament uses the elephant as an example of a good follower. (Jupiterimages/ Images)

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    According to Dan Wylie, author of "Elephants," the earliest Hindu myths tell how the creator broke open the cosmic egg, and from one side of the egg emerged eight elephants. Four of these elephants departed to the far edges of the world, where they support and hold up the four corners of the universe. The first elephants were winged creatures and are associated with flying and clouds -- until they angered an ancient yogi, who cursed them and took away their wings. An important deity in the Hindu religion is the god Ganesh, who is depicted as a man with the head of an elephant, and is known as the Remover of Obstacles.

    Ganesh is the most popular of the Hindu pantheon. (Brand X Pictures/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images)

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    According to Patricia Ann Lynch and Jeremy Roberts, authors of "African Mythology A to Z," the elephant was created alongside all other animals by the supreme god, Nzame. When asked what animal would rule as master of the animal kingdom, the supreme god chose three animals: the elephant for its wisdom, the leopard for its cunning and the monkey for its suppleness. In other African tales, elephants were shapeshifters who could take off their skins and become humans. The Ashanti people of Ghana believe that elephants were once humans -- ancestor chiefs who long ago became the great animals they are today.

    Elephants play an important role in stories. (John Foxx/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

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    A traditional Vietnamese proverb states: "Heaven creates the elephants. He creates also the grass". This proverb refers to the traditional Vietnamese idea of an omniscient and omnipresent force or god referred to as "August Heaven," which is credited with creating elephants, in addition to everything else in reality. Rather than an anthropomorphic deity, August Heaven is a concept of sacred energy that fuelled the creation of the universe.

    White elephants are considered sacred throughout Vietnam and most of Asia. (China Photos/Getty Images News/Getty Images)

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