Bestiality in fairy tales

If you’ve been following my blog recently, you will have noticed the bestiality series.  And you might well be thinking ok, well that is a topic that’s for other people, it’s nothing to do with me. But this overlooks bestiality in fairy tales, in mythology and in folklore.  Think beauty and the beast.  Think Leda and the swan.

“Legends about animal deities and their sexual congress with humans can be found in ancient cultures the world over – Sumarian, Indian, Chinese, Egyptian and Babylonian”
– Tatov

“Nearly every storytelling culture maps out dating practices with animal partners”
– Maria Tatov

“Mythologies throughout the world tell of intimate kinships that people have established with animals, whether as shapeshifters in the present or as ancestors in the remote past”
– Boria Sax

Starting with mythology from Ancient Greek, we find Zeus who took the form of an eagle to rape Ganymede.  He took the form of a swan to seduce the mortal woman Leda and the form of a bull to have sex with Europa.  Then there are the centaurs, which some people point to as the result of a Centaurus interbreeding with horses and hence the result of bestiality.

“There are several old tales of sexual unions between human beings and various animals producing composite creatures.”
– Sax

This theme of Gods turning into animals to have sex with humans is found elsewhere in the world including in the Roman empire and in Hinduism where sex with an animal was thought to be sex with a god incarnated in the form of an animal.  An Indonesian myth tells of a princess marrying a dog and giving birth to a son who would become an ancestor of a particular tribe.

In an Italian folktale – the King’s Pig – a cursed man is turned into a pig who killed his first two wives who were disgusted by him.  His third wife was quite satisfied by having sex with a pig.  In a Greek folktale – the golden crab – the beautiful princess marries a crab and wants no one else.

These two examples show that bestiality isn’t always the route to a restoration of humanity, a structure we are more familiar with.  Such as in the case of a Bantu story where a crocodile turns back into a human when a maiden licks it’s face.

The latter will likely seem familiar to many readers as it fits the form of an animal bride/groom tale.  A pattern where a bride has no choice but to marry an animal, often urged on by her father.  She suffers in that marriage although there are some good moments.  Her ordeal is rewarded by riches and the animal returns to being a man.  Sometimes the gender roles are reversed but often the spell breaks when the animal proves their human worth or is loved, generally by a virgin.  And yes, this is literally the plot of beauty and the beast.  That is how interwoven into our lives, bestiality is.

In early versions of little red riding hood, the girl saves herself from being eaten by engaging in bestiality, something that is now generally lost from today’s versions.

There are also the selkie style stories where a man steals the animal’s feathers or skin in order to trick her into marriage.  In the end, she tends to find her feathers or skin and is able to return to her animal form and escapes the husband.

That these stories cross cultures and time, suggests a desire to question or interrogate something that is universal.  That may be a fear of burgeoning sexuality, concerns about forced marriages or an attempt to understand the line between man and beast.  Another argument is that it’s about understanding other humans, about building empathy and showing the flares inherent in judging someone based on their appearance.  Whatever it is, there is something in these stories of sex between human and animal that continues to appeal to us today.

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