“Of all species of animals, the argument goes, humans are unique in that they occupy what Richard Shweder (1990:2) calls ‘intentional worlds‘. For the inhabitants of such a world, things do not exist ‘in themselves’, as indifferent objects, but only as they are given form or meaning within systems of mental representations. Thus to individuals who belong to different intentional worlds, the same objects in the same physical surroundings may mean quite different things” (Ingold, 41).

Overall Ingold’s main focus was describing how nature is a ‘cultural construction’ and the                   associations vary across cultures. When we observe things we see through a certain perspective         that has been ingrained in us by our culture and regional location. There is a Western perspective     in the United States, which makes us judge things according to what we believe to be the correct option.


 Listen to “The Wonders of the Rainbow Snake” 

Through their artwork, creation myths, and beliefs related to the rainbow serpent we will learn how snakes can be understood in a completely different way from our own culture. To aboriginals the rainbow serpent plays an integral part to their socio-religious ways of life.

For example, what are snakes to us? Some people have them as pets, we see them in zoos, and only   a small amount of churches conduct prayer adoration with snakes. We see Aztec traditions as being odd because how can they adore/venerate a snake? But who is to say what perspective is the right  perspective? Indigenous people could look at us and wonder why we have a god (snake) as a pet or locked away in a zoo.

Part I, Biology:

Believe it or not science has a lot to do with religion. For example, in Aztec religions during certain rituals animals are used as sacrifice. First we have to know how are animals classified? What characteristics are taken into account when classifying animals? This classification will be examined more closely in the next section. Many animals are venerated due to the characteristics they possess but in order to understand this some biological background over the animal is necessary. For reference we will look at the snake. A snake in religion is associated with life and rejuvenation, why? Because snakes are able to shed their skin. Their ability to see everything due to not blinking, associates them as excellent guards. Their ability to move rapidly due to their composition shows that they are very agile.


Listen to “Snake Cast”

Jon: They were first recognized for their wisdom.

Insha: And how is that?

Jon: Firstly, they seemed like the only animal that had mastered the art of eternal

youth, which for humans is an unattainable skill. But I think it must have something

to do with their focused, never blinking eyes. They have been watching everything,

recording everything their whole lives. Every so often, they shed they old skin and

emerge as youthful as before, ready to continue the recording process.

They never have to worry about missing something within the blink of an eye, yet

within the blink of our eyes, they can just disappear.

Part II, Folkbiology:

  • Across countries animals are referred to with names that someone might not understand. Let’s take the

    Python Snake in Zoo Atlanta.

    snake for example in Spanish it’s culebra, in Italian serpente, and so on. While some translations are easier to understand, the name does not always translate as easily. That is where science enters the picture by introducing the binomial nomenclature. Although it is not used in everyday language, the binomial nomenclature makes it easier for people to communicate across cultures. Common snakes such as snake make it easy for everyday people to communicate. However, the binomial nomenclature (2 names compiled of the first name indicating the genus and the second indicating the epithet, and are usually in Latin) allows scientists to communicate because they are able to refer to the same animal. While science allows us to communicate cross culturally because it has its own form of communication, it leaves behind meaning specific to a culture. “People’s actions on the natural world are surely conditioned in part by their ways of knowing and modeling it,” (Atran, 1).

Ex. Coatl→ snake

Quezalcoatl→ feathered serpent

Coatlique→ serpent skirt


These are the names for some most important deities in Aztec traditions. The names are specifically given depending on the characteristics they posses, so that they serve a descriptive purpose as well.


In science, it does not work like this. Names are given to animals so that someone in China could communicate with someone in the U.S. and be able to talk about the same animal.


Ex. Garter snake→ Thamnophis sirtalis

This name mainly serves to describe the appearance of the snake. So what is lost in translation is power or special qualities attributed to it.

Listen to “The Wonders of The Rainbow Snake”

Through their artwork, creation myths, and beliefs related to the rainbow serpent we will learn how snakes can be understood in a completely different way from our own culture. To aboriginals the rainbow serpent plays an integral part to their socio-religious ways of life.

Part III, Religions:

Ganesh statue in Carlos Museum at Emory University.

Religion is definitely associated with cultures. Certain regions have specific religions. Religion gives people a different perspective and view points on which they evaluate things.

For example, in a Christian setting a fish represents Jesus. Bread and wine is not just bread and wine, but the literal body and blood of Christ.

A snake in Aztec traditions represents way more than just an animal. It represents deities, gods, rebirth, the cycle of life, etc. As oppose to Western traditions where the snake might not be observed spiritually.

Views differ a lot based on the concept of animals. Where do animals fall? Should humans and animals be grouped together? Are they two completely different species? This is very hard because many see humans as superior. Superior because of the way they are able to communicate and interact. Humans have evolved and possess what is known as ‘extended consciousness’ in which “the individual has a clear sense of “me” and “you,” of “yesterday” and “tomorrow,” of “when I was a child” and “when I was a child” and “when I’m old”” (Fisher).  This ability to differentiate is what sets humans apart from animals. While many see humans as becoming less of an animal as time goes on, Amazonian people see it differently. “For Amazonian peoples, the original common condition of both humans and animals is not animalist but rather, humanity” (Vivieros de Castro, 465).

In Exchanging Perspectives: The Transformation of Objects into Subjects In Amerindian Ontologies, Vivieros de Castro discusses that it is not humans that have lost their animalistic qualities but rather animal retracting from their humanism. This is why animals are so important indigenous religions because they focus on the soul of the object instead. “The soul is formally identical in all species, it can only perceive the same things everywhere. The difference is given in the specificity of bodies” (Vivieros de Castro, 474). Therefore, animals are seen just as important as humans because they believe that they possess a similar soul that is simply instilled a different body. As you can see it is all just a matter as perspective. Some people see animals as inferior to humans while others consider them equally.


In cosmologies it is actually believed that objects and artifacts exited first and that they were responsible for the creation of the world. For example, in the Wakuénai cosmology the first humans and god are believed to be made of sacred flutes & trumpets. In the Tukano cosmology God existed first along with artifacts. In cosmologies “corporeal organization of species” usually exist which means that “each species [was] fabricated from the bodies and body parts of other natural species” (Santos-Granero, 6). This is a different kind of creation story then the one that people are use to. In this one the perspective of God created the world from nothing shifts to rather him shaping the world from objects that already existed.

As can be observed, the perspective one takes on things can have a huge effect on how they view things. The perspective each person has is unique and is based on things such as: location, morals, belief systems, etc.


Works Cited

Atran, Scott. “Folk Biology,” in MITECS: The MIT Encyclopedia of Cognitive Science.


“Common Garter Snake.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 13 Apr. 2017. Web. 24 Apr. 2017.


Crouch, Ceallsach, Gayle Kruger, Alyson Francis, and Remy Liverman. “The Wonders of the

Rainbow Snake.” Audio blog post. Rels 4700/6700. Soundcloud, 10 Apr. 2017. Web. 19 Apr. 2017.


DeMello, Margo. “Animals in Religion and Folklore” in Animals and Society: An Introduction

to Human-animal Studies. New York: Columbia University Press, 2012. 301-321.



THINK?” Edge, 01 Jan. 1970. Web. 24 Apr. 2017.


Ingold, Tim. “Hunting and Gathering as Ways of Perceiving the Environment,” in The Perception of the

Environment: Essays on Livelihood, Dwelling and Skill. New York:

Routledge, 2000. 40-60.


Ramirez, Nancy, Jonathan Harkey, and Insha Qari. “Snake Cast.” Audio blog post. Rels

4700/6700. Soundcloud, 10 Apr. 2017. Web. 22 Apr. 2017.


Santos-Granero, Fernando. “Introduction: Amerindian Constructional Views of the World” in

The Occult Life of Things: Native Amazonian Theories of Materiality and Personhood. Tucson: The University

of Arizona Pres, 2009. 3-29.


Vivieros de Castro, Eduardo. “Exchanging Perspectives: The Transformation of Objects into

Subjects in Amerindian Ontologies.” Common Knowledge. 10, no. 3. (2004) Durham:

Duke University Press. 463-484.




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