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Crocodiles (Crocodylia) inhabit the continental and coastal waters of the tropics. They are direct descendants of the ancient highly organized reptiles of the Mesozoic. There are 13 species of real crocodiles. The most famous of the true crocodiles is the Nile crocodile. The first mentions of it date back to ancient times. The Bible tells about a monstrous crocodile – Leviathan. In ancient Egypt, crocodiles were revered as sacred creatures. Special priests fed them with the meat of sacrificial animals. After death, the bodies of sacred crocodiles were sometimes embalmed and placed in rich tombs. Representatives of the alligator family are found in intracontinental freshwater bodies. The name “alligator” comes from the Spanish “al Lagarto” (lizard). 6 of the 7 species of this family are Mississippi alligators; the only exception is the Chinese alligator. Alligators dig holes, which are tunnels up to 6 m long, stretching from ponds under the roots of trees, with a camera at the end. To lay eggs, females build nests from the grass on land. Before the rain, alligators make special sounds – the so-called “crocodile singing”, and during the mating season, the surroundings are announced with a roar of males. Alligators also include a variety of caimans that live in South America.

Gavials are the third family of crocodiles and their only species is the Gavialis gangeticus. Despite its large size (up to 6.6 m in length), this animal is dangerous only for fish, which is its main food and safe for humans. The Indians considered this animal sacred, guarded by the god Vishnu.

Outwardly, crocodiles, alligators, and gavials differ from each other in the shape of the muzzle and the length of the jaws. The Nile crocodile has a long and narrow muzzle, the alligator has a short and wide muzzle, and the gavial’s jaws are narrow and long. With them, like tweezers, the gavial captures even the most agile fishes. All of these reptiles lay their eggs on land. Nile crocodiles dig holes in the dry coastal sand and lay their eggs always in the dry season, and hatching occurs after the first rains, with a rise in the water level in lakes and rivers. According to the degree of feeding intensity of Nile crocodiles, it is possible to determine the upcoming changes in air temperature. The secret lies in the fact that a decrease in pressure forces animals to refuse to eat because a decrease in pressure is followed by a cold snap, in which the digestion process is weakened in crocodiles. Crocodiles live long enough – 80 – 100 years.

Crocodile: Biblical MythologyCrocodiles: Myths Across Cultures (Part 1) 7

Leviathan (Hebrew “curl”), a sea animal, described as a crocodile, giant serpent, fish, or monstrous dragon. A creature hostile to God, over whom God is victorious at the beginning of time. In West Semitic Ugaritic mythology, he is known as Latanu, a seven-headed monster that embodies the destructive forces of the watery world, with which Balu (Aliyan-Balu) and Anat come into battle and defeat him.

In the book of Enoch and other sources, there is a motive for the separation of Leviathan and the hippopotamus as male and female monsters, in a state of initial chaos merged. Apparently, the myths about Leviathan go back to the idea of ​​a personified primitive chaos hostile to the creator god and once subdued by him, now in a state of sleep, but able to be awakened. The most detailed description of Leviathan is contained in the book of Job: “… the circle of his teeth is horror… light is shown from his sneezing; his eyes are like the eyelashes of the dawn … his breath is burning coals, a flame comes out of his mouth; he boils the abyss like a cauldron, and transforms the sea into a boiling ointment … he is the king over all the sons of pride. ” In the Bible, along with the leviathan, monsters close to him, slain by God, are named – Rahab and Tannin, as well as the fish that swallowed Jonah.

Crocodiles were once found in Palestine, and in the territory of modern Israel until the 60s of the 20th century. Ancient historians Strabo and Pliny mention them. Strabo even calls the city Crocodiliopolis, its ruins are indeed found in the spurs of Carmel, in the area of ​​modern Haifa. Medieval travelers, especially from the time of the Crusaders, also often remember the local crocodiles. In the Carmel region, there is a nakhal (water source, river) which is called Nahal Taninim – crocodile impudent, it is in it that crocodiles have survived longer than in other places. The German consul in Haifa, Schumacher, managed to shoot a crocodile in the Tantura (Dora) area, not far from Nahal Taninim, back in 1887. It was a female three meters long, and one of the eggs found in it is still on display in a museum in Frankfurt, Germany. There is evidence of the presence of crocodiles in Nahal Taninim right up to the First World War. However, after the war, they were no longer observed, only in 1961 in the same place, in the Nahal Taninim area, several “fresh” crocodile teeth were found from a recently deceased reptile.

Crocodile: Mesoamerican MythologyCrocodiles: Myths Across Cultures (Part 1) 8

Cayman (one of the types of crocodiles), known for its predation, served as the prototype of the Earth in the mythological representations of the Indians of Mesoamerica. She swam like this amphibian animal, partially submerged in the waters of the primitive ocean. The scaly crest on the back of the caiman symbolized the earthly mountains, and its open mouth was the cave entrance to the lower world and the land of the dead. The earth “swallowed” the dead just as the caiman swallows its prey, and through the ridges on its back, similar to the mountains, the caiman was involved in rain magic, because according to the ideas of the Indians, thunderclouds formed in the depths of the mountains. The cave was presented not only as an entrance to the lower world but also as a place of origin of Indian tribes.

South of Mexico City, in the Morales Valley, there is a small village of Chalcatsingo, in the vicinity of which cliffs with carved bas-reliefs have been found. A common S-shaped symbol is a stylized image of a caiman. One of the bas-reliefs shows a figure wearing an intricate headdress sitting inside an S-shaped frame. In the upper part, stylized clouds pouring rain are carved. The figure, tentatively called the “leader”, is handing out scrolls of winds and clouds from an underground cave. She holds a symbol that looks like an elongated letter S. The same symbol can be seen on his throne. By all indications, this is a shaman or priest associated with rain magic. Its anthropomorphic image replaced the image of the caiman, retaining the symbols that indicate this amphibian.

Another bas-relief shows the image of the Mesoamerican “goddess with braids” – the mistress of the universe, sitting on a throne in a cave with a two-headed lizard in her hands. Not far from the bas-relief with the “leader” there is a stylized image of the caiman itself, above the elongated jaws of which there is a cumulus cloud from which raindrops fall.

Although caimans are tropical animals and are not found in the arid Morales Valley, their images can often be seen in Olmec iconography because the seasonal behavior of this amphibian associated it with the rains: Gulf of Mexico. In the early days, while storm clouds are gathering, thunder regularly rumbles from the sky. Cayman responds with a roar without opening his jaws; the sound resonates loudly in his throat, and his head and tail are thrown back up. The caiman’s body shudders in convulsions, and the water it splashes falls back like rain. Because of its seasonal behavior, the caiman was considered a conductor of life-giving rain. ”

In the Mayan pantheon, one of the main gods was Itzamna, the lord of edible snails and aquatic plants, who was represented in the pre-Melk era in the form of a caiman – a satellite and hypostasis of the “goddess with braids”. The name of Itzamna letters. means “house of the iguana”, that is, it indicates the lower world, as the dwelling of a lizard crocodile. Subsequently, this deity acquires a cosmic character: his head forms the earth, and his body forms the heavenly vault. The concept of the universe as a gigantic house appears, the walls of which are formed by four reptiles (caimans or iguanas), closing their heads at the bottom, and their tails at the top.

In the Olmec time, Itzamna becomes one of the main deities, its iconographic appearance is either a heavenly dragon (reptile + bird + jaguar) or anthropomorphic – an old man. In the future, his cult is linked with chthonic aspects – underground fire, volcanoes, vegetation, as well as with the water deities of rain and dew. He becomes the creator of the world, the inventor of writing, the founder of the priesthood. The goddess of the moon Ish-chel was considered his wife. The heavenly incarnation of the Maya crocodile was the Milky Way; in the lower world, the crocodile carried the earth on its back, and its attribute was a water lily.

There are known images of the face of Itzamna as an aged god. In one sculptural portrait, he is depicted “with his mouth open, as if he is making a speech to his disciples.” Itzamna’s connection with the zoomorphic image disappeared, surviving only in the lord of the lower world, the god of death, Ah-Puch, whose headdress was in the shape of a caiman’s head. The heads of caimans, claw crabs and sea monsters are depicted on the northern wall of one of the rooms in Bonampak, an abandoned Mayan city near Palenque, to this jungle-hidden sanctuary the Lacandon Indians continued to make their annual pilgrimage to burn incense.

In the cosmogonic myth of the Aztecs, Tezcatlipoca and Quetzalcoatl divide the monster Cipactli (alligator or fish) into heaven and earth. Another male personification of the earth was Tlaltecuutli, who looked like a half-toad, half-alligator. According to some myths, Cipaktli is the wife of Tlaltecutli. The Aztecs believed that the road to the underworld was difficult and dangerous: the deceased had to pass between two mountains that threatened to crush him while avoiding the attack of a snake and a giant crocodile.

Crocodile: African MythologyCrocodiles: Myths Across Cultures (Part 1) 9

According to the mythological ideas of the Munda, a people living in southern Zaire, northeastern Angola, and northwestern Zambia, the ruler of the lower world is a monstrous crocodile. Fulfilling the marriage condition, the hero of folklore Sudika-Mbambi fights and wins with him. Among the Nigerian Igbo, the crocodile is a common symbol of the thunder-serpent and the tortoise-goddess of the earth.

The remnants of totemism among the peoples of Africa are preserved in the names of genera by the names of animals, in the legends about kinship with them, the prohibition to kill them, eat their meat, touch them. The genera of Sudanese Pu’er and Dinka had a crocodile among the totems. In the mythological history of the Shilluk living in southern Sudan, Nyikang is the mythical ancestor of the royal family, born of a half-female half-crocodile and Okwa, one of the three people born of the first human Kolo. He enters into a fight with his brother and wins, becomes an intermediary between the god Juok, who sends the rain, and people. In one version, Nyikang fished people out of the water using a harpoon and a fishing rod. According to another version, people came out of the pumpkin they opened, which was carried out by a white cow that came out of the water. Later he disappeared with the wind. The king was revered by the Shilluk as the embodiment of the Nyikang. There was a custom – to kill an aged king (a similar custom was noted among another Nilotic people – the Dinka).

Each clan of the pygmy Bambuti tribe in Central Africa had an animal with its totem, calling it its “father” or “grandfather.” The Bakken (People of the Crocodile) called the crocodile their father. In case of danger, they killed their totem animal, but apologized to him and arranged a ritual of purification. The Mandingo of Western Sudan also had a crocodile as one of the totems.

In western Africa, in Sierra Leone, the Crocodile and Baboon Societies are known for terrorizing their fellow tribesmen. “Members of the society were required to carry baboon or crocodile skins with them. The Crocodile Society dealt with its opponents using a specially made submarine in the shape of a crocodile. Its nose looked like a crocodile’s head, blades for movement were like paws. This” crocodile “consisted of six-man of the team. The structure, having only the head of a crocodile on the surface, imperceptibly swam to the shore. The chosen victim was dragged under the water. For the consecration of such a crocodile boat, a person was also sacrificed. ”