Superstitions about Animals

Indian folklore compares and depicts animals, birds and humans in good and bad ways. Hundreds of sayings that place animals in an unfavourable light are responsible for subconsciously giving rise to superstitions. Animal fights, hunting and sacrifices were regular features in ancient India. Worship of divinities in animal forms and as vehicles of gods continues to this day, but has not eliminated the practice of sacrificing animals.

Animal sacrifice is the most unfortunate of superstitions. Buffalos, goats, chickens and their young are the common animals killed in the name of religion and to appease certain deities.

It is also unfortunate that humans believe certain animals are lucky, and others unlucky. Towards this end many species (wild and domesticated) are exploited in unimaginable ways.

Particular wild animals’ body parts (like porcupine meat and quills) or even live ones (the demand for red sand boas, star tortoises and Torkay geckos is growing) are coveted for black magic and that’s when poaching fuels superstition under the guise of religion. In December 2020 salinder/porcupine quills were found to be used for illegal black magic rituals on trees next to the Lord Mahasoba temple under the Holkar Bridge in Pune, attracting relevant sections of the Maharashtra Prevention & Eradication of Human Sacrifice & other Inhuman, Evil & Aghori Practices & Black Magic Act, 2013 and the Wildlife Protection Act.

Religious Beliefs
It is less conspicuous to keep some wild animals’ body-parts for good luck than to house a live wild animal because that’s not allowed. For example, star tortoises and turtles are gifted or bought because they are considered lucky. Few realise how unlucky and extremely cruel it is for the creatures to be kept in small tubs cooped up in apartments, walking on tiles, instead of earth.

Each and every body-part of wild animals, birds and reptiles, ranging from big cats to owls, to boas, are in demand for some ritual or another. They are converted into talismans or good luck charms upon being sacrificed.

Some buyers in Kerala believe that having a tiger skin, claws or teeth in their prayer room brings them prosperity.

A white owl is considered a companion and vahana (vehicle) of Goddess Lakshmi – the goddess of wealth – and therefore a harbinger of prosperity. Sellers successfully convince the gullible that owls are lucky and by worshiping them, they will get wealthy.

Owls are sold mainly during religious melas because that’s where customers are easily found. Owls used for black magic are killed. The sacrifice of nocturnal owls and bats on auspicious occasions, particularly on amavasya of Diwali, seems to be increasing because tantriks are recommending pujas consisting of different body-parts of owls, and state that owls with ear-tuffs (although called ear-tuffs they are actually feather extensions on the head) have greater magical powers!
Blood and feathers of owls are offered as aahuti/oblation in Havan Samagri. So-called cures are for overcoming financial difficulties, infertility and absence of a male child, illness, nazar/evil eye, and to even develop power over targeted individuals.


Owls are normally sold for Rs 20,000 but cost up to Rs 2 lakhs for sacrifice on the amavasya of Diwali. Tantriks earn between Rs 50,000 to Rs 2 lakhs because they claim to have the power to capture and transfer the soul of the owl they kill, into a taviz/talisman.

In the 1980s owls without eyes were being peddled outside railway stations. The birds’ eyes had been removed to make tavizes. Every conceivable body-part of the owl is precious for believers, and it is felt that possessing a taviz consisting of owls’ eyes or a particular organ, has magical or medicinal powers for the wearer, keeper or user.

But, how can an organ or limb of a tortured and/or killed creature impart such powers, more so when the acquisition has subjected a dumb, innocent animal to suffering and maiming?

These humans need to ask themselves whether the owl is really foolish, or whether they themselves are the foolish ones because they believe in superstitions. The Ela Foundation survey found that 40% Indians associate owls with black magic and consider them to be bad omens. Ulloo is the Hindi word for an owl and when a human is called so, it implies foolishness and stupidity. On the other hand, in the English language the owl is considered a wise old bird; owl-like is a person having a solemn manner; and, a night-owl is one who is active late into the night just like the bird.

It was therefore great to know that a couple who wanted to dispel myths surrounding owls, in 2017 got married with the picture of an owl on their invitations. They wanted their family and friends to realise that although owls are mostly found in graveyards and are nocturnal birds, they should not be associated with death or considered inauspicious.

Targeting the Gullible

Sand boas known as two-headed snakes or do-muha (their raised tails look like their heads when they are coiled) are supposedly sold for any thing between Rs 5 lakh to 1 crore (in South India) which is a great incentive to poach them from the wild. The cost varies depending upon the customer’s ability to pay and reason for purchasing. Some buy for black magic: it is believed sand boas have supernatural powers resulting in prosperity and destruction of enemies. Or if kept in one’s house, whatever one wishes materialises. Others believe they have medicinal value.


The Slender loris is a small nocturnal primate, having large and lovely eyes too. These animals are found only in India and Sri Lanka. So since many have, and are, being caught from the wild for black magic, their numbers continue falling. Often they are found barbarically maimed or even killed because it is believed that what ever is inflicted upon this animal will happen to the inflictor’s enemy. For example, in 2023 a young Slender loris which was found abandoned and brought to a rescue and rehabilitation centre in Karnataka had pinpoint burns on her nose bridge, thumbs of both forelimbs and the big toe of her hind limbs. Some believe their gouged out eyes kept near children while asleep imparts good eyesight; while others make the animal bite a coin and the child wears it as a charm.

oil is claimed to be an aphrodisiac and good for massages. Decades ago, the oil from freshly-killed lizards used to be extracted on the roadside with large groups of gullible men watching the cruelty while
waiting to buy the oil.

Talking of lizards, the colour, spots, stripes, chirping, or twittering of a lizard, when it falls on a person’s body, is believed to predict the future. This can often be a good omen. And if one hears a lizard on the ceiling or wall while a discussion is going on it is a good omen letting one know that the other person is truthful.


Between Holi and Rangpanchmi, villagers of Wadangali in Sinnar tehsil (40 km from Nashik) organise a 150-year old traditional donkey ride for a javai/son-in-law of the village and garland him with footwear. They believe that such a procession ensures ample rain.

In 2021 the residents of Sangvi and Pimple Gurav of Maharashtra were in a predicament because of a superstition that whosoever mishandled the 50+ Osmanabadi goats seen roaming and being aggressive in their village, would face misfortune.

Parrot Astorology

Pet parrots are not only seen caged in houses, but also accompany road-side fortune tellers. For a price, they are trained to pick cards which are then “read” to the client. Since parrots (and munias also trapped from the forest and trained) are being confiscated under wildlife laws, they have in some places been replaced by caged guinea pigs that have been similarly trained for the purpose of so-called future prediction.

Killi josyam
or parrot astrology is famous in Tamil Nadu but has spread to other states like Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Puducherry. Most of these fortune-tellers hail from the Kambalathu Naicker community and worship goddess Jakkamma. Way back in 1999-2000 the fortune-tellers of Goraguntepalya in Tamil Nadu were raided and 160 parakeets were confiscated from them but they did not give up practicing killi josyam. During the breeding season they themselves poach parrot fledglings from forest nests and train them to pick cards.

A man typically sits on the footpath with a cage containing a poached and trained parrot. He has a pack of 27 tarot like cards (depicting deities) which he spreads out in front of him. When some one asks for his/her fortune to be told, the man takes the parrot out from one of the compartments of the cage which is very little bigger than the parrot itself. He then instructs the parrot to pick a card which it does at random and hands over to the fortune teller who then based on the image on the card “reads” the fortune of the person!

To the misfortune of parakeets, roadside fortune tellers or parrot astrologers have not stopped keeping them. Despite the birds which are always found in a very poor condition, being confiscated by the police and taken to rescue centres, the activity some how continues. For example, in December 2013 the forest department personnel caught 11 rose-ringed parakeets (a protected species under the Wildlife Act) at Bengaluru’s Sajjan Road Circle fair. Confined to tiny cages, they were dehydrated, their wings (including primary feathers) had been clipped, and the claws and feet of some had been amputated.

On being informed that parrot astrologers were operating on Suffren Street, Saint Ange Road and Bharati Park areas of Puducherry, in 2018 Beauty Without Cruelty first approached the Forest Department and then the Lieutenant Governor, Puducherry UT, requesting a crack down on killi josyam which involves the illegal use of parrots.

In 2019 BWC also wrote to the Union Minister of Environment, Forest & Climate Change to direct that immediate action be taken to stop parrot astrologers from operating in Puducherry. A copy of Compassionate Friend (spring 2019) which covered the subject in detail along with pictures was also sent.

In April 2024 a video of a parakeet predicting victory for a politician went viral on social media. This led to the Forest Department seizing 4 parakeets and the arrest of 2 fortune-teller brothers in Tamil Nadu.  

Unlucky Fish
Not only do creatures of land and air suffer but so do those who live in water. Feng Shui recommends keeping brightly coloured Arowana gold fish in multiples of nine for “prosperity and growth”. Makes one wonder how people can experience good luck and get wealth at the cost of torturing innocent lives. They are small, but feel as much pain and can suffer just like us.

Complete aquariums are cheaply available. No wonder we see so many fish tanks in business premises – even those run by strict religious vegetarians who are probably unaware that bone char is used as a chemical filter. They do not realise and more importantly do not want to know about the trauma the poor fish undergo. Someone tells them that keeping a fish tank will enhance their wealth and so they go in for it unthinkingly.

Similarly expensive fishquariums (a tiny fish tank with adjoining compartment to keep stationery like pens, pencils, scissors and mobile phone) are promoted. Said to have calming benefits on humans, but that’s untrue because the fish within are cruelly subjected to living in an extremely cramped space, LED lighting, battery operated clock cum calendar working 24/7 and other disturbances that frighten them enough to impart negativity into the room.

For those who have faith and hope in Feng Shui, it is said that fish figurines work just as well as the real fish, so then wouldn’t it be simpler and humane to display nine of these instead?

Superstitions Galore

It is false that by touching toads/frogs one gets warts. The only wart-like bump behind the toad’s ears is the one that contains poison.

Young birds touched by humans do not get rejected by their parents since birds have a poor sense of smell and would not even know that they were touched. This does not imply that they should be picked up and petted.

Snakes do not take revenge, but killing a snake might certainly attract others to the spot by the smell from the dead one. Nor does mentioning a snake after sunset needs to be avoided because it is unlucky.

Some animals, birds and reptiles are symbols of good tidings and fortune. Others denote misfortune: for example, a bat or an owl flying over a house is said to be a harbinger of death or at least a sure sign of approaching ruin and destruction.

In July 2018 a 5-year old girl from Haripura (Bundi district of Rajasthan) stepped on a Titihari bird’s egg by mistake. Since this is considered unlucky the village ostracised her for 10 days.

In some cultures a black cat is lucky, but considered a bad omen in other parts of the world like India. Similarly, a peacock feather may be thought of as an evil eye.

A rhyme about spotting crows goes: One’s bad, two’s luck, three’s health, four’s wealth, five’s sickness, six is death.

A rabbit is killed to make a “lucky” foot charm, but how can a body part possibly bring luck?

Such superstitions make one realise how ridiculous, harmful and negative they are.

In China, the pig represents good luck and fortune. So much so that parents plan their child to be born in the year of the pig! Those born at this time are expected to be happy and honest.

Likewise, certain Indian notions concerning animals are not harmful for animals or humans, like if a crow crows outside your home it heralds the arrival of relatives or guests, or if you find yourself covered in bird droppings, it brings good luck! If one believes that dreaming of or sighting a cow, elephant, snake, peacock, black monkey or a braying donkey is auspicious, so be it! Last but not least, ants always spell good fortune.

Page last updated on 11/04/23