Animals are worshipped as gods themselves, as representatives of gods, as focal points for rituals, or as central figures in any ceremonial behaviour. Sacrifices often play a prominent role. The strong magical and taboo element in animal worship may form a barrier to development. Worship is inspired by a sense of identification, such as is exemplified in a belief in transformation from one form to another (eg werewolves), and thus may impede adjustment to a modern technical world.
The best-known examples of animal worship in antiquity are to be found in the culture of Ancient Egypt. Animal ancestry and symbolism featured also in Greek civilization.
The totemistic relationship between man and animals may be predominantly magical, concerned with the increase of the species, as it is among the tribes of central Australia. It may stress the taboo aspect, as in Africa, or a personal guardian spirit or animal alter-ego, as in the nagual of the Central American Indians or the panther or serpent of the African Fang. Ceremonial behaviour is characteristic of hunting cultures. Special societies often have animal names or symbols; this custom is still alive among modern societies and clubs. In developed countries the practice of witchcraft or pseudo-witchcraft uses animal worship as part of magic rites. Protection of an animal with a religious identification may strain food resources yet give little in return, as is the case with cows in India.