Rats In Tradition And Religion

Rats are a common feature of the traditions and religions of the world.  They have been commensal with us for centuries, catching the literal and metaphorical crumbs from our tables. They eat the same food as us and so are very happy scavenging from our kitchens and bins.  They need warmth and shelter, the same as we do and so make the most of our cavity walls and under-floor spaces to make their nests. 

In the Isle of Man the word 'rat' is taboo; this may come from sea-faring tradition or from their association with the spread of disease.  They are known to transmit at least 35 diseases to humans. This may be why we are wary of them.

The rat is the first sign of the Chinese zodiac and people born under this sign are considered to have the characteristics of a rat. Resourceful and intelligent.  Rats get on well with dragons but not with horses. Many Chinese people have a very strong belief in their astrological system.

Rats are famous for transmitting the plague in fleas on their back and so causing the Black Death. This was one of the worst epidemics in the history of the world which killed between 75 and 200 million people in the fourteenth century.  Records were either very poor or non-existent at the time, hence the huge range in the possible number of deaths. Rats are also renowned for the havoc they wreak to commercial stock and equipment, chewing wires and products with their teeth.  Research has shown that they cause in excess of $9billion worth of damage a year in the US alone.

The Hindus hold rats in very high esteem. They have between 10,000 and 20,000 of them living in the famous Karni Mata temple where they are regularly fed by the priests. They believe that rats are the reincarnation of sadhus, Hindu holy men.

Dr Toby Bateson for Hammer Technologies