White animals are rare in the wild. Without protective coloration, unless they’re in an arctic environment, even predators are more vulnerable to attack. But those who survive to adulthood can pass their “leucism,” or genetic lack of pigmentation and blue eyes, to the next generation. Scientists theorize that the white, recessive, non-albino genetics in animals are a throwback to the last ice age.
Sacred White Animals Across Traditions
In multiple cultures, anomalous white animals have been designated as sacred and the basis of legends and myth. While the animals differ, in many cultures the birth or appearance of a white animal is an indication of a new era of peace and restored balance; these animals also represent purity, spiritual fulfillment, and attainment. Below are a few legends of sacred white animals.
The Lakota White Buffalo Calf Woman Legend
A long time ago during a famine, the Lakota people were starving, so their chief sent two scouts to search for buffalo in the Black Hills of South Dakota. After travelling a while, the scouts found a woman alone on the prairie — dressed in white buckskin, she was young and beautiful.
One of the scouts tried to embrace the woman, intending to take her as a wife. As the story goes, she and the scout quickly disappeared into a misty white fog. When it cleared, only the woman remained, and next to her on the ground was a pile of bones.
The remaining scout was terrified and began to draw his bow in self-defense, but the woman saw into his heart and knew his motives were pure. Speaking Lakota, she told him not to be afraid, that she would not harm him.
She explained she was a holy woman carrying a message for the Lakota people; if they followed her instructions, the Lakota nation would recover. She told the scout to go back to camp, tell the council her words, and prepare a feast, as she would soon come to the camp.
Indeed she did, and shared sacred ceremonies with the people, giving them a sacred pipe. Before she left, she told the people she would return one day in the future. Then she lay on the ground and rolled four times; each time, she changed color until the fourth turning when she turned into a white buffalo calf. Then she disappeared. When the people looked around, they saw they were surrounded by great herds of buffalo. Since then, the Lakota people have waited for the birth of a white buffalo calf to signal the return of the holy woman.
In 1994, a pure white buffalo calf was born on a ranch in Janesville, WI. This little calf was the fulfillment of the prophecy of the White Buffalo Calf Woman from Lakota prophecy. According to legend, the birth of a white buffalo calf marked the beginning of a time of purification and renewal for the earth and her children. The little calf was named “Miracle,” and since then, another 16 white calves have been born, and to the Lakota people, they all symbolize a coming time of renewal. “The arrival of the white buffalo is like the second coming of Christ. It will bring about purity of mind, body, and spirit and unify all nations; black, red, yellow, and white,” said Floyd Hand Looks For Buffalo, an Oglala Lakota Medicine Man from Pine Ridge, SD.
White Star Lions of South Africa
400 years ago in Africa, there lived a queen named Numbi. She ruled an empire, but she had grown ill and weak. Her people prayed for her return to health, but she continued to decline.
One night, a great light appeared in the sky and descended to a nearby valley. The queen and her people went to the valley to see what there was to see. As they approached, they saw an object that was the source of the light. It was making a humming sound, and people were frightened.
But Numbi had no fear; in fact, she felt drawn to the object. With her two oldest servants, she approached the light, telling them that as a queen, she must honor and welcome this high being. She entered the light and the servants fled.
When the servants returned alone to the village, the object rose back into the sky, then shot off into space. After the queen left, for many years the people saw white impala, leopards, and lions at the place they called “Timbavaati.” And eventually Numbi returned to her people restored to magical young version of herself.
Timbavaati, in South Africa, is the only place in the world where white, blue-eyed lions, called “star lions,” are born. For the people of Africa, the star lions are gifts from the Sun God. Linda Tucker, author of Mystery of the White Lions, learned the story from one of the last of African lion shamans, Credo Mutwa. In 2002, Tucker founded the Global White Lion Protection Trust to protect white lions in the wild, as they are highly prized by game hunters. “The White Lions‘ message to us is not to succumb to our fear. They are here as the symbol we might draw upon to overcome this fear—and change the consciousness that is heading us into devastation,” said Tucker.
Kermode White Spirit Bear, a.k.a. Moksgm’ol, or Ghost Bear
The coastal rainforests of British Columbia are considered some of the most pristine rainforest habitats remaining in the world. And the heart of the region is the Great Bear Rainforest, home to the Kitasoo First Nation people. These forests are comprised of fir, spruce, red cedar, alder, and hemlock. The region is a huge watershed, and each stream and pool system hosts generations of chum, sockeye, and coho salmon.
This forest primeval is home to the rare, white Moksgm’ol, the spirit or ghost bear in the Kitasoo language. In English, it is the Kermode bear, a distinct subspecies of black bear, the carrier of the Kermode gene. According to Alex Shoumatoff of Smithsonian.com, The Kermode bear, beloved by all Canadians, is the most sacred animal in the forest.
Kitasoo stories about animals, including the spirit bear, abound. They say that raven made one in every ten bears moksgm’ol (white) as a reminder of the time when glaciers covered their lush forests. Moksgm’ol also has supernatural powers, such as leading people to deep, underwater places of magic. The spirit bear is also a symbol of peace and harmony, and is the official animal of British Columbia.
White Elephant and lotus flowers from a ceiling panel in the Ajanta Caves, India, 5th century AD.
The White Elephants of India, Thailand, and Myanmar
Pale-skinned and yellow-eyed, Asian and Indian white elephants are considered auspicious symbols of purity. In Thailand, a king’s status depends on the number of white elephants he owns. In neighboring Myanmar, white elephants bring status, power, and good fortune. When a white elephant is portrayed with a lifted trunk, it transmits message of overcoming obstacles. In India, white elephants are sacred to the goddess Lakshmi, giver of wealth, beauty and luxury.
Once long ago, there was a king, Suddhodana, of the Sakya clan, a warrior tribe from the verdant foothills of the Himalayas, the Hindu Kush. Suddhodana chose the beautiful Princess Mahamaya, daughter of King Anjana of the neighboring Koliyas clan, For his queen.
One night Queen Mahamaya lay dreaming under the full moon. In her dream, she was taken to Lake Anotatta in the high mountains by four devas; benevolent, angel-like beings. The devas bathed the queen in the lake, then dressed her in silk spun by gandharvas, and anointed her with sacred oils.
When these things were accomplished, a magnificent white elephant approached carrying a flawless white lotus in its trunk. The elephant circled the queen three times, then magically entered her right side.
When the queen woke up, she understood the dream was important. The next morning she told the dream to her husband Suddhodana; he sent for sages and priests to explain it to them. The wise men said that the dream was supremely auspicious — that the devas had chosen the queen to be the mother of a great being.
Ten months after her dream, Mahamaya knew it was time to leave for her father’s house — it was traditional for women to have their babies in their parents’ homes. King Suddhodana made the arrangements, and the queen departed for her father’s Koliya lands.
On the way, the queen’s procession came to a beautiful garden called Lumbini Park. The queen was enchanted by the beauty of there and called for her retinue to stop for rest. She lay under a sala tree, and almost immediately, gave birth to a boy — this day was a full moon in spring of the year 623 BCE.
This strange newborn prince immediately stood up took seven steps. At each step, a lotus appeared on the ground. At the seventh, he declared, “Eldest I am in the world, foremost am I in the world. This is the last birth. There is now no more coming to be.”
This child, named Prince Siddhartha, grew up to be the Gautama Buddha.
The Alchemist’s White Peacock
Male peacocks and female peahens are referred to a peafowl — and there are subspecies of the jewel-like green and blue birds from India and the Congo in Africa. White peafowl are genetic variants of the ornamental Indian peafowl, but they are not albino; they carry the leucism gene which brings an absence of pigmentation with blue eyes. Evoking purity and grace, white peacocks, when they display their feathers, take a viewer’s breath away. While they are not common, especially in the wild, two white peafowl will produce white chicks, and the white birds are popular with domestic peafowl keepers.
The first known alchemists were the Egyptians, who developed complex embalming techniques using rudimentary chemistry. Early alchemical knowledge travelled from Egypt to Greece with Alexander the Great in 322 BCE, and the Greeks combined the discipline with their observations of the elements of nature; water, fire, earth, and air. Called “khemia,” the word also became the Greek name for Egypt (and is the root word for “chemistry”).
Egyptian alchemists accumulated a wealth of knowledge that was preserved in the great library of Alexandria, but Christian invaders burned the library in 391 AD. The remaining alchemical knowledge was then carried to Spain by Arab alchemists in the eighth century. Along the same timelines, Taoist monks in China developed Asian alchemy systems.
Described as “the great work,” alchemy was superficially the search for a method to transmute lead to gold. But this was a mask for the deeper, esoteric goal of turning the leaden dross of the human soul to gold; a metaphor for achieving realization and enlightenment. The methods were closely held to avoid the attention of Christian authorities — we know what they did to the library in Alexandria, and alchemists could be tried and burned at the stake. Written texts and treatises were filled with “blinds;” false leads and riddles that could only be explained by a master who learned the answers from his master. This was the “ear-whispered” tradition of esoteric alchemy.
Alchemical texts of the time were filled with coded bird and animal symbols. One part of the process was explained with birds representing stages in a work; the raven, the swan, the peacock, the pelican, and the phoenix.
The alchemists knew that all colors of light, when combined, produces white. The peacock’s tail represented this optical principle. A white peacock then symbolized the distillation of all aspects of light to its pure, essential state; white.
In Prague, in the Czech Republic, the Royal Way is an ancient route through the city that was used for coronations for the kings of Bohemia. In the 17th century, Prague was the European center of alchemy. As a result, the Royal Way was laden with secret symbols that were allegories for the alchemist’s goal of attaining the philosopher’s stone.
Along the route is the hard-to-find house of the black madonna, a reference to the dark, or nigredo stage of the purification process, also represented by the raven. Next is a white peacock on a building facade, symbolizing the next stage, albedo, or the “clean, purified” state the alchemist had to attain to continue on the path to the “philosopher’s stone,” or “pearl of great price,” the ultimate esoteric goal of enlightenment.