Handles - Animal and Other Motifs
particular animals and other motifs used as subjects for cane handles?
Below is a collection of facts gleaned from Canes through the Ages antique
cane auction catalogues, 11/98-present.
The motif of the bear came into fashion in Western Europe with the emerging
Russian taste in the middle of the 19th century. In northern countries,
it replaces the lion as king of beasts and represents power and warfare.
Because it hibernates and wakes in the spring, the bear also symbolizes
Catheads are rarely seen on canes. Being largely nocturnal, the cat is
associated with the moon; it is also credited with supernatural powers,
both good and evil.
The motif of the cockatiel came into fashion with the first aviary appearing
around 1860 giving the public in major European cities, for the first
time, the chance to see many of the exotic birds of this world.
Dragons combine the characteristics of the four elements, earth, air,
fire and water; they symbolize light and dark, the sun and moon, masculine
and feminine, and the unity underlying these opposing forces. The dragon
possesses the wings of a bird and the scales of a snake or fish. It breathes
fire and often guards a hoard of treasure in its lair. In the East and
in pre-Christian Europe, the dragon was seen as helpful and kind—indeed,
the red dragon is the emblem of Wales—but Christianity, which saw
the serpent as a symbol of evil, also viewed the dragon as a creature
of ill-omen, representing destructiveness and inner chaos. The Chinese
dragon is a symbol of the Emperor, of male energy and fertility. It is
a benign animal and the fifth creature of the Chinese zodiac. It guards
the East and represents sunrise, spring, and the rains. Indeed, torrential
rain is known as dragon rain. There are four types of dragons in Chinese
legend: Dragons of the air, the earth, the water and the spirit. Dragon
dances and dragon boat races are still popular in China.
Universally viewed as the king of birds, the eagle is a symbol of the
sun, royalty and the gods, especially sky gods. It represents authority,
strength, victory and pride—and freedom. In 1782, The United States
adopted the bald eagle as a national emblem when the Great Seal of the
United States was adopted. The Great Seal shows a widespread eagle, faced
front, having on his breast a shield with thirteen perpendicular red and
white stripes, surmounted by a blue field with the same number of stars.
In his right talon the eagle holds an olive branch, in his left a bundle
of thirteen arrows, and in his beak he carries a scroll inscribed with
the motto: “E Pluribus Unum.” The eagle appears in the Seals
of many of our States, on most of our gold and silver coinage, and is
used a great deal for decorative patriotic purposes.
Because of its bulk and strength, the elephant is generally a symbol of
power. It also signifies patience, wisdom, and chastity, probably because,
according to Aristotle, a bull elephant remained celibate during the two
year long gestation period of his mate. The Hindu god Ganesha has an elephant’s
head and, with his huge belly, represents prosperity and benevolence.
One of the most important symbols in the world myth, the fish represents
fertility, life and death and is generally auspicious. It is associated
with the mother goddess, the moon and the primeval waters, from which
all life grew. In Greco-Roman myth a noble fish conducts souls to the
world beyond, saves the shipwrecked, and symbolizes safety and speed.
The fish inspired the artist of every period and is a widespread symbol
The frog is revered as a healer and bringer of prosperity.
Monkeys played a great role in far eastern art, and are a common motif
on cane handles of that origin. However, far fewer are found on European
In ancient Greece, the owl was sacred to Athena, goddess of wisdom and
night, and came to symbolize the city named after her, as well as wisdom.
Because of its association with the night, the owl is widely seen as a
bird of ill omen with a cry that heralds death and misfortune. Today it
is often seen as a luck-bringing mascot.
The peacock, a royal bird, with its fan-shaped tail is a symbol of the
sun; its circular tail represents the vault of heaven and the eyes the
stars. The male peacock courts its mate with such pride that it has become
synonymous with vanity.
As a popular breed, the pug was also the insignia of the Order of the
Mops. This was a society set after the Pope had outlawed Freemasonry.
It gave members the social benefits without offending the Catholic Church.
The ram embodies virility and creative energy. It is associated with many
gods and is a common sacrificial animal, its blood symbolically returning
fertility to the soil. The Hebrew ritual horn, the Shofar, blown at the
feast of Rosh Hashanah, is made from a ram’s horn.
Contrary to Western tradition, the rat is highly praised in far Easter
mythology and represents intelligence, diligence, hard work and wealth.
The rooster is associated with courage and battle, with masculinity and
the sun. Its crow heralds the dawn and symbolizes the victory of light
over darkness. It is equated with fertility, and its sacrifice forms part
of many harvest rites. In Christianity, the rooster is a symbol of resurrection,
and as a weather vane, it represents vigilance. It has long been used
in ritual. In some places, roosters are sacrificed so that their blood
returns fertility to the soil. In the Chinese astrology, the rooster is
disciplined and good at organizing others. It can be eccentric, but has
a sense of humor.
The snake or serpent is probably the most widely revered of all creatures
because it embodies so many forces. Its underground lair allies it with
the underworld, and it is associated with the primal waters, from which
all life was created. The serpent was always a great source for the artist,
its symbolism is very widespread and generally represents fertility. Its
associated with healing come from the snake’s shedding of its skin,
making it a symbol of renewal and regeneration.
In Greek myth, Zeus took the form of a swan to seduce Leda. The most graceful
and beautiful of birds is also associated with Venus/Aphrodite: Her chariot
is sometimes borne through the air by swans. In Native American lore,
the swan is a symbol of trust and submission. The song of the dying swan
is said to be one of joy at the prospect of entering the afterlife. The
omen here depends on the details of the action and color. Black swans
portend business problems in the offing, white swans predict happiness
in love or domestic affairs if they were floating, and business or financial
success if they were flying or walking. To see swans gliding in a small
pond predicts great wealth through your own diligent efforts.
Linked to the moon and water, the turtle symbolizes fertility, steady
determination and long life. Various world myths speak of a tortoise supporting
the world and in Hinduism, a man-tortoise was the ancestor of mankind.
Related to the history of medicine, Franz Joseph Gall who originated the
theory of Phrenology, was born in 1758 in Tiefenbronn, Germany and died
in Paris in 1828. The study of the skull protuberances as relating to
the character traits and intellect was very controversial. Dr. Gall was
forbidden to practice Phrenology in his native Germany, where it was banned
in 1802. He continued using the method in London and Paris until his death.
Others also practiced it off and on through the 19th century.
cane handle motif
Shoe styles reflect social and cultural attitudes and often tell us something
about a person. Worn ones represent the eternal “worker.”
Vincent Van Gogh painted worn shoes as a metaphor for the endless wanderings
of the vagabond seeking, in vain, for a haven of rest.