This might have very interesting implications for the Turkish Aleviller, a Muslim community commonly assumed to have Christian influences enough to be a form of of Crypto-Christianity itself.
Impure Animals Par Excellence: Dogs, Cats and Mice
The life of the Irish saint Declan, written sometime after the life of Moling, recounts that when Declan was entertained by a certain Dercanus, this vir gentilis tried to pull a trick on the saint. He asked his servants to kill a dog, to hide its head and legs by burying them, and to prepare its meat should resemble mutton. Declan, however, being a saint, suspected that he was served unlawful (illicitum) food, and discovered in the food offered to them a dog’s claw, which Dercanus’s servants had overlooked when slaughtering the animal. Just like horses, dogs, so we may conclude, from this story were not regarded as proper food in Ireland in the twelfth century either. Unlike in the case of the horse, however, no ecclesiastical or secular ruling forbade the consumption of dog meat. From this we must conclude that while there were some discussion was permissability of horsemeat, such a discussion was unthinkable in the case of dogs. Only in times of famine did people apparently resort to dog meat.*
The fact that dogs are found in the same archaeological context as horses strengthens the view of dietary rules were not primarily aiming to obliterate pagan sacrifices. If the practise of burying horses reflected pagan rituals in which horses were ritually consumed, we would expect such rituals in the case of dogs, which are found in similar archaeological circumstances. Yet there was no early medieval rule forbidding the consumption of dog meat. Apparently people in this period did not need to be warned while eating dogs. Archaeological evidence suggests that while in ancient Gaul dogs were used as food, they were no longer regarded as such in early medieval times. In the absence of of any regulation forbidding the consumption of dogs such a shift seems more the result of a Romanising process than of an influence of Christian norms. The first reference to eating dog meat comes from the beginning of the 13th century, when Robert Grosseteste imported a three days’ penance on a poor man who ate a dog in time of need. This constrast between eating horse or canine meat is already clear in the stories of Moling and Declan. While the couple offering Moling food in fact had horsemeat in the house for consumption, the vir genetilis Dercanus was clearly trying to test the holy man.
The dog was not only unthinkable as food, it was also held to be impure. This at least in part, seems to be an explanation that involved carrying a dog. Food touched by dogs was held to be unclean. The Paenitentiale Bigotianum imposes a one-year penance for drinking something contaminated by a dog (quod intimat canis). A similar canon is implied by Theodore of Canterbury when he says that it doesn’t matter if a dog, a mouse or (an)other unclean animal that bloods, touches food. Cuimmean imposed a penance of three special facts (superpositiones) for someone who ate or drank something that was contaminated by ‘a household animal that is a mouse-catcher’ (familiaris bestia quae est muriceps). A similar provision is to be found in the Canones Hibernenses. These passages have been translated as rules concerning contamination of food by cats, but they apply to dogs as well as shown by the gloss added to this sentence by PPS Theodori and the PPS Egberti. The canon from the Old Irish Penitential, translated by Binchy, as ‘Anyone who drinks the leaving of a cat does five days penance, should possibly be also interpreted as regarding something polluted by a dog. For information on what sorts of food people might have eschewed, it is also useful to look at works in which foreign peoples and their habits are described. In one of the Cosmographia of Aethicus Ister–an enigmatic test that might or might not have been composed in the 8th century and was also well-known in Southern Germany things one of which is meat from dogs. This does not tell us much about the Turks (whatever people the author may have had in mind using the term, possibly Avars), but quite a lot about the prevalent conceptions of proper food in the time and region in which the author was writing.
That the dig was not held in high esteem might partly be the result of Proverbs 26:11, which speaks about the sinner returning to his former sins just as the dog returns to vomit, a text well known to authors of penitenials. All sorts of food that had become impure, and therefore unsuitable for human consumption was given to the dogs. As we have seen, dogs were fed not only meat from dead horses but also the remains of animals gnawed upon by wild beasts or animals that had to be killed because they had been polluted by sexual contact with humans. Especially the holy had to be safeguarded against the impure; thus vomiting the Eucharist could be regarded as an act requiring reparation by a forty days’ penance. Even in case of sickness, a penance was required through only one of seven days. The penance for this act was, however, increased to a hundred days if dogs licked up the vomit containing the Holy Eucharist. Anxieties about the possible contamination of the Holy Eucharist inspired a whole group of sententiae concerning the Host, which proved to be highly influential.
One of the concerns experessed in these canons is that the Eucharist, if it is not well-guarded, will be nibbled on by a mouse. This brings up to another category of animals held to be impure: mice. We have already seen that mouse-catching was seen as characteristic of impure animals like the cat and the dog. If a mouse or a chicken or something else falls into wine and water, nobody should drink from it. Such rules have been read as hygienic rules meant to educate the barbarian pagans. They should, however, be read as careful demarcations of the pure and impure. Another text, for example, makes a distinction between a clean bird (avis munda) on the one hand, and an unclean bird or a mouse (immunda avis aut sorix) on the other, when dealing with wine, oil, or honey polluted by such animals falling into them. In the first case, a ritual cleansing will make the food acceptable again while in the second case, the food cannot be used and whoever sells this polluted substance to someone else should do penance for a year. The equation between mouse and an unclean bird suggests that the mouse is also an unclean animal**. In some instances, the mouse is associated with the weasel, which, therefore, might also be reckoned among unclean animals. We might indeed have to interpret terms like mus and sorex as denoting several kinds of small rodents. In fact, Theodore grouped the dog, the cat, and the mouse when he decided that it does no harm to eat food touched by these animals or by (an)other animal that feeds on blood. Here, therefore, the dogs, cats, and mice seemed to be grouped together as the ‘impure animals’ par excellence, leaving room, however for other unclean animals feeding on blood.
*Likely true for cat meat and I think somewhere in a Philippine news report, there was talk of cat meat in Asingan.
***In some Cameroonian communities, they’re associated with witchcraft.