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Bull (mythology)

The worship of the Sacred Bull throughout the ancient world is most familiar in the episode of the idol of the Golden Calf made by Aaron and worshipped by the Hebrews in the wilderness of Sinai (Exodus). But far to the east, Shiva's holy steed (called vahana in Sanskrit) is Nandi, the Bull.

A wild Aurochs bull was a terrifying creature. Killing it or taming it was a heroic feat. Aurochs are depicted in many Paleolithic European cave paintings such as those found at Lascaux and Livernon in France. Their life force may have been attributed with magical qualities, for early carvings of the aurochs have also been found. The impressive and dangerous aurochs survived into the Iron Age in Anatolia and the Near East and was worshiped throughout that area as a sacred animal.

The bull was lunar in the north of Mesopotamia (its horns representing the crescent) and one of the animals associated with the Great Goddess and later with Mithras. But in the south, where the moon was male (compare Hubal), the bull was the Bull of the Sun.

When the heroes of the new Indo-European culture arrived in the Aegean basin, they faced off with the ancient Sacred Bull on many occasions, and always overcame it, in the form of the myths that have survived. For the Greeks, the Lunar Bull was the Cretan Bull: Theseus of Athens had to capture the ancient sacred bull of Marathon (the "Marathonian bull") before he faced the Bull-man, the Minotaur. In pre-Hellenic Minoan Crete, the Minotaur (Greek for "Bull of Minos"), was a man with the head of a bull. Some frescos and ceramics of this civilization show evidence of athletic ceremonial games played with bulls, with the participants leaping over the bull by grasping its horns.

In the Olympian cult, Hera, the former Great Goddess, still retained her ancient qualities. Boopis is usually translated "ox-eyed" Hera, but the epithet could just as well apply if the Goddess still had the head of a cow. Zeus took over the earlier roles, and, in the form of a Bull that came forth from the sea, abducted Europa.

The Sacred bull survives in the constellation Taurus. In the cult of Mithras, the killing of the astral bull, the tauroctony, was as central in the cult as the Crucifixion is to Christians. Mithraic origins may have contributed to the rise of bullfighting in Iberia and the south of France, where the legend of Saint Saturninus ("Saint Sernin") of Toulouse and his protegé in Pamplona, Saint Fermin, are inseparably linked to bull-sacrifices in the vivid manner of their martryrdom, set in the 3th century CE.

The bull and the cow were sacred in Old Europe too and cattle myths survived in Irish Gaelic myth: The tales of the epic hero Cuchulainn were collected in the 7th century CE Book of the Dun Cow.

In some Christian religions Nativity scenes are assembled at Christmas time. Most of them show a bull or an ox near baby Jesus, lying in a manger. Traditional songs of Christmas often tell of the bull and the donkey warming the infant with their breath.

Last updated: 02-10-2005 17:55:21
Last updated: 04-25-2005 03:06:01