The pig was domesticated shortly after the sheep and cow, about 12,000 years ago. This ushered in the era of pig goddesses, who were probably originally boar goddesses like Freya. Boar lore became transferred to the domestic cousin, but grew in complexity due to the relationship between pigs and cereals. Unlike ruminant animals raised for consumption, the domestic pig requires grain in order to thrive since she does not digest grass. Thus the sow goddess had a vested interest in grain production and she was propitiated for an abundant harvest. The appearance of animal husbandry at roughly the same time as agriculture was not an accident. Pigs were used to clear fields after harvest, aerating the fields as they rummaged. They helped reduce garbage and provided manure for fertilizing cropland. In some forested areas pigs were allowed to forage as a way of reducing groundcover and managing woodlands.
The goddess Demeter is the best known of the sow-grain goddesses. She is often depicted carrying a torch, used for traversing the dark underworld, symbolizing her association with death as well as motherhood and sustenance. The main ceremonies once associated with Demeter were Thesmophoria, a women-only retreat where piglets were sacrificed, and the Eleusinian mysteries, the reenactment of Demeter’s loss and reunion with her daughter Persephone.
In myth the Semitic vegetal gods Adonis and Tammuz are gored by a boar, again emphasizing the death aspect of the boar. The sky goddess Nut is sometimes represented as a sow, which was probably her earlier form. The ithyphallic vegetal god Min, whose cult was overtaken by Osiris, is the son of a white sow. In some legends the Egyptian god Osiris is gored by Seth in the form of a boar. The Sow Goddess was important in pre-dynastic Egypt, but her worship steadily declined as the pig established a reputation as an “unclean” animal. This also occurred in Babylonia, and it was rooted in the pig’s need to regulate body temperature, which must have been especially great in these hot dry climates. A pig greatly prefers to cool off in clean mud, but will wallow in sewage if there are no other options. In the highly populated areas in Mesopotamia and along the Nile cleanliness was a persistent concern, while opportunities for ideal pig wallows were probably becoming scarcer. Neither culture forbid pork consumption, but the meat did grow out of favor for those who could afford cattle. Egyptians continued to carry pig charms and use pig ingredients in spells and healing remedies. Sow pictures or figures are occasionally found in tombs from all eras.
To be continued. Read part 1.
Hearth Moon Rising is a Dianic Priestess living in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York and the author of Invoking Animal Magic: A guide for the Pagan priestess. www.invokinganimalmagic.com. She blogs at www.hearthmoonblog.com.
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