The fertility god, Frey and his golden solarboar, Gullinborsti. His sexy sister, Freya has a thing for boars too, and is somethimes shown riding one.
The word pig has many associations; ferocity, violence, sloth, gluttony, evil, dirt, vulgarity. Pigs are prized as food in some cultures, and abhorred as unclean in others. To be a pig farmer in modern America is to be a target of ridicule, while in many ancient societies the swineherd's profession was a sacred one. Porky Pig and the Parctical Pig of Disney's The Three Little Pigs are only the best known of numerous cartoon and comic strip pigs who are viewed with affection by children, and yet no creature could be more frightening than the pig that is a spectral playmate of the little girl in The Amityville Horror. In short, out attitudes toward the pig are ambiguous.
The pig is native to much of the world, and where it is not, it has been introduced. The Indo-European word is su, a word that in one form or another survives in most European languages, in the English sow and swine, and almost undoubtedly in the traditional pig-call, sooo-eee. It is strange to think that this call, with almost the same tone and inflection which we imagine as so thoroughly American may have been in use before the language we speak was, before even the language out of which ours was formed, when Latin was not a dead language, but a language yet unborn.
At one time the pig was sacred, and perhaps still is in isolated parts of the Pacific. In Europe, however, it was largely supplanted as a sacred animal in prehistoric times, and so an explanation of its significance must contain some conjecture.
Joseph Campbell argues that there has been an evolution in sacred entities--moon, serpent, pig, bull, and finally horse. (Occidental Mythology. Viking, 1964. 154; Primative Mythology. Viking, 1959. 197) Campbell is overly fond of asserting patterns, and this one may be overstated, but this one receives support from the fact that in much of Oceana, where the latter two animals do not exist, the pig retains its ancient importance.
That the identity of the sacred being changes is not merely an indication of the fickleness of human taste, for there is a corresponding change in the nature of the dominant theme of religion. "The boar is the beast of death," Robert Graves says (White Goddess. The Noonday Press, 1969. 210), and much of the sacred and symbolic import of boars and pigs in general is in fact connected with death. Death is, of course, a central concern of most religions, but in those which emphasize the danger to the soul of devouring demons, and in those in which human sacrifice is an important element, contemplation of death takes on a special vividness and immediacy. The pig is, among other things, a devourer; it is a menace to crops and to people, it is voracious and it is omnivorous. Even the strong-stomached goat will not eat meat, its young, or manure. Stories of domestic pigs killing and eating children, women in childbirth, even grown men are abundant, and some are undoubtedly true. Thus for dangerousness the pig has no rival among domestic animals, except the bull, but he at least will not eat you.
According to Sir James Frazer those who attended a Halloween bonfire would, as soon as it went completely out, run off shouting, "The cropped sow seize the hindermost," and in his own time allusions to the "cutty black sow" were made to frighten children (Frazer. The Golden Bough. Macmillan, 1951. 738). Less elegantly, in rural America, especially at night, it is a common reply to the question of where so-and-so went, "He went out to shit and the hogs ate him," an expression doubly interesting not only because it connects pigs with death by devouring, but also because excrement itself is so often associated with the dark and demonic side of existence.
Polynesian masks of the devouring demon are almost inevitably armed with boar's tusks, an odd fact considering that the demon is female. Ancient representations of Medusa, however, often show her with boar's tusks as well as with serpent locks. In the East, too, statues, pictures, and masks of demons have tusks. Thus the pig-devourer is also a creature of the underworld. What the earth produces it takes back into itself, and the sow, the most prolific of barnyard mammals, is also omnivorous and voracious to the point of eating her own young.
As both producer and devourer, the pig effectively represents the primative view of divinity as an earth goddess beyond good and evil. However, by the dawn of history the sky fathers, Zeus, Yaweh, Indra and their counterparts have taken over and the evolution toward moral religion has begun. The creatures of the underworld, already viewed with fear, become increasingly sinister and abhorrent. Even in Polynesia, where so much that was primitive remained until modern times, the masculine assertied itself sufficiently to find rites for eluding the devouring demons. The fact that pig's blood was in ancient times a powerful purifying agent suggests on the one hand the sacredness of the pig, and on the other its affinity with the demonic. Thus when Jesus casts the demons out of the man he sends them into a herd of swine, and action appropriate both because pigs are sacred animals, and thus able to absorb and carry off evil, and because as underworld creatures themselves, they have an affinity with the demonic that makes them receptive to it.
In the Welsh Mabinogion (Jones. Dutton, 1974. 56), the introduction of pigs to the British Isles is discussed:
"I have heard tell that there have come to the South such creatures as never
came to this island." "What is their name?" said he. "Hobeu, lord." "What
kind of animals are those?" "Small animals, their flesh better than the flesh of
oxen" . . . "To whom do they belong?" "To Pryderi son of Pwyll, to whom they
were sent from Annwyn by Arawn king of Annwyn."
What the writer does not make clear-perhaps he does not realize it--is that Annwyn is the Celtic underworld, the land of the dead, and Arawn its king.
To the modern mind the uncleanness of the pig is obviously connected to the pig's affinity for dirt: one the one hand, a demonic trait; on the other, at least to our minds, an unhygenic one. To the ancients the concept was more ambiguous. The primary meaning of uncleanness was holiness. Therefore, to come in contact with an unclean creature, that is, a creature highly charged with spiritual power, was somewhat equivalent to touching a radioactive object--such an object as the Ark of the Covenanant, for instance.
The attitude of the Jews toward pigs, however, was not strikingly different than that of other peoples in the ancient Near East. The Syrians neither sacrificed nor ate pigs, and if a man touched a pig he was unclean for the rest of the day (Frazer. 546). Among the Egyptians, also, touching a pig was unclean, and swineherds were a class almost of untouchables, forbidden even to enter a temple (Frazer. 548). Once a year, however, pigs were sacrificed to Osiris and to the moon, and at that time their flesh was eaten. Thus, the eating of pork, at the proper time, was a sacremental act. There is in myth a tendency for things to mean, or to be, also their opposite; the pig's very holiness makes it unclean. Another example of the pig's holiness is the fact that Jews were forbidden to kill pigs as well as to eat them. With the Hebrews, however, as their religion grew more anthromorphic and more transcendant, the holiness of the pig lost its roots, while the sense of uncleanness remained, a sense reinforced by the affinity of the pig for mud. It remained for Christianity and Peter's dream (Acts 10. 9-16) for the next logical step, the demotion of the pig from unclean animal to simply one of God's creatures placed here for the benefit of mankind. Whether this is also wall the pig means to us in the depths of the unconscious is another question. text.
Considering the pig's highly charged and largely negative associations, it may seem strange that the pig is not only a popular cartoon character, but that he so often appears as a naive, even a bashful character. A solution to this seeming paradox is suggested by A.A. Milne's character, Piglet, from the Pooh books--most cartoon pigs are actually piglets, or rather a creature that falls halfway between a piglet and a human infant, soft, rotund, pink, and hairless. The pig is, in fact, rather human in its omnivorousness, its propensity for violence, and in the sparceness of its hair. A pig hung up to be butched does look disconcertingly human, especially from a distance. Perhaps for this reason the cannibals of the Pacific call human flesh long pig.
Pigs, however, have been more than mere humans; they have been gods as well. According to Frazer (Frazer. 554), "it may almost be laid down as a rule that an animal which is said to have injured a god was originally the god himself." Attis, Adonis, and Osirus all had been boars if this is true. In addition, Caridwen, a Celtic grain goddess, was also a sow; and apparently at one time the Greek grain goddess Demeter and her daughter Persephone were also pigs. Persephone was also called The Maid, and so there were at one time swine maidens as well as swan maidens.
The mystery cult of Demeter and her daughter is very old, perhaps as old as 14,000 B.C. (George Mylonas. Eleusis and the Eleusinian Mysteries. Princeton, 1961. 14.) Therefore, any conception of the goddesses as pigs may well have been forgotten or suppressed as indecorous by historical times. According to the story as we now have it, Persephone one day, while gathering flowers with the daughters of Ocean was abducted by Pluto, god of the undereworld. Her mother goes searching for her. Learning after nine days from Helios, the sun, that her daughter has been carried off, Demeter protests to Zeus and the other gods. Getting no satisfaction, she withdraws to Eleusis, allowing the world to fall into sterility until the gods force Zeus to restore her daughter. Persephone, however, had eaten one or several pomegranate seeds in the underworld, and so ever afterwards has to spend one third of every year with the god of the underworld, the time which becomes known as winter. At Eleusis, where Demeter had remained disguised until her daughter's release, she established her cult, and to Triptolemus of Eleusis she taught the knowledge of grain growing, then sent him out to teach the world. The name Demeter itself, de-meter means barley-mother.
There are a number of other details to the story, one being that Persephone's tracks had been obliterated by a herd of pigs which had fallen with her into the chasm which had opened for her and Pluto. Frazer and most anthropologists since believes that this detail was invented to explain the fact that during the Eleusian rites the bodies of pigs were thrown into a chasm, and that the pigs, in fact, originally represented Persephone herself. This view is supported by the fact that Demeter's Celtic equivalent, Caridwen, was definitely a pig. This is perhaps the same Celtic goddess who commonly went mounted on a boar (like the Norse Freya), and who the Romans identified with Diana. She, or a counterpart, also appears in an Irish story as the sow-headed, but otherwise beautiful (Hey, you can't have everything.) daughter of the Land of Youth (Primative Mythology. 432-434.).
If other evidence did not indicate the antiquity of the story, details of the story would: first, for no immediately apparent reason, the only person other than Demeter who hears the girl's screams is Hecate, the moon goddess. The pig, as a very ancient symbol is appropriately linked to that probably even more ancient symbol of fertility, the moon. Another very ancient fertility symbol and symbol of rebirth, the serpent, is also important in the story. Demeter's chariot was pulled by serpents; Pluto himself was probably a serpent; the titan Ocean was a great serpent, and so his daughters must have been at least somewhat serpentine; and finally, in the rites of Eleusis, the bodies of pigs are thrown into a chasm that was supposedly occupied by serpents which were said to consume much of the dead flesh. The remainder of the rotten flesh was later drawn up to be planted with the new grain. Probably the serpents represented Pluto, just as the pigs represented Persephone. Moon and pigs are elsewhere identified. In the Chinese folk novel, Monkey, for instance, Pigsy, originally a divine being, was placed on earth in a half-human, half-pig form as punishment for a drunken indiscretion with the moon goddess' daughter (trans. Arthur Whaley. Grove Press, 1958. 81.). Before his conversion to Buddhism, Pigsy was also a demon, a cannibal, and a glutton. His weapon, a manure fork, indicates his affinity with excrement.
The Egyptian god, Osirus, a god of fertility, grain, and agriculture in general, also had a connection with both Persephone and the pig. He is tricked into a coffin by his brother, Set, and sent floating down the Nile to the sea. His sister, Isis, also a divinity of agriculture, searches the world for him until she recovers the coffin at Byblos and hides it among the reeds. Set, one night while hunting a boar by the light of the moon, discovers the coffin and tears the body into fourteen pieces. (In one version of the story Set, in fact, transforms himself into a black pig.) The pieces are later recovered by Isis with the help of, among others, Thoth the moon god, and Anubis, the underworld Jackal. Osirus is restored to life and becomes a god of the underworld, to whom pigs were sacrificed during a great yearly harvest festival.
Whatever animal is said to have injured a god was originally the god, himself. Whatever animal was sacrificed to a god originally was the god. Animals that are unclean, that is, not eaten, are the god, or at least represent an aspect of him. Thus an identification of Osirus with the pig is supported not only by the sacrifice of pigs, but also by the story of the dismemberment, since Set may well have originally been a boar rather than a boar hunter. Or perhaps Osirus is the boar that he is hunting. The savage and violent tearing apart of the body is an act typical both of real boars and of the boars of mythology. Three other elements of pig myths also appear in this story: grain, the moon, and the underworld. Persephone too became an underworld divinity through her marriage to Pluto, and though in the Eleusian story she wishes only to return to her mother, in other contexts she appears as a grim and frightening queen of the dead.
Osirus is not the only grain god to have had a bad time with pigs. Attis and Adonis, Near Eastern fertility gods, were both killed by boars. Attis was mourned by his mother-lover, the earth goddess, Cybele, and the earth fell into decay until his resurrection--a close parallel to the story of Demeter and Persephone. Applying Frazer's axiom, we can assume that these divinities too were once pigs. It is difficult to imagine Adonis, who in western literature is a byword for masculine beauty, as a pig. However, Tristan, the most famous lover of Medieval literature, was also symbolized by the boar. He wore the picture of a boar on his shield, and in a symbolic dream King Mark's seneschal saw Tristan as a boar invading the king's chamber and tearing up his bed.
It is from the islands of the Pacific, however, that we have the best documented accounts of the spiritual significance of the pig. The relationship between pig and female devouring demon who sits at the entrance to the other world to devour unprepared souls has already been mentioned. To escape the demon, the first requirement was to reconstruct a partially erased labyrinthine design in the sand (Joseph Henderson and Maud Oakes. The Wisdom of the Serpent. Collier, 1971. 48-51.). The second was to substitute for oneself a sacrificial pig, a specially raised and consecrated boar with long, curling tusks. The upper canine teeth of the boar were removed, allowing the lower teeth to grow unimpeded until in seven years they form a complete circle. Sometimes a second, or even a third ring is formed. According to Joseph Campbell (Primitive Mythology. 446), the gleaming white tusks represent the moon, and their significance is not that they form a spiral, but that they are crescent shaped. The moon, which wanes, dies, and is reborn is a symbol of rebirth. However, the spiral, a circle which continuously returns upon itself, yet does not end, is also a common image of immortality. Since boar's tusks are by nature crescent-shaped, it would seem to be quite unnecessary to go to such effort to produce a spiral if the shape were not significant. Campbell is pushing his theory a little too hard.
Pig raising in much of the Pacific was traditionally more improtant ritually than economically, since the boars were raised largely for ritual purposes, and only eaten on ritual occasions, while the flesh of sows was taboo.
Another remarkable Polynesian pig is Kamapua, or Hog Child, husband and later foe of Pele the volcano goddess. Typically, he is a fertility god who likewise, through his marriage to Pele, has affinities with the underworld (Roslyn Poignant. Oceanic Mythology. Paul Hamlyn Limited, 1967. 47).
In describing a New Guinean demon mask, Joseph Campbell offers this:
The shining tusks themselves represent, according to Layard, the waxing and
waning moon, and the black body of the boar between corresponds to the "new"
or "black" invisible moon at the time of her apparent death. "Consequently,"
as Layard observes, "it is not surprising to find the tusked boar throughout all
Malekula to be not only the food of the ancestral ghosts, but also intimately
associated with the Devouring Mother in all her aspects." (The Mythic Image.
Princeton, 1974. 459-460.)
The feminine and lunar nature of the pig has already been emphasised, but there is a certain incongruity when that very masculine creature, the boar, is pressed into a female role. Probably, however, in Oceana as well as in other areas we are seeing religion in transition from a stronger female orientation to a stronger male one. In Persephone and Ceridwen we have sow goddesses. With Osirus, Attis, Adonis, and Tammuz we have male divinities killed by boars, but in every case the male divinity is in close relationship with a female, and except perhaps in the case of Osirus, subordinate to her.
There is, however, at least one example of a pig whose divine role is both masculine and solar: the Norse fertility god Frey rides a chariot through the sky drawn by a great red-gold boar. Even in this case however, the issue is complicated by the fact that his sister, Freya also frequently rides a boar.
The pig is mainly a night, lunar, underworld creature, but solar pigs do exist. Aside from Frey's gold bristled boar, there is the Calydonian boar, which Ovid in Metamorphosis describes thus: "His eyes darted fire and his jaws lightening, and his breath burned up vines and grass." In short, a boar that behaves like the mid-summer sun. Although the solar nature of this boar may seem only conjectural, it does show the transition from a more earth oriented religion to a more masculine sky-father one.
According to Ovid the fates at the birth of Meleager promised him immortality as long as a certain brand burning on the hearth remained unconsumed. His mother, therefore, hid the brand in a chest. Meleager grew up to be a mighty hunter. However, Artemis the moon goddess, to whom pigs are sacred, still bore an old grudge against Meleager's father, and so she set loose a great boar upon the countryside. All the great heroes of Greece and one Amazon, Atalanta, organized a great boar hunt. Atalanta succeeded in wounding the boar, but it was Meleager who killed it. He presented the hide to Atalanta, thus offending his maternal uncles. A fight ensued in which the uncles were killed. Meleager's mother, enraged, took out the brand and threw it on the fire, causing her son's death.
The fates, the moon goddess, the death pig, the prominance in the story of the mother and maternal uncles--almost to the exclusion of the father--all suggest an earlier matrilineal age with a feminine moon-earth-fertility religion. In Meleager we see the masculine independence and individualism of the heroic age asserting itself, and though he is destroyed by the old order, he represents the future.
The grandest of all boars, however, is from India; Vishnu as cosmic boar rescues the goddess earth from the depths of the cosmic sea. Since Vishnu is the second member of the Hindu trinity, and in some of the Vedas is the supreme god, this is a glorious pig indeed.
The three colors sacred to the moon goddess--white, black and red are also the common colors of pigs. The white pig, a sow of course, primarily represents fertility. The Celtic Caridwen, in fact, means white sow. The city founded by Aeneas, Alba Longa, the forerunner of Rome, was also named for a white sow, for the river god Tiber told Aeneas to build where he found a white sow lying with thirty newborn piglets at her udder. The black pig, on the other hand, is the underworld death pig. The red boar?--probably a solar beast.
In modern literature the most notable pig farmer is Ernest Henderson, the aristocratic pig raiser of Saul Bellows' Henderson the Rain King. Hendersons pigs, however, are only an image of the crass, brutish, and destructive nature which Henderson must outgrow. Bellows does not have a real feel for pigs.
A pig farmer on an even more massive scale is Odysseus. Why pigs are emphasised so heavily in the Odyssey, Homer does not make clear. However, the are probably the shadow of Odysseus' Olympian rationality--the power of night, of darkness, of the underworld, of the feminine and unconscious. The number of important female characters in the story is striking--Athena, Calypso, Circe, Helen, Nausicaa, the old nurse, Penelope. In the 1990's a TV miniseries was made of the Odyssey which even added to the female element by playing up the role of Odyssius' mother. Maybe this was a bow to the tastes of the time, or maybe the writer was atune to something actually going on in Homer's work. Pigs too are prominant; Odysseus is a large scale pig farmer; when he arrives in Ithaca he stays incognito with the swineherd; his reward for defeating the beggar in a fist fight is a blood sausage, a wurst made with pig's blood; he is first recognized by the old nurse because of a scar made on his thigh by a wild boar; one of his greatest dangers is Circe, the witch who turns men into swine, and who sends Odysseus on his journey to the underworld where, among other sights, he is shown a procession of the great women of antiquity. (Actually Circe turns men into a variety of animals, but it is the turning into swine part that seems always to be remembered.) Like the story of Meleager, the Odyssey is perhaps a reflection of social and religious change from a downward-looking, underworld and fertility religion to an upward looking Olympian religion.
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The last word on the pig, however, I will give to Shakespeare: