The Chinese Zodiac makes no distinction between the pig and the boar – the former having been domesticated from the wild boar some ten thousand years ago. In the West, the term boar is usually used to refer to the wild pigs of the forest. Technically, ‘Boar’ denotes an adult, uncastrated male of certain species, including the domestic pig. The wild variety is swift, nocturnal, omnivorous, and sports a razor sharp set of sharp tusks. Wild boars can weigh 440 lb (200 kg), and reach 6 feet (1.8 m) in length.
As a symbol, the pig takes on distinctively different meanings in its natural wild state and as a domesticated farm animal. This duality of meaning, as both wild and ‘tame’, is often used to reflect on man’s nature.
In ancient Greece, the wild boar’s ferocity, strength and destructiveness ensured its place in their mythology as a worthy opponent of hunters and heroes. Artemis, the goddess of the hunt – Diana in Roman myth – was linked with the boar and the animal symbolized her aptitude for violent retribution. Legend says the boar had breath that could set fire to leaves. Muscular, bristly, and fierce, the boar’s image found its way onto Greek coins, gems, vases, and reliefs.
In many regions of the world, including Britain, France, Germany and many areas in eastern Europe, hunting the wild boar was long a favourite sport among the aristocracy and nobility, as it honed skills useful in battle for the hunters and the boar could be counted on to fight to the death to defend its territory and when cornered. So respected was the boar for its fierceness, valor and courage, that during the Middle Ages, a boar or boar’s head was a common and indeed favored symbol or charge in Heraldry, displayed on Coats of Arms, shields and banners.
The boar in heraldry suggests its positive qualities of courage and ferocity in battle. The boar’s head may represent hospitality, as a whole roasted boar or a boar’s head with an apple in its mouth is synonymous with a feast and was widely considered a delicacy at the dining table. The boar as a heraldic charge, or emblem may symbolize that the bearer of the arms is a noted hunter.
Because of its strength and speed, the wild boar in Europe became one of the four heraldic beasts of the chase. It was chosen by Richard III of England, as his distinguishing mark. The Scottish Clan Campbell uses the boar on its badge to symbolize courage and fierceness, and likewise, the Clan Urquhart uses three boars heads on its coat of arms. Sometime in the 17th century, the wild boar became extinct in Great Britain.
In Japan, the white boar was considered off-limits to hunters — otherwise, the boar was a moon symbol in Japan. In China, the pig/boar was a sign of both fertility and virility, with the sow and her litter making an obvious statement about the perfect little, or large for that matter, family. At the same time, the boar symbolized battle and war.
In the Ardennes forests in southern Belgium, the wild boar was chosen as the region’s symbolic animal, and was adopted as the mascot of one of the Belgian Army’s premier infantry regiments.
In Norse Mythology, where the gods Freyr and Freyja both had boars, the animal was associated with fertility, and also served as a protective talisman in war. Freya rode a boar when she was not using her cat-drawn chariot. The bristles of the mane were said to glow in the dark to illuminate the way for his owner.
In long-ago Persia, the adjective ‘Boraz’ (or ‘Goraz’) might have been affixed to a soldier’s name to testify to his boar-like bravery and courage.
In many cultures, the tusks, or long canine teeth of the boar are worn as symbols of status and rank. The tusk has achieved perhaps its ultimate status in the small nation of Vanuatu in the South Pacific, where a curved tusk is prominently featured on the national flag. The boar’s tusk is a traditional Vanuatu symbol of prosperity and is worn as a pendant by islanders.
And aside from its deliciousness when roasted, the carbon that could be collected from burning boar or pig fat was often the preferred source of pigment for tattoo inks in many indigenous cultures that practiced traditional tribal tattooing.
Get inspired by some really great images and tattoos in our Boar/Pig Tattoo Gallery