The Bull is a symbol of power, strength, resurrection, masculinity, fertility, impulsiveness, fathers, kingship, and the Zodiac sign and constellation Taurus. The widespread presence of the Bull in many different and widespread cultural mythologies and early religions can be explained by the fact that cattle were among the first animals domesticated by man, in fact probably not longer after the Asian wolf became the household dog. Cattle were the first wealth in a shift from a hunter-gather society to an agrarian culture. This was a profound change in the organization of human social and political units and domesticated Cattle were a crucial source of reliable and dependable supplies of meat, milk, blood and all else that the carcass could provide.
The Bull straddles two opposites in the world of mythology and symbolism, in that it is both a solar and a lunar creature. The Bull’s male fertility, fiery temperament, and role as father of the herd make him the masculine sun-god in many cults. Just as the lion is the king and terror of the beasts of the forest, the bull is the king of the farm and the personification of brute strength and power. The lion, the bull, and the sun are popular symbols of life and resurrection. The bull’s crescent shaped horns link him to moon worship and symbolism although in some areas the sun is a bull while the moon is a cow.
Its association with the sun makes the Bull a symbol of the heavens, resurrection, and fire, while its association with the moon makes the Bull a symbol of earth, water, night, and death. This animal’s masculinity is not diminished by its feminine lunar connections.
Bulls were sacrificial victims in many nations. Since their blood was believed to fertilize the earth, the sacrifice of a bull was sometimes associated with the death of winter and the return of spring. Bull sacrifices and bull fights are an expression of man’s dominance over the Bull but also a recognition of the power and status that the Bull holds within the world of man. We recognize the Bull as the wild animal that must be tamed and subjugated in order to serve man.
In Ireland a heroic warrior might be called a “bull in battle” as a compliment upon his valor and ferocity. Bulls were also emblems of tyranny, death, ferocity, stubbornness, lust, brutality, and the Devil. In symbolism the lusty bull is the antithesis of the gentle, hardworking ox.
Bull cults abounded in the ancient world and survive today in such festivities as bullfights and bull-runs. As in Ancient Crete, where dancers leapt over the horns of bulls, these activities are thought to praise the superiority of humans over animals and pit the intellectual or spiritual faculties against brute force and instinct. Oddly enough, the bull being led to the arena is sometimes used to symbolize Christ being led to the cross. There is even a certain movement of the bullfighter’s cape called the “Veronica Pass” which is named for the woman who wiped the blood and sweat from Christ’s face as He carried His cross to Golgotha.
Black bulls were associated with death in many cultures. In Egypt, Osiris’ body was sometimes borne on the back of a black bull. In Indonesia and India it was customary to cremate the bodies of princes in coffins shaped like bulls.
The roar of the bull, his windy breath, the sound of his hooves, and his wild nature were likened to thunder, wind, the crash of the ocean, and mighty tempests. Because of these associations, bulls were sacrificed to sea gods such as Poseidon. Along with the thunderbolt, bulls are symbols of thunder, sky, and storm gods such as Adad, Thor, and Ishkur. These gods may also be pictured riding bulls. In Asia and Siberia there are stories of a bull which lives at the bottom of a lake and warns of approaching storms with its thunderous bellowing. The bull as a thunder or storm god is a symbol of fertility, creation, and the violence of nature which cannot be tamed.
In Hinduism, as in many other religions, the bull symbolizes strength and fertility, especially that fertility which is sparked or strengthened by fire, heat, the sun, and lightning. Its symbolism is strongly linked with that of the sacred cows of India. The cow represents the fruitful earth while the bull symbolizes the fertile sky. According to the Rig-Veda, the heavenly bull Rudra fertilized the earth with his sperm. Agni, the god of fire, was called “the mighty bull.” Indra is another Hindu fertility god associated with heat and the bull. The bull-god Vrishabha was originally responsible for the spinning of the cosmic wheel. Nandi is a pure white bull which is ridden by Shiva, the Destroyer. In this case it symbolizes sexual energy which Shiva transforms into spiritual energy. Shiva’s white bull also represents strength, justice, and the cosmic order.
In some cultures it is thought that a celestial bull carries the world upon its horns. Unfortunately, this creature occasionally gets rather rowdy and tosses the globe about, catching it upon its horns. This, of course, causes violent earthquakes. In Islamic, Buddhist, and Turkish tradition bulls may carry the world upon their backs as well as upon their horns. According to Buddhist mythology the history of the earth will consist of four distinct ages. As each age passes the bull which supports the earth lifts up one of his legs. When all four ages have passed, the bull will raise his last leg and the earth will fall and be destroyed. In other parts of the world bulls are symbols of the powerful inhabitants of the netherworld.
In Greco-Roman mythology, the bull was sacred to Aphrodite/Venus, Dionysus/Bacchus, Poseidon/Neptune, and Zeus/Jupiter or Jove. In order to obtain the Golden Fleece, Jason had to yoke a pair of savage fire-breathing bulls which had been created in Hephaistos’ forge and then plow a huge field with them. Zeus once masqueraded as a white bull in order to seduce Europa.
The most famous bull story in Greek mythology was that of the Cretan bull and the Minotaur. According to this myth, King Minos, in order to prove that he had been divinely appointed to the Cretan throne, bragged that the gods would grant any request he made of them. He, therefore, prayed for a bull to sacrifice to Poseidon. Immediately, a beautiful white bull came forth from the sea. However, Minos decided to keep this magnificent creature and sacrificed an ordinary bull from his herds instead. Enraged by this act of ingratitude, Poseidon caused the Cretan bull to go on a rampage throughout Crete causing a great deal of destruction.
Two stories are offered to explain Pasiphae’s (Minos’ wife’s) subsequent infatuation with the Cretan bull. One says that this attraction was a continuation of Poseidon’s vengeance. The other claims that Queen Pasiphae had neglected the worship of Aphrodite for a number of years. Therefore, the slighted love goddess aroused in her an unnatural desire for the beast. The queen ordered Daedalus to construct a wooden cow so that she might enter it and have sexual relations with the bull. The end result was that the queen became pregnant by the bull and delivered a man-eating monster known as the Minotaur which had the body of a man and the head of a bull.
Unwilling to kill the queen’s offspring, King Minos had Daedalus build the famous Labyrinth or maze underneath his castle to contain the beast. He then periodically demanded a tribute from Athens of seven youths and seven maidens (the number varies) to be sent into the Labyrinth as food for this monster. Eventually, a brave and handsome lad, Theseus, volunteered to accompany the victims being sent to the Labyrinth in the hopes of killing the Minotaur and ending the tribute. When Theseus arrived in Crete, Princess Ariadne fell in love with him and, with the help of Daedalus, came up with a plan to rescue him from the beast. Using a ball of string to leave a trail into the Labyrinth, Theseus found and killed the creature. Then, following the string, he left the maze, unchained the young Athenians, fought his way to the boats, and sailed home.
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