The Ox and the Bull are two well-known tattoo symbols, and it’s essential to comprehend the similarities and the variations among the two. Both the ox and the bull are male bovine mammals, or cattle. The ox is an adult castrated bull and is utilized primarily as a draft animal. A bull is an uncastrated adult male that is used to breed with a herd of cows to produce more cows.
Cows were amongst the very first animals to be domesticated by modern man and they loom large in our cultural mythologies and spiritual histories. A castrated bull, or ox, is a powerful symbol of man’s attempt to control nature and to harness the raw power of nature to his own ends, to plow his fields and pull his carts. The ox represents civilization. The uncastrated bull represents the wild in its unmanageable natural state.
From very first times, the ox has been a symbol of benevolence and service. Trained at a young age for a life of servitude, the ox has featured in myth, legend, and in religious texts and anecdotes from the Bible to Zen Buddhism.
This universally benevolent symbol is the second sign of the Chinese Zodiac. Calm, modest, patient and tireless, the ox is a popular sign for many Chinese. Among its other attributes are dependability, intelligence, and its systematic and logical approach to life. Those born under this sign may be charismatic and born leaders who are good with their hands but should guard against chauvinistic tendencies. Although perceived as a symbol of tranquility, the ox can also represent impulsiveness. Japanese Zen and Taoist teachings speak of the ox being the symbol of human nature, and our struggle to ‘tame’ this nature in the long and arduous journey towards spiritual enlightenment.
As a totem, the ox symbolizes endurance, determination and service. As animal spirit guide it imparts wisdom, tranquility, common sense, and the need to keep one’s feet planted firmly on the ground.
In many ancient cultures, the ox has been associated with sacrificial ritual. Greek legend finds the white ox a fitting sacrifice to Zeus, and the black ox to Hades. The Gospel of Saint Luke begins with a description of an ox sacrifice, and by reference it became a symbol of Saint Luke and of the priesthood. In Celtic tradition, the ox was deemed a worthy sacrificial animal for its value in pulling the plough, which brought wealth to its owner. It also became a symbol of agricultural fertility. In Celtic myth, the ox pulled the cart that transported the saints to their place of burial. Later, the ox was adopted as a symbol of the sacrificial Christ, and of the virtues of humility and fortitude.
It was the ox, which, in sacred Persian mythology, indicated the boundary of one kingdom and another by marking the ground with its hoof. It was also in ancient Iran where the ritual sacrifice of the ox was condemned by Zarathustra, who is said to have named the ox as symbol of the peasant, and of the settled pastoral life.
In Asia and Africa, where ownership of cattle has long been the measure of a person’s wealth, the ox is commonly featured in folklore. Bantu legend tells of the Guardian Ox that cannot be killed without its own consent. A universal African story features a heroic boy who saves the people from a monster, and whose death is subsequently plotted by the tribe who are suspicious of his power. He’s warned by the ox, and saved.
In Chinese myth, an emperor has 3,000 concubines, and visits these ladies in a carriage pulled by an ox. One concubine, eager for the emperor’s attention, and knowing how much cattle love of salt, places a dish of salt outside her door. The ox could be depended upon to stop at her door, regardless of the emperor’s directions.