The third installment of my ongoing saga The Old Sow is now up at Return to Mago blog. Please note that you do not need to read these articles in any order. This series talks about the Sow Goddess, her importance in Neolithic pre-patriarchal cultures in Europe and the Middle East, and her subsequent vilification as patriarchy solidified. There was some discussion after my last article about my assertion that the pig was domesticated about 10,000 years ago. I did not realize that my readers would consider this bit of information interesting, yet alone controversial, or I would have included some sources. Greger Larson, et al, in a 2005 article in Science Magazine place pig domestication at 9,000 years ago while Jean-Denis Vigne, et al, in a paper from the 2009 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences say pig domestication could have occurred as early as 13,000 years ago. The Cambridge World History of Food (2000) gives a date of 10,000 years before present. Part of the discrepancy in dates involves the definition of “domestication.” If we define a domesticated animal as one that is commonly raised in captivity for food or work, then earlier dates apply. If an animal that is born in captivity and lives out its life in captivity is considered domestic, then the date of domestication becomes somewhat later. These scenarios reflect the idea of domestication that is most prevalent among journalists and the general public. Archaeologists for the most part have begun defining a “domestic animal” as one that has been selectively bred over a period of time to develop physical features that distinguish it from its wild cousin. This should make it easier to agree on a date, but there have been complications. “Domestic” pigs have often been allowed to forage in the wild, resulting in continuing hybridization between the pig and the wild boar, which was once a common animal with a widespread range. Needless to say, because there are challenges dating the emergence of the domestic pig, there have been disagreements about where the pig was first domesticated (probably in Asia Minor), whether domestication arose independently in different places (considered unlikely, except in Asia Minor and China), and whether pigs were domesticated before or after certain other livestock.I think that it is less important to put a date and an order on domestication of animals than it is to understand 1) that domestication of animals was integral to the development of the type of agriculture needed to support large settled populations and 2) once people got the idea of raising large animals in captivity, they began trying to domesticate many animals that could be a potential food source (usually without success). Since all of this happened so long ago, and since the domestication of animals for food happened quickly, ascertaining the geographic spot and the relative dates is difficult, and even with improved methods of dating, these dates may always be tenuous.SourcesKipple, Kenneth and Ornelas, Kriemhild Conee. The Cambridge World History of Food. Cambridge, UK: The Cambridge University Press, 2000. http://www.cambridge.org/us/books/kiple/hogs.https://community.dur.ac.uk/Larson, Greger, et al. “Worldwide Phylogeography of Wild Board Reveals Multiple Centers of Pig Domestication.” Science Magazine, March 2005. greger.larson/DEADlab/Publications_files/2005%20Larson%20et%20al%20Science.pdfVigne, Jean-Denis, et al. “Pre-Neolithic Wild Boar Introduction and Management in Cyprus More Than 11,400 Years Ago.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, Aug. 2009. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2752532/
My Sow Goddess essay part 2 is now posted at Return to Mago. These essays are intended to stand on their own, but if you want to read the first Sow Goddess article it’s here.This second piece talks about Mediterranean porcine deities, including those in Egypt. The dietary prejudice against the pig that developed throughout the Middle East is touched upon here and will be explored again in a later article.
The Return to Mago blog is running a series of articles I have written about the Sow Goddess, entitled The Old Sow. There will be four articles, which I believe each stand on their own.The research for this series was more arduous than any I have undertaken in a long time. In my experience when research becomes time consuming it is either because there is a huge amount of information about the subject–or very little. In this case, it was both. The archeological record for worship of the sow goddess is quite large, and the information available in myth and folklore is substantial as well. However, this information is also very scattered considering the amount of it, and I had to pull data together from many sources. Robert Graves in the 1949 book The White Goddess emphasized the importance of the sow in pre-patriarchal religion. This book has always been controversial, but Graves is correct on this point. It’s quite amazing that no one has taken on an extensive study of the topic. Though my series of four short articles is hardly exhaustive, I urge everyone to follow these articles and become more familiar with the Sow Goddess. I will be posting updated links to the articles as they are published.
So what does boar, fir and falcon say about Frejya?Let’s look first at the falcon. Freya’s falcon is probably the Gyrfalcon (JER-falcon), the largest falcon, who likes the northern climates. If she migrates at all, she is driven by scarcity of food, and she will sometimes winter at sea over ice. The Gyrfalcon is the preferred falcon for hunting. She mostly hunts birds, including other raptors, although she will also take small mammals. Other predatory birds leave her alone, as she is fierce. She has a varied hunting strategy and is considered very intelligent. The goddess Frejya has a cloak of falcon feathers reaching to the ground. With her characteristic generosity she loans this cloak to the other gods when they need it to move quickly. Falcons in general are associated with the sun or with death. Other important falcon deities include Circe, the witch who trapped Odysseus and changed his sailors into pigs, and Horus, the Egyptian sun god who avenged the death of his father Osiris and performed an important funerary rite for him.The boar is the wild predecessor of the domestic pig. While only the male domestic pig is called a boar, in the wild there are boar sows and boar piglets. Boars like most wild animals prefer to avoid people, but both males and sows will charge anything that threatens them. With their huge size and thick skulls they are formidable, even more so if they are adult males with curving tasks. Boars chase away other predators to eat carrion. They are mostly scavengers, digging up roots and grubs in addition to scavenging dead carcasses. Sows prefer to raise young together, and males remain with their mothers until they are full grown. Boars are prolific breeders, something that was never a problem until they became protected in certain areas. The boar has always been preferred quarry for hunters – originally because he provided a great deal of tasty meat, only later because the danger involved provided excitement for sportsmen. The boar was also prized for his dense fur. Frejya often rides on the back of a boar. Her brother Freyr can also take the shape of a boar. Sows in general are associated with motherhood, probably due to their large extended families and high fertility rate. These qualities, plus their generous size, may account for their association with abundance. The crepuscular scavenging and carrion eating habits of boars may account for their being linked with death and the underworld. In both Celtic and Germanic cultures boar was eaten at the winter solstice feasts. Goddesses associated with the boar or sow include the Greek goddess of agriculture and fertility Demeter, the Welsh goddess Cerridwyn in the form of a white sow, and the Continental Celtic goddess Arduinna. The Babylonian god Tammuz, the Egyptian God Osiris, and the Greek God Adonis die after being gored by a boar.The fir or conifer tree thrives in all but the driest and coldest environments. Conifer forests define “tree line” at extreme latitudes and altitudes, the point where plant growth becomes scrubby. Freya’s fir is the Norway Spruce, which despite its name is prevalent throughout the northern and mountainous regions of Eurasia. Like most spruce trees it is a cold loving tree and it is hardy to the Arctic Circle. It is a particularly beautiful tree that is planted as an ornamental in North America. It grows very tall, 100 feet or more, and typically lives a few hundred years. It produces a nice canopy and is used as a wind breaker. It is a fragrant tree that produces a sweet smelling resin. The cones of the Norway Spruce grow very long, up to 8 inches, and they are quite attractive. The fir’s link with Freya probably comes from the evergreen boughs that decorated halls of feasting during the Winter Solstice observances. These festivities lasted several days or weeks. In a sense, with the great fire, drinking, roast boar, festive attitude, and greenery, Pagans were re-creating Freya’s hall of Sessrymnir, while the dark, cold and frozen landscape outside created a simulation of death. The Norway Spruce used to be the quintessential Christmas tree, although the Scotch Pine works better in today’s commercial environment. Trees in the pine family are associated with winter, rebirth, immortality, strength and sometimes fertility, possibly due to the phallic shape of the cone. Pine has been a preferred wood for coffins due to its association with immortality as well as its availability and workability. Other deities associated with trees in the pine family include the Anatolian Cybele, with her dying and resurrecting lover Attis, the Roman-Persian sun god Mithras, the Greek resurrecting god Dionysus, and the Greek healing god Ascelpius. The pine tree is one of the seven important “chieftan trees” in Celtic druidry, associated with the hero Bran who brought the Irish tales of the isles of paradise in the west.So this is some background on the boar, fir and falcon. With some reflection you can see how the three fit together to give a deeper understanding of Frejya. I will examine the connection between the three more thoroughly in next week’s post.