Beast/Bird pairs in regards to Apollon

Just a couple of days ago I read a chart that was posted that was constructed according to Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa that took the twelve Olympias  and assigned certain symbols that pertain to them through a number of categories. As this post is dealing with Apollon I will just briefly summarize the associations given to Apollon:

Zodiac: Gemini
Consecrated Bird: Cock
Consecrated Beast: Bull
Consecrated Tree: Laurel
Body part: Arms

I wanted to start with this because I wanted to start with discussing this list in general. There are of course elements I agree with and others that I do not. Gemini is indeed the sign that is associated mystically with Apollon. An altar from Gabii made a clear association between Apollon and this sign as it did for each god and a particular sign of the zodiac. That Apollon is a twin, and as a Doric god does have a good relationship with the Dioskouri (another set of twins), not to mention that Thargelia tends to fall under this sign,  it is perhaps not a big shock that this is the sign associated with him. Also for purpose of the Thargelia the month of May does make sense. And the laurel is quite an obvious choice as no tree is quite so sacred to him as that one. But I fundamentally disagree with the assignments of beast, bird and body part. For the part of the body I took into consideration what would symbolize the domain of Apollon most accurately and it was clear to me that as Apollon is descended in myth from Koios, the axis of the heavens, it should be the heart which has had solar attributes in the later hermeticism. But my biggest criticism was for the bird and beast. I am not sure what was even being thought of when the bull was aligned since Apollon has no real cult associations with the bull and the Carian statue of Apollon with his foot upon the skull of a bull to me has more to do with his involvement in the mystic cycle of Dionysos. The cock is somewhat reasonable as it is a bird that was widely associated with the sun. But I decided in this light to comprise my own bird/beast list working with the idea of specific formed pairs that indicated different parts of his domain. Therefore which pair you assign as being the most paramount symbol would probably have alot to do with where you think the focus is.

Raven and Serpent
These are probably not the first that one would think of and that is why I am introducing them first as animals that have a large role in Apollon’s cultus dealing with his link to both chthonic forces and the rotting process which is part of his domain. Both of these animals figure strongly into death and decay, but are also associated with his oracular arts. The raven is not only depicted on a kylix which portrays Apollon on his tripod but in Boeotia, as Pausanias tells us, ravens (or crows alternately) were used to select the tree that would be used in the Daedalia, and there is the element too of their seeing the unseen which I have spoken before on my post on ravens. Likewise there is the serpent, a creature which is connected with oracles in general and which Apollon himself took the form of on more than occasion. The serpent also goes into the dark womb of the earth even as the raven/crow feeds on rotting flesh. Therefore this pair is a good choice as representing Apollon as oracular god in addition to his connections with the cemetery/ashes of the dead.

Falcon and Goat/ Cock and Ram/ Quail and Stag
These three sets are symbolic of the same idea which is why I have listed as such dealing with the solar bird and the horned beast. These pairs representing the functions of Apollon specifically dealing his associations to the sun, and in association his aggressive martial character. All three birds are solar birds that act akin to destroyers of night. I have remarked before in regards to the quail in my post on that subject in which the quail is described as a bird that cries during the night in the absence of the sun and in opposition to the moon. And there is the matter that the quail has also been used historically as a fighting bird. As such it bears a close resemblance to the cock. However as the cock is most intimately associated with Helios specifically, the quail is more specific to Apollon as a child of Leto who is also called Mother of Quails. Meanwhile the hawk testifies to the association of Apollon as a lightning quick deity (so fast that in the first Olympic games we recall he bested Hermes in a footrace) and is often synchronized with Horus, whom the author of Black Athena makes a fairly interesting case in how possibly the name of Apollon developed from the name of the dawn sun. Like the warrior characteristics of the quail and cock, the falcon as Horus represents a strong defender and fast striking god.
This is paired with the goat, ram and stag for obvious reasons because of Apollon’s cultic beasts these have a strong association with the state of divinity but also because they are a potent combination of the masculine agressive fertile nature. All three of these animals engage in displays of battle in butting their heads (which is rather reminiscent of the dance of the Corybantes of Samothrake which Apollon is said to have fathered…which were warlike figures as well). This is Apollon as destroyer and slayer.

Swan and Wolf
Though on the onset these appear to be even more aggressive creatures, there is a pronounced difference when it comes to the swan and wolf. If the above sets can be stated in terms of death, being slain, then this is the in-between, the transition symbol. Doubtlessly Apollon is a great god of transitions in many ways, most often seen when it comes to transitional stages of life such as from boyhood to man, but the transition from living to death and death to living is quite evident here in this symbolism. First you have the swan who would sing upon her death, her swan song. Compare now this idea with the wolf, the creature of the twilight, and as a god Apollon as carrier of the wolflight before dawn. These are clear symbols of movement of change. These are also music creatures. The swans song was thought to be of great beauty, and the wolf’s song, with its harmonious chords are striking. Therefore we have the combination of harmony and transition….likely for the reason that the first is necessary for the latter. These are also animals associated with the nurturing parental characteristics that we would expect in a god who has championed humanity and who was called Patroos by Athenians.

I would expect that the Swan and Wolf pair would likely be the one that most would agree by what is set forth here to be best suited in a generic chart, though each pair is correct as well so in the end it is a matter of individual preference.


2 thoughts on “Beast/Bird pairs in regards to Apollon

  1. I like swan and wolf. Though I can see some logic for the bull thing (didn’t Apollon receive massive hecatomb sacrifices at Delphi and elsewhere?), Zeus or Dionysos would seem more appropriate for such an association on a list of this type. About the bird: what about the heron? I happened to be wearing a necklace featuring a celtic knotwork heron during a trip to Athens, and was stopped on the street by a lovely native who congratulated me on being blessed by Apollon. 😉

    • The bull seems to have a vague place in the cultus of Apollon but usually in terms of sacrifice only (however bulls were often considered the best sacrifices in general so that may be more of a status thing more than anything else) and in Caria the bulls skull on which the god stands seems less directly related to his worship and more symbolic in how he relates to agriculture, and therefore the journey too of the young bull Dionysos.

      As for the heron. I have not come across it as a symbol of Apollon, but I may have read it connected, like the stork, with Leto to some degree. So it may have something to do with that 🙂

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