wolves and goats

I find it quite interesting that gods who have strong associations with wolves, share similar associations with goats in both Hellenismos and Religio Romana. In this there seems to be a natural order taking place symbolically in which the two are intricately tied. Take for instance (in honor of this day of Lupercalia) the Roman gods Mars.

Lupercalia crosses over into three specific areas symbolically in the sacrifice in the Lupercali cave, a sacrifice carried out in honor of the place where Remus and Romulus (the founders of Rome and sons of Mars) were nursed by the she-wolf. First and foremost we must keep in mind in this ritual that its importance is connected to the birth of Rome and the prosperity of the Republic (and later the Empire). It therefore stresses the lineage through Mars. Though Mars shares many similarities to the Hellenic god Ares, there are scholars who cast him in a stronger assocation with Apollon in his more ancient aspects when speaking of relationships of cults than with Ares, from whom he later adopted much of his myths and characteristics. However the indigenous cultus of the god stresses his association to the fields (in which he shares association with Apollon as both gods are those that ward off “rust” which attacks grains) and there protection foremost from which it is believed that his more war-like characteristics developed in extention. Therefore it is natural that the god be associated with creatures of the feild, unlike his Hellenic counterpart Ares who shares less associations. Mars, for instance, is directly associated with wolves, and the wolf of the Lupercali cave was one that was sent by him to nurse his sons until a shepherd found them so that they would not freeze from exposure or starve. In that cave a cast of boys (all from noble families) were chosen to play the part of the Lupercii (as Lupus is latin for wolf we can infer that they are playing the part of wolves). The sacrifice carried out in the cave is one of goats and dogs (the latter being a traditional sacrifice to both Ares and Mars…in the case of Mars it was red dogs). Previously in a post on goats and deer I spoke of how the female goat is associated with nursing, as a goat was a nurse of Zeus, and the male is associated with fertility, it can be inferred that this ritual sacrifice is intended on two parts. One, it honors the nurse of the two heroes but the sacrifice of an animal associated with nursing. The second we see directly in the purpose that is carried out…the strapping of women with the strips of goatskin to promote fertility. This would appropriately honor both Mars, the father of Rome, and Faunus, the rustic god of Italy indirectly in one ritual. I say indirectly only because the description of the ritual itself does not directly mention Faunus (nor does it directly mention Lupercus) but I cede the point that in accordance to the lore of Italy that he may very well have been present indirectly and symbolically in association with the sacrifices carried out in the cave and the legendary roots of the sheperds being the original lupercii, that in ritual were actually the youths of patrician (noble) families in Rome specifically connected to the sphere of the children of Mars. It can be said that in mythology the origins of the Lupercalia lay with Faunus and his shepherds (from Romulus and Remus took part and upon being engaged in the festivities, according to Livy, were captured by Numitor’s people) but that these origins lay in the mythic history of the festival and the primary portion of the festival is in honor of the she-wolf of Mars. However, regardless of whether we are speaking of Mars or Faunus, the sacrifice of the goats (and dogs) at the cave of the wolf is very important symbolism. Therefore the wolf which destroys and protects is part of the cycle of the fertile and nursing goat, an idea which we see carried out in the cults of very closely related Hellenic gods Zeus, Apollon, and Pan, and slightly with Artemis via her epithets Lykeia (wolfish) and Kourotrophos (nurse), the latter of which I had discussed in my previous post on goats and deer.

Lupercalia, according to Roman legend, is said to have sprung from the Lykaia of Arkadia, upon the mountain of which on three hills there were three temples. The temple of Zeus Lykaia in the middle surrounded by the temples of Pan and Apollon to either side. Despite the emphasis given by later Italian recorders to the prominence of Pan on Lykaion, it is indisputable that Zeus Lykaia was the prominent figure in the Arkadian cult…one which was echoed in Kyrene, in Libya, where there was a second mountain called Lykaion were Zeus Lykaia was honored following the Arkadian aspect. According to myth Zeus assumed the form of a wolf for nine years and on the 10th year (one divine year) was restored, a pattern that was followed by Demaenetus when he tasted of the sacrifice to Zeus. This form of Zeus supposedly may have been related to the myth in which Arkadians took the form of wolves for nine years after swimming across a pond, after which, if they hadn’t consumed human flesh, would regain their state. All of which must be tied to the king Lykaon, coincidentally the father of Callisto who became a bear. He was the first to be transformed into a wolf by Zeus for the punishment of offering Zeus (in human disguise) human flesh, that of a child, to feast upon. Zeus’ tasting of human flesh may be related to this form of Zeus, as Lykaon is credited with having sacrificed a child to Zeus which was what transformed Zeus into a wolf for nine years. Though there is no direction mention of Pan in the myth, it is wide known that Pan was an important deity among the Arkadians and the fact that both Pan and Apollon had temples joining that of Zeus Lykaia is an important feature in which we see three wolfish gods honored together, and of whom have important features as gods associated with shepherds, the fertility of feilds (to which bees can be connected) and livestock, and oracles. And all three of whom are represented in association with goats, as both Apollon and Pan are called Tragoidos, and as bearing goat, or ram, horns in Peloponnese and its associated colonies…such as that in Libya in which Apollon-Ammon (called Karneios in Peloponnese) and his wife Kyrene are ram-horned, and Zeus-Ammon is likewise horned at his oracle near the Egyptian border.

The goat/ram appears to have a direct relationship in imagery to an idea to a sovereign divinity who brings prosperity by interacting with and fertilizing the world. Such imagery in relationship to sovereignity can also be recalled by a certain myth related to Atreus in which a golden lamb was to confer kingship upon whomever possessed it. Likewise the flying golden-fleeced ram, the son of Poseidon who rescued Phrixus and Helle, the children of king Cretheus, from being sacrificed (the latter whom fell into the sea…that place being called Hellespont after her) and upon carrying Phrixus across the Black Sea to king Aeetes in Colchis, was sacrificed to Zeus (or in some versions to Ares) and his fleece hidden in the holy grove of Ares, was the object of the heroic quest of Jason and the Argonauts for the pleasure of King Pelias. The associations with fertility are of course significant because this ram became the constellation Ares which signifies the time of year when grain is sown according to Psuedo-Hyginus in his Astronomica. This certainly aligns too with imagery of Apollon and Pan together greeting the rising of Semele which would be likewise associated with ideas of sowing and the return of vegetation. Thereby we see the the goat associated with fertile masculine deities of some regard as a divine king, yet of the Lykaion trinity of Zeus, Pan and Apollon we see three levels at work. First we have the high king Zeus, ruler of the world and aether, from whom all things issues. Second we have Apollon, the bright king, the king of light, the king who walks across all the earth. And we have Pan who is the rustic king (recognizably set apart by his distinctive half animal characteristics who opperates in cooperation with Apollon and revels with Dionysos)…and yet all the Orphic hymns to all three seem in some manner to refer to each other. There are, of course, numerous other deities associated with goats/rams such as Dionysos and the aforementioned Ares, but in this post I am concentrating on the divine association of wolves and goats which are expressed in only a few deities.

Thus within Pan, Zeus and Apollon we are presented gods that are connected with destruction via their assocation with wolves, but are also bringers of prosperity and abundance as we can see with their goat associations. They are the wolves that cull of the weaker members of the flock, they are the destroyer of wolves that may prey excessively upon the flock…in such they are both wolfish and protector/shepherd gods who oversee the welfare of the flocks and their healthy increase. Since both slaughter/destruction/sacrifice and fertility are necessary for the welfare of the flock, it is necessary for gods associated with some kingly title and duty to be associated directly with both functions as destroyers and saviors (the savior aspect of Zeus often partaken by Athena who possesses the skin of Almathaea…the aegis).

As far as I can see, regardless of which deity it is for, such festivals as the ongoing Lupercalia, which celebrate both the protective/destructive nature of the wolf (for the wolf is also protective as it is a social animal that cares for its young within a solid family group) and the fertility and nursing attributes associated with the goat are highly appropriate at each turn of the season…and likely accounts for their celebrations at different parts of the calendar through the Hellenic and Roman world. Generally speaking my focus when it comes to a shepherd’s festival in which goats/rams are sacrificed tends to be at the Karneia for Apollon Karneios prior to the start of autumn, but I can see the relevance at the beginning of spring in relation to this.

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A related inquiry on deer and goats

This is a post I have been meaning to write for the last few days, but I have been thinking of just how I wanted to present it. It is certainly no secret that in Hellenismos there are a prominence of horned animals sacred to gods. There are the oxes of Hera, the bulls associated with Zeus, Poseidon and Dionysos, the goats of Pan, Zeus, Dionysos, and Apollon, the deer likewise associated with Dionysos, Apollon and Artemis. And naturally many other gods that I just can’t think of at the moment. Clearly there is some powerful symbolism at work that animals who have some form of bony substance protruding upward from their foreheads have some special relevance in our worship. The idea even carries forward into the medieval  period with the sacred symbolism of the divine via the unicorn imagery which any person half way familiar with the unicorn tapestries would have some vague knowledge about.

We should perhaps then infer that the upward horn represents itself a state of divinity, from which we can also construe significance in the horn of plenty with which we are familiar with. In Roman art we see Fortuna (Fortune) and Ceres carrying the cornucopia brimming over with the wealth of the world that the gods have given to us. In Hellenismos we are familiar too with a myth of Zeus in which the goat Amalthaea who nursed him was sacrificed by him and it is her horn from which the horn of plenty comes, she who sustained the king of heavens. This of course lends a very particular symbolism associated with goats….the male goat representing masculine fertility (for Zeus is very fertile in his nature, as is Dionysos who was carried near this fertile zone of the god for his final period of gestation), and the female goat representing the divine nurse. Therefore it is not surprising to me at all when I see a goat image in Thracian rhytons (drinking horns) because this divine fertilization I connection closely to the very essence of the wine which Dionysos so liberally distributes. Likewise a female goat portrayed in proximity to a goddess indicates a function of the goddess as a Kourotrophos deity. There is for instance one statue of Artemis with a young animal which some say is a faun but also looks to me, because of its size and general shape, to perhaps be a goat instead with the small budded horns on its head and curled tail. But I guess we will each have to decide for ourselves what we think it is.

In symbolism stags have a great deal in common with goats if you get right down to it…differing mostly that deer are typically not associated with the nurse aspect, but are instead as fauns are often pictured as nursing from the Maenads (probably referring to the first Maenads that are nymphs and not literal historical followers of Dionysos). In such respect they are recepiants of “divine” nourishment (via the possession of Dionysos within the nymphs) which  seems to link them to a greater specific connection between the divine and the mortal…as a bridge between the two at a greater symbolic level. Perhaps rather the mortal desire to draw closer to the gods, and pursued by Artemis when they are mature (whereas the young faun is represented peacefully at her side. Apollon, alternatively, has been represented in Hellenic and Etruscan images as holding a stag within his hand. He is seldom pictured with a faun…usually only in cases where he is in the company of his twin, but is always associated with the adult male deer, and to a degree the hind of Artemis…a sacred golden horned female deer. Such imagery with this deer are generally very specific though to the myth of the labors of Herakles.

To understand more on ancient thought regarding the symbolism of deer I would like to take a moment to share a quote that was shared with me….granted it is from the Roman historian Pliny, but I do think that it is somewhat revealing:

(Natural History, Book 8, 41): A stag, when wounded by an arrow, can eject the arrow from the wound by grazing on the herb dittany. If bitten by a poisonous spider, the sta…g will eat crabs to cure itself. (Book 8, 50): The stag is a gentle animal. Stags are very lustful; the mating season begins after the rising of the star Arcturus. When deer hear hounds, they run down wind to avoid giving themselves away with their scent. Deer are simple animals, surprised at everything; they can be charmed by song and by a shepherd’s pipe. To cross seas they swim in a line with each deer’s head on the back of the one in front of it, and they take turns moving to the back of the line. A stag’s age can be told by its horns or its teeth. Stags lose their horns every year, and retire to secret places to do so; their right horn, which is never found, is said to contain a healing drug. The smell of stag horns burning stops an attack of epilepsy and drives away snakes. Stags are at war with snakes, drawing them out of their holes with the breath of their nostrils. Stags live a long time; the ones that Alexander the Great had put gold necklaces on were caught a hundred years later, and the necklaces were found to be covered with folds of fat. Stags are not subject to feverish diseases, and eating venison is said to prevent fevers in people. (Book 10, 5): Stags fight with eagles: the eagles cover themselves with dust, perch on the stag’s horns to shake the dust in its eyes, and beat the stag’s head with their wings until it falls. (Book 11, 115): The breath of stags scorches snakes.

We can therefore infer that the stag represents a sense of community support via their cooperation in navigating streams (ei currents of life as I can see it representing), with swift movement (which can infer swiftness physically but also mentally and on higher levels), that they are long-lived and so like any long-lived animal are probably associated with a concept of immortality or the divine state, this also seems to be addressed by so called curative and protective properties within the flesh and horn of the stag, as well as the fertility symbolism that we find in goats too.

But what particularly interests me is the symbolism with the mind. More so than most other horned animals, it seems that proportionately to its skull the antlers of a stag have a more pronounced upward extension as it ages…the older it gets, the more impressive its rack gets which is quite curious considering that deer tend to drop their antlers. But there is just something entirely awe-inspiring of seeing a five-point (or more) buck. In such respect it seems likely that the symbolism of deer is connected to achieving a state of consciousness close to the divine level which is accomplished through rebirth (and therefore associated too with Dionysos who, like is maenads, is also represented wearing the spotted faun’s skin). This doesn’t seem to far-fetched of an idea if we consider a different culture for a minute, and think of the hindu religion. I had recently read that when the stag is represented with Shiva it is because the stag is associated with the mind, and Shiva is able to control the swift moving mind and bring it into stillness. Though this is a different symbolism, a kind of divine state of mind does seem to be represented.

Dionysos himself, and his followers, appear by necessity to be direct connected to deer in its faun state, as we also find the greatest number of associations of the deer with Artemis. I think that this is particularly telling. In one hand we have the flayed faun…the young immature..hornless…deer who is slain which I think speaks to me of mortal rebirth. And this is the faun that is suckled by Maenads and is tended kindly by Artemis. Thus the fawn represents mortal life that enters exits and enters into life through numerous incarnations, that is fostered and cared for by the Kourotrophos, that is suckled by nymphs, that is held by Dionysos until the stag comes finally to Apollon who represents the divine boundary…Apollon of the Boundaries, the end of his sacred road. He who receives Dionysos. He who receives that which is slain by his twin….whether that be her stags or her goats (the latter of which he used in myth to build their horn altar at Delphi).