Our human connection to Cow goes back to the days of prehistory. Aurochs (wild oxen), cattle’s wild ancestors, are found in prehistoric cave art throughout Europe, India and Africa. About 10,500 years ago modern cattle were domesticated from only 80 wild oxen in southeastern Turkey. This was not an easy task as wild aurochs are much bigger than cattle and not at all docile. But succeed they did and cattle became a foundation of human civilization. They provided not only food and clothing but also became beasts of burden for agriculture. An estimated 1.4 billion cattle exist today.
Horns are found on both males and females though it has been bred out of some breeds. Female cattle are called heifers until they birth a calf – then they become cows. Male cattle are bulls unless castrated and then called steers.
Mother Goddess, Fertility, Nurturing, Gratitude, Gentleness
Many cultures have stories of a primeval Mother Goddess who is depicted as a sacred cow.
Cow’s milk, which offers excellent nourishment, has been an important food source for humans for thousands of years. A cow can produce around eight gallons of milk per day. When treated as an individual she produces even more.
Cows are ruminants with unique stomachs comprised of four separate compartments allowing them to digest grasses that are unavailable nutrition to humans. This nutrition gets into the flesh and milk of the cow and then given generously.
Cow, a gentle and giving being, exemplifies nurturing, nourishment, fertility, gratitude and abundance. After nine months in utero, a calf nurses for up to 3 months, sometimes longer. If separated from their mother they will cry and stop eating. Calves are often seen frolicking about under the watchful eyes of their mothers Cows have special friends among the herd and are stressed if separated.
The ancient Egyptian Goddess Hathor was worshipped in the form of a cow – sometimes shown as a woman with a cow head, cow ears, or in cow form often with stars above her. She is associated with motherhood, nurturing, agriculture, fertility and childbirth. As Hesat, wet-nurse to the gods, she is depicted as a white cow with milk flowing from full udders while carrying a plate of food on her head.
Hathor was also called The Gentle Cow of Heaven and associated with the Milky Way, viewed by the Egyptians as a heavenly Nile River – the life blood of Egyptian culture. In addition, she was associated with joy, music, love, dance and gratitude. Initiation into her cult included The Five Gifts of Hathor ritual in which initiates assigned 5 reasons for being grateful to each finger, becoming a daily reminder of the importance of gratitude.
In Vedic literature Cow, symbol of Mother Earth, motherhood, abundance and fertility, is also seen as representing both Earth and Sky. Beginning in the 2nd millennium BC and continuing today Cow is India’s most sacred animal. Vedic scriptures describe the bovine-goddess, Kamadhenu as the mother of all cows who fulfilled our desires. She is depicted as a white cow with a woman’s head and breasts or as a white cow with images of all the deities within her body. Cow became the ultimate symbol of nonviolent generosity
Cow was sacred to the Greek Goddess, Hera, who protected women in childbirth.
The Norse Mother Goddess, Audhumla is depicted as a cow from whose udders flowed the four rivers of power, providing sustenance for the giants who ruled their First World.
A sacred white cow is credited with transforming Ireland from a barren land of rock and stone into a green and fertile home. The story goes that three beautiful cows rose from the Western Sea – a milk-white heifer, the Bo-Finn, and her sisters the red Bo Ruadh, and the black Bo Dhu. On shore they separated – the Black went south, the Red went north, while Bo-Finn crossed the land, transforming it as she went. Upon reaching the island’s center she gave birth to twins calves from whom sprung all the cattle of Ireland. – a major source of wealth for the people.
Every place Bo-finn passed on her journey was marked by stone and named to reflect her passage. Her trek across the land became associated with the path cut across the heavens by the Milky Way, also called “The Way of the White Cow.”
Celtic Goddess, Boann – perhaps a later manifestation of Bo-finn was known as “White Cow.” To the ancients both milk and water flowed from the breasts of the Goddess. Boann was associated with both.
Cow, like the Mother Goddess herself, nourishes you with her love, offering assurance and understanding in an uncertain world. Cow gifts you with fertility of body and soul and reminds you of the power and strength of the gentle, loving side of feminine energy. Cow calls you to experience the blessings of gratitude.
Throughout much of the world cattle was and still is a measure of wealth. The word itself comes from the Old French “chatel,” meaning property.
With the advancement of patriarchal systems of marriage cattle were often the dowry given to the bride with the hopes of some kind of financial security in the event of widowhood or neglect by her husband.
Cattle played dual roles to the Egyptians. Through their use in agriculture they provided wealth and abundance. They were also used for sacrifice and fulfilled various spiritual roles.
Hathor, who we have already seen in her role as Mother Goddess, was also the Goddess of the West who eased the passage from death to new life. She opened the gates to the underworld where the spirits of the dead gained eternal life by drinking the milk of the seven Hathor cows.
Cow, who was domesticated by the Irish around 3500 BC, plays a major role in Irish myths and legends. From Cow’s central role in the mythic tale, the Cattle Raid of Cooley (The Tain Bo Cuillaigne) which resulted from a dispute over whose wealth was greatest to the long-held tradition of cattle raiding between Celtic tribes as a mark of skill and independence, the connection between Cow and wealth is evident.
Celtic mythology recounts that Brigid, a goddess loved still today as St. Brigit, was born at sunrise with flames shooting out of her head, uniting Heaven and Earth. As a baby she drank milk from a sacred cow and once grown could turn water into milk.
The Nepalese believed that Cow guided the soul on its final journey through the Milky Way. Most likely the Celts believed the same in their veneration of Bo-Finn, sacred white cow, also associated with the Milky Way.
Cow calls you to honor your mother, all your fore-mothers and Mother Earth. Cow reminds you to remain calm and provides a quiet strength when faced with difficulties. Call on Cow for blessings and nourishment in both your daily life and in your life passages to new beginnings.
Cow reminds us of our connection to the eternal boundlessness of the cosmos seen each night in the Milky Way and urges us to express love, gratitude and a nourishing heart in our daily life. Cow nourishes us in life and in the great beyond.
Sources: Ancient History Encyclopedia, Ahisma, Emma Cownie, Sacred Texts, Historic Mysteries, National Leprechaun Museum, Encyclopedia Britannica, Hari Krishna Temple Portal, Science Daily, Beef2Live, Earth Matters, Your Spiritual Growth Center, The Powers that Be
Judith’s deck of Celtic Goddess Oracle Cards is available now. You can order your deck on Judith’s website – click here. Experience the wisdom of the Celtic Goddesses!
Judith Shaw, a graduate of the San Francisco Art Institute, has been interested in myth, culture and mystical studies all her life. Not long after graduating from SFAI, while living in Greece, Judith began exploring the Goddess in her art. She continues to be inspired by the Goddess in all of Her manifestations, which are found everywhere in the natural world. In recent years Judith became very interested in the Goddesses of her own ancestors, the Celts, resulting in her deck of Celtic Goddess Oracle cards. She is now working on her next deck of oracle cards – Animal Spirit Guides. Originally from New Orleans, Judith makes her home in New Mexico where she paints as much as time allows and sells real estate part-time. Give yourself the gift of one of Judith’s prints or paintings, priced from $25 – $3000.
17 thoughts on “Cow, Nursemaid to Humanity by Judith Shaw”
Dear Judith, This is a great piece about Cow who is. a truly marvellous figure in myth and prehistory and linguistic trails. In my book Cow I celebrate her in many different ways from india to the Middle East, Ireland, Greece. I even have a poem about the four stomachs of Cow. It was a pleasure to read this.
My cow is called Queenie because the word queen comes into English via Norse from Sanskrit. My book is available from the usual online places or from http://www.spinifexpress.com.au
Sorry, just now saw your first comment. Nice to see that you too have celebrated Cow in your writing. Does the etymology of queen via Norse via Sanskrit have a relationship to cow? Bo in ancient Gaelic means cow, thus – Bo-finn, Boann, etc.
The Sanskrit for cow is gau which goes to kvinna and then to queen. I have a full etymology in the front of my book.
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Wonderful informative post! I didn’t know the beautiful story of the sacred white cow… as always I take so much pleasure in your paintings.
But for me personally, after living in the NM desert and seeing what the cattle have done to the land I have developed a bias I am afraid. It breaks my heart to see that overgrazed land becoming true desert – and no one seems to mind. I have also had the ongoing experience of cows breaking through fences and destroying my gardens, trampling tender plants, and again no one cares. The ranchers have all the rights.
And the cattle themselves have dead eyes.
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It’s the same here in Australia so I too am against all hooved animals in this country even though I grew upon a farm that depended on both sheep and cattle.
But the prehistory of cows is fascinating.
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Sara and Gongyla,
It seems to me that the blame for overgrazing and desertification should be laid at the feet of human beings, not cattle or sheep. We are the ones, who in our desire for security and comfort have cleared the forests and overrun Earth with our domesticated herd animals who we now torture with modern methods of animal husbandry. I feel sure that the women who first transitioned from gathering to growing and the men who made the similar transition from hunting to herding could not foresee the devastation their actions would lead to over the millennia – for a few millennia there was probably even a balance between the wild and the domesticated. But that balance is long gone and that trajectory started long ago has continued at an ever faster pace, fueled by human greed. We are a curious animal whose intelligence and curiosity just might be our demise.
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I agree with you Judith and wrote about this in my book Wild Politics: Feminism, Globalisation and Bio//diversity.
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Your book sounds fascinating. Must add to my long list of books to read…..
Yes the books just keep piling up. Also ebook.
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Agreed on both counts!
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I enjoyed your post, have a beautiful, black angus herd of Cows. My cattle are integrated with the land and properly cared for. The land is not overgrazed to be destroyed!
More importantly, in the very depths of my healing journey, I, the Woman, planted the tree, cows, the White Heifer and the 4 BullS came in my dreams. Kind, gentle, deeply healing and supportive, I was delighted to learn of the Cow Goddess in my research.
Thank you very much for this, Judith.
So great to hear of someone who is raising cattle ethically. Sounds like Cow has been an important part of your own journey to self-empowerment.
Beautiful, informative post as always, Judith. I have always loved cows. I live next door to a field that grows hay for the cows I can hear mooing further away, their sound of their voices always touches me. I believe the cows I hear are grass-fed beef cattle. At least they have some life before death.
I don’t eat meat, though I do eat cheese with gratitude. It is, as you say, the fault of humans that cows have become part of a destructive industry that turns forest to desert, and kindly animals into slaves that have no control over lives, many of which are pure misery.
Let’s pray to all the bovine goddesses and do all we can to bring ourselves back into balance with all our relations.
Sounds like you live in a beautiful place. I only eat beef rarely and when I do try to make sure it’s grass-fed. As you say at least they had some kind of life before being slaughtered.
Definitely I’m adding the bovine goddesses to the ones I pray to for a return to balance. I believe that a change in consciousness is our only hope and the goddesses can lead us to that positive change.
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I love how you raise up the power of this wonderful animal, historically and today, particularly given that the word ‘cow’ is an insult to women, to say they are ugly, stupid, etc. What a thing to do to such a wonderful creature, but to turn its name into an insult, and maybe women can reclaim the cow for the divine, powerful, radiant creature she is.
Tallessyn, Thanks for making that connection – I hadn’t really considered how the word Cow is used as a negative insult toward women. On further reflection there are so many animal names that are used as insults for women – bitch – cause she’s mean, dog – ’cause she’s ugly, chic – ’cause she’s stupid and insignificant. Pretty weird how the patriarchy places such low value on all things natural. Yes – time to reclaim our power and the power of the natural world!
The white coat animal pops up as a revered spiritual being in many religions and myths. The white cow of Bridget, the white sow of Ceridwen, the white mare of Rhiannon and her white dove, the white rabbit even, as well as the Native American white buffalo calf. We marvel at the white lion or the white tiger. and there are many more. These creatures are albino, a genetic blip that means their coat has no pigmentation. I wonder if anyone has ever done research into why it may be so that these animals are so revered as other worldly creatures?