Bull, with its components of aggressiveness, stubbornness, virility, and ferocity, is emblematic of masculinity. But Bull is also associated with fertility, abundance, strength, and determination. Viewed by some cultures as a solar symbol – in the oldest myths, we find Bull connected to the moon.
Bulls, massive animals weighing between 1700 and 1800 pounds, can be unpredictable and dangerous.
Bull’s stamina extends to the sexual realm – one bull can impregnate up to 30 cows in just one breeding season.
Egyptian Bull God, Apis, is depicted in engravings from the Predynastic Period (6000 – 3150 BCE) as a fertility god. Apis’s mother is Hathor, Egyptian Fertility Goddess, herself depicted as a cow. In time Apis became associated the incarnation of the Creator God, Ptah.
By the Early Dynastic Period (2920 – 2575 BC) Apis’s participation was firmly established in rituals. Only one living bull could be worshipped as Apis at a time. Three of the determining factors in finding the correct bull were that it have a patch of fur resembling a flying bird on its shoulder, a crescent moon on its flank and a white triangle on its forehead- all symbols associated with the goddess. Once selected the bull and his mother were brought to Memphis for ritual purposes and to receive the adoration of the people.
The Running of Apis was held every year to fertilize Earth. Yet Apis also served the forces of death. After 25 years, if the bull was still alive, it was ceremonially sacrificed, enacting Egyptians’ belief in the eternal nature of life. Apis as Creator God Ptah while living – upon death, became Osiris God of Death and Rebirth – changing his name to Osirapis.
Bull is emblematic of strength and fertility to Hindus – seen as the fertile sky to abundant Earth, represented by Cow. Shiva’s white bull embodies cosmic order, strength and justice.
Bulls figure widely in Celtic legend with the Tain Bo Cuillaigne, or the Cattle Raid of Cooley being the most famous. The white bull Finnbhennach and the equally virile brown bull, Donn Cuailnge, are prime movers in this tale of power and war.
In an attempt to one-up her husband’s ownership of Finnbhennach and gain Donn Cuailgne for herself, Queen Medb resorted to war. It was long and terrible – the war ended with no real victor and the land in shambles. Medb stole the brown bull who then fought and killed her husband’s white bull, Finnbhennach. Shortly thereafter Donn Cuailgne died from his wounds. After the death of the bulls, order was restored to the land.
Mainly found in Gaul from the years of the Roman occupation, the Tarvos Trigaranus bull – bull with three cranes – is connected to the mysterious Celtic God, Esus, who was associated with sacrifice, death and rebirth..
Images of Tarvos Trigaranus are accompanied by an image of Esus cutting branches of the tree. Others depict Esus cutting tree branches, which has three birds and the head of a bull among them.
In addition there is a relief of a dying bull and three other bulls about to be sacrificed on the bottom of the famous Gundestrup Cauldron.
To Celts, trees symbolize life, the number three is sacred, and birds are associated with goddesses. Mary Jones speculates that Esus and Tarvos Trigaranus are part of a long tradition dating back to pre-history, in which the bull – intimately connected with the goddess – is sacrificed to create the world anew and maintain cosmic order.
In Chinese Feng Shui, Bull is symbolic of good luck and financial fortune.
The constellation Taurus, the second sign of the zodiac, has Bull as its symbol. This astrological sign is deeply connected to Earth, land, agriculture and an abundant fertile life.
Bull was a symbol of fertility, wealth, and the land to Celts to whom cattle husbandry was central to life.
Bull God, Apis was also associated with the kings of Egypt. During the Heb-Sed Festival, held every thirty years, Apis walked in ceremony beside the king to show divine approval and as a reminder of the king’s power and virility.
Ancient texts reveal that Enlil, Mesopotamian Sky God emitted a “roar like a bull’s” when he copulated with the mountains to create Summer and Winter – symbolizing both power and fertility.
Moon gods, whose primary symbols were bull, were of great importance in the Mesopotamian pantheon. Bull’s horns reflected the horizontal crescent of the waxing moon to the ancient mind.
Margaret Merisant, Ph.D. proposes that the bull-man found in the Minoan myth of the Minotaur. – with its patriarchal hero Theseus and his denigration of the goddess as represented by Ariadne – supplanted an earlier myth.
This myth of the Minotaur and the Labyrinth appeared over a thousand years after the demise of the Minoan civilization. The Minoans left no writing, but what we do see from their art is a culture devoted to the goddess and all her manifestations in nature – a culture which celebrated life with dancing, games and feasting. Their murals depict amazing feats of bull-leaping which seem to indicate an affection for and understanding of the bulls. Nowhere are images of a bullheaded monster ready to devour humans found.
As the characters involved in the myth are not Minoan, Merisant speculates that this points to a pan-aegean origin of the myth which involved worship of the moon – myths coming from the nearby cattle-raising lands of Egypt, Anatolia and Mesopotamia.
Europa – mother of King Minos, whose wife Pasiphaisë birthed the Minotaur – is a manifestation of the Phoenician Goddess, Astarte. Associated with the crescent moon and Venus, Astarte was depicted wearing bull horns, emphasizing her ferocious side. Zeus entered the myth much later as a thunder-god who coupled with the Moon causing rain to fall. She held human hearts long before Zeus reigned supreme.
Europa’s mother, Telephassa was also associated with the moon and her granddaughter Ariadne was a moon goddess. The mysterious path of the moon is incorporated into the labyrinth.
Merisant concludes with the assertion that the myth of the the Minotaur derives from an ancient lunar myth which teaches about the rhythms of the moon, about cyclical unions between “the immortal cow goddess of the Moon and the mortal kings of storm-tossed islands” – a union of Heaven and Earth.
The Persians tell of Gavaevodata, the Primordial Bull. After creating Sky, then the waters and finally Earth, the Creator god, Ahura Mazda, created Gavaevodata -a beautiful creature, iridescent white, shining like the moon. Spirit of Chaos, Angra Mainyu, jealous of its beauty, killed the bull. Then Ahura Mazda took Gavaevodata to the moon. From his purified body all the other animals were born and finally humans.
To chose a new king the Irish engaged in a practice called tarbbfleis – ‘bull-sleep.’ After sacrificing a bull, a poet seer gorged on its flesh, drank its broth and then laid down to sleep – awaiting a dream about the identity of the new king.
The Scottish Celts used a practice called taghairm to foretell future events – still practiced as late as 1769. The selected person wrapped himself in the warm, smoking hide of a freshly sacrificed bull and laid down to dream in a remote natural location hoping for a vision of the future.
The movements of Egyptian Bull God, Apis, were used in prophecy.
Bull calls you to examine how you assert yourself. Are you using aggression in a positive way to enhance your prosperity or have you become a bully? Or perhaps you need to stand up for yourself more strongly.
Bull enters your life with messages of good luck, prosperity and stability. Bull ushers in a fertile time of body, mind and spirit.
With Bull as an ally you can muster your will, strength and power while stubbornly standing your ground when facing difficulties. Bull reminds you of the eternal nature of life and gifts you the stamina to endure.
Bull reminds you that death is the doorway to rebirth – that a balance of opposites is needed for us all to thrive.
Sources: Roman Times, Jones Celtic Encyclopedia, World History Encyclopedia, Margaret Merisante, Ph.D., brewminate, Mesopotamian Gods and the Bull, Ancient Mesopotamian Gods and Goddesses, Animals – Symbols.Com, World Birds – Joy of Nature
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. She is now working on her next deck of oracle cards – Animal Spirit Guides, and on a modern folktale of the Reindeer Goddess. 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.
9 thoughts on “Bull, Oracle of Strength and Prosperity by Judith Shaw”
You continue to do fascinating research that you share with us. I’m assuming that what you’re teaching us is not, as they say, “a lot of bull.” (No, that’s what we’re getting from politicians.) It’s good to learn about positive aspects of bulls. And their mothers. Bright blessings!
I was kind of resistant to writing about bull at first as its just seemed so overly masculine in so many ways. But I was attracted to painting Bull so I dove in. Once I kept digging deeper and deeper I discovered all the old myths that connected Bull to the goddess. I’m still trying to wrap my head around it all in that the various cattle-raising lands, where bulls and cows carried aspects of the deity, were very patriarchal. I suspect there must have been elements of the new rulers’ need to legitimize their rule in the hearts of the people as being involved with the place Bull took in their creation myths and stories.
My ongoing journey into the land of myth is one of many twists and turns – often through confusion to some small sort of ambiguous clarity. Bright Blessings to you too.
Thank you for all this information! It is fascinating. And I love your painting. The bull seems to be looking right into the viewer’s soul!
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Thanks Carolyn. The touching of one’s soul – the opening to the unknowable – is what I strive for with my paintings so I’m really grateful to hear that you were affected in that way.
I love how you always go into such depth with both intellect and heart (creativity) for all these creatures we share the earth with. I love your artwork so much. There is always something new to discover.
I as wondering if you came across anything about the relationship of bees and bulls in your research. (Afterall Apis and apiary have the same root). And there is the myth (which I can’t put my finger on immediately) of the skull of a bull’s head being buried and bees coming out of it. If I remember correctly it has something to do with fertility. There’s got to be something special there. I just don’t know what that connection is.
Anyway thanks for this.
Now that you mention it I recall reading something about a mythic relationship between bees and bulls when I’ve delved into a deep look at bees. But I can’t quite remember the details. Your question has spurred the thought of writing on that relationship. I’ve long loved bees both for both the gifts they give us and their association with the goddess and now really appreciate Bull also. Look for that one – maybe next month or sometime this summer….
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Thank you so much for this Judith! I have to admit I haven’t thought a lot about bulls even though they’re so prevalent as a symbol. This was absolutely fascinating!
I know what you mean. I’ve tended to neglect the masculine symbols myself. But Janet’s comment above has got me digging even deeper into bull. Look for more on bull and bull’s relationship with bee soon.