Friday, October 21, 2016

May Totems: Cattle

In our tradition we divide the year not only by eight solar and agricultural holidays, but also by the Kalends. We celebrate twelve months of the year by the common calendar, plus a special thirteenth month for Samhain.  These month cycles are associated with different totemic spirits. Each month is assigned an animal, a bird (or other flying creature), and a tree. May's totems are Cow, Hawthorn, and Bee.

The totemic associations are as follows:

Cow (Tarbh/Bò) – fertility, prosperity, protection, nourishment
Hawthorn (Huathe) – fertility, cleansing, protection, joy
Bee (Beach) – fertility, community, sweetness, celebration, organization

Bull (Tarbh)

The bull is associated with health, potency, beneficence, fertility, abundance, prosperity,  and power. The number of cattle owned were an indicator of wealth, a fact that is carried over in the term “Bull market” = rising stock market. The bull also appeared frequently on Celtic coins. Oxen (castrated bulls) were early power supply.

 Bronze horns and bronze rattle (in the shape of bull’s testes) spoke to the sacredness of the bull. Its horns are used as ceremonial drinking cups even today. An early Irish ritual (“bull sleep”) told of the new king when the old one died. “Gateway ceremonies” involved ritual sacrifice of bulls.

Cow (Bò)

The cow represents nourishment, motherhood and the Goddess. Certain herbs are associated with cows, such as cranberry (cowberry), cowslip, and milk-wort.

In Celtic lands, cows have long been considered sacred. In Britain there were sacred herds of white cattle. Ireland was gifted with cattle when three cows emerged from the sea – one red, one white, and one black. Brighid was reared on the milk of an Otherworld cow and is considered the patroness of cattle. Three of the four sacred festivals were related to cows (Samhain, Beltaine and Imbolc) Many Eastern traditions also hold the cow as sacred.

The cow is also a source of nourishment on many levels – milk, leather, meat, horn. The fact that is contributes to much to daily life is part of what makes it so sacred and special.

In folklore, the Milky Way is also called the Cow Path, and there are Fairy Cows called the  “Crodh Shith.”  Many offerings are made of milk, and the breath and milk of the cow are considered healing.

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