Bull worship through ages

Sacred bull

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The worship of the Sacred Bull throughout the ancient world is most familiar to the Western world in the biblical episode of the idol of the Golden Calf. The Golden Calf after being made by the Hebrew people in the wilderness of Sinai, were rejected and destroyed by Moses and his tribe after his time upon the mountain peak (Book of Exodus). Marduk is the "bull of Utu". Shiva's steed is Nandi, the Bull. The sacred bull survives in the constellation Taurus. The bull, whether lunar as in Mesopotamia or solar as in India, is the subject of various other cultural and religious incarnations, as well as modern mentions in new age cultures.

 
(Bull is worshipped in the form of Nandi in India even today)

Stone Age

Aurochs are depicted in many Paleolithic European cave paintings such as those found at Lascaux and Livernon in France. Their life force may have been thought to have magical qualities, for early carvings of the aurochs have also been found. The impressive and dangerous aurochs survived into the Iron Age in Anatolia and the Near East and was worshipped throughout that area as a sacred animal; the earliest survivals of a bull cult are at neolithic Çatalhöyük.

The bull was seen in the constellation Taurus by the Chalcolithic and had marked the new year at springtide by the Bronze Age, for 4000–1700 BCE.

Bronze Age

Mesopotamia

The Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh depicts the killing by Gilgamesh and Enkidu of the Bull of Heaven, Gugalana, first husband of Ereshkigal, as an act of defiance of the gods. From the earliest times, the bull was lunar in Mesopotamia (its horns representing the crescent moon).[1]

Egypt

In Egypt, the bull was worshiped as Apis, the embodiment of Ptah and later of Osiris. A long series of ritually perfect bulls were identified by the god's priests, housed in the temple for their lifetime, then embalmed and encased in a giant sarcophagus. A long sequence of monolithic stone sarcophagi were housed in the Serapeum, and were rediscovered by Auguste Mariette at Saqqara in 1851. The bull was also worshipped as Mnewer, the embodiment of Atum-Ra, in Heliopolis. Ka in Egyptian is both a religious concept of life-force/power and the word for bull.

Eastern Anatolia

We cannot recreate a specific context for the bull skulls with horns (bucrania) preserved in an 8th millennium BCE sanctuary at Çatalhöyükin eastern Anatolia. The sacred bull of the Hattians, whose elaborate standards were found at Alaca Höyük alongside those of the sacred stag, survived in the Hurrian and Hittite mythologies as Seri and Hurri (Day and Night)—the bulls who carried the weather god Teshub on their backs or in his chariot, and grazed on the ruins of cities.[2]

Minoa

The Bull was a central theme in the Minoan civilization, with bull heads and bull horns used as symbols in the Knossos palace. Minoanfrescos and ceramics depict the bull-leaping ritual in which participants of both sexes vaulted over bulls by grasping their horns. See also "Minotaur and The Bull of Crete" (below) for a later incarnation to the Minoan Bull.

Indus Valley

Nandi the bull can be traced back to Indus Valley civilization, where dairy farming was the most important occupation. The bull Nandi is Shiva's primary vehicle and is the principal gana (follower) of Shiva.

Crete

For the Greeks, the bull was strongly linked to the Bull of Crete: Theseus of Athens had to capture the ancient sacred bull of Marathon (the "Marathonian bull") before he faced the Bull-man, the Minotaur (Greek for "Bull of Minos"), whom the Greeks imagined as a man with the head of a bull at the center of the labyrinth. Minotaur was fabled to be born of the Queen and a bull, bringing the king to build the labyrinth to hide his family's shame. Living in solitude made the boy wild and ferocious, unable to be tamed or beaten. Earlier Minoan frescos and ceramics depict bull-leaping rituals in which participants of both sexes vaulted over bulls by grasping their horns. Yet Walter Burkert's constant warning is, "It is hazardous to project Greek tradition directly into the Bronze age";[4] only one Minoan image of a bull-headed man has been found, a tiny seal currently held in the Archaeological Museum of Chania.

Hellas

When the heroes of the new Indo-European culture arrived in the Aegean basin, they faced off with the ancient Sacred Bull on many occasions, and always overcame him, in the form of the myths that have survived.

In the Olympian cult, Hera's epithet Bo-opis is usually translated "ox-eyed" Hera, but the term could just as well apply if the goddess had the head of a cow, and thus the epithet reveals the presence of an earlier, though not necessarily more primitive, iconic view[citation needed]. Classical Greeks never otherwise referred to Hera simply as the cow, though her priestess Io was so literally a heifer that she was stung by a gadfly, and it was in the form of a heifer that Zeus coupled with her. Zeus took over the earlier roles, and, in the form of a bull that came forth from the sea, abducted the high-born Phoenician Europa and brought her, significantly, to Crete.

Dionysus was another god of resurrection who was strongly linked to the bull. In a cult hymn from Olympia, at a festival for Hera, Dionysus is also invited to come as a bull, "with bull-foot raging." "Quite frequently he is portrayed with bull horns, and in Kyzikos he has a tauromorphic image," Walter Burkert relates, and refers also to an archaic myth in whichDionysus is slaughtered as a bull calf and impiously eaten by the Titans.[5]

In the Classical period of Greece, the bull and other animals identified with deities were separated as their agalma, a kind of heraldic show-piece that concretely signified their numinous presence.

Iron Age

Roman Empire

Bull used as an heraldic crest, here for the Fane family, Earls of Westmorland. (Great Britain, this example C18th/C19th, but inherited early C17th from a much earlier use of the idiom by the Neville family).

The bull is one of the animals associated with the late Hellenistic and Roman syncretic cult of Mithras, in which the killing of the astral bull, the tauroctony, was as central in the cult as the Crucifixion was to contemporary Christians. The tauroctony was represented in every Mithraeum (compare the very similar Enkidu tauroctony seal). An often-disputed suggestion connects remnants of Mithraic ritual to the survival or rise of bullfighting in Iberia and southern France, where the legend of Saint Saturninus (or Sernin) of Toulouse and his protegé in Pamplona, Saint Fermin, at least, are inseparably linked to bull-sacrifices by the vivid manner of their martryrdoms, set by Christian hagiography in the 3rd century CE, which was also the century in which Mithraism was most widely practiced.

In some Christian traditions, Nativity scenes are carved or assembled at Christmas time. Many show a bull or an ox near the baby Jesus, lying in a manger. Traditional songs of Christmas often tell of the bull and the donkey warming the infant with their breath. This refers (or, at least, is referred) to the beginning of the book of the prophet Isaiah, where he says: "The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib." (Isaiah 1:3)

 

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