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Pigs in Religion and Folklore:

ANCIENT EGYPT

NUT, the Egyptian Sky Goddess in form of a Celestial Sow, 1085BC-760BCNut, the sky goddess and goddess of the night, whose image was painted underneath the lid of coffins, was often depicted as the heavenly sow, eternal mother of the night stars, who were identified as thousands of piglets.

The powerful Egyptian God, Set, originally God of the desert was regarded as one of the two constituents of Egypt, and was opposed to the Sun God and to Osiris, the God of the fertile Nile. Set's worship was associated with the sacrifice of pigs. Swineherds, as pig keepers, were seen as specially privileged.

Tomb art from Saqqara (2345-2181 BC) showing a swineherd feeding a piglet by mouthTomb art from Saqqara (2345-2181 BC) shows a swineherd feeding a piglet by mouth, presumably more than a purely agricultural scene. The activity was regarded as being significant enough to be made into a sculpture.

Piglets were sacrificed to the Gods. Mature pigs were offered as a sacrificed to specific deities and then part would be eaten in a love feast by adherents. In later periods, the dominance of Set was replaced by the worship of Osiris. This seemed to have reduced the importance of pigs: swineherds themselves were later refused entry to the temples.

Ancient Greece

In the complex and rather depressing mythology of Ancient Greece, the winter season starts in October when the goddess Kore (or Persephone) leaves her mother Demeter (the goddess of fertility, the seasons, grain and abundance) to live in the Underworld with Hades and nothing grows. The ritual of Thesmophoria involved worshippers, who had raised piglets within their families, in killing and burying their animals. The pig's bodies would be dug up the next year and mixed with the current seed to fertilise the new seed with the fruits of the old. The Celts had similar practices in connection with the sow-goddess Caridwen.

Ulysses and Eumaeus
When Ulysses returned home from the Trojan wars, he found not a home suitable for a returned warrior, but one full of indolent suitors competing for the hand of his wife, Penelope, now regarded as a widow.

Ulysses sought shelter as stranger with Eumaeus, his swineherd, who did not recognise him. Whilst Ulysses had been away, Eumaeus had built up a pig farm with 50 breeding sows, 360 male pigs, and four ferocious hounds that slept with the pigs. Eumaeus bemoans his lot, because he has done all this for Ulysses, who will never return to see what he has done for him. The swineherd was particularly cheesed off because the suitors for Penelope insisted upon being treated as guests, eating the best pigs and drinking his wine. The poet Homer, obviously taken with the idea of Eumaeus, refers to him as the 'noble swineherd' and 'prince of swineherds'. That night Eumaeus took the best remaining pig and prepared a meal for Ulysses as a stranger, an honoured guest.

A few hours later, Eumaeus has found out who Ulysses is. He and Ulysses slay all the suitors, reclaim Ulysses' property, and recover his wife. In all this, Eumaeus is obviously more than simply the pigman.

INDIA

Avatar of Vishnu
Varaha, the boarOne of the main avatars (or incarnations) of the Hindu God Vishnu (The Protector) is Varaha, the boar, who can be represented with a boar's head. The battle between Lord Varaha and Hiranyaksha (a demon who had taken control of the earth) was believed to have lasted 1,000 years.

The boar's head would presumably have been the symbol of courage.


Jewish and Islamic Views

The Jewish and Islamic religions view pigs as unclean, prohibiting not only the consumption of pork products but contact with the animals. In Leviticus 11.1-47, there is a range of dietary rules and specifications concerning forbidden animals, birds and fish/shellfish. Only meat from animals with split hooves that chew the cud could be eaten. Pigs were excluded explicitly because they did not chew the cud (Lev.11.7). Other unclean animals include camels and hares, blood-based products, and shellfish, eels, bats, birds of prey and seagulls also cannot be eaten.

For Muslims, pork, fanged beasts of prey, blood products, and some types of sea creatures are regarded as impermissible. Unlike Judaism, camel can be eaten. For both religions, there are issues about the way meat has been sourced and prepared, the purposes for which this has been done, and necessary rituals, non-observance of any of which may make its consumption impermissible.

There have been a number of different views about the reasons why these religions have deemed certain foods, including pig, as unclean or impermissible. The dietary rules can be seen purely as divine laws, which need no explanation or logic and emphasise our subservience: this leaves open the reason as to why specific items have been deemed are impermissible. Items like pork or shellfish may cause health problems in hot climates and it may seem logical to forbid their consumption to reduce any risk to health. It seems more likely that the rationale involves the food chain: pigs and seagulls forage and one can never know precisely what they have eaten.

The Christian View of Pigs

There is no Christian view of pigs. Christians do not believe that any animal or living creature is unclean. Therefore there is no requirement to eat pork or to abstain from doing so. Early in the life of the new Church Christians specifically rejected Jewish dietary rules and rituals (Acts 10.10-16) and that remains the view of the main Christian denominations today. Adherents of Christianity may eat all kinds of meat and fish or stick to a vegetarian diet, But the reasons for doing so are cultural, health, or diet and they do not discriminate between different meats for theological reasons.

China

It is thought that the first pigs were domesticated in China several thousand years ago, and pigs have remained popular in China ever since, forming an important part of Chinese cuisine.

PigDragon, Honshan 5000 BCThis dragon pig, a pig or boar with dragon characteristics, dating from 7000 years ago was found at Hongshan, and probably represents prosperity and power.

Hai or The year of the Boar ('Year of the Pig') is the twelfth sign of the earthly branches in traditional Chinese reckoning. The pig is associated with fertility and virility and to have children in this year is thought fortunate, for they are likely to be happy and honest. Every year of the pig is identified with one of the elements, metal, water, wood, fire, and earth. The most recent Year of the Pig ended on 6 February 2008 and was a Fire Pig.

New Guinea

In anthropologically over-researched New Guinea, a person's wealth is judged in terms of the number of pigs, spending is measured in 'pig equivalents' and someone who does not eat pork is considered to be a heathen.

Founding Tales of Bath and Evesham

Bath
The English town of Bath was founded by a British King, Bladud, in 863 BC. Prince Bladud, the son of the King of the Britons, had spent his youth in Athens, where he had contracted leprosy. Knowing that a diseased prince could not become King, Bladud left the royal palace and took as job as a swineherd in the Avon Valley. He drove his herd of pigs in search of acorns across the River Avon at what is now Swineford. His pigs had also got leprosy from him, but when they rolled in the hot mud they found across the river, they were miraculously cured. Bladud also bathed in these springs and was similarly cured. He went home in triumph and was crowned King of the Britons. Bladud founded a town at Bath and dedicated its curative powers to the Celtic goddess Sul. When the Romans arrived 900 years later, they called the city Aquae Sulis - the Waters of Sul. Above the door of the baths, they put a carving of Prince Bladud casting acorns before his pigs.

Evesham
A swineherd called 'Eoves' saw a vision of the Virgin Mary, while he was searching for a stray pig in an area of Worcestershire called 'Lomme'. Eoves went to see Ecgwin, the Bishop of Worcester, and reported his experience. Ecgwin returned with him and also saw the vision of Mary. Ecgwin founded an Abbey on the spot in AD 709 and became its first Abbot. The area became known as Eoveshomme (later Evesham).By the time the abbey was dissolved in the sixteenth century, it had become the third most important in England. The town of Evesham (pronounced 'Eever -sham') continued to prosper.

"Eofor" meant boar and 'Eoves' may have been a descriptive name for swineherd.


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