Bull (mythology)

Bull (mythology)

Appearances of the Bull (also known as "Taurus") in mythology and worship are widespread in the ancient world. It is the subject of various cultural and religious incarnations, as well as modern mentions in new age cultures.

Appearances in History

Paleolithic findings

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 Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh depicts the killing of the "Bull of Heaven", Gugalana, 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).

Eastern Anatolia

We cannot recreate a specific context for the bull skulls with horns ("bucrania") preserved in an 8th millennium BCE sanctuary at Çatalhöyük in 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 who grazed on the ruins of cities. [Hawkes and Woolley, 1963; Vieyra, 1955]

The impressive and dangerous aurochs survived into the Iron Age in Anatolia and the Near East and was worshiped throughout that area as a sacred animal.

Minoan Civilization

The Bull was a central theme in the Minoan Civilization, with bull heads and bull horns used as symbols in the Knossos palace. Minoan frescos 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 Civilization

Marduk is the "bull of Utu" and the Hindu God Shiva's steed is Nandi, the Bull.
Nandi the bull can be traced back to Indus Valley Civilization, where dairy farming was the most important occupations. The bull Nandi is Shiva's primary vehicle and is the principal gana(follower)of Shiva.


In Cyprus, bull masks made from real skulls were worn in rites. Bull-masked terracotta figurines [Burkert 1985] and Neolithic bull-horned stone altars have been found in Cyprus.


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.

Judeo-Christian traditions


Old Testament

The Bull is familiar in Judeo-Christian cultures from the Biblical episode wherein an idol of the Golden Calf is made by Aaron and worshipped by the Hebrews in the wilderness of Sinai ("Exodus"). Young bulls were set as frontier markers at Tel Dan and at Bethel the frontiers of the Kingdom of Israel.


In some Christian religions, Nativity scenes are assembled at Christmas time. Most of them show a bull or an ox near baby JesusFact|date=October 2007, lying in a manger. Traditional songs of Christmas often tell of the bull and the donkey warming the infant with their breath.

Greek world

----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 it, in the form of the myths that have survived.

Minotaur and The Bull of 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. 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"; [Burkert 1985 p. 24] only one Minoan image of a bull-headed man has been found, a tiny seal currently held in the Archaeological Museum of Chania.

Twelve Olympians

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 viewFact|date=October 2007. 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 which Dionysus is slaughtered as a bull calf and impiously eaten by the Titans. [Burkert 1985 pp. 64, 132]

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.

Ancient Macedonia

Alexander the Great's famous horse was named Bucephalus ("ox-head"), linking the self-proclaimed god-king with the mythical power of the bull.Fact|date=October 2007----

Late Hellenistic and Roman Era

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.

Celtic Polytheism

A prominent zoomorphic deity type is the divine bull. Tarvos Trigaranus ("bull with three cranes") is pictured on reliefs from the cathedral at Trier, Germany, and at Notre-Dame de Paris. In Irish literature, the Donn Cuailnge ("Brown Bull of Cooley") plays a central role in the epic "Táin Bó Cuailnge" ("The Cattle-Raid of Cooley").

Pliny the Elder, writing in the first century AD, describes a religious ceremony in Gaul in which white-clad druids climbed a sacred oak, cut down the mistletoe growing on it, sacrificed two white bulls and used the mistletoe to cure infertility:Miranda J. Green. (2005) "Exploring the world of the druids." London: Thames & Hudson. ISBN 0-500-28571-3. Page 18-19]

Irish mythology features the tales of the epic hero Cuchulainn, which were collected in the 7th century CE "Book of the Dun Cow."

Interpretations of Bull Worshipping

Christian Eucharist analogies

Walter Burkert summarized modern revision of a too-facile and blurred identification of a god that was identical to his sacrificial victim, which had created suggestive analogies with the Christian Eucharist for an earlier generation of mythographers:

:"The concept of the theriomorphic god and especially of the bull god, however, may all too easily efface the very important distinctions between a god named, described, represented, and worshipped in animal form, a real animal worshipped as a god, animal symbols and animal maskes used in the cult, and finally the consecrated animal destined for sacrifice. Animal worship of the kind found in the Egyptian Apis cult is unknown in Greece." ("Greek Religion," 1985).

Astrology connections

The sacred bull's myth survives in the constellation Taurus.

It has been suggested that the development of Taurus worshipping was based on ancient traditions giving weight to the astrological Age of Taurus (which was followed by the astrological Age of Aries).



*Burkert, Walter, "Greek Religion," 1985
*Campbell, Joseph "Occidental Mythology" "2.The Consort of the Bull", 1964.
*Hawkes, Jacquetta; Woolley, Leonard: "Prehistory and the Beginnings of Civilization", v. 1 (NY, Harper & Row, 1963)
*Vieyra, Maurice: "Hittite Art, 2300-750 B.C." (London, A. Tiranti, 1955)
*Jeremy B. Rutter, "The Three Phases of the Taurobolium", Phoenix (1968).

ee also


External links

* [http://www.metmuseum.org/explore/First_Cities/death_anatolia.htm An exhibit on the tombs of Alaca Höyük] at the Metropolitan Museum of Art includes one example of the bull standards.

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