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Animals and Witchcraft

(The Witches Familiar)

Wild Boar

Written and compiled by George Knowles

In ancient times winters were particularly harsh, cold and bleak, and for many people daily life was uncertain revolving as it did around seasonal changes intermixed with unpredictable natural phenomena such as:  thunderstorms, lightening strikes, floods, drought, earthquakes, fire and volcanic irruptions.  Without the evolved developments of modern day science, all such phenomena would have seemed mystical, and so much reliance was given to the veneration and appeasement of the Gods.  It was a common practice therefore at major feasts such as Yule, for animals (or humans) to be ritually sacrificed and dedicated to their honour.  Today, while many of the old traditions and practices are being revived, actual sacrifice is no longer politic and only symbolic alternatives are used in ritual.

One Norse tradition connected with the Goddess Freyja was the Yule Oath Boar.  In Scandinavian mythology, Freyja is the Goddess of fertility, married love and the hearth.  Her sacred animal was a Golden Boar called Gullinbursti (Golden Bristles), which glowed with a golden light strong enough to drive away shadows and turn night into day.  At Yule, the midwinter sacrifice of a boar was therefore seen as symbolic of the death of the old sun and the rebirth of the new on the solstice.

The boar also represented fertility and the spirit of abundance and prosperity, and being sacrifice at the darkest time of the year was traditionally used for the swearing of sacred oaths to ensure to following harvest.  On Yule Eve once all the family had gathered, a boar would be led around the family members for each to lay on their hands and pledge a solemn oath for the coming New Year (similar to the New Years resolutions practice of today).  After the oath ceremony the boar was ritually sacrificed in the name of Freyja, and its meat used in the celebratory feast.

While today ham, pork and boar meats are still the preferred fare at traditional Yule celebrations, loaves of bread or cakes are now baked in the shape of a boar, which symbolically replace the once sacrificed animal.  In some traditions the bread is made from the last sheaf of corn saved from the previous harvest.  This then takes pride of place in the center of the tabled were it remains throughout Yule until New Years Day.  At this time the loaf is split and the first half shared amongst the family, while the second half is saved until the Spring then mixed with the new corn seed to encourage a bountiful harvest.

The Wild Boar

The Wild Boar (Sus scrofa) is a species of swine belonging to the family Suidae, of which there are at least 16 subspecies.  Historically, the wild boar is the ancestor of the domestic pig (suborder Bunodontia) with which today it freely interbreeds.  Wild boars originated in Western Europe and Northern Africa, but now range across the entire continent down into the Mediterranean basin, through India and South-East Asia to Japan, Sri Lanka, Java, Taiwan, Korea and Malaya.  They have also become established in other parts of the world, were having been introduced for the sport of hunting, they escaped from captivity into the wild.

In the UK, Wild boars are known simply as boars, but around the world they are known by a variety of other names, including:  Wild Hogs, Wild Swine, Feral Pigs, Wild Pigs, Razorbacks, Pineywoods or Rooters.  Depending on location, they can also vary in size and colouration.  However in general, the coat of an adult boar is coarse with bristly short hair, which is brown-to-black in colour and tending towards grey with age.  They stand at about 3.5 ft (1.06 m) high at the shoulders, measure about 5 ft (1.52 m) in length nose-to-tail, and weigh in at about 200 lbs (91 kg).  The head is relatively long with small erect ears tapering down into a pointed snout, and from the top of the head they have short, wiry hair forming a mane along the spine, ending at the rear in a straight long-tasselled tail.

 

The upper and lower canine teeth of an adult boar form into distinctive continually growing tusks, the upper of which can measure up to 2.5 in (6.35 cm) long, but instances of much longer tusks have been found.  These upper tusks curve outward and upward from the mouth and are used for defense and digging, while the lower smaller tusks become extremely sharp from mashing against the uppers.  In females (called sows), the canine teeth are smaller than the males, the upper tusks being only slightly bent upwards in older individuals.

Boars are omnivorous but can adapt easily to different habitats.  They often live in herd groups of between 20-30 individuals (called sounders), which consist mainly of sows and their young offspring.  Male boars reach maturity at about 1 year old, after which they leave the herd group to roam on their own, only returning when they have gain enough size and strength necessary to fight and compete for females during the mating season.  After fierce fighting a dominant male has been known to mate with up to 5-6 sows in a mating season.

Boars are mainly nocturnal, and will travel fair distances each night when foraging for food.  Plant life and vegetation makes up for about 90% of their diet, and consists of roots, bulbs, tubers, fruit and berries (unearthed by rooting with their snouts and tusks).  They will also feed on mice, bird’s eggs, snakes, lizards, worms, beetles, centipedes and carrion.  Diets change according to the seasons and variable food availability, and in times of shortages, they are likely to become pests raiding agricultural crops such as fields of maize, turnips and potatoes.

A sow (the female boar) will commonly produce just one annual litter of 4-6 piglets, sired by the dominant male.  In temperate countries this will normally occur in the spring, while in tropical countries breeding takes place throughout a 6-9 month period, often during the moist seasons when food is plentiful.  Sows have a gestation period of about 115 days, and about 3-4 days before giving birth, will leave the herd group to build a nest (called furrowing), which is basically a hollow scraped in the ground and lined and covered with a mound of twigs, vegetation and grasses.  The actual birth only lasts between 2-3 hours, after which the sow and her piglets remain close to the nest for a further 4-6 days before rejoining the herd group.

When born, piglets are generally lighter in colouration with pale yellowish stripes but these are lost after 3-4 months as it gradually takes on a red colouration followed by adult colouration at approximately one year of age.  Rooting behaviour develops as early as the first few days of life, and they begin eating solid foods such as worms and grubs after about 2 weeks, becoming fully weaned after 3-4 months.  Sows reach sexual maturity from about 8-10 months of age, but don’t generally breed until they reach 18 months old.

Wild boars have exceptional hearing and sense of smell, but poor eyesight.  They are very vocal and communicate with others through a series of grunts and squeals.  When frightened or alarmed for example, they blow loudly through their nose creating a snorting sound, but when hurt they squeal and when content they rumble quietly.  The life expectancy of a boar in the wild is about 10 years of age, but in captivity they have been known to live as long as 25 years.

Mythology and Symbolism

In times long gone the boar was one of the most ferocious and aggressive animals a person was likely to encounter, it was also one of the best and most popular animals to hunt being admired for both its strength and courage.  Many warrior’s helmets bearing boars-head crests have been found in archaeological sites, and are thought to have been worn as a symbol of the wearers courage in battle.  In Beowulf, the epic Anglo-Saxon poem (c. 700), Beowulf himself led his warriors into battle wearing a boars-head helmet as a symbol of his power and leadership.

 

The Benty Grange Helmet is a fragmented boars-head helmet excavated by Thomas Bateman in 1848 from an Anglo-Saxon tumulus (or barrow) located in Derbyshire, England.  It is what remains of an iron helmet with a bronze boar on the crest matching the description of the warriors helmet in Beowulf.

 

To the ancient Celts the boar was thought to have great sexual power and was regarded as a symbol of fertility, abundance and future prosperity.  Charms and amulets made from a boars tusk were commonly worn for protection, and the boar was depicted on many cult objects.  One can clearly be seen on the Gundestrup Cauldron (circa. 100 BCE, discovered in a Denmark peat bog in 1891), as one of the animals attending Cernunnos the Celtic Horned God.

 

Plate panel on the Gundestrup Cauldron showing the animals attending Cernunnos

 

In a story from Greek mythology (told in Homer’s epic The Iliad) the Calydonian Boar is one of the great beasts sent by Artemis to ravage the city of Calydon in Aetolia (a district of ancient Greece on the NW of the Gulf of Corinth), after its King failed to honor her in his harvest rites to the Gods.  As the story goes, King Oeneus of Calydon regularly held his annual harvest sacrifice to the Gods on a sacred hill near the city, but one year forgot to include the Goddess Artemis in his offerings.  Artemis (known as the “Lady of the Bow”) was so insulted she let loose the biggest and most ferocious boar she could find to ravage the countryside of Calydon.  As it rampaged through fields and vineyards destroying their crops, the people were forced to take refuge inside the city walls and there began to starve.

Seeing this, King Oeneus organised a Royal Hunt and sent out invitations to all the best hunters in Greece offering as a prize the boar’s pelt and tusks to whoever could kill the beast.  Known as the Calydonian Hunt, among those who responded were some members of the Argonauts who had sailed with Jason on his search for the Golden Fleece, Meleager the King’s own son, and a women the huntress Atalanta (known as the “indomitable”, a daughter of Artemis).  The inclusion of a women in the hunt caused much dissension amongst the other males heroes, for many believed women inferior and refused to hunt with her.  Meleager however was smitten by her beauty and abilities and finally convinced them otherwise. 

As the hunt progressed it was Atalanta who first came upon the mighty boar and mortally wounded it with an arrow, but it was Meleager who finally killed the beast with a thrust from his spear.  Because Atalanta had drawn first blood and made it easier for him to kill it, Meleager gallantly awarded her the prized pelt and tusks in tribute.  However, many of the other hunters felt it a disgrace for a woman to receive the prize instead of a man, and led to the eruption of feuds and infighting amongst the heroes.  The story shows however, why it was so important for the people to properly venerate the Gods, less in retribution they destroy their crops??

Frieze showing the hunt for the Calydonian Boar at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.

 

Another story from Greek mythology concerns Adonis, the beautiful youth beloved by the goddesses Aphrodite and Persephone.  He was born of the incestuous union of King Cinyras of Cyprus and his daughter, then concealed in a chest and placed in the custody of Persephone, Queen of the Underworld.  When Adonis was slain by a wild boar while hunting, Aphrodite pleaded with the god Zeus to restore him to her.  Zeus decreed that Adonis should spend the winter months with Persephone in Hades and the summer months with Aphrodite.  Again here we can see the boar’s association with the natural cycle of life and death in nature.

Throughout history the boar and the boar’s-head have been used in heraldry.  One such is the boars-head that appears in the crest of the Clan MacKinnon in Scotland:

A boar’s head erased, argent, holding in its mouth a deer’s shankbone, proper.

 

According to the Mackinnon legend explaining a boar on their crest, a member of the clan was hunting on the shores of Loch Scavaig in Skye and after becoming separated from his hunting party spent the night in a cave for shelter.  While preparing a leg of venison for cooking on an open fire, he was attacked by a wild boar that had charged into the cave.  Taken by surprise the Mackinnon drove the butchered deer’s leg into the mouth of the boar, jamming it open, before killing it.  There are of course many other representations in heraldry, way to many for me to mention.

Wild Boar as a Totem

The Wild Boar is mostly seen as a masculine totem for it enriches all the male virtues of bravery, nobility and fierceness in battle, but the Sow (female) is also emboldened with many of the same attributes, including protectiveness and fertility.  While they are generally fierce animals signifying the warrior’s spirit, they are also clannish in nature and enjoy social interaction, but don’t let this fool you for they are also wary of outsiders.

The Wild Boar possesses many powerful and valuable characteristics that anyone would be wise to emulate.  Those who do will gain the power of enhanced courage and fearlessness when faced with adversity, as well as an increased ability to plan actions aimed at gaining success, for prosperity is also part of this totem magic.  If boar shows up as your totem, he could well be asking you to stand up, have faith, and move forward without fear.  If you do this, whatever fears you had will soon become distant memories rather than present reality and life can be experienced in a new and more positive manner.

The boar’s medicine is deeply connected to the earth energies for they can often be seen rooting and foraging in the undergrowth of plants and trees, and although they have poor eyesight, they have excellent hearing and a sense of smell that helps them remain alert and aware of everything around them.  This teaches us to look beneath the surface at things that may be troubling us, to uncover what lies hidden and effectively deal with it by fine-tuning our senses and paying attention to whatever is around us.

Boar initiates transformation through self-discovery by using all our senses efficiently.  Those with boar for a totem would be wise to follow his lead, for by doing so, you can strengthen and develop your character and improve the quality of your life.  Boar is a powerful totem to have, but not an easy one to work with, for order and efficiency in all we do is a main part of his medicine.

Sources:

Microsoft ® Encarta ® 2006. © 1993-2005 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

Penguin Hutchinson Reference Library (c) 1996 Helicon Publishing and Penguin Books Ltd

The Golden Bough:  A Study in Magic and Religion  -  by James George Frazer.

Animal-Wise:  The Spirit Language and Signs of Nature  -  by Ted Andrews

Plus to many websites to mention.

 

Written and compiled on the 20th November 2009 © George Knowles

Best wishes and Blessed Be

 

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In Worship of Trees - Myths, Lore and the Celtic Tree Calendar.  For descriptions and correspondences of the thirteen sacred trees of Wicca/Witchcraft see the following:  Birch /  Rowan / Ash /  Alder /  Willow Hawthorn /  Oak /  Holly /  Hazel /  Vine /  Ivy /  Reed /  Elder

 

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Many of the above biographies are briefs and far from complete.  If you know about any of these individuals and can help with additional information, please contact me privately at my email address below.  Many thanks for reading  :-)

 

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