Guestblog by Ellen: Symbolism of the primordial Cow-Goddess
Animal Symbolism of the Mother Goddess – part 1 – The Cow
Throughout the ages of human history the Mother Goddess has come with countless different faces
and has spoken many languages. But a big part of her language can be understood by all who choose
to listen with their heart instead of ears, a part that isn’t dependent on words, but uses something
more universal: symbolism.
In this series of posts we will explore some of the symbolism that forms a big part of her language;
animal symbolism. And where better to start this journey then at the beginning of it all, with the
animal that symbolizes that very beginning; The Cow.
In cultures all over the world the Cow represents the Mother Goddess in her role as Primal Mother,
she who gave birth to the first Gods and Goddesses, or to the world or even the whole universe.
In Norse mythology the primeval cow Audhumla stood at the cradle of all life. Born from the melting
ice in Ginnungagap, where the ice from Niflheim and the steam from Muspelheim met, she and the
frost giant Ymir were the first beings in the universe. Audhumla fed Ymir with her milk, flowing from
her udders in four streams. And while licking the salty rime rocks she revealed Buri, grandfather of
the Gods, who at their turn created the world by sacrificing Ymir.
And Audhumla finds herself in good company of cow-associated Mother Goddesses. Such as the
Egyptian Mother Goddess Hathor, mother of the Gods. Her name can be translated as ‘house of
Horus’. ‘House’ in ancient Egyptian meaning the same as ‘the body of the mother’ or ‘vessel’ or ‘all-
embracing’. In her oldest images Hathor was depicted as a cow, or at least with a cow’s head or
cow’s horns. And in between her horns she often holds the solar disk; she is heaven holding the sun.
And, following that celestial path, Hathor is also associated with Mehet-Weret or Het-Heru, the
Heavenly Cow from whose milk originated the Milky Way. And, according to the hermetic principle of
‘as above, so below’; such as the Milky Way above us is associated with this Primal Mother, it has its
reflection here below on Earth in the river Nile, source of all life in Egypt.
Looking at yet another part of the world, it’s quite commonly known that in Hinduism the cow is an
holy animal. As a symbol of the abundance, fertility and generosity of earth she provides food and
life and is therefore to be treated with the same respect as you owe your mother. But the Mother
Goddess - Cow association goes further than that in Hinduism; Mother Goddess Aditi, Mother of the
Gods, personification of infinity, is often represented as the Cosmic Cow. Before creation, the whole
universe was in her womb. Also with her associated is the goddess Vach, personification of the
primeval sound, the source of all language, inspiration of poets and visionaries, the mother of the
Veda’s, and often depicted as, you guess, …. a Cow-Goddess.
The Cow-goddess can also be traced in Latvian folklore, in the form of the archaic goddess Mara. Like
many other really archaic goddesses, her origin is somewhat shrouded in mystery and clouded by
crossovers with other goddesses. But not bothered by this cloudy descent, her presence is still very
much alive. Amongst many other functions, such as her ambivalent role in both the giving and taking
of live as Great Mother or Earth Mother, in Latvian folklore she is seen as a protectress of cows, milk
and butter. Even more so, she is often depicted as a cow herself. Her association with cows and milk
comes forth in many stories, magical songs and incantations. And hers is the power for making milk a
sacred drink during ceremony and ritual.
Coming from the cow, all over the world milk is referred to as a holy substance, such as in the Celtic
stories about Brigid who grew up drinking milk from an otherworldly cow and later became, among a
lot of other things, a patroness for dairy cattle and is often depicted with a cow by her side.
Milk is even so holy that in many cultures it is used as an outstanding offering to the Gods, nature
beings and other spirits, and as a great means in giving blessings to people, locations and objects. For
example; in traditional shamanism, such as the lineage of Spirit of Wolf, the holy fire ritual starts by
blessing sacred space and all directions with milk.
The strong symbolism of the cow also comes in pars-pro-toto form; think for example of the Horn of
Plenty, symbol of abundance and nourishment. One of the main attributes of our Dutch (Mother)
Goddess Nehallenia. And speaking of cow-symbolism close to our homes; the three-fold Mother
Goddesses depicted on the ‘Matronae’ altars sometimes hold a small cow on their lap.
Looking at all these connections with the Mother Goddess, it makes sense that up till this day the
Cow still symbolizes a lot of (motherly) qualities: care, warmth and love, fertility and giving birth,
feeding and meeting needs, abundance and richness of the earth and universe, generosity, giving and
taking with an open heart.
So next time you come across a cow grazing in the meadow, take some time to look her in her
beautiful, warm eyes and acknowledge her and your connection with the Mother Goddess. And for
all you city people; beware of doing this with a bull, he just might want to make a very intimate
connection with you.
Speaking of bulls... they can be found in the Mother Goddess’s animal symbolism too, but that’s for
some other time. More to come in this series of exploring the animal symbolism of the Mother
Goddess. Keep posted!