symbolism of the goat

There are few other creatures of the natural world that have been maligned in spiritual and religious symbolism as much as the goat. Poor goats, right?

Apart from spending way more time than I’d like to admit watching screaming goats videos on Youtube (you’re welcome), goats are quite awesome. They are nature’s tenacious, intelligent, and industrious little cloven-footed buddies.

They keep plant life controlled, they produce an alternative to cow milk (goat milk is delicious, if you haven’t tried it), and they’re super playful and friendly. They also provide meat, fleece, and skin to cultures who raise them and care for them.

Wild mountain goats are able to clamber up nearly sheer rock faces, thousands of feet above the ground, almost effortlessly and without fear. Goats in pastures use creative escape plans to free themselves. Goats seize opportunities.

But let’s walk it back a bit to what the goat symbolizes from a magickal or spiritual perspective.

History of Goat Symbolism

Goat legends abound in Pagan religions, which is likely part of the reason why they were later to be associated with ‘the devil’ in Judeo-Christian symbology.

Zeus was suckled by the goat Amalthea. Thor’s chariot is drawn by two goats (who can be cooked and eaten, and then rise again the next morning anew).

Goats were traditionally associated with fertility and virility, thanks to the impassioned and persistent nature of a rutting billy goat. This might also be why their image was darkened by the church, because sexy sexy goats might spread the wrong message?

Anyway, the Greek god Pan was a well-known goat-god, half man/half goat and connected to fertility, sensuality, sexual pleasure, and lust. At some point after the establishment of the Catholic church, the image of Pan was given red skin, menacing black horns, and glowing red eyes and became the symbol of evil.

Aphrodite was also shown riding a goat as her favorite mount.

Satyrs were half man/half goat figures who played music and enjoyed revelry and pleasure. Goats were associated with Dionysus, to whom they were traditionally sacrificed.

The practice of ‘scapegoating’ in Judaic lore (and this appears to perhaps also have been practiced in some other early Middle Eastern sects that were not specifically Jewish, but I can’t find good sources to confirm) involved a village or family group designating one goat each year to bear the sins, shame, negative thoughts, and so forth of each individual.

The people of the village or group would each walk up and touch the goat, symbolically transferring their sins and bad deeds/thoughts to the goat. Once the goat was full of their negativity and sins, it would be set free to wander off into the desert, carrying their sins and misdeeds away with it. In other words, being their scapegoat, and accepting whatever punishment or judgment would be issued for those sins.

And then we get to the point in which the goat literally became associated with the biblical Satan.

The goat head is now used to symbolize the reversed pentagram, such as on the seal of The Satanic Temple (they’re a rad group, I highly recommend you read their tenets), and is also part of the symbolism of Baphomet, who the Templars were accused of praying to or worshipping after they confessed during torture, and who was then subsequently established as a heathen or pagan idol.

However, scholars now largely agree that the name Baphomet was an Old French bastardization of the name Muhammad (Mahomet) and that there was not a separate entity named Baphomet associated with the Christian devil.

Otherwise, prior to those recorded confessions in the early 1300s, the name did not appear in any records, and was certainly not associated with goats.

Duality of Goats vs Sheep

From an organized Judeo-Christian religion perspective, sheep were the good followers, who stayed in the pasture and didn’t stray. They didn’t attempt to escape or find excitement. They did as they were told and just ate their pasture grass and were happy being told by the shepherd and sheepdog that this was their life and it would always be this way.

How many religious passages, songs, and hymns refer to ‘the flock,’ ‘pastures/pastoral,’ ‘fleece,’ and so forth? Sheep were divine, or associated with following the divine and being ‘good.’

The goat on the other hand, questioned. The goat knew that just outside that fence there was excitement, adventure, and juicy she-goats to get feisty with. The world is the goat’s oyster. The goat is down for a challenge and whatever pleasures it can find.

The goat pursued its urges, never regretted, and achieved heightened experiences.

And this, my friends, is where a large amount of the ruining of the goat’s reputation and image came from by the church as it systematically wiped out or suppressed Pagan traditions and belief systems.

The message was pretty clear: don’t think for yourself, don’t question, and don’t even think about kinky mating!

What Messages Does the Goat Bring Us?

If you feel particularly connected to the imagery, character, or spirit of the goat, or are seeing a lot of goat imagery popping up lately, here are some things to consider:

  • What barriers hold you in? Are they really there, or are they self-created? Is it time to leap the fence and explore?
  • You may need to explore sexuality and pleasure, but conversely, just like a reversed tarot card, if you’re already doing a lot of sexual exploration, this symbol might signal unconsciously compelled sexual compulsions or an unhealthy lust for power
  • Are you following blindly without questioning? Perhaps its time to re-assess something in your life and take ownership of your trajectory
  • Goats can also symbolize energetic pursuit of a want or need. Is there something lacking that you can apply more energy to in order to manifest it?

what are familiars?

First, the original meaning or function of a witch’s familiar was a familiar spirit. Meaning, not a physical (at least not corporeal like the ‘real world’ we inhabit) form.

At some point in the last century or so, it appears that the term ‘familiar’ has been applied to just any random animal that hangs around a witch’s place, including family pets.

History of Witches’ Familiars

This is one of those things that there are entire books written about it, and I encourage you to go read those, because this post is more of a brief exploration to clear the air and whet your appetite, should you want to learn more.

You can read of familiars mentioned in texts dating back to the medieval period, including accounts of witch trials, interrogations by the clergy, and the Lesser Key of Solomon, in which various of the goetic demons are mentioned as ‘giving good familiars.’ That was written down around the 17th century, but came from sources thought to be recorded during possibly the 15th century.

Before that, there is a good deal of culture-specific lore passed down mostly verbally in many spiritual practices around the world referring to familiar spirits. Most written accounts of familiars begin around the 15th century, however.

All of these sources, however, agree that familiars are spirits. They are spirit companions that aid a witch in magickal or spiritual workings. They may act as a form of spirit guide at times, as well as a source of information and even energy, when needed.

Some familiars can even go find or retrieve items for you, if they are given such a purpose, and there’s some overlap with servitors in this regard.

Familiars are also not limited to appearing as animals, and can appear as human-looking, alien-looking, or other forms. This may depend on the nature or origin of the familiar and also probably has a significant influence from the spiritual and cultural practices of the witch herself.

It seems that the association with pets or physical animals began with neo-modern practices, especially Wicca, which makes it a wholly modern construct.

Purpose of a Familiar

As mentioned above, the familiar spirit is not a pet, but a companion of assistance and protection. Often the familiar spirit is sent to or given to a witch to protect them, assist them, or warn them when something harmful is about to happen, or even if a curse or hex has been thrown their way.

Familiars can be called by the witch, or can be given or assigned to the witch by another spirit, such as a spirit guide, an ancestor, or even a deity, if the witch asks for one.

Familiars are also usually assigned for a specified length of time, such as a few weeks for a specific task, or many years or decades to fulfill a much broader purpose in the witch’s life. This may or may not involve a pact between the witch and the familiar spirit.

The main difference between the familiar and a servitor here is that the servitor is created by the witch of her own energy and the familiar is an external spiritual entity. You can read more about servitors and how to create them here.

Some familiars are strictly for divinatory purposes to send information or warnings to the witch, or to provide insight into questions asked during divination sessions.

Familiars may appear visibly to the witch, but most commonly, they are said to communicate psychically through visions and dreams, or while the witch enters a trance state or visits the astral.

But, Is My Pet My Familiar?

No.

the ethics of witching

let’s go there for a minute.

when people think about ethics related to witchery, we tend to think of the use of what some refer to as ‘dark’ witchcraft, such as curses, hexes, binding, or other types of magickal practice that affect or control another human being and/or their free will.

other ethical considerations of witchery, though, include, but are not limited to:

  • using animal parts in practice
  • using human parts in practice
  • appropriation of another culture’s practices without respect for the culture of origin
  • sexual misconduct of ‘mentors’ or other positions of power, taking advantage of others’ trust
  • children or minors involved in various ways in the craft that may be inappropriate

so needless to say, there are a number of ways we can approach ethics, and each of us has to make our decisions about where we stand on most of these, but i think its safe to say that there are some lines that, ideally, all of us should be drawing, but are not consistently happening.

sexual or other forms of abuse need to stop.

okay, so there are a TON of gray areas in this, and i would like to think that we’re all consenting adults in whatever we choose to do. but, the reality is that, as those of us who have been in situations elsewhere in life involving sexual harassment and sexual assault know, consent flies out the window the second the abuser or harasser is in a position of power relative to the victim. always. full stop. there is never an exception or ‘but what if…’ to this one.

if you or anyone you know is using your relative power or status to coerce another person into ANYTHING they would not normally do otherwise, including but not limited to nudity, sexual acts, participation in events or rituals, castings, or else, you are an abuser. and anyone who witnesses and doesn’t do anything about it, is your enabler at best, and an accomplice, at worst.

i like being naked, its great and fun, and so is sex. and if magick and sex go together for you, that’s awesome, too. there should never be an unwilling participant. ever. every time i have asked my husband to participate in any sex magick i have always asked him. and when he initially replied ‘well, i’ve never done that but, sure, i’ll give it a shot,’ my reply was, ‘only if you feel comfortable.’

any kind of act within magickal practice should always occur under consent throughout from all participants, and the conditions under which it occurs need to be structured so that all participants feel comfortable voicing their discomfort, should it arise.

i won’t say that men are the problem, but i will say as a woman, women understand this much better than men do, in my experience.

women are typically much better at making sure everyone is comfortable throughout an experience and checking in with participants during than men, who assume that unless you speak up, you’re consenting, which we all 100% know is not always the case.

and this is probably because, statistically, 75% of women have been in situations where they absolutely didn’t feel comfortable, but also didn’t feel as if they could speak up and voice a concern.

taking or appropriating another culture’s religious, spiritual, or magickal practices without giving appropriate attribution and respect

is absolutely never okay, especially if you are profiting from it. there are many many cultures in which forms of witchcraft are practiced and they each come with their own inherited and cultural considerations for those practices. if you want to learn about them and learn from them, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

but if you want to profit off of them with products or services without giving proper due, that’s never okay. ask yourself if you would want someone taking your cultural history and practices and passing them off as something else without respecting you, your family, your ancestors, and your heritage?

and then we get to the really gray areas that i think we can all argue about all day long, but at the end of the day, we have to make some tough decisions about where this weighs on our conscience:

initiating children into practices when they are minors.

as a legal rule, minors cannot give consent for virtually anything. they’re minors and the government views them as property of their parents or legal guardians.

i have some personal reservations about viewing any human being as property of another, but as a parent, i also fully understand that minors do stupid shit and sometimes have stupid ideas (including my formerly minor self in that, as well).

so, sometimes parents need to make these decisions for them. religion and spirituality, however, feels icky if its a decision we make for someone else, though, at least to me.

if my son expressed interest in my beliefs, i would have no problem explaining to him and referring him to further reading so he could make informed decisions for himself, but i would never just say ‘hey, i think you should look into this.’ and then bring him along for full moon spells and rituals.

where i think this is okay is if a child expressed on their own an interest and there are some activities they can do that are age appropriate, then, yeah, absolutely. but it should never be a decision that’s made for them, however, that’s just my personal opinion formed from a personal autonomy point of view. this stems heavily from my embrace of The Satanic Temple tenets, the third of which states:

“one’s body is inviolable, and subject to one’s own will alone.”

the use of animal or human parts.

so this tends to be a topic that causes a chasm in some parts of the magickal and pagan community.

in an ideal situation, all human and animal parts should be ethically acquired, meaning you didn’t have to kill a person in order to get their teeth and there’s no live animal sacrifice happening, but we all know there are seriously divergent views on this that stem from cultural experience and practice.

hell, my own viking and northern european pagan ancestors sacrificed the fuck out of some animals and humans throughout history and before christianity took over their ancestral practices, so its not even like i can claim i’m clean on this one, and probably nobody else can, either.

i’m also personally an omnivore and eat meat from animals daily, and would never be so hypocritical to say that i won’t use animal parts in my practice, but i will do what i do when i acquire animal products to eat, which is to look into the supplier, their ethical history and practices and make the best judgment call i can with the information i have. if it doesn’t seem right, i don’t participate or buy.

human parts are a little more vague, because lots of people ‘donate their bodies to science’ or expire from ‘natural causes’ and apart from official morgue records, which we can only hope are true and verified, we really can’t know if they were ethically harvested unless you were there at the time, which begs the question: wtf were you really doing there?? lol

magick that controls the will of another person.

this includes hexes, curses, bindings, and so on. these are often referred to as ‘dark magick’ but in reality, magick itself is neutral, the intent of the user is what may be termed ‘dark’ or ‘light.’

its my opinion that all of these have a place. i also don’t at all believe in the ‘rule of 3.’ if you cast a curse or hex on someone and you regret it for even a second, then its absolutely going to backfire and come back on, you. that’s my experience. so just make sure its absolutely 100% what you really want.

i’m not going to hypocritically sit here and say i would never curse someone, either. i personally don’t know anyone right now that i would want to go through the energy expensive process of placing a curse on, but i can’t say that i never will know someone like that, present federal administration excluded. i can tell you i 1000% would curse someone that hurts my kid. no question. i hope they feel the pain of a 1000 deaths before feeling the pain of their actual death.

but i have friends who couldn’t even grasp the concept of that, even if it was their own kids.

my vast life experience has taught me that most people are their own curse. really. they’re miserable fucks that hate themselves and are hollow inside and you don’t actually need to take the time or energy to curse them, because their lives already suck, even if you think they don’t.

if you’re the kind of person that likes to curse others just because you’re the actual miserable fuck, well, then why are you even reading a post about ethics? or maybe you counter curse someone who curses you? does that balance the karmic scales? (btw, i don’t have the answer to that question just yet…)

this might also include love spells, and, honey, if he doesn’t love you without a spell, do you really want him? maybe that’s the universe screaming in your face that he’s just one giant walking red flag…

but what about spells that ‘encourage’ another person to do something that’s of benefit to them, like casting a spell to get your spouse to look for a better job because they’re miserable where they are but they feel stuck on their own, or a spell to get your neighbor to clean up their trashy-looking yard…

i can’t tell you how to approach those because i’m not you and i don’t know those people. but these things still fall under the category of you controlling someone else’s free will, so weigh the karmic outcome on these things carefully.

so that sort of sums up where there are some potential problems that are obvious, but then keep in mind, as with any supply chain and growth of consumer interest in a particular subject or industry, there will absolutely be impacts on human welfare, such as mining those beautiful crystals you like to buy, or growing and harvesting the herbs you buy in bulk, and so forth.

there is absolutely no way that any of us can live and operate in our modern world without impacting another life- human, animal, or plant. so, beyond that, i think barring the actual illegal acts that fall under sexual assault or harassment and the actual illegal harvesting of animal/human parts, we need to decide where we stand. there’s probably no completely right or wrong answer.

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