There are few animals as revered, worshipped, symbolized, and even spiritually elevated as the cow. Across the globe, this ruminant has been featured in almost every culture’s mythology.
In this post, I’ll be discussing just the cow, not the bull, as their symbolism is quite different in most cultures.
It is likely that the cow featured so prominently in spiritual or mythological symbolism due to its many beneficial products which can be derived of it or its body.
The cow provides milk, butter, cheese, meat, hide, and even fertilizer in the form of its manure- all of which could be obtained for nothing more than some pasture land on which to graze, or regular hay or grasses.
And, if that’s not enough, she provided calves, which could be raised, bred, and therefore produce additional cows and bulls, sustaining the human societies who domesticated them.
Because of its extreme value in that respect, it was common to see prices for every major purchase (including people) in the prices of cows or head of cows.
The cow symbolizes life, fertility, motherhood, maternal instinct, reproduction,
Tales of the Cow
There are probably tales of cows in every culture, however, there are several which stand out or are more well-known, probably only because of better historical documentation preservation in those parts of the world.
Cows and the Norse
The Norse primeval cow Audhumla licked away salt blocks, to reveal Buri, the ancestor of the gods. Her milk fed the frost giant Ymir, from whose body the world was formed. This may be where the term ‘Milky Way’ came from, in reference to the galaxy in which our planet resides, however, it is difficult to attribute this to only the Norse stories of the cow.
Cows and the Egyptians
The Egyptian cow-headed goddess Hathor is one of the most prominent in the Khemetic pantheon or path. She gave birth to the son, which was her ‘golden calf,’ and her horns were the crescent of the moon. You may also see this goddess referred to as Ahet. Amulet’s with the head of Hathor or Ahet were worn by women in the Nile Valley to ensure fertility.
There is a triple goddess in the combination of Hathor, Isis, and Nut, representing the heavens, the underworld, and the earth in between.
Cows in India
The Hindu religion includes Dharma, the cow which represents the four stages, or cosmic ages (yugas), the world went through (and is currently in the last stage, the most unstable).
The cow enjoys a peaceful and free existence still today in India, due to its sacred status. The cow is also associated with the god Krishna, who was a young cowherd. They are considered the rain which fertilizes the Earth and the clouds which contain the water of heaven. They were even brought to the bedside of those who were dying, in order to allow them guidance into the afterlife.
Cows in Mesopotamia and Sumer
These often get grouped together as they developed overlapping in this region of the world. Cows were depicted as the Great Mother or Great Cow, and thought to have fed the waters of the Nile and other major life-bringing rivers of the region with their milk.
The cow was very much associated with fertility goddesses in this region. They may have been associated with either or both the Sun (as in Egypt) and the Moon. The cow’s horns were depicted along with or cradling the crescent or full moon.
Cows and Buddhism
Similar to the Hindu approach to cow veneration, Buddhists (many of whom practice vegetarianism and consider it taboo to eat a cow) will often say that to take care of a cow, is to take care of all living things.
Cows in Buddhism were also venerated because they may be the souls of those trying to ascend to higher spiritual incarnations, therefore, if they are killed and eaten, so is the soul within it.
Cows and Magick
History of the cow aside, you may now have a better idea of what the cow symbolizes, therefore, you can probably think of some ways you can use this symbolism in your spiritual or magickal practice:
- use bones (please obtain them ethically) from a cow in spells, charms, or other works for fertility and abundance
- use milk in spells for fertility, abundance, peace, motherhood/parenting
- use milk or cow bones to ask for fertility in a new business venture
- take a milk bath to cleanse, purify, or uncross yourself
- add a splash of milk to your tea spells to give them an abundant boost
- use milk to anoint spell candles for love or other relationship matters as a protective love-boosting ingredient
- place a bowl of milk out for stray cats to honor any goddesses such as Bastet, Freya, or Sekhmet
and last, you can simply place a cow image, sculpture, or statue on an altar to any of the deities or spirits associated with cows, such as:
- Prithi and Prithva
- Damona/Boann (Celtic)
- Phaethusa (Greek)