magickal symbolism of the cow

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:

  • Hathor/Ahet
  • Krishna
  • Prithi and Prithva
  • Buddha
  • Nut
  • Neith
  • Damona/Boann (Celtic)
  • Phaethusa (Greek)

what is hermeticism?

Ok, buckle in. This is another post where I will attempt to condense a huge amount of information into a blog post, whereas you can read volumes of books on this. And if this post interests you, you should read those volumes of books.

History

The Hermetic system of theology, philosophy, and tradition is based on writings (collectively referred to as the Hermetic Corpus) by the pagan prophet Hermes Trismegistus. Hermes Trismegistus was possibly a real person, or possibly a collection of people writing, depending on who you ask.

And, its not likely we’ll actually really know this, as the writings attributed to him are difficult to truly date and could have been written anywhere between approximately when Moses was alive and the 1st or 2nd century CE.

Regardless of when the writings of Hermes Trismegistus actually were composed (which I think is probably not an incredibly important point to argue right now), they contain a wealth of esoteric information that is credited with creating or organizing the beginnings of things such as:

  • alchemy
  • ancient occult practices
  • foundations of Western esoteric magickal traditions
  • the basis of modern Western astrology
  • spirit conjuring/invoking/evoking
  • Gnosticism
  • probably the foundations or inspiration of almost every occult or ‘secret’ society we know of
  • plenty more arcane magickal subjects

Many people actually believe that Hermes Trismegistus was actually a humanized figure representing the combination of the Greek god Hermes and the Egyptian god Thoth being syncratized, as they represented similar characterizations to these two cultures which borrowed and overlapped each other heavily during the period of antiquity.

The term ‘hermetic’ is also often used interchangeably with the term ‘occult’, which means hidden or obscured.

Major Tenets

I hesitate to call these tenets in the formal and rigid sense, as one of the overarching principles of Hermeticism is a denial of or resistance to complete ‘doctrinal faith.’

(Meaning, they saw the emergence of the major Abrahamic religions of Judaism, then Christianity, and, finally, Islam, as problematic to their findings that there was one universal deity present in all religions, rather than only one religion with a deity that was ‘real’, whilst all others were ‘wrong.’)

God is everything and within us but also apart from us

This belief essentially states that the universal unifying force of all beings, matter, thoughts, and so on is god. And this force is both within us and apart from us. We are god, but we are also apart from god. And everything else is too.

This makes Hermeticism a monotheistic system, however, it also recognizes that there can be other deities and beings born of that ‘god,’ which seems contradictory initially, but when you understand that these other deities are also ‘god’ and ‘not god,’ then I guess it begins to make sense đŸ˜‰

There are some beliefs within Hermeticism that are based on texts found describing the universal force of god creating the other gods and goddesses to rule over various aspects, areas, planets, or concepts. Which, again, still falls within the framework of a monotheistic ‘supreme creative force’ view.

As Above, So Below

This is where many people got this extraordinarily famous saying. It comes from the Emerald Tablet, a writinng of Hermes Trismegistus.

The Hermetic writings teach that whatever happens on one plane of existence, also happens on all other planes of existence. Also, whatever has already happened, will happen again. And we can know what will happen on Earth if we can know what has already happened throughout the universe (the stars and other planets).

This is also a commentary on the microcosm and macrocosm concept. What has happened around us will also happen within us, and we are the universe, therefore what happens within us, also happens across the universe. Everything is god, and inter-connected.

Astrology Can Be Harnessed to Understand Our Lives

One of the central concepts taught is that what the stars and planets do are influenced by the universal god, and their influence can be studied and understood to better understand how to operate our lives in synchronicity and symbiosis with our current world, and the universe around it.

Alchemy as a Symbol of Life Cycles

The study alchemy is heavily symbolic, and, apart from literally trying to change lead or other less precious metals into gold, it also speaks to the metaphor of birth, life, death, and reincarnation into the next life cycle, all the while, the energy of the spirit, interconnected as it is with the greater consciousness and the universal god, remains intact. Reincarnation is obviously a key point and belief within Hermetic philosophies.

Theurgy vs. Goetia

Hermetic principles state that the study of magick and accessing it through higher spirits such as angels and gods, is the noblest of studies. The study or pursuit of ‘black’ magick through association with demons or dark spirits is viewed as undesirable, and thought not to lead to spiritual enlightenment.

I think this is a point of contention with some who argue over the definition of ‘demon,’ and what type of being or spirit specifically qualifies as this based on historic and modern interpretations.

Reincarnation and Physical Embodiment

Another central part of the Hermetic belief system is that of the physical embodiment of spirits is due to the universal god being displeased with the souls or spirits in their original form and sentencing them, for lack of a better word, to life in the physical world as a trial the souls must undergo in order to achieve higher levels of spiritual growth, so that, eventually, they can fulfill the requirement of purity to be able to exist permanently on the spiritual plane.

Until each soul reaches that enlightenment, it will continue to reincarnate in human form and undergo the trials and struggles that which is human life.


I would like to point out here that Hermeticism was initially tolerated, and even embraced by, some early Christian sects and churches, as it was actually quite compatible with the early Christian teachings.

It wasn’t until the Christian religion began to organize and stamp out competing views, or views which give too much power to the common man to commune directly with deity or spirit, did Hermeticism come under fire and disappear from mainstream, becoming an ‘occult’ or underground practice until very modern revival in the late 18th century through present.

The Christian church was particularly disturbed by any religious approach that encouraged the common person from knowing and entering into enlightenment, scholarly undertakings, direct communication with a deity, religious education, and critical thinking, which might lead to their rebellion against a quite controlling religious organization and carefully crafted doctrine designed to place the communication with a supreme god squarely in the hands of only a select few, rather than make it accessible to all.

At this point, I want to reiterate that you should read many many sources on this subject if you’re interested in learning more.

As an ecclectic witch, I borrow from and work with concepts of many different schools of thoughts or paths of teaching, and I think the Hermetic philosophy is probably equally as influential in many of the paths we consider ‘modern’ as other sources.

A large part of the Wiccan system is based on Hermetic principles, as is chaos magick, shadow magick, and green witchcraft. You can see elements of the Hermetic system appear almost universally, which is probably not coincidence, given its core belief that everything is interconnected.

A great, short, and mostly easy-to-understand book to whet your appetite further is The Kybalion, as well as you can purchase translated copies of the Corpus Hermeticum, which is the compilation of some of the more important writings of Hermes Trismegistus, at least the main ones that have been translated.

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