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?