Common Themes, East & West: Animal Guides
A Cultural Mythologist Looks At --
Animal Deaths in Europe:
Of Cows & Madness
21 March 2001,
first full day of spring --
Mad Cow Disease:
Ancient Thebes, Modern Cities
In the late '50's, my college roommate from Jamaica, Barbara Chin, wanted to write a book called No Springtime for the Cows. It was to have been an expose of the year-round forced breeding of cows, depriving them of their natural springtime rhythms. The book was never written but Barbara's title has stayed with me -- and taken on an even more ominous and tragic tone this spring of 2001.
The on-going slaughter of hundreds of thousands of hooved animals in England and elsewhere has driven me to look at cows from a mythological perspective instead of an economic or political one. I am doing this in an attempt to weave a psychic container, however leaky, for so much horror. I'm putting it online because I know there are many more out there who are as deeply depressed by the piles of animal corpses, and animals awaiting death, as I am.
For me, one myth stands out above all the others: when Cadmus, whose sister Europa was raped by Zeus in the form of a bull, went searching for his abducted sister, he turned first to the Delphic Oracle. He was told to forget his sister, for he had a greater destiny. He was ordered to look for the first cow he saw when he left the temple. Then he and his men were instructed to follow the cow and hound her until she fell down dead. On that spot, they were to build a great city. Cadmus could have protested. He could have stayed faithful to his original quest: finding the lost feminine. But he didn't. Only a dead cow stood between him and a grand destiny. What young hero could resist?
I've always been struck by the insanity of that story. It's fine to build a city where you see birds spinning up into the bright freedom of the wind, or where you hear a child laughing, or find a tree bearing sweet fruits -- but not where an exhausted cow drops dead! Surely, such a city would be an ill-omened place -- what a terrible dishonoring of that desperate creature's life-force! Who but madmen would build their city in such a place.
But it was done -- and that Greek city was Thebes. This is where Oedipus would later be born -- Oedipus, whose tragic life would be intertwined with the fate of that city forever. In Freud's hands, Oedipus became a fitting cipher for Western civilization, for we too are built on a foundation of the thoughtless abuse of the natural world -- and of each other. Beyond Oedipus complexes, with sons desiring their mothers and wanting their fathers dead, we have gone much further and created a meat-engorged Theban civilization on the body of that dead cow.
Thebes is also where Dionysus' mother was born, but she was repudiated by the Thebans. To take his revenge, Dionysus encouraged King Pentheus to go spying on the Theban women during their "mad" maenadic rituals, a time when they danced in the hills and nursed fawns at their breasts. The women caught Pentheus spying on them, and his own maddened mother, not recognizing him, tore him to pieces with her bare hands and smeared her face with his blood.
Thebes: an ill-omened city indeed.
Mythology shows me the human madness of founding a city where a weary, frightened cow dropped down dead. But I see that ancient madness and greed continuing in recent events in England and Europe. We have now founded, not a city, but a bloated urban economy, destroying precious rain forests so that cattle might graze and feed our craving for cheap "fast food." Our laws, here and abroad, allow those cattle to be fattened on feed "enriched" with bonemeal and body parts from other cows (often diseased). These are grazing animals, not meat-eaters. Only human insanity could devise such food for them.
Italian Grain Goddess, the Tellus Mater
© Sandra Stanton
If we learned that Kellogg's or General Mills were enriching, or "beefing up," their cereals with ground human bonemeal and human body parts, we would be numb with horror. Those who had the misfortune to unknowingly eat that cereal -- whether Wheaties or Cheerios or Corn Flakes or any of dozens of such products -- would feel sickened, every cell in cringing revolt. From such revulsion, it's logical to expect the immune system to go into shock, making us vulnerable to viruses of special virulence.
Something similar is what the feed-merchants have done to those animals -- they have been fed grain mixed with the ground-up bodies of their own kind. These cows and other hooved animals (sheep, pigs, and goats) aren't cannibals. It's against their nature -- and their natures are highly sensitive. Consider, for example, that many of them have the ability to "sense" earthquakes and other natural disasters. They warn the more alert among us by their restless behavior, by their shaking and moaning, for they are far more tuned into such earth-vibrations than we. Given such sensitivity, how could our government leaders and feed-conglomerate CEOs not have understood that feeding such creatures their own kind would surely cause a cataclysm in their cells, leaving them wide open to disaster? Their distress left them vulnerable, first, to mad cow disease, and now, on a growing scale, to hoof (foot) and mouth disease. The animals are upset. So, it seems, are the ancient Grain Goddesses whose grain has been so contaminated by that diseased bone and meat.
Yet, as a dear friend writes, after two or three weeks most of these animals would actually recover on their own! Their slaughter, driven by a perverse mythology, is ruthlessly economic:I was blocking out the horrors of the poor animals...until there was an interview on NPR [National Public Radio] with a woman in England who lost her whole dairy herd. She was so attached to them and her love came through in the interview - it was heartbreaking - I haven't stopped crying since. It's all too awful to imagine. I started reading articles about it and was outraged to find that the slaughter is for economics only - the animals recover on their own!!! And now the government is slaughtering healthy animals!!! You know how I am with conspiracy theories - to me every government has a hidden agenda in cahoots with big business. It really seems that they're trying to put the remaining small farmers (only 20% of all farms in Britain are owned by small farmers - the rest are agribusiness!!!) out of business for good. It's absolutely outrageous. Do other people see this or is it just me????[Note: for supporting information, my friend sent me this link -- http://www.wsws.org/articles/2001/mar2001/fmd-m08.shtml]
These animals didn't ask to be born to be our food. They, like all beings, took bodily form in a search for joy. They wanted to play in the fields, feeling the sheer pleasure of their strong, supple bodies. They wanted to run, sleep, graze, dream, live. They didn't come here to be hurt.
Now they're sick, unable either to feed us or to experience their own fullness of life. Now they can only die, executed, shot full of bullets, feeling the fear of all the other beasties around them, knowing what's to come. Then they're dumped into the flames, by the hundreds, surrounded by the toxic smoke through which their confused, suffering spirits must rise. They're sentient beings -- one need only look into their eyes to know they have souls, to know they suffer and grieve.
Many of us are overwhelmed by the untimely deaths of those hundreds of thousands of animals. Today, while searching for something else, I went to the Witches' Voice site and found that, despite the helplessness so many of us feel when faced with such immense madness and pain, we can still link up with one another -- and the animals -- in prayer. It doesn't sound like much, but it's something we can all do. (The prayers include concern for the farmers because many, who raise their animals for dairy or wool, love their animals and feel crushed by their fate at the hands of bureaucrats.) Here's the link: http://www.witchvox.com/cases/hoofandmouth.html
And here's the relevant passage by Peg Aloi from that site:"Please keep the animals and people of Britain in your thoughts and magical prayers as they struggle with this unfortunate and frightening situation. In fact, many British pagans have begun weekly and in some cases nightly healing rituals, performed at 9 pm with white candles. (That would be 3 pm EST, 2 pm Central, 1pm Mountain, and 12 noon for PST, for any Americans who want to join in)."
Cerridwin, Welsh Goddess of Death and Regeneration
© Sandra Stanton
So, every noon on the California coast, I plan to join the others in trying to heal what we can, sending prayers through the spiraling energy-fields of time and space, surrounding those departing spirits with a sense of love and respect. I'll light a white candle. I'll sprinkle the earth with drops of fresh water.
I'll especially invoke the Welsh goddess, Cerridwin, who owns the magic Cauldron of Death and Regeneration, and whose totem, or byform, is the pig. My prayer is that she will tenderly receive the animals into her vast cauldron, heal their bewildered spirits, free them of terror, bless them, and send them, refreshed, into future lives where they can live fully, and die at peace in old age.
Lady of the Goats
© Sandra Stanton
http://in.news.yahoo.com/010429/43/tcy4.html[4/7/02: shifted from last year's Earth Day page to here. Note: this site now requires a password and user name -- even peeling back the URL offers no way to join, so the link is as good as dead. I'm therefore citing it in full. The context is striking.][Added 4/12/01]: Still on the topic of Foot and Mouth Disease and the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of creatures comes a very brief 3/24/01 forum-posting from "Mercury Rapids." The author places the slaughter into the heartbreaking context of Revelations 6:9 --Found this in Revelation 6:9 and it reads to me like a cow's eye perspective of the recent foot and mouth outbreak:9 And when he opened the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those slaughtered because of the word of God and because of the witness work that they used to have.
10 And they cried with a loud voice saying, "Until when, Sovereign Lord holy and true, are you refraining from judging and avenging our blood upon those who dwell on the earth?"
11 And a white robe was given to each of them; and they were told to rest a little while longer, until the number was filled also of their fellow slaves and their brothers who were about to be killed as they also had been.
[Added 7/11/01]:From a 29 April 2001 report from India Abroad News Service comes another item on Foot and Mouth disease, "Now British Army blamed for FMD epidemic." Initially, of course, India was blamed. The report traces the trail of blame and racism.http://188.8.131.52/board/Noncgi/Forum1/HTML/000344.html:
[Added 4/14/01]: Finally, yesterday (4/13/01) I found this lengthy but worthwhile collection of often eloquent postings from members of the forum on Caroline Myss' site. Members discuss Foot and Mouth, cows, eating meat, eating plants, and much more of relevance.
For related links on this topic, please go to my EARTH DAY page, where I have annotated a number of relevant off-site URLs, including a superb essay by another cultural mythologist, Adrian Strong (a former student of mine) at: http://www.headlinemuse.com/Culture/footmouth.htm.
I spent part of today thinking about the meaning of Holy Saturday -- the day when Christ freed the souls of those enlightened ones who had died before him. But, according to tradition, he did that 2000 years ago and they're no longer there. Who's there now? When I asked myself that, my mind was flooded with images of the slaughtered creatures of Europe. They are the ones who need between-the-realms help right now. I tried to create an "ikon-collage" to express this, but I'm not an artist and couldn't get Adobe to do what I wanted. Thus, the result isn't at all how I "see" it in my mind but it's the best I can manage. That image and more of my thoughts about it are here: Holy Saturday Ikon.
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Menu of Common Themes, East & West:
Animal Deaths in Europe: Of Cows & Madness
Artists & Muses: The Creative Impulse
Creation Myths I
Creation Myths II
Crones & Sages
Dragons & Serpents
Food: Sacrality & Lore
THE FOUR ELEMENTSEARTH:Green Men
Land: Sacrality & Lore (mountains, caves, labyrinths, spiral mounds, crop & stone circles, FengShui)
Earth Day & Environmental Issues
Earth Goddesses & Gods
Air: Sacrality & Lore (air, wind, sky, storms, clouds, weather lore)
Sky Goddesses & Gods
Fire: Sacrality & Lore (fire, northern lights, green-flashes, Elmo's Fire)
Fire Goddesses & Gods
Water: Sacrality & Lore (water, wells, springs, pools, lakes)
Floods & Rainbows: Mythologies & Science
Water Goddesses & Gods
Nature Spirits of the World
Rituals of Birthing [forthcoming]
Rituals of Marrying [forthcoming]
Rituals of Death & Dying
Rituals of Puberty
Rituals of Weather-Working: An experimental, on-going ritual in cyberspace
Sacred Theatre & Dance
Star Lore & Astrology
Symbols, Signs, & Runes
Time(calendars, clocks, natural cycles, attitudes toward time, & millennium issues)
Trees & Plant Lore
Tricksters, Clowns, Magicians, Jesters & Fools
Wars, Weapns & Lies: The Dehumanizing Impulse
Weaving Arts & Lore (cosmic webs, spinning, spindles, clothing)
Down to Geographical Regions: Africa
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Text and layout copyright © 2001-2002 by Kathleen Jenks, Ph.D.
All rights reserved.
Page created 20-21 March 2001;
launched 21 March 2001, 3:05pm.
22 March 2001; 23 March 2001; 9 April (added new menu);
12 April 2001 (added my Earth Day link & 2 more relevant off-site links); 14 April 2001; 19 April 2001;
2 July 2001 (Ned.3.0 + Refs);
7-8 April 2002: shifted several links here from last year's Earth Day page;
23 November 2002: added new title to actual essay plus a few new sentences on Cadmus & the poor cow.
Kuan Yin, Goddess of Mercy
© Sandra Stanton