Cult of the Bull

(1/6) > >>

Gwen Parker:

Cult of the Bull

Greetings, everyone, bull sacrifice and worship is prevalent all throughout the Mediterranean, and even Critias makes mention of it in terms of the king of Atlantis:

"As to offices and honours, the following was the arrangement from the first.
Each of the ten kings in his own division and in his own city had the absolute
control of the citizens, and, in most cases, of the laws, punishing and
slaying whomsoever he would. Now the order of precedence among them and their
mutual relations were regulated by the commands of Poseidon which the law had
handed down. These were inscribed by the first kings on a pillar of
orichalcum, which was situated in the middle of the island, at the temple of
Poseidon, whither the kings were gathered together every fifth and every sixth
year alternately, thus giving equal honour to the odd and to the even number.
And when they were gathered together they consulted about their common
interests, and enquired if any one had transgressed in anything and passed
judgment and before they passed judgment they gave their pledges to one
another on this wise:-There were bulls who had the range of the temple of
Poseidon; and the ten kings, being left alone in the temple, after they had
offered prayers to the god that they might capture the victim which was
acceptable to him, hunted the bulls, without weapons but with staves and
nooses; and the bull which they caught they led up to the pillar and cut its
throat over the top of it so that the blood fell upon the sacred inscription.
Now on the pillar, besides the laws, there was inscribed an oath invoking
mighty curses on the disobedient. When therefore, after slaying the bull in
the accustomed manner, they had burnt its limbs, they filled a bowl of wine
and cast in a clot of blood for each of them; the rest of the victim they put
in the fire, after having purified the column all round. Then they drew from
the bowl in golden cups and pouring a libation on the fire, they swore that
they would judge according to the laws on the pillar, and would punish him who
in any point had already transgressed them, and that for the future they would
not, if they could help, offend against the writing on the pillar, and would
neither command others, nor obey any ruler who commanded them, to act
otherwise than according to the laws of their father Poseidon. This was the
prayer which each of them-offered up for himself and for his descendants, at
the same time drinking and dedicating the cup out of which he drank in the
temple of the god; and after they had supped and satisfied their needs, when
darkness came on, and the fire about the sacrifice was cool, all of them put
on most beautiful azure robes, and, sitting on the ground, at night, over the
embers of the sacrifices by which they had sworn, and extinguishing all the
fire about the temple, they received and gave judgment, if any of them had an
accusation to bring against any one; and when they given judgment, at daybreak
they wrote down their sentences on a golden tablet, and dedicated it together
with their robes to be a memorial."

I thought it would be useful to take a look at how the bull was perceived throughout all the ancient cultures of the Med and see what, if any, happen to match those that we see in the customs of Atlantis.

Gwen Parker:

Bull cult

Prehistoric religious practice that originated in the eastern Aegean Sea and extended from the Indus Valley of Pakistan to the Danube River in eastern Europe. The bull god's symbol was the phallus, and in the east the bull often was depicted as the partner of the great goddess of fertility and thereby represented the virile principle of generation and invincible…

History of Ephesus

According to ancient historians the myth of the foundation of Ephesus goes back to the period before the Ionian colonization. As it was customary in ancient times to consult the oracle before any important event, Androclus, the son of Codrus, the legendary King of Athens did this about where to settle or found a settlement. The answer was simple: "at the place which will be indicated by a fish and a wild boar". After colonists landed in Anatolia, they were camping somewhere near Ephesus and were grilling fish. A burning fish set a bush on fire causing a boar to leap out of the bush and run away. Remembering the words of the oracle the colonists decided to found their settlement there.
Some sources say that the city was founded by the Amazons. In mythology, the Amazons were a race of woman warriors who lived in Anatolia and fought with the Trojans against the Achaeans in the Trojan War. At that time, their queen was killed by the Achaean hero Achilles. According to legend the Amazons dealt with men for only two reasons, procreation and battle, and they reared only their female young. The Amazons were frequently depicted by artists as being in battle with men.

The city was an Ionian colony formed sometime after 1000 BC. Some authorities have suggested that the history of the city goes back to the Hittite period, c. 1400 BC, and it was the city which the Hittites called Apasas. The earliest archeological evidence is the Mycenaean ceramics found on the Ayasuluk Tepesi (Hill). This does not imply that there had been a Mycenaean settlement in the region of Ephesus. Mycenaean ceramics were popular and found in many other places.

Ephesus has been located at different places in different times. Ephesus I was located on Ayasuluk Hill and inhabited by ancient Anatolians, Carians and Lelegians. At that time there was a cult of the Great Earth Mother which acted like a magnet attracting pilgrims and settlers even before the Ionian migration. Ephesus II was on the north slope of Panayir Dagi (Mount Pion). As with other cities of the Aegean coast of Anatolia, Ephesus came to be ruled by Croesus of Lydia in the mid-6C BC, before passing to the Persians after 546 BC. It joined the Delian League after the Persian Wars. In 334 BC it fell to Alexander the Great and subsequently to his successors: Lysimachus and Seleucid rulers. In the 4C BC the harbor threatened to silt up the settlement and it was moved to a new location between Panayir Dagi and Bulbul Dag (Mount Coressus) by Lysimachus to form Ephesus III. The remains of city walls from this period can still be seen at the foothill of Bulbul Dag (The Nightingale Mountain). Later it was controlled by Pergamum, eventually passing into Roman hands in 133 BC. During this period Ephesus became the capital of province of Asia Minor and the population reached a quarter of a million. After the 6C AD, due to the persistent silting up of the harbor and repeated raids by Arabs, the city changed its location back to Ayasuluk Hill forming Ephesus IV.

The Artemis Temple or Artemision was one of the Seven Wonders of the World and located in Ephesus. Throughout the excavations in Ephesus, the actual location of the temple was presumed in different places.

Its ancient cult dedicated to Artemis was famous in antiquity and made ancient Ephesus a much-visited pilgrimage place. Each year one month was considered a holiday and set aside for the religious ceremonious observations. The first temple was built in the 6C BC and was Ionic dipteros with two rows of columns on both sides and three rows in the front and rear. There were totally 127 Ionic columns with a height of 19 m / 62 ft each. 36 of columns were bearing sculptures in relief. In 356 BC a madman known as Herostratus set fire to the temple in order to make his name immortal. On the same night in Macedonia Alexander the Great was born. Later when he came to Anatolia he offered to make an endowment for the temple on the condition that his name should be associated with it. However his offer was refused with a polite and tactful answer; "it was unseemly for one god to build a temple for another".

The second temple was built in the 4C BC on the same ground plan but this time being on a base with 13 steps. The fact that the temple faced West while Greek temples faced East as a rule is some proof of it being of Anatolian origin. This is the same in the temples of Sardis and Magnesia on Meander. The columns were shorter and more slender. The famous sculptor Scopas made the column reliefs while the relief on the altar was of Praxiteles. In the beginning of the 5C AD the temple was destroyed by a fanatical mob which was regarded as the final triumph of Christianity over paganism. Out of the magnificent temple only one of the 127 Ionic columns and foundation stones can be seen today. This was erected in 1972-3 out of different pieces of different columns without reaching its original height.

There was an archaic Processional Road stretching to the Artemis Temple around the Panayir Dagi (Mount Pion) through the Magnesian Gate. This was the route of the ancient processions which was flanked along its whole length with graves. Library Square was an important stopping point on the processional route in archaic times. The stretch from the Magnesian Gate to the Artemis Temple on the processional route was roofed over in the 2-3C AD by T. Flavius Damianus, a rich Ephesian and sophist. This was called Stoa of Damianus.

Gwen Parker:

Bull (mythology)

The worship of the Sacred Bull throughout the ancient world is most familiar in the episode of the idol of the Golden Calf made by Aaron and worshipped by the Hebrews in the wilderness of Sinai (Exodus). But far to the east, Shiva's holy steed (called vahana in Sanskrit) is Nandi, the Bull.

A wild Aurochs bull was a terrifying creature. Killing it or taming it was a heroic feat. Aurochs are depicted in many Paleolithic European cave paintings such as those found at Lascaux and Livernon in France. Their life force may have been attributed with magical qualities, for early carvings of the aurochs have also been found. The impressive and dangerous aurochs survived into the Iron Age in Anatolia and the Near East and were worshiped throughout that area as a sacred animal.

From earliest times the bull was lunar in Mesopotamia (its horns representing the crescent), though we cannot recreate a specific context for the bull skulls with horns (bucrania) preserved in an 8th millennium BCE sanctuary at Çatalhöyük in eastern Anatolia. The sacred bull of the Hattians, whose elaborate standards were found at Alaca Höyük alongside those of the sacred stag, survived in the Hurrian and Hittite mythologies as Seri and Hurri ('Day' and 'Night')—the bulls who carried the weather god Teshub on their backs or in his chariot, and who grazed on the ruins of cities (Hawkes and Woolley, 1963; Vieyra, 1955). In Cyprus bull masks made from real skulls were worn in rites, and Cypriote bull-masked terracotta figurines have been found (Burkert 1985). And Cyprus retains its bull-horned stone altars.

In Egypt the bull was worshiped as the embodiment of Apis, and a long series of ritually perfect bulls were identified by the god's priests, housed in the temple for their lifetime, then embalmed and encased in a sarcophagus. A long sequence of monolithic stone sarcophagi were housed in the Serapeum, rediscovered by Mariette at Saqqara. See Apis.

Walter Burkert summarized modern revision of a too-facile and blurred identification of a god that was identical to his sacrificial victim, which had created suggestive analogies with the Christian Eucharist for an earlier generation of mythographers:

The concept of the theriomorphic god and especially of the bull god, however, may all too easily efface the very important distinctions between a god named, described, represented, and worshipped in animal form, a real animal worshipped as a god,animal symbols and animal maskes used in the cult, and finally the consecrated animal destined for sacrifice. Animal worship of the kind found in the Egyptian Apis cult is unknown in Greece." (Greek Religion, 1985).
When the heroes of the new Indo-European culture arrived in the Aegean basin, they faced off with the ancient Sacred Bull on many occasions, and always overcame it, in the form of the myths that have survived. For the Greeks, the bull was strongly linked to the Bull of Crete: Theseus of Athens had to capture the ancient sacred bull of Marathon (the "Marathonian bull") before he faced the Bull-man, the Minotaur. In the Bronze Age Minoan civilization of Crete, the Minotaur (Greek for "Bull of Minos"), was a man with the head of a bull. Minoan frescos and ceramics depict bull-leaping rituals in which participants of both sexes vaulted over bulls by grasping their horns. Yet Walter Burket's constant warning is, "It is hazardous to project Grek tradition directly into the Bronze age" (Burkert 1985 p. 24)

In the Olympian cult, Hera's epithet Boopis is usually translated "ox-eyed" Hera, but the term could just as well apply if the goddess had the head of a cow, and thus the epithet reveals the presence of an earlier, though not necessarily more primitive, iconic view. Classical Greeks never otherwise referred to Hera simply as the cow, though her priestess Io was so literally a heifer that she was stung by a gadfly, and as a heifer Zeus coupled with her. Zeus took over the earlier roles, and, in the form of a bull that came forth from the sea, abducted Europa.

Dionysus was another god of resurrection who was strongly linked to the bull. In a cult hymn from Olympia, at a festival for Hera, Dionysus is also invited to come as a bull, "with bull-foot raging." "Quite frequently he is portrayed with bull horns, and in Kyzikos he has a tauromorphic image," Walter Burkert relates and refers to an archaic myth in which he is slaughtered as a bull calf and impiously eaten by the Titans (Burkert 1985 pp. 64, 132).

In the Classical period, the bull and other animals identified with deities were separated as their agalma a kind of heraldic show-piece that concretely signified their numinous presence.

Alexander the Great's famous horse was named Bucephalus ("the ox-headed"), linking the self-proclaimed god-king with the mythical power of the bull.

The bull is one of the animals associated with the Hellenistic and Roman syncretic cult of Mithras, in which the killing of the astral bull, the tauroctony, was as central in the cult as the Crucifixion is to Christians. A tauroctony was represented in every Mithraeum. Mithraic origins may have contributed to the rise of bullfighting in Iberia and the south of France, where the legend of Saint Saturninus ("Saint Sernin") of Toulouse and his protegé in Pamplona, Saint Fermin, are inseparably linked to bull-sacrifices by the vivid manner of their martryrdom, set in the 3rd century CE.

Irish Gaelic myth features the tales of the epic hero Cuchulainn, which were collected in the 7th century CE Book of the Dun Cow.

In some Christian religions Nativity scenes are assembled at Christmas time. Most of them show a bull or an ox near baby Jesus, lying in a manger. Traditional songs of Christmas often tell of the bull and the donkey warming the infant with their breath.

The sacred bull survives in the constellation Taurus.

An exhibit on the tombs of Alaca Höyük ( at the Metropolitan Museum of Art includes one example of the bull standards.

Burkert, Walter, Greek Religion, 1985.
Hawkes, Jacquetta; Woolley, Leonard: Prehistory and the Beginnings of Civilization, v. 1 (NY, Harper & Row, 1963)
Vieyra, Maurice: Hittite Art, 2300-750 B.C. (London, A. Tiranti, 1955)

Gwen Parker:

In (The mythology of the ancient Greeks) Greek mythology, the Minotaur was a creature that was half (An adult male person (as opposed to a woman)) man and half (Uncastrated adult male of domestic cattle) bull. It dwelt in the (Complex system of paths or tunnels in which it is easy to get lost) Labyrinth, which was an elaborate maze constructed by King (Son of Zeus and Europa; king of ancient Crete; ordered Daedalus to build the labyrinth; after death Minos became a judge in the underworld) Minos of (The largest Greek island in the Mediterranean; site of the Minoan civilization that reached its peak in 1600 BC) Crete and designed by the architect ((Greek mythology) an Athenian inventor who built the Labyrinth of Minos; to escape the Labyrinth he fashioned wings for himself and his sone Icarus) Daedalus to hold the Minotaur. The Minotaur was eventually killed by ((Greek mythology) a hero and king of Athens who was noted for his many great deeds: killed Procrustes and the Minotaur and defeated the Amazons and united Attica) Theseus.

"Minotaur" is (A native or inhabitant of Greece) Greek for "Bull of Minos". The bull was also known as Asterius or Asterion, a name shared with Minos's foster father.

The storyBefore Minos became king, he asked the Greek god ((Greek mythology) the god of the sea and earthquakes in ancient mythology; brother of Zeus and Hades and Hera; identified with Roman Neptune) Poseidon for a sign, to assure him that he, and not his brother, was to receive the throne. Poseidon agreed to send a white bull on condition Minos would sacrifice the bull back to the god. Indeed a bull of unmatched beauty came out of the sea. King Minos, after seeing it, instead sacrificed another bull, hoping that Poseidon would not notice. Poseidon was very angry when he realised what had been done so he caused Minos's wife ((Greek mythology) daughter of Helios and mother of Ariadne) Pasiphae to be overcome with a fit of madness in which she fell in love with the bull. Pasiphae went to ((Greek mythology) an Athenian inventor who built the Labyrinth of Minos; to escape the Labyrinth he fashioned wings for himself and his sone Icarus) Daedalus for assistance, and Daedalus devised a way for her to satisfy her passions. He constructed a hollow wooden cow covered with cowhide for Pasiphae to hide in and allow the bull to mount her. The result of this union was the Minotaur. In some accounts, the white bull went on to become the (Click link for more info and facts about Cretan Bull) Cretan Bull captured by ((classical mythology) a hero noted for his strength; performed 12 immense labors to gain immortality) Heracles for one of his labours.

The Minotaur had the body of a man and the head and tail of a bull. It was a fierce creature, and Minos, after getting advice from the (Click link for more info and facts about Oracle at Delphi) Oracle at Delphi, had Daedalus construct a gigantic labyrinth to hold the Minotaur. It was located under Minos' palace in (An ancient town on Crete where Bronze Age culture flourished from about 2000 BC to 1400 BC) Knossos.

Now it happened that (Click link for more info and facts about Androgeus) Androgeus, son of Minos, had been killed by the (A resident of Athens) Athenians, who were jealous of the victories he had won at the (Click link for more info and facts about Panathenaic festival) Panathenaic festival. To avenge the death of his son, Minos waged war and won. He then demanded that seven Athenian youths and seven maidens be sent every ninth year to be devoured by the Minotaur. When the third sacrifice came round, ((Greek mythology) a hero and king of Athens who was noted for his many great deeds: killed Procrustes and the Minotaur and defeated the Amazons and united Attica) Theseus volunteered to go to slay the monster. (Beautiful daughter of Minos and Pasiphae; she fell in love with Theseus and gave him the thread with which he found his way out of the Minotaur's labyrinth) Ariadne, Minos' daughter, fell in love with Theseus and helped him get out of the maze by giving him a ball of thread, allowing him to retrace his path. Theseus killed the Minotaur (with a magical sword Ariadne had given him) and led
the other Athenians back out the labyrinth. (Plutarch, Theseus, 15—19; Diod. Sic. i. I6, iv. 61; Apollodorus iii. 1,15).

Minos, angry that Theseus was able to escape, imprisoned Daedalus and his son ((Greek mythology) son of Daedalus; while escaping from Crete with his father (using the wings Daedalus had made) he flew too close to the sun and the wax melted and he fell into the Aegean and drowned) Icarus in the labyrinth. They were able to escape by building wings for themselves, but Icarus died during the escape.

Sometimes the Minotaur is represented as a bull with a human torso instead of a head, like a bull version of the ((classical mythology) a mythical being that is half man and half horse) Centaur.

Interpretations The contest between Theseus and the Minotaur was frequently represented in Greek art. A Knossian didrachm exhibits on one side the labyrinth, on the other the Minotaur surrounded by a semicircle of small balls, probably intended for stars; it is to be noted that one of the monster's name, was Asterius.

The ruins of Minos' palace at Knossos have been found, but the labyrinth has not. The enormous number of rooms, staircases and corridors in the palace has led archaeologists to believe that the palace itself was the source of the labyrinth myth.

Some modern mythologists regard the Minotaur as a solar personification and a Greek adaptation of the (Any of numerous local fertility and nature deities worshipped by ancient Semitic peoples; the Hebrews considered Baal a false god) Baal- (Any lizard of the genus Moloch) Moloch of the (An ancient maritime country (a collection of city states) at eastern end of the Mediterranean) Phoenicians. The slaying of the Minotaur by Theseus in that case indicates the abolition of such sacrifice by the advance of Greek civilization.

According to A. B. Cook, Minos and Minotaur are only different forms of the same personage, representing the sun-god Zeus of the Cretans, who depicted the sun as a bull. He and J. G. Frazer both explain Pasiphae's union with the bull as a sacred ceremony, at which the queen of Knossos was wedded to a bull-formed god, just as the wife of the Tyrant in Athens was wedded to ((Greek mythology) god of wine and fertility and drama; the Greek name of Bacchus) Dionysus. E. Pottier, who does not dispute the historical personality of Minos, in view of the story of (A genus of grasses with broad leaves and a dense spike of flowers) Phalaris considers it probable that in Crete (where a bull-cult may have existed by the side of that of the (Click link for more info and facts about double axe) double axe) victims were tortured by being shut up in the belly of a red-hot (Click link for more info and facts about brazen bull) brazen bull. The story of (Click link for more info and facts about Talos) Talos, the Cretan man of (An alloy of copper and zinc) brass, who heated himself red-hot and clasped strangers in his embrace as soon as they landed on the island, is probably of similar origin.

A political interpretation has that the Greeks freed themselves from the tributes and the power of Crete.

Fictional appearancesMinotaurs appear in (Imagination unrestricted by reality) fantasy and (Click link for more info and facts about historical fiction) historical fiction far less frequently than other mythological beings such as ((classical mythology) a mythical being that is half man and half horse) centaurs. In (Click link for more info and facts about the Divine Comedy) the Divine Comedy Dante and Virgil confront "the infamy of Crete" at the entrance to the seventh circle of Hell. In (Click link for more info and facts about Mary Renault) Mary Renault's (Click link for more info and facts about The King Must Die) The King Must Die and (Click link for more info and facts about Federico Fellini) Federico Fellini's (A form of entertainment that enacts a story by a sequence of images giving the illusion of continuous movement) movie Satyricon, minotaurs are merely men wearing bull's head (A covering to disguise or conceal the face) masks. (Click link for more info and facts about Terry Gilliam) Terry Gilliam's movie (Click link for more info and facts about Time Bandits) Time Bandits is less clear on this point, since the minotaur is not unmasked and therefore might be real.

(Click link for more info and facts about Thomas Burnett Swann) Thomas Burnett Swann's novels Day of the Minotaur (1965), The Forest of Forever (1971) and Cry Silver Bells (published posthumously, 1977), which form a loose (A set of three literary or dramatic works related in subject or theme) trilogy in reverse order and were later published as an omnibus volume in chronological order as The Minotaur Trilogy, depict the last two survivors of an ancient race of minotaurs dwelling in the forests of ancient Crete alongside other mythological creatures. Swann's minotaurs are described as being more human-like than the classical description, with hoof-like toes, bull's tail, fur-covered (usually naked) bodies, human faces, large pointed ears, and short horns that grow like (Deciduous horn of a member of the deer family) antlers. They are an intelligent, cultured race, which belies their sometimes fearsome appearance, and fluent in (A native or inhabitant of Greece) Greek ("What did you expect me to do, moo or speak (The language of the Hittites and the principal language of the Anatolian group of languages; deciphered from cuneiform inscriptions) Hittite?").

In 2005, a (Photographic material consisting of a base of celluloid covered with a photographic emulsion; used to make negatives or transparencies) film is to be released.

Gwen Parker:
Divine Cults of the Sacred Bulls
by Anita Stratos

The deification of animals in ancient Egypt existed even before the country’s unification around 3100 BC. Communities worshipped their own deities, many of which were represented in animal form. In some villages animals wrapped with linen and matting, such as cows, dogs, and sheep, were buried right along with humans. Animal statuettes as well as amulets and slate palettes shaped like animals have been found in the graves of many ancient Egyptians.
Although there is no clear-cut reason for the deification of animals, it has been surmised that some animals may have achieved their godly status because they helped humans, whereas the more dangerous and feared animals, such as jackals, may have been worshipped as a way to appease them. In any case, it is believed that deities needed to be given a recognizable form so that the divine force would not seem so abstract to the masses. A familiar image, such as that of an animal, gave people a more concrete concept of the powers of that specific deity, which is why one deity could be represented by several different images. In essence, the powers and traits of the god were conveyed by the form or forms that it took. In this way, it was more easily understood.

During the early dynastic period animal gods were gradually anthropomorphed, being portrayed with animal or bird heads on human bodies. Over the course of time these animal deities appeared many different ways, including in full animal form, animal heads with human bodies, and completely human. In all of these various forms, animal deities were drawn performing human activities, such as engaging in battle and conquering enemies.

Among the most important animal cults were the bull cults, which appeared in Egyptian writings as far back as the First Dynasty. The ancients believed that the powerful bull represented the personality of the king; slate palettes dating back as far as 3100 BC even show kings as bulls. This animal was chosen because it symbolized the king’s courageous heart, great strength, virility, and fighting spirit. Bulls’ horns even embellish some of the tombs of courtiers who served the first Saqqara kings.

Priests of the bull cults identified a sacred bull by its very specific markings (described below). Once the bull was proclaimed to be a god incarnate, it was taken to the temple compound where it was purified, stabled in majestic quarters, fed the best foods, and given a herd of the finest cows.

The Apis bull cult is probably the best known of the three most prominent and divine bull cults, and it is considered to be the most sacred. Herodotus wrote that the Apis was the "calf of a cow which is never afterwards able to have another. The Egyptian belief is that a flash of lightning descends upon the cow from heaven, and this causes her to receive Apis."

The Apis bull was originally considered to be the incarnation of the god Ptah, the creator of the universe and master of destiny, but this was a lesser-known association. Later the Apis became widely known as the incarnation of Osiris, god of embalming and cemeteries, when Ptah himself took on funerary characteristics and became associated with Osiris. Plutarch wrote that the "Apis was a fair and beautiful image of the soul of Osiris". At any rate, only one bull was considered to be the sacred Apis at a time; a replacement could be sought upon the death of the bull. The new Apis was transported to Memphis on a boat with a specially built golden cabin.

An Apis calf could be identified by certain distinct markings: the black calf had a white diamond on its forehead, an image of an eagle on its back, double the number of hairs on its tail, and a scarab mark under its tongue. Since the Apis was so sacred, it stands to reason that its mother (referred to as the "Isis cow") was revered as well.

The birth of an Apis calf was a time for celebration among ancient Egyptians, since this meant that a living god had been born into their midst. But according to Herodotus, this religious belief was desecrated in 525 BC by Persian King Cambyses when he overtook the holy city of Memphis. Herodotus states that the day after Cambyses’s bloody battle, he awoke to discover the Egyptians in Memphis celebrating. Upon asking why a defeated people would rejoice after being so brutally beaten, he was told that a living god had just been born. Cambyses demanded that this god be brought before him, and when he was presented with the Apis calf, he laughed with disgust and called the Egyptians pagans and fools. He then stabbed the calf in its hindquarters, which eventually caused the calf to die, at which point Cambyses had it cooked and served at a banquet. Horrified Egyptians considered this blasphemy to be the reason for all of Egypt’s future tragedies.

Herodotus’s account differs greatly from Egyptian records, which appear to take an opposing view. These records state that between 525 and 522 BC, Cambyses partook in a religious ceremony in which he dedicated the sarcophagus of a mummified Apis bull as part of his pharaonic obligations.

Egyptians celebrated the Festival of the Apis Bull, which lasted for seven days. Throngs of people gathered in Memphis to watch priests lead the sacred bull in a hallowed procession through the welcoming crowds. It was thought that any child who smelled the breath of the Apis had the ability to predict the future. In fact, the Apis itself was often consulted as an oracle. Egyptians asked the bull a question and then offered it food: if the bull ate the food it was a good omen, but a rejection of the food was a bad omen.

When Egypt fell under the rule of the Ptolemies, a new god was created by Ptolemy I in an effort to unify Greeks and Egyptians by establishing a deity that would be familiar to both cultures. The new god was named Serapis, which combined components of the Greek gods Zeus, Asklepios, and Dionysys as well as the Egyptian deity Osiris and the sacred Apis bull cult. Although the god had a Greek appearance, it also had some of the features of an Apis bull as well as an Egyptian name. Serapis was declared a god of fertility and the underworld, but even though Egyptians tolerated this new deity, they never truly accepted it. On the other hand, because Greek leadership supported the new Serapis cult, many Greeks did accept and follow it, but the artificially created cult never achieved its goal of religious unity between Greeks and Egyptians.

When an Apis bull died, the body was embalmed and entombed with the great ceremony that would be afforded royalty. A Memphis temple housing large alabaster slabs was the place in which the bulls were embalmed. After preparation of the body and internal organs, the crouching bull was intricately bandaged, artificial eyes were inserted, its horns and face were either gilded or covered with a gold leaf mask, and it was covered with a shroud. The Apis mummy was carried to the Serapeum (a catacomb preceded by an avenue of sphinxes), amid the formalities due a deity, for burial in a massive stone sarcophagus weighing over 60 tons. A papyrus from the 26th Dynasty explains the technique used to embalm an Apis bull.

Another bull cult was the Buchis cult, which lasted until about 362 AD. The Buchis bull was the representation of the gods Re and Osiris, but it was also linked with the god of war, Montu. A bull had to have the specific colorings of a black face with a white body in order to be considered Buchis.

The center of the Buchis cult was the town of Armant. Many generations of mummified Buchis bulls and their mothers were laid to rest in a designated cemetery, called the Bucheum, where the bulls were fastened to wooden boards with metal staples that held the forelegs and hindlegs in place.

There is far less information about the Mnevis cult than the other two bull cults. Mnevis was the sacred bull of Heliopolis, and although it was associated with the sun god Re, it has been suggested that it was also identified with Min, the fertility god of Coptos. When Akhenaten (originally Amenhotep IV) raised the cult of the sun to new heights, he established a new city, now known as Tell el Amarna, and dedicated it to the worship of the god Aten. Akhenaten swore he would bury Mnevis bulls in this new city, but thus far archaeologists have not found any bull burials there. However, two Mnevis burials were found in Heliopolis, both belonging to the Ramesses dynasty. The bulls were found in individual tombs that were cut into the ground and sealed with a granite slab.

Many of the animal mummies in museums today were donated over a century ago by various collectors who purchased them during their travels, therefore the mummies have no associated provenience information. Unless the animals are wrapped in a specific style, such as the diamond pattern used during the Greco-Roman period, the remains cannot be dated. Animal mummies with plain linen wrappings could belong to any era, from ancient to modern times. It is possible that radiocarbon dating performed on animal mummies in good condition could yield information about the age of some animal cults, providing some long-awaited answers.


[0] Message Index

[#] Next page