One of our pigs is expecting piglets in a couple of weeks or so, and all of a sudden has gone from slender young gilt to archetypal barrel-stomached sow. And inevitably, again, my thoughts turn to all those mythologies that have consiered the sow to be sacred – often because of her fertility (a sow can give birth to up to 16 piglets at a time, and horrifyingly often).
The Welsh mother goddess Ceridwen (see The Mabinogion for more) who was associated with the moon, was symbolised as a white sow. And so, interestingly, was an early version of Demeter, goddess of fertility. In Egyptian mythology, the sky goddes Nut could take the form of a celestial sow. Baba Yaga is usually described as riding an airborne mortar which she steers with her pestle – but some Russian folktales describe her riding a sow.
Moving east, four sow deities are said to preside over Kathmandu Valley, Nepal. Vajravarahi, red in colour, presides over the west and is believed to protect livestock. Nilavarahi, blue in colour, guards the east. The south is watched by white Swetavarahi at the southern gate while Dhumbarahi, who is grey, protects the north and defends the valley against cholera. They are considered to be animal-headed dakinis (female energetic beings who, in Hinduism for example, carry the secrets of inner transformation). In Tibetan Buddhism, Dorje Phagmo is the fierce dakini whose head is surmounted by the head of a sow whose screech shatters illusion.
But to us, Edna is quite simply a much-loved permanent occupant of this croft. Which always sounds strange to people who don’t keep livestock. The idea that you can be very fond of an animal that you keep for breeding – and whose offspring then become your food – seems somehow to be distasteful. Maybe we’re strange, but to us it isn’t that way. If we’re going to eat anything then we’d rather it was something that springs from a relationship with an animal built on care and affection, rather than something we picked up in a supermarket (plant or animal) that was part of a food-production machine that is so very much more than simply undesirable.
Meanwhile, Brighid the cow enjoys a day out in the sunshine. The white blobs to the left of the photograph on the loch are the 3 whooper swans who flew in this morning.