2002 welcomed the Chinese Year of the ________? In many languages, such as Chinese, the word for sheep, goat and ram is the same. And most city folk generally are not aware of the distinctions.
This is further complicated by the fact that some species of sheep are quite goatish in appearance, such as the Jacob's sheep. This kind of sheep with its characteristically spotted or variably coloured fleece, is descended from an ancient Syrian breed, and it can have as many as 6 horns.
The confusion of terms is increased further by the fact that in sheep, the females, or ewes, are often larger than males and can have horns -- that is, they may appear to be rams [male sheep. ]
The goat is a very hardy animal able to digest almost any food. Relatively docile, it is easy to raise, and each female usually produces twins. Hence, the goat provides meat for millions of people all over the world, and it has done so for at least 10,000 years.
The Goat That Laughed and Wept
One day, while the Buddha was staying at Jetavana, some monks asked him if there was any benefit in sacrificing goats, sheep, and other animals as offerings for departed relatives.
"No, bhikshus," replied the Buddha. "No good ever comes from taking life, not even when it is for the purpose of providing a Feast for the Dead." Then he told this story.
The Buddha ended his lesson, identifying that Birth saying, "In those days I was that deva." ~ Matakabhatta Jataka (Jataka No. 18)
Note: Since this Jataka translation was from a Theravada text, here the Pali terms were changed to Sanskrit or English ones, ie. instead of kamma, the term karma has been used.
The Goat With a Bad Leg
"Soon, the party arrived at Marpa's house. Lama Ngokpa then said to Marpa, 'I give you power over my body, speech, and mind, and all the wealth that I have. Whatever I possess, I offer to you. The only thing I haven't offered you is one goat with a bad leg. I ask you to give me the special instructions of the Dakinis.'
Marpa replied, 'All the other Dharma I know I have given you, but if you want to receive this secret instruction of the Dakinis, you'll have to bring me that goat.'
Lama Ngokpa himself went back to his house and fetched the goat. It took him one day to return to his house, and then he walked the whole night back with the goat on his shoulders and offered it to Marpa."
~ from Ven. Bardor Tulku's account of Milarepa's apprenticeship to Marpa. To read what happened, the rest is at Samye's site.
There is a small carving of a goat in the Jokhang at Lhasa, Tibet. This commemorates Dungtse Rama Gyelmo, the goat that managed to fill in the lake on that spot with earth so that the great shrine could be built there.
Remarkable goats also feature in the history of the famous Temple of Apollo at Delphi, Greece. In the 6th century BCE, (at the same time as many believe the historical Buddha walked the earth,) the influential Athenian (Greek) political leader (Gr. archon), Cleisthenes, chose as the location for a new temple to Phoebus Apollo, the sun god, a relatively inaccessible rocky spur of Mt. Parnassos. The mountainside had to be leveled at a spot 2,000 feet above sea level because legend said that goats browsing there had been heard to speak. The shrine housed the Delphic oracle known as the Pythia.
Nanny and the Kids
Children are often referred to in English as kids, but not long ago that word was used exclusively for the offspring of the goat. To kid around, then, is to behave like a baby goat, gamboling and interacting in the playful manner of an experimenting and high-spirited animal.
The female goat is the nanny, another word that today may even surprise students of English with its connection to the mothering behaviour of female goats. She is kept for milking, and goat cheese is made from the milk, too. However, the kids are usually slaughtered for their meat [often confusingly referred to as veal since there is no other 'food word'] so that there will continue to be milk for human consumption.
Nanny goats often bear twins. That fact makes the image in Western art of a single or solitary kid a particularly poignant symbol of innocence and helplessness. In Asia, a single kid is often staked out to attract an old tiger thought to be taking human lives.
One of the highest expressions of impurity, and a symbol of great cruelty stems from the Book of Leviticus, the Old Testament section that concerns ritual propriety. One of the laws of dietary kashrut ["keeping kosher"] is the avoidance of milk with meat at the same meal. It is expressed in the injunction not "to stew a kid in its mother's milk."
From a vat that collected the flow of the udders of the nanny goat, Heidrun, the valkyries serve mead [mjod] to the Eineriar, the warriors of Valhalla. Heidrun never lacked for feed since she stood on the roof of Valhalla and ate the leaves of Laerad, the highest bough of the world ash tree, Yggdrasil. She was Odin's mount and also, on occasion, drew the Norse god's cart.
According to French essayist Michel de Montaigne [fl. 1575] nannies used to be taught to nurse human babies, a life-saving solution for infants whose mothers had died giving birth.
Sex and the Single Goat
The billy, buck, or male goat, renowned for his sexual appetite and distinctive strong musky smell provides a metaphor for adolescent sexuality: "as randy as a billy goat." This pungent, and highly- and aggressively-sexed male animal was used by the Greeks as symbolic of the lustful aspect of human beings. Hence, the god of orgiastic revelry, Dionysos, was sometimes depicted as a goat.
Satyrs, with the torso and arms of a man, but with the horned head and four-legged body of a billy goat, were nature spirits famed for trickery and for their musical ability most often with the syrinx, the reed flute. This instrument is also called a shepherd's pipe, since herds of sheep and goats needed the protection of a full-time guard and the high-pitched instrument could be used to sound an alarm. A shepherd could also while away the lonely hours by making and playing these simple instruments.
Silenus was the old drunkard who tutored Dionysos, but his name was derived from a general term for south European nature spirits of the satyr type. Fauns are related, but child-like in appearance.
Pan (the name means All) is the two-legged Greek nature god of woods and pastures, who was born with a goatish face, goat's feet and two goat horns. When the midwife first saw the bearded face of the newborn Pan she fled in terror. Today the term panic attack is applied to a sudden, usually irrational fearful feeling.
Goat Manure is next to useless as a fuel or fertilizer since the small round droppings are too labor-intensive to collect. Thus, in the literature of the East, it is a symbol of worthlessness/insignificance.
Die Bukkene Bruse is the title of the Norwegian folktale that has come down to us in English as The Three Billy Goats Gruff. A troll -- an ogre or rakshasa -- that lies in wait under a bridge intends to eat all the goats that regularly pass that way but . . . .
The American professor of English, John Barth, is perhaps best known for his novel Giles, Goat-Boy published in 1966. [The link is to the New York Times review.] The life of the Giles follows the archetypal pattern of all mythological heroes, and prophecy and mysterious encounters play an important role in his voyage of self-discovery. He goes to a giant University which is, as is any place, a microcosm of the world. He was raised by, and his formative years were spent among, goats; so the goat-view permeates his experience.
There is currently a program afoot in the developing countries like www.heifer.org that provides a goat to families that can show they are capable of thrift. In Nepal, Anuradha Koirala's charitable organization plans to provide goats to low caste girls to help them out of poverty and the temptations of prostitution, according to www.maitinepal.org [scroll down.] These nannies provide milk and cheese, and can also form the basis for a herd.
By 10,000 BCE, goats were domesticated in the Middle East; sheep by 7,700 BCE. They appear in Greece 500 years later.
Sheep and goats both belong to the family called ruminants, hooved animals that digest in several stages, or "chew the cud."
In the engraving are a brown pug-nosed Egyptian goat and a black Nepali goat. Goats tend to pull up plants, roots and all, and they can devastate the terrain. On the other hand, they can eat and digest very high fiber and thorny plants.
Goats (Capra hircus aegagrus) originate in the highlands of western Iran, and were one of the earliest of animals to be domesticated. From direct accelerator mass spectrometry radio-carbon dating of ancient goat skeletal remains found there, it is possible to determine accurately the point at which the sex-specific age curves of the Iranian bones change dramatically. This indicates the time of the shift to selective harvesting of young male goats, the practice that marks the end of hunting, the introduction of husbandry and the beginning of the herding of Capricorn.
Wool, the hair of sheep or goats, has been spun, woven into cloth, and knotted into carpets at least since 6000 BCE. An Egyptian fresco of 1480 BCE depicts a hand loom, and in a Mongolian tomb in 1960 was found, frozen in the ice, a Ghiordes-knot Pazyryk rug dated to 464 BCE with the characteristics of contemporary pile rugs. (British carpet industry site)
In ancient times, a wealthy Roman would wear a cilicium, a fine goat-hair garment.
The shaggy, long-haired Himalayan goat (Capra hircus) is famous for its very fine wool (pashmina) that can be plucked at shedding times. Once rare and found only in the hills of Tibet and Kashmir at 12,000 to 14,000 feet or higher where vegetation is sparse and winters extremely cold, today this "cashmere" fibre usually comes from goats bred and kept for the purpose.
The word pashmina used to refer only to the very finest grade of this fibre. The goat's short, inner hair is among the finest natural insulation in the world -- the root pash'm means inside. A true pashmina shawl or shamina can be made fine enough to draw through a finger ring, but it should not be confused with shahtoosh, which is from a rare antelope.
Pashmina measures only 12-14 microns while human hair is 75 microns thick. Today, in the trade, the term cashmere can be used legitimately for any wool under 19 microns thick.
However, the fibre we know today as angora is actually spun from the hair plucked from shedding rabbits.
Goats and Gods
In Indian cosmogony, Prakriti, the un-manifested mother is depicted as a female goat. Her colors of red, black and white represent the 3 gunas of the Hindu samkhya metaphysical system.
Black goats are sacrificed every morning to the fierce Hindu goddess Kali at her temple, Kalighat, in the city formerly known as Calcutta. There is also a depiction of benign Kali, where she is seated on her vehicle, a black goat.
The animal vehicle of Damchen Garway Nagpo the Blacksmith, a sworn protector of Tibetan Buddhism, is a brown goat. Is there a relation with the Ram of Agni, Hindu god of fire?
Amalthea [also sp. Amaltheia, Amalthaea] was a Greek nymph, who as a nanny goat was the wet-nurse of the infant Zeus while he was being hidden from his father. One of her horns was broken off and Zeus transformed it into the cornucopia [horn of plenty]. A star associated with her was considered the source of lightning.
The Ark of the Covenant of the ancient Hebrews is described as veiled with fine goat hair fabric that some see as related to the goat's association with lightning.
Athena, grey-eyed goddess of wisdom wears or carries on her shield, the protective skin (aegis) of Amalthea. Though it is her sacred animal, goats were not sacrificed to her and they were not allowed in her sanctuary, the Acropolis of Athens. Frazer (The Golden Bough) says that the reason was that they might gnaw her sacred olive tree.
Diodorus Siculus said that it was goats that drew the attention of the Greeks to the vapours that emerged from fissures in the earth at Delphi, where later the famous Pythian oracle was installed.
The zodiac sign of Capricorn is not strictly speaking a goat at all, but the ancient depiction of Ea [ya] a Sumerian (early Babylonian) deity. This name is an ancient way of referring to the Old Testament deity, and became the "Jah" of reggae.
The fact that the pupils of their eyes are longitudinal like those of the cat seems to give goats a mysterious air. This characteristic they share also with cats, and with some reptiles like frogs and snakes. It is no wonder then, that in the Middle Ages some Europeans associated the goat with the devil. That is the reason for his supposedly cloven hooves, and one of the reason's he is depicted with the face of a goat.
A wether is a castrated male goat. A bell-wether then, is an animal that leads the others to their fate.
To caper is to skip like a goat, more nimble than any sheep. A caper is criminal slang for illegal behaviour worthy of the nimble goat, and capers are also the tasty little buds off a Mediterranean bush that goats enjoy.
Because the wild goat was perceived as enjoying the freedom to change its mind, we use the word caprice to mean a whim.
The individual that is picked on to endure the punishment for infractions, real and imaginary, of the group is known as a scapegoat. For example, when disastrous weather, economic collapse, interminable wars and the Black Death all visited Europe in the 1300s, there was an irrational need to apportion blame. Therefore, outsiders suffered expulsion, pogroms and various other torments at the hands of mainstream society. We call this type of reaction "scapegoating."
The term derives from escape + goat and the custom in many ancient pastoral cultures, like the Tibet of not so long ago, to drive an animal away from the settlement at the end of the old year, in the belief that it can bear away all misfortunes or transgressions and sins.
We know that this was an ancient Middle Eastern custom because in the Old Testament (the first part of The Bible,) on the Day of Atonement Aharon, who was the High Priest of the tribes of Israel, confessed all the sins of the people over the head of a living goat. Then the goat, symbolically bearing their sins, was sent away into the wilderness. In Leviticus 16: 6-30, one of a pair of animals was dedicated to the deity known as Azalzel (whose name today is a synonym for "Hell") and then expelled in that same way.
In some aboriginal North American cultures, a white dog served as the scapegoat (so the dog turns into a goat!)
The term scapegoat is also applied to the person or animal to, or upon whom, a disease or curse is transferred via magical methods. They do not have to be made to run off -- they can be eliminated in fact or symbolically, as by social ostracizing. In a traditional Tibetan new year's mask dance, a 'demon' made of coloured dough is stabbed with a p'hurba and so any remaining potential evil is killed. The demon figure can be said to be a scapegoat.
Even today, goat meat is considered a fit substitute for human flesh:
Sheep are better for the environment. They only browse [nibble the tips of vegetation] and so flocks are kept in and around some industrialized cities just to groom (and fertilize) highway meridians.
Our domestic sheep descend from a blend of mountainous moufflons, Ovis musimon and Ovis orientalis mixed with the Asiatic urial, Ovis vignei.
The Barbary sheep is a famous North African species that may have made it to Spain, and from them we get the famous merino wool-bearing sheep of England. From there, the merino was exported as far as New Zealand and Australia.
A ram is a male sheep; the female is called a ewe [pron. iyou]. The ram stands for immortality like the serpent, for its horns are cast or fall off and re-grow each year. It is also symbolic of stubborn power and fertility.
In Tibet, according to Tribal Arts:
A live sheep is sometimes driven around a monastery's walls by a pilgrim doing devotional circumambulations. The sheep is then allowed to live out its days in peace.
A ram caught in a thicket served as a substitute for what might have otherwise been a human sacrifice to the Deity when Abram in the Old Testament felt compelled to make an offering of his son while they were living in the wilderness.
Reminiscent of that Biblical incident are the astounding gold and lapis lazuli pair of goats found by Sir Leonard Wooley in the late 1920s, in the royal tombs of Ur, Mesopotamia (ca. 2600 BCE.) They stand with their forelegs stretched up against a golden tree, browsing its flowering branches. [Interestingly, the public seems to deny that there are two of them, one in the British Museum, one in the U. of Penn. Museum.]
According to Western astrology, the sign of the Ram, or Ares as it is known, -- the animal's scientific name is Ovis aries -- is currently the first in the zodiac or belt of the 12 constellations through which the sun passes on its yearly round. That is, in the current era it is the Ram that appears to be rising on the horizon at the time of the Spring Equinox.
Amon-Ra (also transliterated Amun or Ammon) and Amen -- a word that seals the prayers of at least 3 of our contemporary religions -- was depicted with a ram's head or else as a sun-disc with ram's horns. His cult seems to originate in Nubia, the region of East Africa between Egypt and Ethiopia where Indian merchant sailors went for gold.
~ E. A. Wallis Budge trans., prayer for resurrection from The Book of the Dead.
A variant of the second part of the Egyptian sun deity's designation is Ram, which is how god in the form of Vishnu-as-the-sun is addressed in India. Rama is the eponymous hero of The Ramayana, the epic poem concerning the relation between Shri Lanka and India.
The Romans developed a form of Jupiter-Ammon associated with the ram.
Agni, the Vedic fire deity, rides Mesha his ram, and in Hindu tantric practice the manipura chakra whose symbol is fire is depicted as a ram.
Kubera [also Kuvera,] Hindu deity of wealth, is depicted sometimes as a ram. As one of the Chinese Immortals, he is Ko Yu. And there is wealth in keeping wool-bearing animals:
All parts of the sheep are utilized, and it is a main source of wealth. Sheep's head is a delicacy served in northern Europe, in many Muslim countries and most places where sheep are raised. It is roasted and/or boiled.
For reasons of the shepherd's convenience or for the animals' health (so they don't injure each other through butting and ramming,) the horns of sheep and goats can be removed while the animal is still young. Then the animal is said to be a "polled" Poll is an old word for a smooth head.
The horns of a ram are so closely associated with divine power that even the head of Ishtar [Astarte or Ashtaroth,] Great Goddess of the Near East, was portrayed adorned with them. Scholars of ancient religion think that whenever a goddess is observed with the horns typically emblematic of masculine power, it is to denote her completely androgynous nature as supreme Deity. However, they might consider that females of many species bear horns including cattle, goats and many kinds of sheep. An ancient variety known as Jacob sheep often has 4 or more horns.
Moses' head was described as having "horns" of light (Old Testament, Exodus) and in the art of Renaissance Europe, eg. a sculpture by Michelangelo, these rays were depicted as actual ram's horns.
A ram's horn [shofar] was used as a war trumpet, to herald the presence of the ark, at coronations and other ritual occasions. It was blown also to herald a Jubilee (Hebr. yuvell - flow of sound) Year -- a sabbatical period every 49th year (Leviticus 25) during which bonds of slavery, oppressive contracts and debts could be remitted or absolved. Now it is sounded in synagogues to usher in a time of spiritual preparation before the New Year (Rosh Hashana) which is in the early autumn.
As in several other traditions, the distinction between antelope and sheep is blurred; the finest type of shofar is the long, serpentine horn of a desert antelope.
Naropa, (from whom many Buddhist lineages including that of the Karma Kagyu descend) whose Tibetan name makes reference to horns, is often depicted holding or blowing the long twisted ram-like horn of an antelope.
The word, shepherd, is one of those deceptive English words where the PH does not indicate an F sound. That is because it is a contraction of the words "sheep" and "herder." A shepherd protects the flock from predators, an essential job yet one that is often entrusted to children.
In one of the mystery religions, Greek god Hermes appears as Kriophore, a shepherd carrying a ram around his shoulders. < cf. K. Bubriski's photo of Nepali shepherd.
A shepherd could be called a "pastor" -- someone whose role is to take the flock to a new pasture. Pastor is a usual term of address for the leader of a Christian congregation.
In folklore, the domestic sheep stands for conformity, stupidity and helplessness. Thus, someone who appears sheepish has a shy, meek, or embarrassed, expression.
Pastoral people are those whose livelihood relies on the availability of pasture for their flocks. A pastorale is a kind of music that evokes the peaceful countryside.
The typical staff that shepherds carry is crooked -- it has a hooked end -- and is called a crook for that reason. It is a necessary tool for "sheep-flipping" -- helping a thick-fleeced animal get up once it has fallen; otherwise it might die.
The crook was adopted by early Christian teachers as their sign of office and is particularly characteristic of the bishop, though anyone who ministers to a "flock" can be considered a "pastor," that is, a spiritual shepherd.
The fleece is the shorn curly wool of a sheep that clings all in one piece because of the tangles all sticky with lanolin, so someone who has been robbed in a devious way is said to have been fleeced.
The sheep's offspring, the lamb, stands for purity and innocence, and stands in the Old Testament as contrast to the ferocity of predators: Isaiah XI, 6 - The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid.
The New Testament continues the symbolism of gentle submission when Jesus is called Lamb of God. The phrase also evokes a comparison with Isaac who would have been sacrificed had not the ram turned up in time to save his life.
Matthew 25: 32 refers to the inevitable time when the "shepherd separates the sheep from the goats," and explains that sheep go to the right side since they represent the righteous. Therefore, once again it is goats that are associated with wrong-doers.
Sheep/Goat ... Whatever
The bharal, shi-yang (Chi. stone-sheep, Pseudois schaeferi ) is a Himalayan animal about which there is some controversy since it is unclear whether it is a sheep or a goat. There is also a dwarf variety. It is referred to as a blue sheep, being of a light slate colour underneath. It is prey for the elusive snow leopard, both living above 14,000 feet.
The markhor is a large goat remarkable for long thin horns that curve in a tight spiral reaching over 2 feet in length. Its range is from Russia to Central Asia also including NW India. Central Asia is also home to the ibex and the Marco Polo sheep. There is the thar and the tur, both are kinds of Capra or goat.
Dall sheep (Ovis dalli) of North America are slender-horned; those farther south are the heavy-horned Rocky Mountain sheep (Ovis canadensis.) Both mountain sheep are referred to as bighorns. Mountain goats (Oreamnos americanus) are white, shaggy and distinctly angular in appearance.
~ Jardine goat engravings (London, 1839.) Not many other pictures are included on this page, since it is hunters or taxidermists who are usually the source of them..
A popular song [<midi file] of the 1940's may seem like complete nonsense, but . . .