Pig, Sow & Boar

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These animals are known collectively as swine.  The female is called a sow, and the male is called a boar.  However, the term boar also refers to the animal commonly called a wild pig.

The Sow


The boar-faced goddess who protects Newari (Nepalese) temples and buildings, Varahi or Barahi, refers to any of 4 sow deities who preside over Kathmandu Valley, Nepal.  They guard the gates of the city-as-mandala.

Vajravarahi, red in colour, presides over the west and is believed to protect livestock especially. Nilavarahi, blue in colour, guards the east.  The south is watched by white Swetavarahi [or, Sukarasya] at the southern gate while Dhumbarahi, who is grey, protects the north and defends the valley against cholera.  They are also considered animal-headed dakinis.

       <image Out of Asia >

Usually, in Buddhist iconography, the pig represents desire in all its forms.  This ranges from identification with one's body, and /or a general love of material possessions, and /or  the lust for food or sexual satisfaction.   Therefore, the pig is 1 of 3 animals depicted at hub of the Buddhist Wheel of Rebirth -- in  both a figurative and a literal sense.  That is, they symbolize the impediments to our release from the round of rebirth, and they are:  desire/attachment (the pig,) anger/aversion (the snake), and ignorance/confusion (the rooster.)  

In the Chinese tradition, the pig represents abundance, but it also stands for our fundamentally animal nature.  Also, through an unfortunate coincidence or a misunderstanding at the time Western missionaries first became active in China, the word for the animal provided a homonym or pun for Christianity's central figure. 

Dorje Phagmo

Tibetan Buddhist deity, Vajra Yogini, is also known in the form of Vajravarahi the "Adamantine* Sow" (Tibetan: Dorje Phagmo, pron. pah-mo.)  In that special form, a small sow's head embellishes the right side of her human head.  

Vajravarahi is considered the consort of Maha- or Chakra-samvara (Tib. Demchok) who "tears asunder the elephant-hide of ignorance," and 4 of his 16 arms embrace her.  Their palace is said to be atop Mount Kailash.  The mountain is his symbol; the lake Manasarowar below it is hers.  Together they symbolize the union of method and wisdom; some would say, compassion and wisdom.

There is more to the symbolism of the animal-head that crowns Dorje Phagmo.  Besides the usual totemic and generative aspects associated with the sow, the throat and head evokes the characteristic ear-splitting cry of the pig.  The shrieking squeal of the sow reminds us that Dorje Phagmo is a presence that can shatter illusion, obliterating all concepts and enabling us to realize the ro-chig or One Taste of Emptiness- as- Form-as-Emptiness (as proclaimed by the Heart Sutra .)  

This squeal is also the cry of Compassion that complements the stallion's shriek giving voice to the Wisdom of the Amitabha Buddha family.

   To see her in her mandala at AsianArts.

The student and consort of Padmasambhava, Yeshe Tsogyel, appeared as Dorje Phagmo to 13th-century yogini Jomo Menmo Pema Tsokyi and that transformative vision contributed to Menmo's being considered an incarnation of Tsogyel.


The Hindu Goddess Durga in wild boar form is Bajrabarahi [Nepali pronunciation.]  A small temple dedicated to her is in the Chapagaon Forest, Lalitpur, Nepal.  It was constructed by Sri Bas Malla, and empowered by Hindu guru, Viswanath, in 786 CE.  In the great earthquake of 1990, the temple was unharmed although all surrounding buildings were destroyed.

Another Barahi Temple is on an island in the center of Phewa Lake in Pokhara, Nepal.  It is dedicated to the boar protectress form of Shakti in the manifestation called Ajima (ancestress.)  On Saturdays, Hindu devotees carry male animals and fowl to be sacrificed to her there.

In Indian mythology, the activity [shakti] of all the gods manifests as Durga who was many times victorious over demonic forces.  Her yearly festival in the autumn is the Naava Ratri [the Nine Nights].  It celebrates her 9 battles in the war against the forces opposing the gods.  To her millions of devotees, she is the most compassionate, most pleasing supreme manifestation of godhead.  Charming, blissful, skilful and compassionate, she is the peerless mother who prevents the defeat of the lord of gods, Devendra (Shiva) and protects the heavenly realm (Swarga)

On the eight day of the decisive battle against the ashuras sometimes called 'anti-gods' or 'titans' in English, she assumes the form of each of the consorts of Lord Vishnu's avatars.  One of them is Varaha the Boar, and so she becomes Varahi, piercing her opponent with her sharp tusks.



Egyptian goddess of the night, Mother of Stars, was sometimes depicted on amulets as a sow suckling her piglets.


The pig was sacred to Isis, just as it was to Demeter.  (Indeed several aspects of her mythology --especially details of the quest for the dismembered Osiris -- are identical to  myths of Demeter's quest for her abducted daughter.)

Classical Mythology

The chief of the Greek gods, Zeus, was suckled by a sow, though in some versions it is a goat

Swine were sacred to Demeter, goddess of the earth's fertility, who was the mother of Persephone, queen of the underworld.  In autumn, during the rites of Thesmophoria, her devotees drove a herd of swine into a labyrinthine cave.  Later, they would return to see if the deity had accepted this offering by examining the condition of any pig carcasses that might remain. 

Her cult was later absorbed and subsumed by that of the Roman goddess of grain, Ceres, to whom the pig offering continued to be performed.  Swine were sacrificed also, to Hercules, to Venus and also to the Lares by those seeking relief from their illnesses.

In the epic about the Greek hero Odysseus' 10 years of adventure returning from the Trojan War, somewhere on the southern shore of the Mediterranean, the sorceress Circe turned Odysseus' crew into swine for the 7 years during which she held him captive. 

Other European Mythology and Folklore

Roman historian Tacitus (1st century CE) in Germania [in ch. 45] says about the Germans that  

They worship the Mother of the Gods, and wear, as an emblem of this cult, the device of a wild boar, which stands them in stead of armor or human protection, and gives the worshiper a sense of security even among his enemies. They seldom use weapons of iron, but clubs very often.

The Slavic figure called Baba Yaga (or Iaga,) is usually described as riding an airborne mortar which she steers with her pestle.  However, some Russian folktales describe her  riding a sow.

The Celtic Mother goddess Ceridwin, who was associated with the moon, was referred to as the Old White Sow.  The Celts were also among those who considered the flesh of swine the most suitable meal for the gods even after the Old Mythology was diminished into tales of the Otherworld.  It was also said that Manannan, god of the sea, had magic pigs which though eaten one day, returned the next to be eaten again.

In direct contrast, all that was opposite to light was referred to in Scandinavian folklore as The Black Sow.

The Boar

In Egypt

While the pig was sacred to Isis, the black boar (Sus scrofa) was associated with her brother and opponent, Seth.  This black boar aspect was considered responsible for the obscuration of the sun during an eclipse.  In one version, he gores Horus, the sun-god, putting out one of his eyes. 

Morton Edgar thinks that "the tusks in the mouth of the male pig signifies that it was by the "power of his mouth" that the evil one, Seth, caused . . . (Osiris) to be put to death.  In memory of this deed, the peoples of many countries have caused countless boars to lose their heads in sacrifice. 

In the Near East

In Artemis' eastern form as Great Goddess similar to the Diana of Ephesus, she is associated with the boar.   Hence, it is more than likely that the bulbous appendages on the tiered body of the triple-crowned goddess of the Ephesians are not breasts (Are there any breasts without nipples?) but rather boar's testicles.

Adonis, a later Greek god whose origins lie in the Middle East, perished by the tusks of a wild boar.  His name, which derives from adohn or lord, likely refers to Tammuz, consort of the Great Goddess, Ishtar.

A flying boar  was associated with Clazomenae, a city of Asia Minor, home to philosopher Anaxagoras (499-428 BCE.)   He taught, with some similarity to the Buddha, that "nothing comes into being nor perishes but that it is compounded or dissolved from things that are."  

In India

According to the Bhagavad Gita ( 3.30.5) for lack of respect to guru Brihaspati the Sage, Indra, king of the Hindu gods, was once transformed into a pig.

Vishnu's third avatar, or manifested form, is The Boar.  He is depicted either as the animal or as a boar-headed man with four arms.  In that form, he holds a wheel, a conch- shell, a sword, and a mace or a lotus.  Alternately, two of his hands may be in the protection or boon-bestowing gestures.

Hiranyaksha, (golden-eyed demon) received a boon from the god Brahma after having practiced severe austerities in his devotion to him.   He asked to become king of the whole world, and that no animal which he mentioned by name should ever have the power to harm him.  But he had to enumerate the animals, and he forgot to mention the boar.

Now the demon wreaked havoc, plundering everything of value from the creatures of the world, including the Hindu scriptures.  Golden-eye even took the earth down into the ocean as a hostage, but it complained bitterly and loudly. 

Vishnu assumed the boar form and plunged into the depths of the primeval ocean to rescue Earth.  It took him one thousand years to kill Hiranyaksha and to lift the earth up with his great white tusks.  He calmed it, and made it ready for human use by molding its mountains and continents. 

:: bronze of Vishnu as Varaha rescuing Bhu



In India, it was said that a demon with a boar's face gained such power through his devotions that he oppressed devotees or worshipers of the gods so that they had to hide themselves (Edward Moor's Hindu Pantheon: The Court of All Hindu Gods, 2002 edition.) 

There is a red form of Buddhist deity Yamantaka where he is portrayed as treading on a corpse lying atop a boar.

At left is a similar depiction:  Boar-slayer, Buddhist Deity, Vajravarahi as Khadga Yogini.  Notice the decapitated head of the boar under the dwarf-like spirit figure.

We have come full circle.   Here, Vajravarahi is related to Devi the great goddess of Hinduism, supreme Shakti who, as Durga, vanquished the Buffalo demon.



In Europe

In Rome, a boar was the feast offering to the god Saturn; Martial says, "That boar will make you a good Saturnalia."   The winter pork feast reminds us of Vishnu's Varaha incident occurring as it does at the winter solstice when the earth needs to be retrieved from the depths of darkness. 


The boar's-head standard is among the gifts bestowed by the Danish king upon the hero Beowulf for his having slain the ogre, Grendel.  

In Saxo's History of the Danes the order of the battle of Bravalla is described, and Woden or Odin's device of a boar's head [hamalt fylking] is said to refer to the swine-head military formation referred to in the Code of Manu [ancient Indian social code] a " terrible column with wedge head which could cleave the stoutest line."

The valkyries, the Norse dakinis, served the warriors of Valhalla meat from the boar named Saehrimnir.  The divine chef, Andhrimnir, prepared a stew of it in the cauldron called Eldhrimnir.  The beast magically came back to life again before the next meal.  

At Yule, the northern European winter solstice festival, the head of a roast swine with an apple in its jaws, is the highlight of the meal.  Yule is still celebrated more than Christmas in Norway.

British Isles

Arthurian legend includes "The Hunting of Twrch Trwyth," a magical boar with comb, scissors and razor between its ears.  The animal was female and, like Marichi, was considered to travel with her 7 farrow

The Yuletide celebrations were adopted at least from the time of the Saxons, who offered a boar as a solstice sacrifice like their more northern relatives.  A boar's or pig's head with the apple in its mouth is a festive dish at Christmas in the British Isles though the reason for it may be long forgotten.

The Beast of Cornwall, as described in medieval British legend, is a boar.  (Although a contemporary myterious "Beast of Bodmin Moor" is described as a panther.)  

Pig Words

Swine is the generic term for these very intelligent cloven-hoofed, snouted animals.  Pig refers to domestic swine of which the female is a sow and the male a boar.  But boar is also the English word for the wild, tusked and hairier swine.   Therefore it is possible to say that the boar was a sow !  The young are called either piglets, shoats or farrowGilts are pubescent females.  Sounders are the males that rove in groups.  Hog is a synonym for pig

There is great variety in the swine species Suidae.  For example, there are types of swine -- such as the African giant forest pig Hylochoerus meinertzhageni -- that have as many as 38 pairs of chromosomes.  It has characteristic cheek flaps and 6 teats, unlike the wild boar Sus scrofa scrofa which has 12.  Interestingly, just like humans, the Indonesian Babyroussa bayrussa has only 2 teats.

Pork is the English name for the meat of swine.  These food words [veal, beef, mutton] for animal flesh generally derive from the French, who introduced the concept of cuisine -- food not merely for sustenance but for delight -- to English tables.

Taboo Meat

Legend has it that the historical Buddha died as a result of eating some meat -- many think it was pork -- that did not agree with his digestion. 

The reason for the taboo against pork among Semitic peoples is often attributed to the risky business of eating underdone pork, or the swine's reputed disgusting habits -- it is true that in India, at least, they may be fed on human excrement. 

There are at least two other good explanations, however.  One is that the sow may have been their totemic animal, and therefore taboo in the true, anthropological, sense.  The other, offered by Marvin Harris in Cows, Pigs, Wars and Witches, is that humans and swine occupy practically the same environmental niche, using resources and calories in much the same way, so that to raise one pig means to deprive one baby.  

(Neolithic remains indicate that the domestication of swine began around 7500 BCE, about the same time as sheep, but did not spread rapidly probably for the reason given above; it cannot subsist only on grass and tends to compete with people for food.) 

Somewhat related to this is the fact that we now know that the pig is an extremely intelligent and sensitive animal.

Science has discovered that the pig is relatively close to humans in its genetics so that to some eating pork may almost be considered a form of cannibalism.   The affinity between swine and humans has been augmented by a team at Massachusetts General Hospital under Dr. David H. Sachs.  A strain of miniature swine [not at all small] whose organs are eventually intended for human transplantation has been developed.


The Seven Sisters  

Some think that the seven small pigs drawing Marichi's vehicle stand for the Pleiades.  

The Hindu Veda, Taittiriya Samhita, dated to around 8500 BCE indicates (6.5.3) that the Pleiades group was visible at the winter solstice, so that it was a herald of the earth's return to days of light.  (Now it appears in the Northern hemisphere's spring constellation of Taurus.)  To the Greeks, the stars are the 7 daughters of Atlas who supports the heavens, and the nymph Pleione.  

Hermes, the Greek deity of transformative power, is the son of Maia (Maya is Sanskrit for illusion) who is one of the Pleiades.  Though some see their Greek name deriving from "flock of doves," and doves draw Aphrodite's [or Venus'] carriage, the myth of the Pleiades is actually associated with Artemis: 

One day, the 7 nymphs wearing white tunics who accompany Artemis in her hunt, were startled at hearing Orion's approach and fled.  Seeing the white flashes, he thought he had disturbed a flock of birds, so he ran after them.  He continued his chase even after he realized they were girls and not prey.  

When the goddess saw Orion reaching for her friends, she changed them into white doves that flew up into the sky.  At the command of Zeus they became the cluster of stars known as the 7 sisters --  the Pleiades, ie. "offspring of Pleione".  It is said that later, when Troy was destroyed by the Greeks, the youngest of them, Electra, was so distraught that she left her place in the heavens.  People saw her disappear in a blaze of light leaving only 6.  (Most modern day people can only see 6 stars.)

Artemis later forgave Orion, but Apollo was angered by his sister's befriending a mortal.  One day when he noticed Orion swimming in the sea,  he challenged his sister to shoot at the dark bobbing object.   Artemis took aim, fired an arrow and killed Orion.  Realizing what she had done, she commemorated her friend by placing his likeness in the night sky near the Pleiades. 


*Adamantine: indestructible, immutable.  The connotation is Stability.

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