The boar as a symbol is an ancient one and was frequently found throughout all Indo-European cultures, and sometimes even in other cultures as well. But what exactly does the boar symbolize?
In general, the boar is a symbol of loneliness, isolation, spiritual authority but also a person’s repressed wild side if it appears in dreams. For the Celts and Norse, the boar represented the priestly class, for the Japanese courage, while Christianity associates the boar with lust and gluttony.
Boar myths are usually part of a tradition where boars are seen as a spiritual authority. This might be because, like Celtic druids and Indian Brahman (wise-men), boars are known to retire to a solitary life in the forest.
Alternatively, boars might be seen as a spiritual authority because boars have the ability to uncover truffles, a mysterious type of mushroom or fungus supposedly produced by lightning, or because boars can eat acorns, which are produced by the mythological sacred tree: the oak.
Boar symbolism & use in various cultures
Throughout the folklores of most countries, boars are imbued with primordial characteristics.
In opposition to the mythological status of boars are bears, which are seen as a symbol of temporal power.
In Gaul and in Greece, boars were frequently hunted and killed, which symbolizes the spiritual authority being hounded down by the temporal, fleeting power of reality.
This boar-bear duality exists in China as well, since the boar was the emblem of the Miao people, while the bear was the symbol of the Hia.
The Miao are adherents of a very old and ancient Chinese folklore. According to the Miao, the boar driven out or hunted by the warrior Yi the Archer. A Greek analogy is Herakles (or Hercules) capturing the Erymanthian boar alive; or Meleager, helped by Theseus and Atalanta, hunting the Calydonian boar.
Hindu mythology: boar as a creation animal
In Indian mythology for instance, boars represent the avatar (incarnation) the god Vishnu took when he raised the Earth atop the surface of the waters and set it in order.
Vishnu, again, adopts the form of a boar (Varāha) uncovering the earth to find the foundation of the column of fire, meaning Shiva’s lingam (“symbol, mark, stone”), while hamsa-Brahma tries to find the tip of the fire column in the sky. Thus the Earth was generally seen as an aspect Varāha, which in turns was the god Vishnu, and as such this primordial world built by the boar aspect was seen as a kind of Holy Land.
The hunting and killing of boars is usually part of a kind of cyclical symbolism, one reign being replaced by another, one kalpa (Hindu aeon, equivalent to 4.32 billion years) to the next. Hindus have labeled the current kalpa age as the kalpa of the White Boar.
Norse and Celtic mythology: boar as a warrior and priestly symbol
In Norse mythology, Frey, the god of harvests and peace, was associated with the boar. Thus, priest-kings would often wear boar shaped masks to channel his powers.
Boars were also a common element on Gaulish Celtic battle flags, especially those carved on triumphal arch at Orange (France) and upon Gaulish coins. There are many examples of boars in imprinted on bronzes or stone carvings.
That being said, evidence suggests that boars weren’t associated with the warrior caste, but instead considered a symbol of the priestly caste, so Gaulish depictions of boars on banner flags suggests that the symbol of boars was used as a blessing from the priests for the warriors going into combat.
Like the Celtic druid, boars were closely connected with the forest, feeding on acorns, while the female wild sow, symbolically surrounded by nine piglets, would dig in the ground at the root of an apple tree (seen as the tree of immortality, the way the acanthus was seen as as the plant symbolizing triumph over death).
Since the Celts’ let their pig herds roam freely in the wild, they saw little difference between the pig and the wild boar and because the boar was the animal dedicated to Lug, pork was the sacrificial food at the festival of Samain (a time when the door to the Otherworld is open). Other times when boars were sacrified would be at the Yule festival.
Many Celtic legends describe the feasts in the Otherworld where a magic pig, always perfectly cooked and never growing less, is served to all participants in the feast.
Also among the Celts, boars were sacred and associated with the goddess Arduinna, patron goddess of the Ardennes forests.
Also among the Celts, boars would be sacrified during the Yule festival
In all of Irish Celtic literature boars are always shown as a symbol of good, even the one written under Christian influence.
In this regard, the Celtic world is in sharp contrast with how other Christian nations typically saw the boar.
Boars in Japanese mythology
The Japanese too have their own version of the boar symbol, where the Inonshishi, the name of the Japanese species of boar, is the last of the animals of the Japanese Zodiac.
In Japanese mythological folklore, the boar is frequently considered a symbol of courage or even rashness. Sometimes Japanese war-kami deities are depicted riding boars as war steeds.
The Japanese statesman, Wakeno Kiyomaro, frequently had small statues of boars stand outside the Shinto shrines dedicated to him.
The deified emperor turned Japanese war-god, Hachiman-jin, was typically shown riding a war boar.
Boars in Buddhism: a symbol of vulgarity, necessary for enlightenment
Boars have their own place in Buddhist symbolism, although less noble compared to Indo-European cultures. In the case of Buddhism, boars are included in the Wheel of Existence, but is depicted as a black animal, meaning it is considered an aspect of ignorance and wild passions.
In Buddhism, boars and pigs are often considered the same, and because of this the boar carries the negative symbolism associated with pig, just as the boar is the symbol of primordial spiritual nobility, so the pig symbolizes crude vulgarity. The wild pig in particular is seen as unrestrained debauchery and brutality.
In the Vajrayāna mythological texts, the Diamond sow has a center role. It is an attribute of the Vajra varahi (a wrathful manifestation of a female Buddha), which in turn is considered the female aspect of the Awakening.
The Vajra varahi is usually shown as coloured scarlet red and with a tiny sow’s head, like a growth, over her right ear. This deity is associated with the cycle of Hevajra (an enlightened being in Indian mythology), and is likely a helper of this being, alongside with the Samvara (a meditation deity).
This leads to the conclusion that the Vajra varahi should be considered as a philosophical realization of emptiness and to the delicate central channel (sushumma) into which respirations are collected in order to liberate Joy.
Boars in Christianity
Most Christian nations considered the boar as a symbol of the Devil, either because it was associated with the lust typical of pigs, or because of the glutony and rashness of boars (comparable with the storm of passion), or again with the devastation boars cause to crops, orchards and vineyards.
The biblical taboo on not eating pork was simply inherited from an old Hebrew tradition going back seven or eight thousand years ago which forbid the eating of wild boar, since it was was a sacred symbol for them.
Boar symbolism in dreams
If boars in dreams are ferocious, they may represent a part of the person struggling to come out or be recongized. It may be a buried instinct that does not want to be killed or subdued by the conscious mind.
This instinct or subdued desire might be a part of the person’s subconscious needs, and the dreamer might bury it because they find it too wild and threatening.
However, this threat only exists because it is repressed. Listening to this repressed instinct or desire might reveal it as a source of hapiness or self-realization.
In other variations, boars in dreams are associated with fertility, and thus, the boar might be seen as a symbol of desire for physical intimacy.
However, boars in this case are associated with traumatic experiences, and the need and desires these traumatic experiences generate.
Boars in dreams might be an expression of one’s inner animal. This is usually connected with the fact that our animal urges are incompatible with the norms of society, so they become buried and repressed in a person’s subsconscious.
Thus, animal, fertility and ferocity drives are all represented by one animal: the boar. Thus, accepting and channeling these desires might release the dreamer from an inner conflict.
In other cases, the boar might be associated with a form of internal psychological aggression, either directed against oneself or others. The source of this aggression is usually different from person to person, and resolving it requires deep introspection.
Various uses of boars
Warriors of northern Europe crested their helmets and swords with boar images.
Greeks sacrificed boars to seal oaths with the sacred blood of boars.
A boar also appears in Egyptian mythology, where Set, taking the form of a black boar, tears out an eye of the god Horus.
Athletes at the Olympian Games took an oath upon the remains of a butchered boar not to engage in foul play.
In various mythical stories, dying gods like Attis, Adonis, and Tammuz were turned into boars and sacrificed or killed by priests who were clothed boarskin.
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