Emblem Of War
The wild boar was native to all of Europe. Boars were known to be one of the most ferocious and aggressive animals in the wild kingdom. Since the time of Halstatt, the wild boar has played an integral part in the imaginations of Celtic societies 1. In 150 B.C, a cast iron and bronze Celtic boar was discovered in London. It is believed that amongst other things, the wild boar was a Celtic emblem of war 2.
Boar of Benn Gulbain
In Celtic mythology, the wild boar represents fertility, fearlessness, wealth, stubbornness, courage, and warrior strength. The latter stems from the fact that boars are very strong, dangerous, and very hard to kill 3. The famous Irish myth of Diarmat and the Boar of Benn Gulbain represents the battling forces of lightness and darkness. In this context, the boar ends up killing 50 of Diarmat's men and is therefore a clear representation of darkness 4.
In Celtic culture, the wild boar also symbolizes spiritual authority, a representation commonly associated with the Druids caste 5. When envisioned in dreams, boars are seen as an indication of the warrior spirit. The great warrior Isolt, who dreamed about the demise of a great boar, forewarned Tristan of his own death. Symbols of the wild boar were often placed on the swords, shields, and helmet crests of Celtic warriors 6. Boar statues can also be found alongside statues of armed warriors 7. This provides further support for a close association between boars and warriors.
Death an Natural Disaster
Other folklore tales portray the boar as a divine, magical, and prophetic creature that usher in death and natural disaster. Examples of this negative portrayal can be found in the saga of Finn McCool 8. Otherworld tales often include boars disguised as a trickster figure, full of deception and disobedience. Mythological tales often involve the boar being a direct cause of the hero's death 9. The Irish narrative about the hermit Marban, who has a pet white boar, represents the boar as a gentle fertile creature.
Other Celtic narratives that incorporate the boar as a central character includes: Tuan mac Cairhill who was transformed into a boar, the otherworldly pig Orc Triath, and the king of the boars Torc Triath, as portrayed in the pseudo-history Lebor Gabala 10. Another important central belief is the restorative effects of the boar. According to Irish legend, the boar is sacred to the Celtic Goddess Arduinna. Arduinna is a regular visitor and keeper of the Ardennes forests in Belgium. The boar was sacrificed and served with an apple in his mouth. As a result, eating boar's meat is believed to revive health and happiness 11.
Arduinna and Her Boar
There is an ambivalence depicted in Celtic art with Arduinna and her boar. She is a patroness of the wild animal, but her possession of a knife symbolizes her dominance and her capability of killing the boar if necessary 12. The serving of boar meat is seen as a symbol of hospitality. Every important Celtic function will feast on a generous portion of boar meat. Roasted boar meat can also be frequently found in the burial-graves of tribal chieftains 13. Lastly, the imagery of the wild boar was regularly found on Celtic coins 14, further strengthening its position as a crucial Celtic icon.
- 1 - MacKillop, James. "Boar." Encyclopedia.com, 2004. <link>
- 2 - Eason, Cassandra. Fabulous Creatures, Mythical Monsters, and Animal Power Symbols: A Handbook. Santa Barbara, CA; Greenwood Publishing Group, 2007. <link>
- 3 - Nooden, Lars. "Animal Symbolism in Celtic Mythology." University of Michigan, 22 Nov. 1992. <link>
- 4 - "Role of the Boar in Celtic Iconography and Myth, The." Hooker & Perron, n.d. <link>
- 5 - Guenon, Rene. "The Wild Boar and The Bear." Studies in Comparative Religion, n.d. <link>
- 6 - Davidson, Hilda Roderick Ellis. Myths and Symbols in pagan Europe: Early Scandinavian and Celtic Religions. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1988. <link>
- 7 - Nooden, Lars. "Animal Symbolism in Celtic Mythology." University of Michigan, 22 Nov. 1992. <link>
- 8 - Stefko, Jill. "Wild Boar and Sow Symbolism: Symbolic of Courage, Leadership, Abundance, Nourishment." Suite 101, 27 Dec 2007. <link>
- 9 - "Celtic Animal Symbols: Boar." Religious Symbols: A Visual Glossary, n.d. <link>
- 10 - MacKillop, James. "Boar." Encyclopedia.com, 2004. <link>
- 11 - Stefko, Jill. "Wild Boar and Sow Symbolism: Symbolic of Courage, Leadership, Abundance, Nourishment." Suite 101, 27 Dec 2007. <link>
- 12 - Green, Miranda. Animals in Celtic Life and Myth. New York: Routledge Press, 1998. <link>
- 13 - "Celtic Animal Symbols: Boar." Religious Symbols: A Visual Glossary, n.d. <link>
- 14 - "Role of the Boar in Celtic Iconography and Myth, The." Hooker & Perron, n.d. <link>