Indo European Myth 2: #3

This entry was posted on September 1, 2014 under Clergy Program, Indo-European Myth 2. Written by:

Describe the raiding of cattle by warriors (or divine reflexes of this action) in two cultures. How does this theme reflect the culture of the ancient Indo-European peoples, and is this theme relevant to modern Pagans? (300 words min.)

Lincoln discusses an example of a cattle-raiding story between Cacus and Hercules in Roman mythology, where Cacus first stole cattle that had rightfully belonged to Hercules, which then justified any later vengeful acts in response (Lincoln, 57, 60-63).  Cattle were considered the foundation of indo-european economy.  These cattle supplied all the basic necessities of life such as food, milk, clothing; tools form bone, excrement for fuel, and urine as a disinfectant.  Beyond their specific economical importance, there is also the societal importance of trade in marriage and social functions.  Prayers were often included with cattle, the fight to procure and keep cattle was a common theme.

We see an example of a particular cattle raid in the Irish epic, Tain bo Cualnge, or the “Cattle Raid of Cooley”, where there is a great conflict between five ancient provinces of Ulster and Connacht over a large bull, the Donn of Cuailnge in Ulster.  This story was more about a supernatural being than an actual raiding of herds of cattle (Green, 21).

We also see similar stories in the Greek Iliad with Nestor’s cattle raid and the cattle raid of Helios in the Odyssey.  In the Iliad 18.530-38, the Shield of Akhilles, they speak of the uproar of spooked cattle as they are being stolen, and the men mounted their horses and rode after them to do battle on the banks of the river with their bronze-tipped spears (Lincoln, 79).

Additionally, the Rig Veda talks about Trita who storms into battle by request of Indra, the warrior God.  Trita kills a three-headed serpent (Lincoln, 10) and raided the cattle for him.

While cattle-raiding was a very present theme due to the economy at the time, it is not a practical one for modern society since we have developed an entirely different method of wealth and currency.  You could attempt to compare cattle with modern-day wealth such as gold and/or currency, or even oil.  In that aspect, cattle-raiding could be considered similar to theft and/or the selling of oil to varying countries as a form of wealth.  The Middle East is often at war with each other for religious purposes, but there is still the migration of where oil is procured and fighting over that ability to obtain oil for sale to western countries.

(Word Count: 382)



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