The cow as a symbol of motherhood, innocence, and generosity

The cow is a powerful symbol in literature, representing a wide range of themes and ideas. The symbolic meaning of cows refers to fertility, motherhood, sacrifice, nourishment, generosity and life-giving qualities, and innocence and purity. The appearance of cows in ancient mythology is not only because of the importance they had as domestic animals and sacrificial beings, but also because they appear as teachers on how to behave and think. Here is a brief overview of the appearance of cow motifs in Vedic texts, Greek mythology, Norse and Slavic myths.

Cow symbolism in Hinduism

Nowhere in the world do cows enjoy such respect as they do in India, where Hindus consider them sacred animals. The cow has a special role in ancient Hindu literature, and its protection and worship is an important part of Hindu religious beliefs and practices.

In the Vedas, one of the oldest and most sacred texts of Hinduism, the cow is considered a sacred animal and is considered a symbol of the fertility and abundance of the earth. The cow is also considered a symbol of the goddess, who gives man all food and life. The cow is associated with various goddesses and gods, and is believed to be a manifestation of the divine mother; provider of all food and giver of all life. It is first mentioned in the Rigveda, one of the four Vedic texts as a symbol of the goddess Aditi, who is the mother of the gods and the giver of all life. In the Vedas, the cow embodies the creative power of the universe and the source of all life. Kamadhenu is the mother of all cows and is depicted in Hindu iconography with all the major gods located in specific parts of her body. Mother Kamadhenu is considered “the one who fulfills the wishes of devotees”.

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In Hinduism, the cow is a symbol of non-violence and compassion. Hindus consider it a sin to hurt or kill a cow. Cow slaughter in India is punishable by at least 10 years in prison. The maximum is a life sentence. The cow is also considered a symbol of generosity and selflessness, as it gives milk without asking for anything in return. Hindus believe that the cow is the divine mother who helps in fulfilling wishes and removing obstacles.

Cows in Greek Mythology

In Greek mythology the cow mostly represents a symbol of fertility, abundance, and power. One of the most famous stories about a cow is told in Homer’s Hymn to Hermes. Hera was very angry with her husband Zeus for lying to her and spending time with other women. To hide from his angry wife, Zeus turned into a cow with the help of a magical plant given to him by the god Hermes. Zeus roamed the earth freely in the body of a cow until the wise Hera discovered him. She demanded that he return to human-divine form and atone for his deeds.

This Greek story illustrates Hera’s strong will and determination, as well as her ability to stand up to her powerful husband. In Greek mythology and art, Hera is often depicted as a cow or with cow horns, often with a golden crown, symbolising her status as queen of the gods. This representation can be seen in many ancient Greek art forms such as ceramics, sculptures, and frescoes.

The painting, created by the Dutch artist Govert Flinck (c. 1615-1660)

The cow is also associated with Demeter, the goddess of agriculture, fertility, and harvest, and with the goddess Aphrodite, the goddess of love, beauty, and sexuality. Demeter was often depicted holding a cornucopia, which was a symbol of abundance, and a plow, which was a symbol of agriculture. The cow was considered a symbol of the fertility of the earth and a source of food for people.

Cows in Norse Mythology

Cows were an important part of everyday life for the ancient Nordic people. The importance of the cow in Nordic society is reflected in many myths and legends that have been passed down through the centuries. In Norse mythology, the cow is a powerful symbol representing abundance and the cycle of life and death. The cow is closely associated with the goddess Freyja, who is the goddess of love, fertility, and war.

In many myths Freyja is depicted as a beautiful and powerful goddess, riding in a chariot pulled by two cows which are symbols of Freyja’s power and abundance, as well as her connection with the earth and the cycle of life. One of the most famous cow stories in Norse mythology is the story of Audhumla. According to this myth, Audhumla was a giant cow that licked the salt blocks of the primeval earth and thereby revealed the first god, Buri. This cow is often considered a symbol of divine, creative power.

The Cow in Slavic Mythology

The cow was an important symbol in Slavic folklore and mythology. In many stories and legends, the cow plays the role of protector and helper of man. It was believed that she could heal the sick because her milk had magical properties. In Slavic mythology, the cow is also seen as a symbol of fertility and wealth. The goddess Mokosh, who was associated with women’s work such as spinning and weaving, was often depicted as a woman with cow horns or ears. In some parts of Slavic mythology, it is believed that the cow granted wishes and brought happiness to those who treated her with respect.