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The Symbolism of the Wild Boar

For many people, seeing a picture of a boar means just seeing a wild animal or a very good meat to eat but for Ricardians it is totally different. The white boar is the emblem of King Richard III, who chose it at some point after he became Duke of Gloucester, when he was able to retain men and array troops. This happened when he was 17, so it is plausible that the choice was made around 1469. What inspired his choice is hard to say. There are many theories around this subject including the word “boar” in itself. In medieval times, the term “boar was spelt “bore” and there is a theory that it could be the anagram of “ebor”, the Roman name of the City of York. It is arguable but as a symbol, what does the boar represent? My personal curiosity pushed me to investigate further and what I have discovered is incredibly fascinating.

The symbolism of the boar changes depending on cultures and countries but many characteristics are common to them and unchanged in time. The boar is an animal that fights till its last breath when hunted, especially if she is a mother. Boars never give up, even if the enemy is clearly more powerful than they are. Fearless and hard to kill, they challenge predators and humans who hunt them. Because of this characteristic, they represent bravery, command, control and fighting spirit. As the meat of the boar is of very high quality, they also represent gatherings and generosity but abundance, courage, stubbornness and power too. It is interesting that the remains of boars have been found in tribal leaders’ burial places to symbolize heroes and warriors.

Many warriors chose the boar as their emblem, especially Anglo-Saxons and Norse leaders. For these cultures and especially in Beowulf, the boar represented ferocity in battle and loyalty to the king. It is possible that the story of Beowulf inspired Richard to choose the boar and his motto to express loyalty to his brother, Edward. Beowulf himself went into battle with a boar-head standard as the symbol of his power as a leader and as a sign of courage.

In Celtic and Arthurian myths, the boar is again the main character in many stories about boar hunting. Twch Trywth was a king who turned into a wild boar. King Arthur started chasing him across the Celtic lands but he went missing into the sea. For this reason, in a Welsh legend, the boar is seen as the antagonist of Arthur himself. Celts also consider the boar as a symbol of the marriage bed because they are believed to bring fertility and to represent virility and great sexual power, in this case a night of love and passion that led to pregnancy. As they protect their offspring to the death, they symbolize good mothering and defenders of honour, righteousness and justice. Celts also thought that the boar was a holy, mystical and mysterious creature and Druids associated him with the incarnation of spiritual power. Its head represents good health and incredible strength. Their flesh is the food of gods and warriors and it is a sacrificial animal. Many are the tales about this aspect of the boar. In the Philippines, eating boar’s meat means replenishment of life.

In Northern mythology, it is said that a wild boar was sacrificed to Freya, the goddess of earth and fertility. The sacrifice took place in midwinter so it is likely that the boar represented the sun and the sacrifice, the rebirth of the sun. Being a symbol of truth, it had a role in the swearing of sacred oaths. On Yule Eve, people put their hands on the boar to swear oaths to the king. After this, it was sacrificed to Freya and its flesh eaten to absorb its power. Today, for Yule Eve, people cook bread in the shape of a boar.

In Indian mythology, the boar is once again seen as the symbol of life and fertility but also as a saviour. Brahmin Vishnu saved the earth in the form of a wild boar. The demon, Hiranyaksha, the enemy of the gods, had sunk the earth into the ocean . The wild boar, Varaha, killed the demon and lifted the earth from the water with his tusks.

Indian tribes see the boar as an example of bravery, honesty, self-confidence and the ability to face problems. They also consider him as an emblem of assertiveness and confrontation, a way to face and overcome fears.

Many crests have the boar as a symbol. Apart from Richard III (the best known leader who adopted the boar as his own symbol) a boar’s head appears in the crest of the clan Mackinnon.

Boars are social animals but they don’t trust strangers. All their actions aim at success and they pursue their goal even at the cost of their life. Notwithstanding their poor eyesight, they have a powerful sense of smell and hearing. The symbology of this is that we should look beneath the surface at all those things that can trouble us and push ourselves to uncover the truth hidden by lies.

 

 

Hastings 950: Remembering the End of an Age

Giaconda's Blog

Over the summer holidays I visited Battle Abbey with my family. We also found our way to Pevensey Bay and Hastings during our trip to re-trace the footsteps of King Harold’s last stand against Norman invaders almost 950 years ago.

Pevensey was atmospheric and eery on an overcast morning with a steely glint on the waves and the slipping pebbles underfoot. We sat on the breakwater and imagined what it would have been like to sight ships on the horizon and dread what they would bring and where they might make landfall. We thought about the effort of unloading supplies and weapons and war horses on a beach like Pevensey and how difficult to would have been to get these up the shifting track ways of pebbles with the threat of an armed response from local defenders and of how treacherous the English channel has proven to be to would-be invaders…

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Nostalgia, Anglo-Saxon poetry and JRR Tolkien’s world view

Giaconda's Blog

anglo-saxon brooch

The common thread that runs through Anglo-Saxon poetry like the golden coils of a Sutton Hoo serpent is the nostalgic pain of longing for lost things. Again and again the same phrases are spoken in ‘Beowulf’ and in poems like ‘The Seafarer’ and ‘The Wanderer’. It feels as if one were a direct source for another and they may well have been if the poets were familiar with other works and created variations on a common theme of loss on a heroic scale through generations of oral transmission, weaving one passage into another over time.

Reading these works we almost get a sense that the Anglo-Saxons were fixated by the imagery of hardship and loss. Whether it be the exile of the sea or the abandonment of old age; the longing for the mead hall in day gone by pervades their poetry and the imagery is poignant and beautiful and intensely moving.

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Beowulf and Sutton Hoo -Sources for a lost world

Giaconda's Blog

“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” ~ Philip Pullman

I was recently asked to visit my daughter’s class and talk to them about archaeology and what we can find out about past cultures from the physical remains that are left behind. The class is also reading Beowulf as part of their topic on the Anglo-Saxons and Vikings in Britain which will run for the whole term.

I immediately plunged into further research on Beowulf and two archaeological sites which I hope will be useful; namely the ship burial at Sutton Hoo and the Coppergate dig in York which uncovered part of Viking Jorvik, the largest excavated Viking settlement in the British Isles.

I picked these because the culture of Beowulf would appear to be closely tied to the archaeological site of Sutton Hoo with references made in the poem to artefacts…

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