Like with some other animals I’ve looked at, the boar found in America is different to that found in Europe. Again, I shall be considering the European boar as it is closer to home and as such feels more relevant to me. Wild boars are extinct in Britain with the last being thought to roam in the 13th century however because of interbreeding with domestic pigs and the blurred line between the two, it’s not possible to be precise. To try and prevent this line from blurring further, I’ve decided to do an entirely separate post about pigs. I wanted to look at the pig as well, partly in its own right and partly as a supplement to the boar. In the animal totem tarot cards the queen of pentacles is depicted by a pig and so I’ve decided to focus my pig thoughts there instead of having it as an add on to the boar.
“Be willing to accept all parts of yourself and to courageously transform those parts which you don’t like”
– Animal Allies
The boar is about protection and about confrontation. Not just confronting others, or protecting yourself from others but also about how we protect ourselves from ourselves and how there is a time and a place and a need for confronting yourself. Where are you concealing things from yourself? Where are you lying to yourself? The boar, the powerful boar, can help you to tell you the truth and charging head first, can help you confront those parts of you that you try to hide.
The charging aspect of the boar comes up a lot – there is the obvious analogy of charging head first towards challenges. The boar doesn’t wait patiently for what it wants, it doesn’t procrastinate the future away. It is all about moving forward and strength, something that Rachel Patterson sums up nicely:
“Generous noble creature, the boar has been a symbol of warriors for centuries and features in many battle tales and legends. He is full of masculine energy and brings bravery, balance and strength.”
With the boar, we have a power but it is not undirected, the boar’s power is about standing up for self and family and taking on battles, an aspect which is oft-repeated in symbolism and mythology.
The wild boar was the heraldic emblem of Richard III. They were a popular choice, likely because of their association with fierceness in battle and symbolically they were used as an emblem of protection. It was said that during a hunt, a boar’s tusks would get so hot they would singe the attacking dogs. Instead of white hot tusks, the golden boar called Goldbristles had a glowing mane which would light the dark night and was associated with Freyr and by extension, with war and death.
A lot of my reading focused on war, battle, boar hunts and courage but there is an additional part of this animal that I find symbolically fascinating; their role in landscape.
Whilst the boar has vanished from the English landscape, their presence remains in place names such as everton and everleigh, with eofor meaning wild boar. Closer to home for me, the saxon name for York was Eoforwic – wild boar settlement – which was turned into Jorvik – wild boar creek – by the Vikings and over time has become York. Boars continue to live on in York’s art, with two white boars being depicted in stained glass in York Minster.
In addition to naming the landscape, the boar itself can, in large numbers, strongly alter the landscape through rooting and they play an important role in the decomposition of the forest floor. By rooting through leaf litter to find food, they aerate the soil and this has important benefits for the environment. Unfortunately, in some areas this behaviour has lead to human outcries that boars are destroying the land – we are very fickle and can see the same behaviour as positive and negative depending on our own interests.
“Wild boars have been described as many things, but they are always characterised in the light of human concerns and priories. Even when their natural behaviour is praise, humans limit the extent to which they are allowed to practise it.”
– I don’t know where I got this quote from… Sorry!
Although the boar is about fighting, the idea of looking at what you are concealing opens you up to emotional healing and it was said that parts of the boar contained magic. A boar skin placed on a wound made it disappear. They were thought to know how to cure themselves of digestive disorders and whilst this may or may not be true, males do use their tusks to rip bark off trees to release pine resin. They rub against this to harden their coats and repel insects.
The boar can appear to find food out of nowhere, making them an omen of prosperity, although you may need to look more closely and snuffle out the treasure from the waste. You need to dig out what is under the surface and this ties is so well to the idea of confronting what is hidden.
Like all of us, the boar has more than one side and you cannot simply relegate it to a corner with a label hinting at destruction and confrontation.
Throughout history, wild boars have presented us with opportunity and danger. They are a food source with tusks that could cause terrible damage and it was this risk that meant killing boar made you into a great warrior. Because boars are generally secretive and shy, they only tend to come into contact with humans on human terms such as hunts. This is why we often see them depicted as aggressive, ferocious and violent, you would be too if you were being chased by men and dogs with the intent to kill you.
“Ovid presents the Caledonian boar as a mighty adversary, allying it both with the forces of nature, the like deadly lightning strike, and human weaponry, such as the catapulted stone. It is proud and intelligent, choosing the forest as its battleground, where its hunters are at an immediate disadvantage. The hunters themselves do not appear in the best light, as they quarrel with each other, or foolishly vaunt their own prowess. Even in death, the boar confronts them with their failings, as they gather round, afraid even to touch it.”
– Dorothy Yamamoto
Boar hunting took on social meanings beyond just needing resources the animals could offer. It became a test of courage and a symbol of a man’s masculinity and status to kill a boar. This was emphasised by their reputation which claimed that their fighting spirit was said to signify the fierceness of the rulers of the world. Hunting may have been encouraged because of the Christian association of the boar with the devil and the boar was often associated with one of the deadly sins, whether it was anger, lust or gluttony. A 14th century hunting manual says that the boar is:
“…black and ugly, like those who have lost the light of the spirit and live in benighted worldliness. The boar shoves its face into the soil, like those whose only concern is filing their bellies and enjoying the delights of the flesh. Even its feet are twisted and crossed, like those of the Devil.”
In one of the accounts I read, from around the first century, a roman writer was poking fun at boar hunting and was suggesting his friends take the opportunity instead for reflection and thinking, for hunting ideas or words or knowledge instead of boars. I love this idea and think it relates well to the snuffling out what is not necessarily obvious. What is it you need to look for, to hunt for or to sniff out? Perhaps a walk in the woods collecting leaves, trying to find a particular bird or foraging for mushrooms is what you need.