The horse and the ox, and their connection to sea or water gods (including the kappa spirit) and to the sun and moon (celestial heavens)

Excerpted from “THE KAPPA LEGEND”: A Comparative Ethnological Study on the Japanese Water-Spirit Kappa and Its Habit of Trying to Lure Horses into the Water by Ishida Eiichiro

“The idea of the speckled surface of the moon being the figure of a man carrying pitchers of water (usually by means of a pole), The moon and the and legends explaining this idea, are found distributed over a wide area,from water of life Northern Europe, Germany, Ireland, across Siberia to the Northwest Indians in North America on the one hand, and among the Ainu, the Okinawans and in New Zealand on the other hand,262) while N. Nevskii has recorded a legend in Miyako-jima concerning the water of life and water of death which shows connections with the moon-legend just mentioned, having to do with men and serpents, and explaining the origin of the custom of drawing water from the well on the dawn of the first festival of the year and all having this water of rejuvenescence poured over them.263) The meaning of such phrases as ‘‘ the ochimizu (the water of rejuvenescence) which the moon has, ” as recorded in the Manyoshu, and the nature of the Japanese belief in the wakamizu (water of rejuvenescence) which has existed since the Heian period have only been made clear as a result of such comparative studies.264) In the case of peoples who developed agriculture by means of irrigation from great rivers, it is easy to understand from what has already been written the nature of the process by which the idea of regarding fivers as sacred combined with the ancient lunar mythology, the flood-legend,and the fertility-rites of sexual nature to produce its own particular form of legends and rites. Even from the rough description given above, it is clear that the two elements of oxen and water had to become associated with each other through lunar mythology and the various beliefs concerning fertility. The rain cow of the Bushmen already mentioned is an example of this,about which one may say that the ox must have been re­garded as a symbol of fertility among the tribes of the north, before oxen came into the lives of the Bushmen. We propose to give in this chapter, from the point of view stated above,examples of the association of oxen with water, or water-gods, but before proceeding to do so, we would like to say a few words more concerning the relationship between horses and the lunar mythology.

We have seen in Chapter I examples in which the horse appeared in conjunction with water, water-spirits, or water-gods, as well as with the earth, the world of the dead,fertility-concepts, and other elements of what we have named in the present chapter the lunar mythology. The idea of the horse carrying to the world of the dead or of spirits the dead (and sometimes the living),shamans,and disease demons,is found widely distributed in the world of Shamanism of the Asiatic continent and the popular beliefs of the Indo-European peoples,265) and has been made the object of studies from the earliest days. In Nordic mythology, the moon-goddess Mani on her chariot drawn by the swift-footed steed Alsvider flees forever across the skies pursued by the two wolves Skoll and Hati.266) But side by side with such concepts of a lunar mythological character, the idea for example of celestial horses drawing the chariot of the sun is to be found in the mythologies of Babylonia, India, Greece, Scandinavia and China,267) and the bronze model of a chariot with a bronze horse and carrying the disk of the sun plated with gold has been dis­covered at Trundholm in Denmark.2681 The custom of sacrificing horses to the sun-god existed among the Jews, Persians, Scythians,Massagetaes,Spartans, Armenians, and the people of the island of Rhodes.269)

… it has been ascertained from rock-paintings of the Bronze Age that even in Scandinavia, where the horse has been universally used in agriculture, oxen were first employed to draw the plough.271) For these reasons, we are inclined to seek for the place of origin of horse-rearing among the steppes of Inner Asia. W. Schmidt assumed the existence of a nomadic and patriarchal sphere of culture which for long pursued Worship of the sky its own particular line of development in the isolation of these steppes. This sphere of culture had cattle-breeding for its economic basis, and socially and politically, was patriarchal and military in character. In the field of religion, the form of cult which may be said to be truly its own must be its monotheistic worship of heaven.272) …   if it is true that the horse was domesticated and developed into what it became in the nomadic culture of the steppes, ceremonies which bear no relationship to other cultures, such as the king of the Hsiung-nu sacrificing a white horse to heaven on the top of a mountain, as recorded in the Han~skuyzi3) and the custom surviving until recent times of consecrating horses to the god of heaven,274> must be regarded as preserving the original form in which the horse first made its entry into the religious lives of men. The idea of celestial horses, and that of gods descending vertically from the sky mounted on horses, which appear in later ages, must also have their origin in this nomadic culture. But when the nomadic peoples with their horses commenced their exodus into the agricultural regions to the east, west and south, the contact, over-lapping and mixing of different cultures which must have been going on for a long time already, now received a further impetus … with the appearance and diffusion of horses in the agricultural world of the ancient Orient, in which, as we have shown chronologically, the ox had come to occupy more or less the central position in the religious life of the people, the two cultures of the north and the south, of the horse and the ox, while retaining their individual characteris­tics, gradually began to combine together and form a single culture. In consequence, in the domain of myth and rituals also, the horse was sometimes seen to take a share in the part played until then solely by the ox, or to replace the latter altogether. At the same time, the central position originally occupied by the cow, as in the case of the cow sacred to the goddess Isis, would be taken over by the bull, or the element of sky-worship would begin to preponderate in the lunar-mythological complex, both of which phenomena may be regarded as forming a part of the same process outlined. Professor Koppers seems to consider the solarization of the lunar mythology which took place in the history of the ancient Orient also in relation to this process.275) The transformation of the bull-god Poseidon into a horse-god, or the strange phenomenon of the two existing side by side, both of which facts have been discussed by Miss Harrison, may be best understood in this light.

Furthermore, the culture itself of the Indo-European peoples would seem to have for its basis the two cultures referred to, northern and southern, cattle-breeding and agricultural, and it is from this culture historical and ethnological point of view that the present writer wishes once more to consider the principal subject of this treatise.

‘The first point to be discussed is the character of the water-god Poseidon to which reference has been made in the last chapter. As has already been pointed out, it was natural that the god Poseidon of the ancient culture of the nautical peoples of the Mediterranean shouia have become the god of the ocean,of sailors and of fishermen. But it is doubtful whether this foreign god who came to Mt. Olympus in the form of a bull or a horse from Crete and North Africa, had always been a sea-god. It was into the fresh-water spring of Dione near Genethlium that the Argives of old threw horses, bitted and bridled, in honour of Poseidon. Onchestus, “ the bright grove of Poseidon,” where chariots drawn by young horses were offered to Poseidon the King, was in no other place than Boeotia, far removed from the sea. Guided by these doubts, we cannot help coming across aspects of Poseidon, the sea-god, bull-god and horse-god, which are eminently those of an earth-god and a god of the world of the dead, an agricultural god and a fertility-god.

Sir J. Frazer in his monumental work, The Golden Bough, has enumer­
ated and discussed the popular beliefs in Europe of the corn-spirit taking
the form of a mare, and the ri»tes for invoking this spirit at harvest time.276》
This corn-spirit may be traced back to Demeter, the “ corn-mother,,,the
goddess of agriculture who was worshipped at Phigaleia in Arcadia. It was a goddess with the head and manes of a horse, and according to the legend, she took this form and hid herself in a cave in Phigaleia to escape from the pursuit by Poseidon. This caused the fruits of the earth to wither, and the people were faced with starvation, when the god Pan took on himself to appease the goddess and succeeded in bringing her back, upon which the people of Phigaleia honoured her by putting up her image in the cave to commemorate her return to the fruitful fields.277)

In the Odysseyy when Telemachus arrived at Pylos on the coast of the western Peloponessus, the people of the coast “ made to the blue-haired Shaker of the Earth oblation, slaying coal-black bulls to him.,,278) The priestess Athene who accompanied Telemachus at once offered a prayer to the king of the ocean saying, “ Hearken thou, Poseidon, Girdler of the Earth, nor grudge our work to end according to our vow.”279> When Theseus begs Poseidon to kill Hippolytus by sending the sea-bull out of the waves, the words of his curse were, “ Poseidon, reverencing my prayers, shall slay and speed him unto Hades’ halls.”280) Poseidon who had once ruled over the whole land, had shown his bride Amymone the water-springs of Lerne and when the sovereignty of the land was adjudged to Hera, he in wrath caused the springs to dry up and made Argos “ very thirsty.,,281>

The water-god Poseidon who appears in these words and legends is a being somewhat re­moved from the sea. We find evidence both in Homer and Athenaeus that the bull was the proper animal to sacrifice to Poseidon,282) and if, as Miss Harrison argues, the bull-god Poseidon was a later form of the Cretan Minotaur, and if the origin of the sacred bulls who filled the palace at Cnossus can be traced back to the Egyptian culture of the Nile, then we are surely justified in
thinking that the primary character of the god was that of the god of the nether
regions and the world of the dead, with much in him that pertains to an agri­
cultural god. Here then must be the answer to the riddle of Poseidon seated
on the back of a bull and holding in his hand a great blossoming bough* The
sacred bull and the religio-mythological ritual attached to it which we find
forming the basic element in the ancient cultures of -Crete and Egypt, belong by their character almost without a doubt to an agricultural culture, and the world of lunar mythology into which some elements of a solar mythology have been introduced, while at the same time, once the great king of the nether regions betakes himself to the sea, it is easily conceivable that he should extend his dominions and become the lord of the ocean.283)

Although the sea has no direct connections with agriculture, water itself
is the source of life to agricultural people. Water is a mystic force in that it
controls the growth of plants and the increase of flocks. That being the case,
we can find many examples besides that of Poseidon, of an ox, which occupies
a central position in agricultural ritual as the symbol of fertility, becoming
associated with water-gods. Already in predynastic Egypt the goddess Mehtueret (“ the great flood ”)sprang from the combination of the idea that the sky
is a great cow with the idea that the sky is the water of a great river or a continuation of the ocean. The goddess was the cow of the skies, the expression
of the primeval fertility of the female principle, and the female personification
of watery matter which formed the substance out of which the world pro-
ceeded.284) The Greek river-god Acheloos is usually represented in the form
of a bull with a human head, from which grew horns that were supposed to
have the power of bringing fertility to animals and plants. When this god
competed with Heracles for the love of the maiden Deianeira, he is said to have
turned himself first into a serpent, and then into a bull, and gave every proof
of his powers of metamorphosis.285) Sophocles makes Deianeira exclaim:

For my first wooer was a river god,
Acheloos, who in triple form appeared
To sue my father Oeneus for my hand,
Now as a bull, now as a sinuous snake
With glittering coils, and now in bulk a man
With front of ox, while from his shaggy beard
Runnels of fountain-water spouted forth.286)

It is a fact worthy of notice that the “ sinuous snake ” occupies a position
eaual in importance to that of the ox in the agricultural, matriarchal, and lunar
mythological complex. Water-gods most commonly take the form of serpents
in South Africa and Australia, while in India and Eastern Asia, as has already
been pointed out, imagination has turned these serpents into dragons. But
whether in the form of dragons and serpents, or of oxen and horses, wherein
lies the meaning of

water-gods seeking the love of human maidens ? It is said that the Trojan maidens before marriage bathed in the sacred river ミcamander and prayed to the river to take their virginity,287) and the custom existed in Syria and various parts of India, of barren women bathing in those rivers that were supposed to be inhabited by river-spirits in the hope of con­ceiving children.288) These facts would seem to show that stories of water-gods seeking union with virgins289) also arose from the magical rites of agricultural peoples who sought help from the fertilizing powers of rivers, springs and rain. The Japanese Miwayama-type legend in which gigantic serpents inhabiting deep pools change themselves into beautiful youths and nightly visit human maidens is distributed over a very wide area, while legends of the Perseus and An- Sacrifice of virgins dromeda type where heroes rescue virgins offered in sacrifice to dragons and serpents, of which the Japanese legend of Susa-no-o and Kushiinada-hime is another example, might indicate the actual existence in the past of a custom of offering human sacrifices as a part of fertility rite. Legends of this type are found in Babylonia and in Greece, from the Japanese islands and Annam in the east to Scandinavia, Scotland and nearly the whale of Europe in the west, as well as among the Negroes and Kabyles of Africa, and among American Indians and the Eskimos,290) and the extent of its  distribution suggests its antiquity. Human sacrifices were in fact offered to river-gods, to the River  Nile in Egypt, to the Ganges in India,and to the River Tiber in Rome besides other places,291) and it is equally clear that they were in the nature of a fertility rite. The Indian water-god Varuna, who gave a thousand white steeds to the father of the bride at the marriage feast of the sage Richika,was regarded as the god of fertility in marriage, and the words, “ king of the world of water, who curbs the wicked, who made a road in the heavens to receive the rays of the sun, etc.” were used in prayers addressed to him.”

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