Cattle Raids in Celtic Cultures
The Táin Bó Cuailnge is our best source for the drama of cattle raiding in Irish myth. Here, Medb seeks the great Brown Bull through trechery and seduction, and then through war with Ulster. Here, Cúchulainn's heroic deeds are recounted, and the battles between Ulster and Connacht (et al.), finally leaving neither side with the desired bull. This particular cattle-raid is somewhat different from others in the IE world in that the cow raided for does not end up in the posession of the warriors.
Cattle Raids in Vedic Culture
Instead of an actual cattle-raid myth where humans seek out cattle, we have a divine reflex available to us for the Vedic culture. Vala, a demon who seems to be a "guardian of cows" and whose name means "cave," is constantly having his cows stolen by Indra et al. Generally, Vala starts with the cows, though he may also receive them from the Pani, who are known to have stolen them. Indra is said to have "opened" or "pierced" Vala (though not to have "slain" him) in order to obtain the cows, who are sometimes identified directly with the waters. (MacDonnell, 159)
Reflection and Relevance
The cattle raid in IE myth often begins with the theft of cattle: different from the raid in that the cattle are gotten through trechery, rather than through the socially-sanctioned methods of raiding, which are surrounded by ritual and sacred activity. Part of this equation is the idea that cattle, a vital unit of wealth and exchange, belong rightly to the IE cultures, an so any gain (or posession) of cattle by another society is condemned on a societal level. In many ways, it is both glorification and justiification for the warrior class among IE peoples, and the myth that brings justification to IE expansion. (Lincoln, 10-12)
Modern Pagans can read into this that the function of the warrior, not as a justification of expansion or conversion, but as a needed aspect for the cohesion of our practice. It also means that we do not need to silently accept the role of "religious underdog" when we approach persons of other faiths in interfaith discussion: what we can do is claim the right to be there based on a knowledge that there is a place at the table for us. The "place at the table" here is the (sacred cow) which, taken from us in sometimes unfair ways, is ours to regain through acceptable, ritualized actions. . . not through the same actions that took that seat away from us.
As an example, our Grove has been ignored by the Dublin Irish Festival for years when we have requested a presence in order to do a ritual at the festival (since the Protestants and the Catholics have one, it makes sense that we should, as well). It is, though, important for us to work through the proper channels, rather than try and circumvent them by going to the press or seeking recourse before we have worked with the organizers. We feel this will be more likely to bring a positive conclusion to our case.
- Lincoln, Bruce. Death, War, and Sacrifice.
- MacDonnell, A. A. Vedic Mythology.
- Mallory, J. P. In Search of the Indo-Europeans.
- Phuvel, Jaan. Comparative Mythology.