Thursday, November 17, 2016

Pigs, Gods, Goddesses and Pig-Faced Women

I'm still talking hog today. After getting started on the topic yesterday I've found even more fascinating lore about the tasty four-legged porker.


For instance, that word porker. Some people believe it was said by sailors instead of pig, because to say "pig" at sea was very bad luck. People also believed that pigs, especially black pigs, were bad luck, and could even become possessed by evil spirits (remember The Amityville Horror?). An often-repeated theme in ghost stories is the sound of hogs grunting under a porch or building. I have heard this several times from people telling me about a haunted house in their area. 

Seeing a black hog was considered to be a sign of portending death. Pigs are often connected in superstitions to darkness, death and general bad luck. Some people believe this is because they have cloven hooves. Pigs are also said to be able to see the wind,although what good that is I don't know, and to be afraid of mirrors.   In the UK, "It is unlucky to have a pig cross your path - turn your back till it is gone - and if it begins to make a rather strange whining noise then there is to be a death in the family." From Whimsy.org

In eastern coastal Africa, people believed that carrying a pig bone in their pocket would ward off bad luck. Boar tusks are considered symbols of manliness and power in some cultures, and in New Guinea, the more pig's teeth a man has on a necklace the wealthy and important he is thought to be. Carrying a boar's tooth in your pocket was believed to prevent or cure toothache in the Ozarks, according to folklorist and collector Vance Randolph; one would carry it a pocket on whichever side the bad tooth was. 

The Irish legend of the Black Pig tells of a mythical black sow with poison skin that went, well, hog-wild. She began eating people and generally terrorizing the countryside. She is supposedly buried under a mound known as The Grave of the Black Pig. More Irish folklore connected to pigs can be found at this excellent blog.


The Welsh have their own tales of mythic boars. For example: "Celtic and Arthurian myth has many stories of boar hunts. In a Welsh tale from the Mabinogion, Culhwch seeks to win the hand of his beloved Olwen. He is clearly keen: Olwen's father, Ysbaddaden, is a forbidding giant who issues Culhwch with a lengthy list of ridiculously difficult tasks to fulfil before he can marry. The final tasks are to cut Ysbaddaden's hair and shave off his beard. The giant's beard was so tough that to soften it Culhwch had to obtain the blood of the Black Witch. And the only thing sharp enough to cut the beard was the tusk of Ysgithyrwn, the wildest boar in the land. After killing this boar, Culhwch (with help from his cousin Arthur), had to get the only scissors and comb up to the task of dealing with the giant's hair. These just happened to be between the ears of Twrch Trwth, an Irish king who had been transformed into an irate boar with poisonous bristles." From the Trees for Life website.
                                                                                                                                                   The Jack Tales of Appalachia include several tales where Jack comes to grips with contrary hogs, like Jack and the Varmints, where Jack must deal with a wild hog, a unicorn and a lion. There is also the tale of Jack and the Devil, when Jack tricks the Devil several times over, including a hog-raising venture they embarked on together. (This tale is similar to the folktale Tops and Bottoms.) 

The ancient British city of Bath is tied by legend to a stange tale of pigs. A young prince named Bladud was sent to Greece to study and contracted leprosy there. Realizing that he could not hope to be King with such a disease, he went into the countryside and worked as a swineherd, looking after pigs. Unfortunately, his pigs caught the disease from him. The man had no luck it seems! Until one day his pigs crossed the river Avon and wallowed in the hot mud from a mineral spring. The pigs came out of their mudbath completely cured. This place is now called Swineford. 

The prince, on seeing this, also bathed in the mud and was cured. He established the baths at the place, and dedicated them to Sulis or Sul, the Celtic goddess of miracle cures. (Su, by the way is Old English for sow--and possibly where the hog call "suuu-eeee" comes from. So which came first, the goddess or the sow?) Read more at Under the Influence.

Our porcine friends even played a role (probably not a happy one for them) in ancient Norse Yule celebrations, as a hog would be slaughtered as sacrifice to the god Frey (god of farming and fertility); the meat would later be cooked, which is probably the source of the traditional Christmas ham. (Freya, the Norse goddess of love, wealth and war, is often portrayed riding on a boar),


Pigs, goddesses and gods? There are, as this article shows, more connections between them than I would ever have supposed.


Pig-faced women were an odd folk belief from the 19th century. According to the tales, there were women who looked like normal women, except for having the face of a pig. Rumors spread about wealthy women who were recluses because of this condition, and folk legends sprang up about women who called poor children "pigs" and whose faces were changed to that of a pig by a curse or evil spell placed on them for their meanness and miserliness.                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                                                                              
In New England this legend also exists but there it is the Pigman, and he is a creature to be feared. 

And lastly, there is this strange account of a wild pig found swimming in the ocean. A true tale, as it turns out, but certainly the stuff from which legends are made. And de-bunked--for in old days people believed that a pig could not swimm because it would cut it's own throat with its trotters.

All right, enough already about pigs! Anyone ready for some nice crispy bacon?


Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.

1 comment:

Mac n' Janet said...

Another very interesting post, good to know where su-eee comes from and the legend of the founding of Bath. While in Cambodia this year we saw a man driving down the road with a huge hog stretched out over his handlebars.

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