Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Cow Jumped Over the Moon

See the post immediately below on the latest issue (Volume 19) of the Asia Institute Bulletin.  In it is an article:

Almut Hintze, The Cow That Came from the Moon: The Avestan Expression māh- gaociθra-

SynopsisIt is argued that the syntactic combination of ciθra- with the ablative case in the Avesta warrants the meaning "origin, offspring" and that such meaning is also present in the phrase māh- gaociθra- "the moon that holds the seed of the animal." This and other evidence indicates that the Middle Persian myth about the lunar origin of the numerous animal species on earth goes back to the Avesta.

I don't think I would try to read the article based on the synopsis, which sounds extremely technical and way beyond the bounds of my knowledge, but the underlying premise about an ancient Persian/Avestan tale that relates the creation of animals with the Moon - that fascinates me.  The first thing that sprang into my mind when I read the title of the article was "the cow jumped over the Moon."

Yeah, I'm crazy.  Bear with me. Do you remember the old nursery rhyme  - Hey diddle diddle - this is how I remember it:

Hey diddle diddle,
The Cat and the Fiddle,
The Cow jumped over the Moon,
The Old Dog laughed to see such Craft,
And the Fork ran away with the Spoon.

(See Wikipedia for few other versions of the rhyme, along with discussion of the rhyme's possible meaning.)

Some free association in Goddesschess style - feel free to join in:

I see a pattern of pairs that may hold a deeper meaning, in other words, the sum of the whole is greater than its parts:

diddle - diddle
cat - fiddle
cow - Moon
dog - craft
fork - spoon (or dish - spoon)

Could this be a "spell," a formula hidden in "code" that is very very old?

There are some other associations that immediately come to mind:

Line drawing of the Narmer Palette, c. 3500-3400 BCE,
Naqada, ancient Egypt.  She's across the top on the front
and reverse sides, with cow ears and horns.  Her
iconography is extremely old.
cat - dog: opposites; light/dark, ying/yang
cat: associated with witchcraft; ancient Egyptian goddesses (Hathor, Bast)

cow: Hathor, India
cow: milk, food, mother

Craft: witchcraft; wizardry; old magic

dog - Moon: dog howling at the Moon, crying for his mate
dog: ancient game pieces were often called dogs
dog: companion of the Triple Goddess in her death aspect, harbinger of death, bringer of knowledge and insight, faithful companion

Moon: long associated with the Triple Goddess, and with female power, menstruation, creation - birth, death (blood), soma, the Elixir of Eternal Life
Moon: Wife/Mother of the Sun

fiddle: ancient stringed instrument of any sort for making music

fork - spoon/dish - spoon: eating, offering, ritual, feast/festivity

You get the idea...

Is "diddle" really a reference to illicit sexual activity? Could it have some other meaning, something older that has fallen out of usage and collective memory? Or was it simply added somewhere along the line in order to rhyme with "fiddle?"

Could "Craft" be an oblique reference to witchcraft?

"Catgut" was used to string ancient and not so ancient musical instruments. I'm not kidding - check out these definitions of "catgut:"

Catgut is a type of cord that is prepared from the natural fiber in the walls of animal intestines. Usually sheep or goat intestines are used, but it is occasionally made from the intestines of a hog, horse, mule, pig or donkey. ...

A popular name for classical guitar strings.

I looked at the Wikipedia entry on "catgut" and found the following information:

The name neither implies nor derives from any association with cats.

The word catgut may have been an abbreviation of the word "cattlegut". Alternatively, it may have derived by folk etymology from kitgut or kitstring -- the word kit, meaning fiddle, having at some point been confused with the word kit for little cat. According to legend, string makers of the 17th century deliberately misled people to believe that the strings were made of cat intestines in order to protect their industry, as any association with cats was superstitiously believed to be extremely bad luck, and to be avoided at all cost.

For a long period, catgut was the most common material for the strings of harps, lutes, violins, and violas, as well as other stringed musical instruments, as well as older marching snare drums; however, most musical instruments produced today use strings with cores made of other materials, generally steel or synthetic. Gut strings are the natural choice for many classical and baroque string players, and catgut strings are still most commonly preferred in concert-tension pedal/grand and some lever harps because they give a richer, darker sound as well as withstanding high tension within low alto, tenor and high-bass ranges.

Sacred implements including bowls, platters, vials, pitchers and serving/mixing implements of all sorts, made out of all kinds of materials, have long been associated with the preparation of sacrifices to the goddesses and gods in ancient religious traditions. 

Fiddle brought to mind the ancient stringed musical instrument the lyre, which can be found (I believe) in Sumer, Egypt, Palestine, Israel, and ancient Greece.  Probably other places, too - ancient China?  So often one forgets about China and places to the far east of the Mediterranean in discussing herstory.  For instance, this blog that explores the meanings of words associated with the zodiac - in this case, the lyre - connects it to the concept of a tortoise shell.  That's fine - but it's all western analogies cited.  The tortoise shell in ancient China represented the mathematical basis of the first perfect 3 by 3 magical square, the Lo Shu, which may be incorporated into the ancient Chinese game liubo, which many Chinese scholars say is the predecessor of Xiang Qi -- Chinese Chess. All sides of the Lo Shu magic square sum to 15, and it is very very old, between 5000 and 6000 years old.  Perhaps as old as the Horns of Hathor.  And we should not forget what has been called the most ancient preserved zodiac in the world: that carved into the ceiling of the Temple of Hathor at Dendera.  Note: I cannot add graphics at the moment, something to do with Google Blogger maintenance, I believe.  If I remember tomorrow, I will add the necessary pics then.

Okay - so, putting it all together, could the old nursery rhyme actually be an incomplete and imperfectly remembered rendition of a very old spell -- tradition -- that had to do with making offerings of some kind to a deity?  Or a recording, in code, of the steps involved in making such an offering? 

Probably some brilliant graduate student has already written a paper on the subject :) 


Graffiti said...

I'm with you on this - I'd always thought the etymology to this and many other rhymes have some form of occult etymology.

Laura Thomas-Marlow said...

Boan the Irish Goddess of the white cow. moon, milk adn milky way (over the moon)
I think she might have more to do with this than Egypt, it is a Celtic rhyme, right? Also, she had a faithful dog, and is connected to the dog star sirus.

Jan said...

Greetings, Laura Thomas-Marlow. I don't recall reading about Boan before, but my memory is not as good as it used to be (sad but true, alas). That is fascinating, the Celtic connection. I did not realize that the old rhyme I remembered from childhood was Celtic -- maybe I read it when I was putting this post together back in 2010 (Holy Hathor, so long ago!) but I didn't "catch" it then.

What is extremely ancient, going back to the times before writing and herstory began to be recorded, is the connection between the ancient Mother Goddess and her faithful dog, who was variously depicted as her "shadow," a harbinger of death, or the carrier of deceased souls across the river of death to the land of the after-life in the West. (As an aside, isn't it interesting that ancient cultures such as Egypt and China associated the land of the after-life with the West?) I think the connection to the dog star, Sirius, traces back to ancient Greece, and therefore is not as old as the Egyptian connections I alluded to, but it may provide us an important clues as to the possible origins of the migration of the Celtic peoples across the Peloponnese Peninsula. Of course, the Greeks may have cherry-picked the legend from more ancient cultures as they passed through the territory over several hundred years. As I recall, the Celts originated far to the east, on the steppe grasslands, and spread all the way east as far as Spain and as far north as Scotland and Ireland. It continues to amaze me how relatively little emphasis is placed upon these people, as opposed to those around the Mediterranean Sea, as if no other cultures existed! Now that I'm thinking about it, I believe Robert Graves' "The White Goddess" is very much focused on the Celts. I'm still wading my way through that book more than 10 years after receiving it as a gift from the late Dr. Ricardo Calvo, an IM rated chessplayer from Spain who in his later years was a renowned chess historian and chess commentator. I wish I would have started all of this back in my 20's instead of my late 40's.

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