Ancient Echos

Bull-jumping is frequently shown in Minoan art, and probably formed a part of ritual activity. The strength and potency of bulls lay behind their religious importance to the Minoans. In fact, the bull is a potent religious symbol to all the Indo-European peoples.

The bulls in Minoan Crete were most likely a variety of the European wild bull: the aurochs. This creature was hunted to extinction by the late Middle Ages, but in 1920 two brothers, Heinz and Lutz Heck set out to "re-create" the aurochs by back-breeding domestic cattle with aurochs-like qualities. The photo below shows the result. These were truely fierce creatures. Caesar mentions in his Gallic War that young Germans would trap these creatures in pits, jumping in with them to make the final kill, claiming meat and horns. The horns were rimmed with silver and used for drinking vessals.

Cattle actually have two mentions in the rune poems of Northern Europe. The first rune in all the ancient alphabets was fehu, meaning cattle, wealth and fertility. Fehu forms the root of the modern word fee in English. These were the domestic cattle: the basis for the economy. The second was uruz, literally "aurochs": strength, virility and protection. This is the wild, the untamed, the primal bull.

But back to Minoan Crete: bull-jumping was not a blood-sport. It did not involve killing or injuring the bull, but was a test of both courage and agility, with (no doubt) extra "points" awarded for grace. A bull would be taunted to run at a jumper (or a line of jumpers) and when it was close enough, the jumper would grab the bull's horns and either vault onto the bull's back or vault over the bull in a somersault and land on his or her feet on the other side of the bull. The difficulty of this vaulting is eloquently demonstrated in a Minoan vase: when you grab hold of a charging bull's horns, it jerks its head up violently that's how bulls attack with their horns, sometimes swinging their entire heads from side to side as well. The vaulter must catch the horns, gauge the movement and then use the horn's momentum to gracefully mount or vault the bull.

So, travel back in time with me - imagine the following scene playing out before your eyes. You're in a darkened arena, lit by the waning sun and torchlight. A prayer is offered, songs are sung, and then the bulls and jumpers come forth, to the adulation of the crowd. Let the games begin!

It's March 6th, 2004 in the RCA Dome in Indianapolis, and you're at a Professional Bull Riding event. A different object (to stay mounted for 8 seconds) and certainly not the exact moves of 4000 years ago, but close enough to be recognizable. In fact, it was downright errie, not only in it's similarity to ancient ritual, but in the complete ignorance of 99% of the crowd to this fact.

Truely it is said: the more things change, the more they remain the same.

00:00 /Asatru | 0 comments | permanent link