Julbock & the Sacred Goat

The Sacred Goat is an important part of my spirituality, and throughout the world and throughout time has represented life, death, ecstasy, eroticism, secret knowledge, abundance, and darkness. So too does the Julbock.

I have always felt an affinity for the Goat, and it is truly the only animal I find “adorable” in its early youth (including humans–I’m just not wild about children of any species). It may be the Capricorn in me; my spirit crawls into dark places and up unlikely cliffs, alone, and is calmly prepared for war when challenged. My favorite place that I have been in the world is Port Townsend in the state of Washington (where I would kill to be hired in one of their local bakeries or cafes!), a secret Victorian seaport, haven of Pagans and artisans and liberal intellectuals and dirt worshippers and retired hippies, New-Orleans-meets-PNW, and along the exhausting several-mile (hitch-)hike into town (we’re Seattlites, we grew up on buses and bicycles and never learned to drive) from out of the forest where my friend lives in a kitschy trailer like a postcard from the seventies lies a little goat farm where the gates are always open, and it is always possible to leave some money in the tin to pick up a bar of goat’s milk soap or cheese, and play with the beloved goat-kids whose mamas created your purchases. I have spent hours here playing with these goats; I feel like a child again, and animal-wifery is one of my ultimate goals. Visiting the goats is one of my favorite activities in Port Townsend, and Amalthea the Goat-nymph or -goddess, one of my favorite figures in all the bodies of mythology that I have read, and mother of Pan, who, with her Ash-nymph sisters Io and Adrastia, daughters of Melissa the Queen-Bee, raised Zeus, King of the Gods. Amalthea is a swirling milk-sea of tenderness that helps me connect with every aspect of my Self, as She comes together in Triad; She is the feeling of ecstatic love at the nexus, the thumping heart of a fractured soul. She was placed among the stars as Capricorn, and with Zeus and Her sisters in the Serpent and the Bears. And I would be remiss not to mention the Sabbatic Goat, published in Eliphas Lévi’s Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie (1855; published in English by Waite as Transcendental Magic, its Doctrine and Ritual, 1896), uniting all things in one image, one that has resonated deeply with me since I first saw it as a little girl hungry for the occult.

Another story of goats and gods comes out of the North, where Goat-lore is prominent. Thor’s chariot is drawn by two goats, Tanngrisnir (“teeth-barer”) and Tanngnjóstr (“teeth-snarler”), whom He nightly consumes for sustenance, and reincarnates from their bones piled atop their skins with His Hammer at dawn. Scandinavian witches were also capable of replenishing food, ending their magic with the breaking of a bone, or doing so while eating, as the peasant ignorantly broke the ham-bone of one of Thor’s goats when He and Loki came to dine with them in the Prose Edda, laming the goat.

The tradition of the Julbock, the Yule Goat, which you are likely to find at Yuletide bound in red thread from the altars of modern-day heathens to European town streets to Christmas trees, may also share a connection to Thor’s goats, which was later converted into the tale of the Jultomten, the gnome who brought presents on his goat-drawn sleigh to children on Christmas Day in Norwegian folklore. But the goat was long given as a sacrifice in blót. When Christian laws forbade the sacrificial slaughter of animals, mock-killings were performed as offerings: folk dressed in goat-skins and masks were ritually “slain,” and wheat crafted into Goat’s shape.

The connection with Yule has a number of possible origins. We know from the GulathingslOg, a text of law, that Yule was celebrated “for a fertile and peaceful season,” and the link between wheat and fertility needn’t be said, nor do the connections between the sickle and Death, and Death and winter. Yuletide is also the time of the Wild Hunt (another symbol of Death), when gifts such as wheat were left out for Odin’s eight-legged steed Sleipnir (“slippy”) in stockings or clogs, and in which Odin left gifts of thanks in return; and a patch of unreaped grain was left untouched in the field as an offering to Sleipnir, as well.

It is difficult to imagine the dead cold of Midwinter just as we begin to glow under May’s sun, but in winter the Julbock reminds us of the fertile earth to come, encouraging us to give our thanks and sacrifices to the gods, and receive their blessings in turn. It is a symbol of all that winter encompasses.

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