The wild boar, ferocious ancestor of the domesticated pig, is now only to be found in remote areas of Europe, but once he ruled the dark places in the great woodlands.
It’s hard to imagine today the terrors of the wild wood, where the bear and the boar awaited the defenseless traveller. But it was not so long ago. Now, from the safety of our sterilised cities, our memories of the wild boar and of the hunt par force are confined to a tradition of Christmas.
The deadly strength of the wild boar suddenly erupting from the darkness was a symbol for the Iceni in their revolt against Rome and a symbol too, for Richard III, one of England’s most controversial kings. In mythology the Boar represents the spirit of abundance and prosperity, of fertility and wealth. Fierce, strong and dangerous, he had a special place in the heart of a warrior. His ritual sacrifice at the darkest time of the year would guarantee bountiful crops in the next harvest, victory in battle and the vanquishing of the old enemy – the long dark nights of winter.
The beautiful golden twins Freyr and Freyja of Norse mythology are connected with the boar. Freyr had a magical gold boar named Gullinbursti able to run as fast as any steed and which, gleaming as gold in the shadows, could repel shadow and turn night into day. We are talking about solar attributes here, and the midwinter sacrifice could also symbolise the death of the old sun.
The sonartoltr was an atonement boar sacrificed during Yule and considered so holy that oaths were sworn and vows taken over its bristles. On the night before Yule, the biggest and best boar was brought into the hall where the assembled company laid their hands upon the animal and swore their unbreakable oaths upon the Bragarfull (holy cup – a bragging cup ?) and the sonartoltr. Heard by the boar, these oaths went straight to the ears of Freyr himself and Freyr hated liars. Those who made false boast would suffer his wrath !
Once the oaths had been sworn, the boar was sacrificed in the name of Freyr and the feast of roast boar flesh began!
There is an old English custom of bringing in the Yule Boar. This consists of the head of a boar, nowadays more commonly a pig, paraded on a silver platter on Christmas Day.