Cocks

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COCKS

COCKS . The cock is preeminently a sun symbol. In western Asia the crowing cock is closely associated with solar rituals; in the ancient Near East it became an integral part of the solar iconography during the second millennium bce, and the mythology of the "fire cock" has spread widely and survived in the folklore of western Asia. The solar cock is also attested among some of the most primitive peoples of Asia; the Nagas of Assam, for example, believe that the sun is lured out of darkness by the cock's crowing. According to the Miao of southern China, the sun, which hides itself behind the mountain and darkens the whole world, shows itself again with the crowing of a cock. Similarly, Japanese myths tell how Amaterasu, the sun goddess, hides in the heavenly cave but comes out again on hearing the crowing of cocks.

The symbolic importance of the cock is well attested in the Greco-Roman world. There, the motif of the crowing cock, the bird of dawning, was enriched by the motif of the cock as fighter. The fighting cock, although associated with warrior divinities (such as Ares and Athena), was especially connected with Dionysos, in whose theater the official fights occurred. Significantly, the pugnacity of the cock was taken as an aspect of its sexual life; representations of the cock with a human phallus as head and neck are quite numerous. Especially interesting are three associations of the cock with Greco-Roman funerary symbolism: (1) it was one of the animals offered to the deities of the underworld in connection with the cult of the dead; (2) as is suggested by its representation together with Persephone and Hades, the cock was viewed as the herald of the dawn of the new world, the future life; as such, it symbolized hope of life after death; and (3) as the victor of a fight, the cock symbolized the soul of the departed; it was commonly associated, especially on tombstones, with Hermes, the psychopomp who escorted the soul to a blessed life after death. In Mithraism, the cock was frequently used in cult meals, where presumably its connection with the rising sun and immortality or future life was significant.

In Judaism the cock has been used in the Kapparah, a practice designed as a means of ritual atonement for sins. The cock has also been regarded as a charm that could exorcise demons; at the dedication of a new house, Jews used to kill a cock on the spot to purge the house of a demonic presence. Moreover, the crowing cock at dawn was a symbol of the redemption of the messianic age.

Christianity has continued this idea, making the cock a symbol of the risen Lord, Jesus Christ, the new light. In announcing the approach of day, the cock reminds Christians not only of Peter's denial but also of their own resurrection in a future life. Even cockfighting has found its Christian representations, which inspire believers to win the struggle with their own lower nature so that they can inherit eternal life.

In Islam, too, the cock is a benevolent bird. Muslims have believed that a cock would crow when it became aware of the presence of jinn, evil spirits. And, as the bird of dawning, the cock still serves to awaken the sleeping faithful for morning prayer.

Bibliography

The best treatment of the cock in Greek tradition remains Sir D'arcy W. Thompson's A Glossary of Greek Birds (1895; reprint, London, 1936), pp. 3344. See also Erwin R. Goodenough's admirable account of cock symbolism in Pagan Symbols in Judaism, volume 8 of his Jewish Symbols in the Greco-Roman World (New York, 1958), pp. 5970.

New Sources

Baird, Merrily. Symbols of Japan: Thematic Motifs in Art and Design. New York, 2001.

Manabu Waida (1987)

Revised Bibliography