Astro Journal · Mythology

The Mythology of the Zodiac: Taurus Myths

After the excitement and energy of Aries, we come down to earth with Taurus. As a fixed earth sign, Taurus provides the physical container for the unborn potential of Aries to manifest. It stabilises and grounds the creative spark in the present moment, burrowing deep into the soil of life. The Taurus bull is a symbol of the power of nature, the embodied life force in form.

Taurus is sensual, receptive and grounded, and likes nothing more than bimbling along smelling the flowers and enjoying the simple pleasures of life. If you want to know the best places to eat or be entertained, ask a Taurus. They’re pragmatic and protective, and will relentlessly pursue the things they value – and good luck if you get in their way! There’s nothing more stubborn than a bull.

Taurus is a feminine sign and its symbol is the crescent moon above the circle of the sun, which shows that the lunar principle is more important here. The sign is balanced by its opposite in Scorpio, and ruled by Venus, the goddess of love and fertility. That’s a lot of feminine energy, so why is Taurus represented by one of the most masculine animals – the bull? Let’s dive into the myths to find out…

Taurus Myths

Sacred bulls and cows are a feature of ancient mythologies all around the world and the symbolism goes back into pre-history. The constellation of the bull was recognised during the Palaeolithic, as shown by cave paintings at Lascaux which date to around 15,000 BCE.

Lascaux cave paintings of aurochs

The dots above the female aurochs in the centre are believed to represent the Pleiades, also known as the Seven Sisters, a star cluster in the constellation of Taurus. For the hunters who created these images, the Pleiades were linked to the seasonal cycles of aurochs and may have helped them to mark important dates in their calendar.

But there’s an even older example of bull symbolism in the Venus of Laussel which is about 25,000 years old. It was carved into limestone in the Dordogne region of France and shows a voluptuous naked female figure holding a bull horn with 13 notches. These notches probably represent the number of moon cycles in a year, so this could be one of the earliest lunar calendars, used for following human fertility cycles, and later for planting crops.

Venus of Laussel and her moon horn

So here we have all the symbols connected with Taurus in one image: the bull and the goddess of love and fertility, and the moon. The goddess in this case should really be called Gaia rather than Venus. The earth mother goddess is the creator of life: she creates all forms, nurtures and protects, and provides the basis of all life. The bull belongs to the goddess because people would have been dependent on these animals for food, shelter and clothing, especially later when they began to farm and domesticate cattle.

The bull also stands for the moon and is sometimes called a lunar-bull. This seems strange, but it makes sense if you look at it magically. Early belief systems were animist and often used like-for-like substitution where one thing that resembles another becomes that thing. So the bull’s horns resemble the crescent moon and the bull’s skull resembles the uterus; therefore the bull and the moon are one. But it’s also possible that what we’ve interpreted as being a bull, is in fact, a cow, since they have horns too.

Either way, it should be no surprise that, in astrology, the moon is exalted in Taurus.

Taurus Myths – Near East

This connection between the bull and the goddess can also be found in various sites in Turkey. At Gobekli Tepe there’s a temple built by hunter-gatherers in about 9,500 BCE that contains pillars carved with various animals: one shows a bull above a fox and a crane, while another is carved with a classic bucranium.

The meaning of the symbols at Gobekli Tepe are still being decoded, but we get a clearer picture from the later Neolithic town of Çatal Höyük which dates to around 7,500 BCE. It was an agricultural community and trading centre near the Taurus mountains in southern Anatolia, and it’s packed with aurochs heads, female figurines, and wall paintings of hunting and other natural scenes.

The bull was obviously sacred to the people of Çatal Höyük, although there are many other symbols too, like large cats and vultures. Some say that this culture was matrilineal and it appears to have been equal between the genders. There were ritual sacrifices of a bull, the son of the goddess, because his seed fertilised the earth and ensured the renewal of life each year.

This is a theme that repeats over and over in cultures associated with the bull and the goddess. Early Neolithic farming communities spread throughout the Near East and eventually evolved into the first city-states of Mesopotamia during the Age of Taurus, around 4,000 BCE. Many of these cultures had myths of an earth goddess fertilised by her son-lover, the Lunar-Bull God, who dies and is reborn.

But that soon changed. Myths that feature bulls reveal how ancient cultures left behind the goddess-based rituals of the earth to embrace beliefs focused on sun and sky gods instead. They shift from stories of the goddess fertilised by her son, to the self-begetting gods of the patriarchy. The bull takes on the goddess’ power for himself and is often described as being white, the colour of the moon – which betrays the link back to the goddess.

In Babylonian astrology, Taurus was called GU.AN.NA, or the Bull of Heaven, and it was the first sign in their zodiac, probably because the sign was rising at the spring equinox then. The Epic of Gilgamesh tells how the Bull of Heaven was slaughtered by the hero. Ishtar/Inanna is annoyed with Gilgamesh because he turned her down, so she sends the Bull of Heaven to kill him – but Gilgamesh kills the bull instead.

This effectively hands the baton of power over from the goddess to the gods, and is seen in other myths too. Marduk was another Babylonian culture hero who was called the ‘Young Bull of the Sun’ after he butchered the goddess in the form of Tiamat, the sea monster. This theme turns up again in Greece, as we’ll see, and later in Rome when it was used in the Mithraic mysteries.

Taurus Myths – Egypt

Meanwhile in Egypt, Hathor managed to hang on to her power despite the rise of these upstart boys. Hathor is the cow-headed goddess of motherhood, love and joy, and her fertility cults predate the dynastic kings of Egypt. She was connected to the earth, but was also a sky goddess and was associated with the Milky Way, along with the goddess Nut.

Hathor also represented ma’at – cosmic order and truth – being eternally present as the container, nurturer and mother of all. As Hathor of the Horizon she stood on the earth, her four legs as pillars holding up the sky. Her belly was the firmament and her milk fell as rain. The solar falcon of Horus would fly through her, entering her mouth in the evening and re-emerging in the morning at the other end – reborn as her son. The name Hathor means the ‘house of Horus’ (hat-hor) and this illustrates the theme we saw above: Horus is the ‘bull of his mother’ – his own father, i.e. Osiris – another bull.

“In the aspect of father, the mighty bull, this god was Osiris and identified with the dead father of the living pharaoh; but in the aspect of son, the falcon, Horus, he was the living pharaoh now enthroned. Substantially, however, these two, the living pharaoh and the dead, Horus and Osiris, were the same.” – Joseph Campbell, Oriental Mythology

The Narmer palette, dated around 2,850 BCE, shows the pharaoh uniting upper and lower Egypt. At the top of both sides you can see two horned heads: the cow-goddess Hathor – one head for each quarter of the sky. At the bottom on the reverse side, there’s another bull. This is the pharaoh in his form as consort to the goddess, demolishing a fortress to demonstrate his strength and conquest.

Narmer palette: note the pharaoh is also wearing a bull’s tail

Hathor also had the Seven Hathors, usually depicted as seven cows, sometimes with a bull. These relate to the Pleiades, as seen in Lascaux above. The stars are known in myths around the world, and although the number of stars vary, they’re often identified as female. The bull that accompanied the Seven Hathors was seen as Osiris-Apis.

The Apis bull was a manifestation of the pharaoh and represented his fertility and strength – hence the tail on Narmer above. Apis was the son of Hathor, making the pharaoh the son of the goddess too. He was depicted as a black calf and was sacrificed and reborn to symbolise the renewal of life. After death, he became known as Osiris-Apis, and was later syncretised by the Greeks into Serapis.

Taurus Myths – Greece

The Minoan civilisation began on the island of Crete around 2,600 BCE, and featured many of the symbols associated with the goddess: the serpent, the double-headed axe, the tree, and of course, the bull. The society was matriarchal and both men and women would take part in the bull-leaping festivals.

Bull-leaping in Crete

The kings of Crete were given the title Bull Minos to signify their relationship to the mother goddess. But there’s one particular King Minos who features in Greek mythology in the story of Theseus and the Minotaur. Minos was the son of Zeus, conceived after the god turned himself into a white bull to ‘seduce’ Europa.

Minos won the throne on Crete by praying to Poseidon who sent a bull from the sea as proof of his right to rule. Minos vowed to sacrifice the bull in thanks, but when he saw the magnificent creature, decided to keep it for himself. He sacrificed a normal bull in its place and hoped nobody would notice. Poseidon wasn’t amused and took revenge by getting Aphrodite to inflict Minos’ wife Pasiphaë with a raging lust for the sacred bull. Pasiphaë hid inside a wooden cow so she could get it on with the bull. (Best not to think about that too much…) The fruit of this union was a monster – half man, half bull – the Minotaur, which fed on human flesh.

Minos hid the Minotaur in a labyrinth and fed the monster regular supplies of youths. Later, Theseus arrived from Athens and volunteered to kill the Minotaur. Ariadne, daughter of King Minos, gave him a ball of thread so he could find his way back out of the labyrinth. Theseus bludgeoned the monster with a club, escaped and married Ariadne, and was made King of Crete, taking on the title Minos.

The original Minos got himself into this pickle because he was greedy: he wanted the power of the bull for himself. As king, he was supposed to serve life, the people, and the goddess. But he chose to serve himself and cling to the fruits of life rather than let them flow. His greed prevented the natural renewal of life and it turned cannibal, devouring the young – symbols of the potential of new life.

The Minotaur is a symbol of the tyrant monster, the dark face of nature that acts out of the unconscious when life-affirming desires are repressed or denied. Minos put himself above the gods and nature, and the consequence is stagnation. Life stops; it goes nowhere, turning endlessly in on itself, circling the dark labyrinth looking for a way out and never finding it.

On the surface Crete looked successful, abundant, and prosperous, but at its heart was a ravenous monster that was never satisfied. Theseus was able to break the cycle of death because he came from outside Crete, but he’s also the son of Poseidon, so also a bull-son. That’s why he can kill the Minotaur.

“The creature which he must confront at the heart of the labyrinth is the dark, bestial form of his own spiritual father, as well as the symbol of Minos’ sin. Thus Minos, his Minotaur, and the hero Theseus are bound by the same symbol of the bull, for they are aspects of the same archetypal core.” – Liz Greene, The Astrology of Fate

“Mmmm…flesh…”

This story illustrates the shadow side of Taurus and what happens when you succumb to overwhelming desire. A more positive figure is found in Hephaestus, the divine smith and artisan, who was the husband of Aphrodite. It seems strange that the goddess of love and fertility should be married to the ugly and lame Hephaestus, but it reveals the artistic and creative side of Taurus.

Hephaestus is earthy and physically strong, and shows great skill in creating beautiful objects for the other gods. In some myths, he created a wheelchair for himself and a group of golden mechanical women to help in his forge – a bit like robots, they even talk and can do almost any task he sets them. Everything he makes comes from the earth and is imbued with its power. He may be slow and lumbering, but he creates beautiful and useful objects. It’s Hephaestus who makes Zeus’ thunderbolts, Hermes’ winged sandals, Pluto’s invisibility helmet, and Athena’s shield.

The Meaning of Taurus

Taurus and the bull represent our connection with the earth and our own bodies, desires and values, including inner wealth and resources. The myths show the importance of not hoarding your wealth or repressing your true value, and reveal what happens when passions become rampant.

Many of the myths show a hero or god slaying a bull, and these can be seen as representing how the earlier goddess cults were overthrown by the patriarchy. But they also reveal the need to master the body and its instincts. If the bull is allowed to run the show then you’re at the mercy of your desires. You’ll be driven by a compulsion to devour whatever you can get your sticky mitts on: cake, booze, breasts, money…

You need to transcend your lower drives – instincts, desire, greed, lust – and master yourself, symbolised by the conquering and mastering of the bull. This means submitting to the higher Self and remembering that the bull’s power isn’t yours to own. It must be channelled and directed to a higher or transpersonal goal.

The important thing is to transcend, not repress, the instincts. If you repress your desires they transform into flesh-eating monsters and become compulsions and addictions. Our culture has repressed the goddess and what she stands for, and the result is a world on the brink of destruction, crushed by our mindless instinct to accumulate and consume more and more of what we don’t even need. We could learn a lot from the quintessential Taurus:

“He is very happy!” Ferdinand is basically the Buddha, sitting quietly under the tree and smelling the flowers. Buddha is said to have been a Taurus, showing the potential for transcendence through acceptance of the present moment. The Buddhist Ox Herding pictures illustrate the process of learning to tame the mind, where the mind is represented by an ox or bull. (You can read my series on that here.)

When the bull is respected and natural cycles are honoured, you can master your animal passions and find inner peace by letting things go when they’re no longer needed. The bull may be coarse or graceful, beautiful or bestial. It’s up to you. Just remember to look out for the bee!

Taurus on Film

Films that represent the Taurus archetype include anything that shows characters dealing with issues of greed, money or value, artistry and creativity, food, and simple pleasures. You’ll have your own favourites, but here’s a few examples of Taurus characters on film:

  • Ferdinand the bull – smeeelllling the flowers!
  • The Dude with his enormous capacity for being in the moment in The Big Lebowski
  • Julie Powell cooking every recipe in Julia Child’s book, ‘Mastering the Art of French Cooking’ in Julie and Julia
  • Frank Stokes and his Monuments Men finding and saving great works of art and cultural artefacts before the Nazis steal or destroy them in The Monuments Men
  • Jay Gatsby, the man who has everything and nothing, in The Great Gatsby
  • Smaug the dragon, hoarding his gold in Lonely Mountain in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, and…
  • …everybody else fighting over the gold in The Battle of the Five Armies
  • J.F. Sebastian, the creator of amazing animatronic-style ‘friends’ in Blade Runner, as an example of an Hephaestus character
  • Vianne with her luscious chocolate confections and earthy sensuality in Chocolat

More on the tempting world of Chocolat here. Next month we’ll look at Gemini Myths

Discover more Zodiac Myths here

More on Taurus:

Images: Taurus; Laussel; Gobekli; Catalhoyuk; Narmer; Bull-leaping; Minotaur

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