The meaning of the dream symbol: Ox

In the Chinese zodiac, the Ox personality is considered to be alert, intelligent and easy going. However, their is a tendency for quick temper tantrums and otherwise, angry mood changes. The western symbolism of the ox is quite similar. The image of a hard working animal who asks for little and returns much, is firmly rooted in the physical nature of the domestic ox. However, if the beast is mistreated or becomes agitated due to complex external situations, it may become indeed become angry and quite dangerous.

Moreover, we may find an allusion to awkwardness and a general lack of the mental or physical tact involved in movement through delicate and fragile situations. Accordingly, we need to determine the temperament and behavior of the ox in the dream landscape and interpret whom the animal symbolizes in our waking experience. Furthermore, our unconscious may be revealing our own stubbornness and inability to find comprehensible compromises.


In contrast with the bull, the ox is a symbol of kindliness, tranquillity and peaceful strength. However, this particular ox may, in fact, be a bull. There are certain differences between the two in terms of their symbolism and its explanations. The ox-heads of the Emperor Shen Nung, inventor of agriculture, and that of Che-yu may as easily be identified as bulls' heads, the same ideogram, nu, serving for both animals. The bull Apis, at Memphis, a hypostasis of Ptah and of Osiris, may as easily have been an ox, the same word denoting all cattle. In this respect its lunar character is not the determining factor.

Throughout East Asia the ox, and more especially the buffalo, are venerated as mankind's most valuable helpers. They were the steeds of the sages and notably of Lao Tzu in his journey to the western borders. In fact there is something about these animals, a gentleness and aloofness, which suggests contemplation. Statues of oxen are common features of Shinto temples, but in Ancient China, a clay figure of an ox represented the cold and was thrown out of the house in the Spring to encourage the renewal of nature. It was a typically yin emblem.

The buffalo is a more lumbering, rough, peasant creature. In Hindu iconography it is the steed and emblem of the death-god, Yama, and in Tibet, too, the death-spirit has a buffalo-head. Nevertheless the Gelugpa - one of the Yellow Hat sects - give a buffalo-head to the Bodhisattva Manjushrf, who destroyed death. The classic representation of the asura, Mahesha, is as a buffalo. He was defeated and beheaded by Candl, an aspect of Uma or Durga. It may well be that, as buffaloes are fond of marsh-land, this one was related to water and defeated either by the Sun or by drought and, in fact, a buffalo is sometimes sacrificed in India at the end of the monsoon. However the asura is sometimes depicted in human form, gradually freeing himself from the shape of the decapitated beast, and this has a significance of a spiritual order.

The Montagnards in Vietnam, whose most fundamental religious act is to sacrifice a buffalo, treat the creature as the equal of a human. The ritual execution of the buffalo makes it an intercessor for the community with the higher spirits.

The Ancient Greeks regarded oxen as sacred animals and often offered them in sacrifice, a hecatomb meaning the sacrifice of one hundred oxen. The ox was sacred to certain gods and, when Hermes robbed Apollo of his oxen, he was only able to obtain pardon for his sacrilegious theft by giving Apollo the lyre which he had invented by stretching the hide and tendons of an ox over the shell of a tortoise. The Sun had his herd of spotless, white oxen with golden horns. Odysseus' hungry crew slaughtered them for food on the island of Trinacria in contravention of their captain's orders. They all perished; Odysseus alone was saved because he had not shared the food.

Sacred oxen were reared by the clan of the Buzyges; the animals' task was to commemorate the invention of the plough by Triptolemos during the holy rites of ploughing celebrated in the Eleusinian Mysteries. Throughout North Africa, too, oxen are sacred animals offered in sacrifice and connected with the rituals of ploughing and making the soil fruitful.

Doubtless because of its sacred character and its connection with most religious rites either as victim or as the one who offers sacrifice, as for example when it ploughed a furrow in the earth, the ox was also the symbol of the priest. For example, and although the interpretation is open to argument, the oxen of the three-headed giant, Geryon, might well be ‘members of a primitive priestly college at Delphi and Geryon their high priest. He might well have been conquered and killed by Herakles (Hercules) and a new order of worship instituted at Delphi'.

There was a Gaulish divinity, the familiar spirit of Borvo, or Apollo Borvo, the protector of thermal springs, called Damona, a name containing the root dam, the Celtic word for cattle in general. However, within the Celtic world the ox was never endowed with anything but the normal Christian symbolism. Nonetheless, Welsh legends are evidence of the existence of primeval oxen. The two principal beasts belonged to Hu Gadam, a mythical character who first came to the Isle of Britain with the tribe of the Cymry (Welsh). Before these two oxen came, the only creatures in Britain were bears, wolves, beavers and horned cattle. The Book of Invasions mentions other mythic oxen without any specific detail. Oxen thus played a part similar to that of the culture-hero.

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