Ancient Egyptian Pigs

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    Have you ever thought of the pig as a symbol of good luck? The ancient Egyptians once thought so, and their body parts were thought to have healed major ailments.

    In my previous article about pigs in Egypt, I highlighted the plight of Coptic Christians who use pigs to clean up Egypt's mounting garbage. But let's rewind all the way back to ancient Egypt.

    Hog Worship

    The pig has always held a prominent role in Egyptian history before Christians and Arabs came to coexist in this ancient land. The ancient Egyptians revered the pig, even praising them with god-like reverence at times, but this has always been contingent upon certain rulers and dynasties.

    The domestic pig in Egypt was descended from the sus scrofa, or the wild boar, but this local breed became extinct over time due to hunting and loss of habitat. The wealthy were known to have eaten pork occasionally, and many of them had pig farms. Just like modern day Egypt, having a pig farm was considered a source of wealth. Archeologists found pig remains near poorer regions of Egypt, which indicates that pork was a part of their diet. Throughout the Old Kingdom and Middle Kingdom, the pigs continued to be farmed, but they were not depicted in iconography, and this may be explained by the perception of the pig as a dirty and unclean animal.

    However, at the tomb of Renni in El Kab, you can see various depictions of what appear to be a cross between a wild boar and the pig we know of today. Historians believed pigs were vital to ancient Egyptian communities. They were most likely on farmlands, but always sequestered within the confines of human civilization.

    And every portion of the pig was used to heal afflictions, including the eyes, blood, fat, etc., and there were various amulets in the shape of a pig that were thought to bring good luck. The injection of pig eyes into the ear was thought to cure blindness. Pig's blood was also used to cure any eye-related problems. The pig's organs and brain were linked to curing cancer, and the teeth were crushed and used to heal infections.

    At the temple of Amenhotep III, this worship center was once adorned with 1,000 pigs and 1,000 piglets.

    When it comes to the gods, there is a dichotomy when it came to swine reverence. A nursing sow was associated with the sky goddess Nut during the start of the Third Intermediate Period. In the city of Coptos, the god Min was birthed from a white sow. But most notably, its perceived gluttony has also been associated with Set, who was also known as the devourer of the moon, and he had the ability to transform into a black pig, sometimes walking upright as depicted in certain hieroglyphics.

    The Black Pig


    Set took the form of a black pig to fool Ra and Horus as they were conversing. Horus was known as the pinnacle of truth and righteousness through his crystal, blue gaze. The two gods noticed a monstrous, black hog, but did not believe it was Set, and as the two paid no attention to the hog, Set shot fire into the eyes of Horus. His eyes were healed eventually, but Ra cursed the pig in return for Set's scheming. Because of the story, Egyptians would sacrifice a large number of pigs during the full moon in recognition of Set.

    Because of the pig's association with Set, the pig received a negative image among Egyptians, and the people of this time may have developed an aversion to pork.

    During the Hellenistic era of ancient Egypt, Set was associated with evil, since he was murderer of Osiris. According to some scholars, however, Set's status as a villainous character may not have always been the case, since he was worshiped in various parts of Egypt. Seti I, father of Ramesses II, was not considered an evil ruler, and his name meant "Man of Set." Pigs were also known to have flocked around his mortuary temple. If Set was associated with benevolence, this would explain the pig's status as a healing figure and a good luck beacon in Egyptian culture.

    But whether to not Egyptians feared or fawned over the pig, it is certainly a foreign concept we are not familiar with in today's world. So depending on which side of Egyptian lore you choose to believe, you may owe your luck or misfortune to your hogs.

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