Cocks

cocks Symbols of light and goodness, cocks have been favored birds of sacrifice to the gods. The cock is sacred and is associated with sun deities; it has the power to banish evil. The cock is a bird of omen, both of luck (in Wales) and death and evil (in Hungary). It is also a symbol of fertility and has been used in divination for centuries around the world.

The cock is an embodiment of the corn-spirit, who guards the corn crop until it can be harvested. The last sheaf of corn is variously called the cock-sheaf, cock, harvest-cock, autumn-hen and harvest-hen. Traditionally, a cock is sacrificially killed at the end of harvest, in order to ensure a bountiful crop the following season. According to some customs, the cock is bound up in the cock-sheaf and then run through with a spit. Sometimes it is buried in the fields up to its neck and then beheaded. Or, it is whipped, beaten or stoned to death. It is either cooked, or the flesh is thrown out and the skin and feathers saved to be sprinkled on the new fields in the spring.

During the witch hunts, witches were said to sacrifice cocks as an offense to God. The cock represented God, light and goodness, the very things that the Devil's legions hated. Accused Irish witch Dame Alice Kyteler in the 14th century supposedly sacrificed cocks to her familiar at a Crossroads. Witches also were said to sacrifice cocks over their cauldrons as part of their spells to raise rain and storms (see STORM raising).

The witches' Sabbats allegedly went on all night until cock-crow, at which point the revelers scattered. Montague Summers observed in The History of Witchcraft and Demonology (1926):

That the crowing of a cock dissolves enchantments is a tradition of extremest antiquity. The Jews believed that the clapping of a cock's wing will make the power of Demons ineffectual and break magic spells. . . . The rites of Satan ceased [at dawn] because the Holy Office of the Church began. In the time of S. Benedict Matins and Lauds were recited at dawn and were actually often known as Gallicinium, Cock-crow.

Nicholas Remy, 16th-century French Demonologist and witch prosecutor, said that a witch confessed to him that cocks were hated by all witches and sorcerers. The cock heralds the dawn, which brings light to the sins of the night and rouses men to the worship of God.

Cocks were said to crow at the birth of Christ and at his death. During the Middle Ages, the cock became an important Christian symbol of vigilance and resurrection, and earned a place at the top of church steeples, domes and buildings.

See Also:

Further Reading:

  • Leach, Maria, ed., and Jerome Fried, assoc. ed. Funk & Wagnail's Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology and Legend. New York: Harper & Row, 1972.
  • Remy Nicolas. Demonolatry. Secaucus, N.J.: University Books, 1974.
  • Summers, Montague. The History of Witchcraft and Demonology. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co. Ltd., 1926.

The Encyclopedia of Witches, Witchcraft and Wicca written by Rosemary Ellen Guiley – Copyright © 1989, 1999, 2008 by Visionary Living, Inc.

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