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Religion (1984) 14, 107-142

9S T E A L I N G





Ruth Katz Arabagian

The predominant subject of Indo-European heroic literature is-successful
warfare for the winning of wealth and kingdom. This subject, which mirrors
the aspirations of Indo-European pastoral society, is most often realized in one
of two guises: as a theme of cattle raiding, or a theme of bride stealing. In this
paper I will undertake an analysis of these two themes in several IndoEuropean contexts, concentrating in particular on materials from the extremes of the Indo-European world, India and Ireland. My purpose will be to
explore how, through these themes, storytellers assimilated and remodelled
the ideology of the peoples conquered by the Indo-Europeans in the course of
their migrations throughout Europe and Asia. I am particularly concerned
with the pre-Indo-European, figure of the Goddess and what the IndoEuropeans made of her, and the changing.position of women under IndoEuropean domination.
Even before the birth of epic and saga,' one finds the cattle-raiding theme in
Indo-European literature: this, at the moment of the .Rg Veda (approximately
1200 BC), that purest and earliest preserved (one might call it 'classic')
reflection of Indo-European ideology. The hero of the .Rg Veda is Indra, both
storm god and national hero of the lndo-Aryan invaders of northwestern
India, whose role is to create and ensure the fertility of his realm, and to
conquer its enemies. The most frequent mythic statement of Indo-Aryan
success is that Indra killed the evil serpent Vrtra, Vrtra being both he who
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Ruth Katz Ambagian

holds back the waters, preventing fertility, Or even world order, from being
established, and the embodiment of the national enemies of the Indo-Aryans,
the autochthonous 2 inhabitants of the disputed areas, known contemptuously
to their conquerors as d~sas, slaves. I n d r a ' s slaying of V.rtra is not, however,
the only mythicization o f l n d o - A r y a n success. Sometimes Indra is said to kill
demons witb otber names, who m a y or m a y not have been considered identical
with Vrtra. In other instances, Indra's victory is portrayed as the stealing of
cows from an enemy. 3
As Bruce Lincoln has established in Priests, Warriors, and Cattle: A Study in the
Ecology of Religion, cattle were ofimmeasurable importance in Indo-European
Their importance transcends their worth in hard economic t e r m s . . , for cattle
come to play a major role in social transactions. They serve as bridewealth and
wergeld, in the belief that only cattle can fully make up for the loss of a valued
human member of society. Cattle are in fact an integral part of the community,
a n d . . , the social order is thought to include both people andcattle, not merely
people. Cattle are the object of intense affection, and it would seem that the
greatest desire ofany herdsman is the possession of many cattle.
This longing for cattle has produced an interesting development: the organized theft ofcattle from neighboring tribes. Warfare becomes strictly the quest
for cattle, and virtually no other booty is taken. The tribes under study have"
become extremely efficient in their raiding, and the military groups that first
prompted my interest are, in fact, specialized social organs for the procurement
of cattle; their myths, moreover, reflect this prime interest,
In addition to economic, social and emotional importance, cattle have yet
another role: they form the very basis of the religious system, for cattle are the
sacrificial animal par excellence, and sacrifice is the central ritual...4
Thus the centrality ofthe cattle-raiding theme in the R.g Veda. Indeed, various
Vedic gods and goddesses,-including Indra, are themselves characterized, literally or figuratively, as bulls and cows. 5
Strikingly, the freeing of waters and.the release ofcows appear to have been
identified with one another in the minds of the Vedic seers. 6 Here is a
phenomenon Which will be referred to again later in this paper, and which
should come as no surprise to structuralists or adherents of the Parry-Lord
theory of oral composition: within the same story framework there is much
room for substitution of specific content; in the case just cited, cattle replace
their counterpart, water. Although one would be hard-pressed to determine
which version of the story predates the other, it is apparent that the cattleraiding version is more h u m a n than the 'dragon-killing' versiofi. When the
genres of epic and saga come along and humanize the old myths (this being, by
definition, one of their major innovations), the cattle-raiding version of the
story is likely to take precedence.
And so it does. In Indo-European heroic literature, the theme of the cattle

Cattle Raiding and Bride Stealing


raid continues to have an illustrious history. One may easily think of well
known Greek examples, perhaps the most famous of which is that recounted at
the beginning ofthe Homeric Hymn to H e r m e s / A s Norman O. Brown points
out in Hermes the Thief." The Evolution of a Myth, cattle raiding was considered a
respectable pursuit among the Greeks; in support of this contention, he cites
the account oflliad XI. 670 ft.8 Interestingly, however, in the areas upon which
I have chosen to concentrate in this paper, India and Ireland, heroic literature
tends to glorify the defenders ofcattle, rather than the cattle raiders. 9
The outstanding Indian example of a cattle raiding story is to be found in
Book IV of the epic Mah~bhdrata. l~ T h e battle recounted there prefigures the
great Kuruksetra war, which is the central focus ofthe epic, with the P~md.avas
(particularly Arjuna) and their allies acting as defenders of the Matsya herds
against Kaurava raiders. At this point, the cattle raid appears to be portrayed
as a confrontation between Ind0-European groups, rather than exclusively
between Indo-Europeans and autochthonous peoples. 'l Likewise, the cattle
raid is the focus of conflict between different classes within a single group, as
illustrated in such stories as that of the struggle between the priest Vasi.stha
and the warrior Vi~v~tmitra, recounted in the epic RJrnSyana as well as in the

But despite the prevalence of the cattle-raiding theme in Indian heroic
literature, one must note that the fullest development ofthis scenario is Irish,
not Indian; for here the cattle raid becomes the central event of the most
important heroic corpus, the Ulster Cycle, as expounded in the Tdin b5
Cuailnge, The Cattle Raid of Cuailnge.
But there was one great bull in Ailill's herd, that had been a calfofone of Medb's
cows--Finnbennach was his name, the White Horned--and Finnbennach,
refusing to be led by a woman, had gone over to the king's herd. Medb couldn't
find in her herd the e~ual of this bull, and her spirits dropped as though she
hadn't a single pennyJ ~
This is tile position of Queen Medb, after ~i competition with her husband
Ailill, King of Ireland, to ascertain whose wealth is the greatest. Medb,
temporarily bested, sets out (surprisingly, with Ailill's help!) to steal from the
Ulstermen a bull as excellent in every way as Finnbennach. Medb's cattle raid
is the subject ofthe Tdin, which glorifies the Ulster hero Cfichulainn, defender
ofthe great Ulster bull, Donn Cuailnge. It will be noted from this example and
the preceding ones that that defense ofcattle is a labour typical ofthe Indian or
Irish hero of epic or saga, one might say a short-hand designation for heroic
work in these two cultures.
It is now time to turn to the bride-stealing version of wealth-winning in


Ruth Katz Arabagian

Indo-European heroic literature. In the Indo-European symbolic universe,

women, like cattle, represent prosperity, and to state it simply, along the
structuralist lines set forth above (Part II), a woman can take the place of a
cow without changing the basic story. 14 Such a substitution is not inappropriate, as cows commonly constitute the Indo-European bride price and dowry
(see above, Part II). Like the theme of cattle raiding, the theme of bride
stealing in Indo-European heroic literature appears to reflect actual
practice. 15 It is noteworthy that this practice catches the imagination so
powerthlly that echoes ofit persist in ritual even when the actual practice is no
longer sanctioned by society. 16
Nonetheless, bride stealing is not a central motif in the .Rg Veda itself. A
peculiar combination offactors appears to be responsible for the omission. In
the first place, the women stolen by the Vedic Indo-Aryans were non-Aryan,
ddsa women. These figure in the .Rg Veda as slave girls (sometimes, but by no
means always, accepted as wives), 17 and evidently their stories are not considered important enough to retell. This fact is consistent with the .Rg Veda's
generalized lack of concern with the feminine: although goddesses are named
frequently, romances are not a subject ofgreat interest; for example, 'Amorous
adventures are entirely absent from the exploits of Indra in tile RV. '18 What
references to bride stealing one may find in the .Rg Veda are therefore briefand"
ambiguous to modern eyes. Tile single .Rg Vedic story which is sometimes
interpreted as a case of bride stealing, the story of Vimada and Kamadyfi, is
presented in a totally ambiguous manner, it being stated "merely that the
A~vins brought Kamadyfi to Vimada on their chariot. 19 Equally unclear,
thoug.h suggestive,, is .Rg Veda IV. 17.16:
Eager for booty, craving strength and horses, we singers
stir Indra, the strong, for friendship,
Who gives the wives we seek, whose succour fails not,
to hasten, like a pitcher to the fountain. 2~
On the other hand, the Aryan woman is presented in the Rg Veda as a free
soul--surely not one to be caught up in a brlde-stealing scenario--having a
say, for example, in the choice of her own husband; 21 one even seems to catch
here an early glimpse of the later epic notion of svayamvara (self-choice) Of a
man by a woman (see below, Part VII). 22 In the case of the Vedic goddesses,
the prerequisites for the substitution of woman for cow seem to be present, for
example, in the fact that the wealth represented by cattle (prim.'irily in milk
and butter) is personified by a female, I!fi (Nourishment). 23 As Indra, along
with other Vedic gods, is frequently characterized in the R.g Veda as a bull (see
above, Part I), he might easily have been perceived as winning wives for
himselfin the form of the cows he stole. Such identifications, however, appear

CattleRaidingand BrideStealing


not to bave been followed to their logical conclusions, in which conquered

wealth would be personified as a stolen woman.
A clearer suggestion ofbride stealing as a mythic motif is to be found in tile
Brfihmanas, texts which are thought to be slightly younger than the Vedic
hymns. In these texts, which are elaborate manuals on the performance of
Vedic sacrifice, Vfic (Speech) is personified as a female who chooses ultimately
to dwell, presumably as a wife, with the gods rather than the demons (possibly,
the d&as), her original husbands. The conflict over Vfic is presented as an
episode in the enduring god/demon competition which is tile dominant tbeme
of Indian mythology, appearing in the Br~hmanas primarily as a competition
for possession of the sacrifice. Whoever possesses Vfi.c possesses the power
behind the sacrifice, thus prosperity: in her passage over to the gods, Vfic is
bringing them prosperity at the expense of the demons.
The Vfic of this often repeated and retold episode of tile Br~thmanas 24 is
perhaps too independent a figure to permit her story to be categorized as a tale
ofbride stealing; it is, rather, an 'elopement': each group tries to persuade Vfic
verbally to adhere to itself, and she eventually makes a decision. The point of
Vfic's making her own choice must be an important one, for in other versions of
tile god/demon dispute the sacrifice tends to be a passive pawn. Only as V~c is
the sacrifice an independently powerful force--and female. Indian epic continues to develop the tale jr/st recounted, substituting for Vfic the more
generalized Hindu goddess of prosperity, ~ri. 25
As is to be expected, Indian epic also includes humanized versions of the
bride-stealing theme. As in tile case of cattle raiding, the theme passes at this
point into a wholly Indo-Europeanized context. In fact, the Mahdbh&ata finds
bride stealing to be an acceptable method ofwinning a wife: ' . . . the students
of the Law hold that that bride is the best who is carried offby force. '26 Arjuna
wins his fourth wife, Subhadrfi, the sister of his friend, by adbuction-with's help! 27 The Mahdbh&ata also mentions the fact that Krs.n.a
himself won his bride, Rukmini, in this manner, although this episode is not
part ofthe epic action. 28 Likewise, Bhisma steals Amb~, Ambik~t, and Amb~lik~ as wives for his step-brother, Vicitravirya. 29
As Arjuna's theft of Subhadr~ indicates most clearly, the Mah~bh&ata looks
upon bride stealing as a sort of marriage test, a proof of manhood, tlle
culmination ofan initiation, similar in this respect to bow bending, resorted to to
win a bride elsewhere in Indian epic literature (the heroines of the Malfibl~rata
and R&n~yana, Draupadi and Sit~, are both married after such tests of their
respective suitors).3~ The unmarried girl acquired either by bow bending or
bride stealing becomes a happy 31 and appropriate 32 wife. Among those stolen
brides mentioned above, the single exception to this rule is Amba, who objects
to being abducted for Vicitravirya because she had promised herself previously to another man.


RuthKatz Arabagian

Treated quite differently, however, is the abduction of a woman alread)

married. As is well known, this theme is extremely important in the Indian
epic corpus, insofar as it supplies the central story line for both great Indian
epics, Here is the very theme known to the West through the lliad: the great
war fought over the abducted wife, Helen. In the Mah~bharata, this scenario is
somewhat disguised: this epic seems to tell of an insulted wife, rather than an
abducted wife. What is actually stolen is the kingdom of the Pfin.dava brothers,
not their joint wife, DraupadL The enemy (the Kaurava brothers, cousins of
the Prin..davas) tried to take Draupadi too, 33 however, and the Prin..davas fight
to avenge her as much as to regain the kingdom; 3~one might say that the insult
to her punctuates the theft of the realm, that the two events are interchangeable. In the R?tm~yan.a, the abduction scenario is clearer: Sit.~, R~ma's wife, is
stolen by the demon R~vapa, and recovered only after a 10ng search and war.
In addition to these central actions, a sort of reduplication has abduction of
married women also st~pply sub-episodes for the two epics: besides being
insulted by the Kauravas, Draupadi is nearly carried off by Jayadratha in
Book III of the MahSbhdrata;35 and Sita's abduction in the Rdmd.).an.a is mirrored by that of the wife of Sugriva, the monkey king. 36
There is no question that in these cases sympathy is on the side of the
rightful husband (or, in Draupadi's case, husbands); nor does the stolen wife"
ever evidence the least bit ofcooperation with her captors. The Kauravas are
the villains of the Mahdbhdrata, notwithstanding the fact that recognition of
human complexities on the part of the composers of this epic permits them a
broad show ofsympathy for even the evil side. In the Rdmdyana, the conflict
between good and evil is delineated even more clearly; the abductor is a
demon, and the fight to regain Sita is the hero's battle against absolute
wrong. 37
The Irish heroic literature, on tile contrary, shows no such unwavering
respect for marriage. Irish saga boasts an entire category known as 'Elopements' ('Aithid'), in which married or betrothed women, more forceful even
than the V~c of the Brhhma.nas, not only agree to run away with particular
heroes, but actually initiate the liaisons. Furthermore, the sympathy of the text
is, in each case, on the side of the abductor, not the cheated husband.
The best known Irish Elopement is that of Derdriu and the sons of Uisliu,
which is considered a foretale of the Tdin bd Cuailnge.3a Here Derdriu, who has
been promised to Conchobor, King of Ireland, since her birth, actually forces
Noisiu, the eldest son of Uisliu, to abduct her, by threatening him with the
worst of Irish sanctions, satire, if he refuses to comply. The idyll of Derdriu
with Noisiu and his brothers in the forest before Derdriu's tragic return to
Gonchobor strongly resembles those of Draupadi with the P.~n.davas and Sit~
with R~ma and his brother Laksmana, in the MahrbhSrata and RSmSp'ana
respectively, but with a difference: in the Irish case, the idyllic affair is an illicit

CattleRaiding and Bride Stealing


one! But that Noisiu is admired by the author(s) of the text is made absolutely
clear by the inclusion of Derdriu's long poems about him, thrown as accusations in C0nchobor's face:
I fall Ulster's warriors
were gathered on this plan, Conchobor,
I would gladly give them all
for Noisiu, son of Uisliu . . . . 39
and so forth. In their book Celtic Heritage: Ancient Tradition in Ireland and Wales,
Alwyn and Brinley Rees cite two other major Celtic Elopements, the Irish
sto W of Gr~iinne from the Fenian cycle, and the Welsh sto W of T w s t a n and
Esylh, with its prototypes and paral!elsJ ~ They point out that in general the
Derdriu and Noisiu model holds true: the abductor is presented most
sympathetically. 41 Also discussed in Celtic Heritage is the Irish story ofl~tafn.42.
Although this tale is classified by the Rees brothers as a 'Wooing' rather than
an 'Elopement', parts of it certainly fit the Elopement pattern. Here too one
finds the abductor treated with great sympathy; in fact, in this case the
abductor, Midir, is really the origina ! husband of the stolen bride!
More generally, the Wooings provide the Irish counterparts to the Indian
tales of the abductions of Rukmini and Subhadra, mentioned above: they are
stories of the hero's initiation. In general, these Wooings tell of the hero's
winning of a beautiful young maiden, for himselfor another, from a hostile or
literally demonic father or parents. Often, however, this bride winning is not
an abduction at all; rather, the hero earns the girl by pqrforming certain
difficult tasks: such is the case, for example, in the sto W ofthe original winning
of l~tafn for Midir, 43 which may be compared in this respect to the more
famous (because proto-Arthurian) Welsh sto W of Kulhwch and Olwen. 44 In
other cases, the Wooings more clearly delineate a bride-stealing theme: such,
for example, is the sto W of Cfichulainn's winning of his wife Emer, like the
sto W ofDerdriu a foretale of the Tdin:
He reached Forgall's rampart and gave his salmon-leap across the three enclosures to the middle ofthe fort. In the inner enclosure he dealt three strokes at the
three groups of nine men. He killed eight men at each stroke and left one man
standing in the middle of each group. They were Emer's three brothers, Scibar
and Ibor and Cat. Forgall sprang away in flight from (]dchulainn out across the
fort's rampart, but he fell and killed himself. Cfichulainn caught Emer and her
foster-sister, and their weight in gold and silver, and leaped again with the two
girls across the triple ramparts and hurried on with shrieks rising around them
on every sideJ 5
Wooing heroines often encourage or even advise their suitors: again, Emer
provides a particularly clear example, conversing with Cfichulainn in riddles,
and challenging him ultimately to prove himself by stealing her. 46 The audi-

RuthKalz Arabagian


ence's sympathy is enlisted in these stories on the side of the hero who is
proving himself by winning a wife; nor does the happy bride ever reject her
her attitude towards her father is strangely ambivalent. She refuses to be
abducted until his preposterous terms have been fully complied with, but she can
then contemplate his death with the most unfilial indifference. Alternatively, she
and her bridegroom, sometimes aided by her enchanted mother, elude the
pursuing father in a magic flight. 47

If one were to look to other areas of Indo-European expansion, examples of

the bride-stealing theme might be multiplied almost ad infinitum. Even the
Indian and Irish examples alone, however, suggest the range 0fpermutations
which this theme has undergone.
' . . . [B]ride-stealing in epic was mythic before it became heroic and
historical. '4s Certainly, the Indian examples offered above support this contention, as Vfic (~ri) gives way chronologically to Rukmini, Subhadfft,
Draupadi, and Sitfi. In fact, the connection is more than a matter ofhistorical
interest; rather, an identity is recognized between tile humanized version and
the goddess prototype. Sometimes the epics themselves are specific on this
point. One may look first, in this regard, to the case o f Draupadi, who is
actually said to incarnate the goddess gri. 49 This identification being noted,
one notes too that it is reflected in the epic story line,as a whole, as well as in
certain of its details: for example, in the fact that Draupadi, as mentioned
above, seems to embody her husbands' kingdom, that is, their wealth and
prosperity. In fact, in attempting to understand the motivation behind
Draupadi's polyandry in the epic, it is necessary to admit that she is molded
almost as much to serve as a symbol of Prosperity as to be a human character.
Sitfi, too, is said to incarnate gri (specifically under gri's alternate name,
Laksmi): in the Critical Edition ofthe Rdmd)'an.a, this identification is implied,
as SitS?s husband, R~ma, incarnates the husband of ~ri,, 5~ and Sita
herself is called a divinity (devaM), 51 and compared with divinities; 52 it is
specified in an interpolated passage. 53 Rukmini, as the wife of another of
Visnu's incarnations, Krsna, is likewise a ~ri figure according to an interpolated passage of the Mahdbhdrata, 5~ and later materials. 55 Subhadrfi is not a
wife of, but she is his sister. T h a t being God's sister means divinity for
Subhadrft herself is not mentioned explicitly in the ~llah~bhffrata; but this
natural consequence does emerge later, as in the medieval worship at Puri of
Subhadra with her brothers (asJagann~tha) and Balar~ma, as part of a
Vaisnava trinity. The meaning of'Subhadr~' (Most Auspicious, Fortunate) is
so similar to the meaning of~ri' as to suggest an identity between these two

Cattle Raiding and Bride Stealing


figures, and examples from other corners of the ancient world corroborate the
idea that the sister and wife o f a god may actually be one and the s a m e Y In
sum, then, at least four of the most important stolen brides of Indian epic may
all be identified as ~ri (Prosperity), or a closely related figure.
Who is ,the Irish equivalent of Prosperity, and is she reflected in the stolen
brides of Irish literature? It has often been noted that the Indian Prosperity
has her counterpart in the Irish goddess Flaith, whose name may be translated
as 'Sovereignty. 's7 T h a t is, India and Ireland have both preserved what seems
to hav e been a proto-Indo-European image (it can also be noted elsewhere in
the Indo-European world): 58 the King's prosperous sovereignty, his power, is
represented as a powerful goddess, to whom he is married, or with whom he
sleeps. The Indian version ofthis conception is reflected in such statements as
the following:
That same sacrifice was afterwards performed by Daksha P~rvati; and even to
this day these (descendants of his) the D~kshfiyanas are possessed of the royal
dignity: royal dignity he, therefore, here obtains, whosoever, knowing this,
performs that sacrifice: let him, therefore, perform that sacrifice.., thereby
Fortune (sr~) is (wedded) to him without a rival wife and undisturbed, s9
- - a n d it has already been pointed out that Draupadi's marriage to the
P~ndava brothers is a reflection of Prosperity's role. In the Irish context, many
tales are told about would-be kings who encounter Sovereignty, and either do
or do not win her favour; these are particularly the complex of Irish tales about
the 'loathly bride, '6~ who, when kissed by the future king, becomes a desirable
young maiden. 6t
In attempting to equate the heroines ofthe Irish bride-stealing tales with the
Irish figure of Sovereignty, the usual distinction between Elopements and
Wooings must be adhered to. In both types ofstory, the heroines' resemblance
to Sovereignty is easier to suggest than prove, but in the Elopements the
similarities are particularly pronounced. The most notable features in this
connection are the great power ofthe heroine, reflected in her imposition ofher
choice upon the hero, and her idyll with the hero in a forest setting, which
parallels tile forest home of the 'loathly bride. 'G2 On the other band, a major
difference in tone must be noted: to marry Sovereignty is a most positive act,
while to go off with an Elopement heroine invariably leads to dire results. As
reflected particularly in the figure of Derdriu, the Elopement heroines embody
something of the demonic:
the child screamed in her womb and was heard all over the enclosure. At that
scream everyone in the house started up, ready to kill . . . .
Cathbad [a druid] placed his hand on the woman's belly and the baby
wriggled under it.
'Yes,' he said, 'there is a girl there. Derdriu shall be her name. She will bring

116 RuthKatz Arabagian

The Wooing heroines may generally be identified as more than human figures,
and in this respect they are like goddesses. But even more explicitly than the
Elopement heroines they come from demonic backgrounds, as referred to
above (Part I I I ) .
The clearest humanized reflection of the goddess of Sovereignty in Irish
heroic literature is not a stolen bride at all; rather, she appears, in the Tdin, as
Medb, mentioned in Part I I of this paper.
My father gave me a whole province of Ireland, this province ruled from
Cruachan, which is why I am called 'Medb of Clruachan.' And they came from
Finn the king ofLeinster, Rus Ruad's son, to woo me, and from Coirpre Niafer
the king of Temair, another ofRus Ruad's sons. They came from Conchobor,
king of Ulster, son of Fachtna, and they came from Eochaid Bec, and I wouldn't
go. For I asked a harder wedding gift than any woman ever asked before from a
man in Ireland- the absence ofmeanness and jealously and fear.
IfI married a mean man our union would be wrong because I'm so full ofgrace
and giving. It would be an insult ifI were more generous than my husband, but
not ifthe two of us were equaiin this. Ifmy husband was a timid man our union
would be just as wrong because I thrive, myself, on all kinds of trouble. It is an
insult for a wife to be more spirited than her husband, but not if the two are
equally spirited. IfI married a jealous man that would be wrong, too: I never had
one man without another waiting in his shadow. 64
This is Medb's often-cited identification of herself as Sovereignty. 6s ('You're a
kept man,' she tells her husband, Ailill.) 66 The leading lady ofthe Tdin, like the
leading lady of the Mahdbhdrata, is thus a humanization of Sovereignty/
Prosperity. But this lady is not a stolen bride; rather she is herselfa thief: a
cattle raider!


I will argue in this section of my paper that the figure of P r o s p e r i t y /

Sovereignty is an Indo-European version o f a pre-Indo-European fertility or
'Mother' Goddess. Thi~ Goddess was a well known figure in the traditions of
early agricultural (and p o s s i b l y pre-agricultural) societies, throughout
Europe and Asia, and possibly world-wide; she apparently represented the
female potency which, in combination with the male, caused life on earth to
appear and flourish. 67 She seems often to have been thought ofas stronger, or
at least more enduring, the male power which mated ~yith her, conceived
ofas a dying and rising, o r ' y e a r god', 68 figure. In that she rel~resented both the
life and death of this figure, she was viewed as beautiful and terrible at the
same time. 69 The Goddess existed in pre-Indo-European times, yet as noted
above, such classic Indo-European literature as the .Rg Veda does not emphasize her; the evidence ofthe .Rg Veda suggests that she was not deemed central
to tile official priestly ideology. Soon, however, she emerged, I would argue, as
V~tc/~ri, Flaith, and their humanized reflections in heroic literature. 7~

Cattle Raiding and Bride Stealing

l 17

I would suggest that this emergence took place as a result of the confrontation between the Indo-Europeans and the autochthonous agricultural peoples
whom they conquered. My model for this encounter is that between the
Indo-Aryans and the Indus Valley people in northwest India. 71 The heroic
literature which emerges among the Indo-Europeans after this encounter is no
longer 'classic' Indo-European literature, but rather a hybrid, just as the
religion which emerges (Hinduism, for example) combines Indo-European
and autochthonous traits. 72 The Goddess figure seems to be one of the most
important autochthonous contributions to the new mixture, both religious and
literary. Indo-European heroic literature demonstrates that she was too striking to be ignored: she must be incorporated, and as a major character!
As documented most clearly in the Indian case (because of the availability
of the Vedic records), ~hen the Indo-Europeans descended upon the autochthonous agriculturalists of the regions they were bent to conquer, they were
contemptuous, and very likely merciless. One thing is certain, however: they
did not manage to wipe out the autochthonous religion. Just why the autochthonous religion was able to survive has not been explained adequately.
Was it because the Indo-Europeans were religiously tolerant? One possible
explanation might be intermarriage with locals (see above, Part I II); their
autochthonous wives, then, would have kept the old religion alive. T h e Atharva Veda (approximately 900 BC), with its many passages regarding women,
records the intrusion of the feminine into the Vedic corpus. 73 With regard to
surviv~il of the Goddess figure per se, the Irish texts offer an explanation
couched in mythic terms:
Having defeated tile Tuatha D6 Danann [in mythic terms, the autochthonous
inhabitants of Ireland], the Sons of Mil [mythic name for the final conquerors of
Ireland] 74set out towards Tara [the Irish capital]. On their way, they encountered the three divine eponyms of Ireland, Banbha, F6dla, and Eriu, and each of
the three won from them.a promise that the island would bear her name. 75
Many specific characteristics of Prosperity/Sovereignty and her reflections
in heroic literature suggest direct continuity with the Goddess of Fertility:
most outstandingly, ofcourse, her sexual alliance with her chosen male. Note
how Medb, in the Tdin, dallies with Fergus even while married to Ailill,
demonstrating a sexual license common to fertility cults 76 (one thinks, too, in
this regard, of a later Medb figure, the Wife of Bath). 77 The Irish Elopements
add an additional dimension to the argument offered here: their reluctant
lovers seem to be accurate reflections of the dying and rising god figure
associated with the Mother Goddess, and the Elopement heroines seem to
have the sexual drive of the Goddess herself. 78 On the other hand, even the
most faithful of the bride-stealing heroines, the married Indian women, demonstrate their connection with the Goddess of fertility: Sit~, whose name


RuthKatz Arabagian

means 'furrow,' born from the earth in a ritual ploughing, and returned to tile
earth at tile end ofher human life; Draupadi, whose epith/~t 'Krs.nfi' ('the black
one') may refer to the blackness ofthe earth or tile chthonian powers. 79 Other
Indian examples whicb come to mind in tbis connection are the names of
Subhadrfi (Most Auspicious), noted above (Part IV), and ofAmba, Ambikfi,
and Ambalikfi (literally, the three 'Mothers').8~
One interesting corollary ofthe identification suggested in tiffs section ofmy
discussion has to do With the fact that bulls and cows have long served as
symbols or embodiments of tile God/Goddess couple. 81 Even the IndoEuropeans knew this symbolism (see above, Part II). Thus tile structural
interchangeability of brides and cattle ill Indo-European heroic literature
reveals its deeper meaning: both cow (with bull as her consort) and bride are


At first, stolen cattle and brides were symbols of the struggle between tile
Indo-Europeans and the autochthonous peoples, but as the Indo-Europeans
absorbed tile autochthons, tile conflict became their own internal struggle. It
was in the course ofthis historical process that the Goddess was transformed.
How, then, did Indo-European influence remodel tile autochthonous Goddess figure? In simplest terms, the Indo-Europeans imposed a male-centered
warrior ideology on tile agricultural ideology whi6h they overtook. This
id.eology emphasized active heroism; for example, as may be seen from the .Rg
Veda (see above, Part I), fertility was now explained as a result ofmale heroic
activity, raiher than passive compliance with the natural cycle.82 In short, the
male hero replaced the dying and rising god. The fertility bull was now a man
praised for his bull-like strength. 83 The story of male heroic action, particularly male initiation, begins to dominate the literature at this juncture. This fact
can already be noted in the Rg Veda; later it results in tile birth and flowering
ofnew heroic genres: epic and saga. The pre-Indo-European fertility Goddess
serves literally as the battleground upon which tile confrontation between
Indo-European and autochthonous ideologies takes place.
The Goddess may take a number of different roles in tile reinterpreted story
pattern; these may be ranged on a spectrum, divisible into three major
sections. 8~ Firstly, as Prosperity/Sovereignty, she is almost her old self, deciding tile fate of the male, as his Wife and his Death. The only major difference
between Prosperity/Sovereignty and the Mother Goddess in her'pre-IndoEuropean form is that Prosperity/Sovereignty's purpose seems to be an ultimate transference ofher power to her chosen husband. One mlght say that she
serves as his initiator. But.note the Elopement heroines, who are clearly to be
placed in this category: here the transference of power has gone haywire, so
that tile chosen initiatory hero dies tragically and is never reborn.

Cattle Raiding and BrideStealing


More actively, the Goddess may become tile object of the hero's wrath, an
:nemy whom he turns against. As such, she may represent the autochthonous
:eligion, which the Indo-Europeans were out to conquer, or more generally a
~'emale power which tile male hero defies in claiming fertility power for
himself. 85 Such a version of the Goddess is more terrible than beautiful,
although as always she is very powerful. The dying and rising god turned hero
gets to take his revenge upon her. So as to be a suitable enemy, the female
figure so treated is often assigned warrior attributes and an army. Or was tile
warrior woman figure invented as the autochthonous traditions' powerful
defense against tile Indo-European ideology: an insistence that their Goddess
is a warrior too? In any case, as a character in heroic literature tile Goddess is,
though Powerful, doomed to eventual defeat, Such a figure is Medb, whose
very power itself is turned against her in the Tdin's Indo-European version of
her story: she loses her war to win Donn Cuailnge because her period comes
upon her in the midst of battle, because of her fertility!s6 In fact, she would
never have had to fight at all had not the bull Finnbenach left her herd
'refusing to be led by a w o m a n . . . ' (see above, Part 1I). 57
Interestingly, the Indian tradition provides a parallel to the Medb figure
which allows the scholar to observe the process of transformation even more
clearly. This figure is ArabS, the bride-stealing victim mentioned above, Part
III. When Bhisma's theft of Amb5 interferes with her own choice of a husband, ultimately leading her chosen husband to reject her because her honour
has been soiled, 88 she turns into a fury who is satisfied only by rebirth as a male
warrior, sworn to kill her abductor. Thus is Amba transformed into the
warrior ~ikhandin, worthy to confront Bhisma in battle.
Thirdly, the Goddess may become an object of male initiatory action, the
prize won by the male in battle; this is the role of the Goddess in the bridestealing scenario which most clearly parallels the Indo-European cattleraiding story. The culmination o.finale initiation is bride winning. The marriage which crowns male initiation achieves the same result as the hierosgamos
(divine marriage) of the agricultural religions--fertility--but the woman is
now ideally the man's subordinate. Furthermore, once won, she must be
defended against those who would steal her away. Thus, according to this
development, tile male, not the female, is portrayed as the stable and enduring
figure: now the Goddess dies and rises, not the god! Such a scenario emphasizes the wifely qualities of the Goddess figure, while the threatening and
powerful enemy against whom the hero must fight is portrayed as a male. 89 As
when cast in the role ofenemy, the Goddess as wife is only halfofherself: in this
case only the beautiful - now turned somewhat demure - half.
There are, however, levels ofdemureness. Draupadi, for example, a l t h o u g h
but a pale reflection ofthe Goddess's strength, is rnuch stronger than Sitfi. She
herself cannot act, but note how she harangues her husbands, exhorting them
to find the strength to win back their kingdom:


RuthKatz Arabagian
There is no more time to ply the Kurus with forgiveness; and when the time for
authority has come, authority must be employed. The meek are despised, but
people shrink from the severe: he is a king who knows both, when their time has

She also appears to possess the evil eye. m In fact, Draupadi is too strong
actually to be stolen: her own words win her freedom, ifnot that ofthe kingdom
which she represents; she saves her husbands, and is able to remain with them
while they are exiled from their realm. 92 In the case of Sit~, on the other hand,
the Goddess has been swallowed up completely by the Indo-European sto W
pattern of the initiatory dragon fight, as in Indra's battle with Vrtra, referred
to in Part I I o f this paper; she is absolutely defenseless. The Irish Wooing
heroines a r e m o r e like Draupadi than Sit~. Emer, for example, with her
knowledge ofriddles, is practically a magician; and her rare outburst of anger
against Cfichulainn in the course of their continuing marital life may be
compared to Draupadi's harangue against the Pfindavas. 93 Furthermore,
Emer and other Wooing heroines, as well as Draupadi herself, seem to serve as
helper figures for their respective suitors and husbands.
From the preceding discussion it will be apparent that although examples
for all three categories may be found in both the Indian and Irish heroic
literatures, Irish examples dominate categories 1 and 2. These categories, I '
would argue, are indicative of a Goddess figure who has maintained some of
her autochthonous power, even in the Indo-European reworking. Nor can any
Irish figure be found in category 3 who is as weak as the Indian Sitfi. Most
striking, too, among the Irish examples, is the hdstility with which these
heroines are regarded: even the relatively weak Wooing heroines are semidemonic.
Perhaps the basis ofthis hostility m a y best be understood by a consideration
ofthe figure of Medb in the Tdin. T h e Tdin makes fun of M e d b for her failure as
a warrior; also for her supposed deviousness and greed. Yet perhaps all this
satirization of Medb is in itself an indication of its own reverse side: an
admiration of Medb, even a fear of her. Until her ultimate failure, at least,
Medb is a powerful figure, a leader of armies, a ruler of men. The best
indication of all that the epic composers are in awe of Medb and what she
represents is the fact that they are not able to involve her in a bride-stealing
scenario. (In this respect she differs greatly from her co-inhabitor ofcategory
2, Amba.) Thus cattle raiding, not bride stealing, remains the major subject of
the Tdin, her stow; Goddess and cattle are divided from one another. Strong,
yet not too strong to satirize: this is the position of the Goddess in the Irish
heroic literature. T h e Goddess of Indian epic literature is a weaker character.
One must conclude that the Indo-European ideology has taken over more
strongly in India than in Ireland. 9~
T h e preceding discussion has centered upon the humanized version of the

Cattle Raidingand Bride Stealing


Goddess as leading lady in Indo-European heroic literature. It is noteworthy

that this literature also affords some glimpses of the Goddess in her divine
form, as incorporated into the Indo-Europeanized pantheons which provide
back-drops for the various epics and sagas. In tile Indian and Irish contexts,
these glimpses corroborate the findings presented here. Typically Indian is
Indr~ni, Indra's wife, who when solicited by Nahusa, who has stolen Indra's
kingdom and thinks he deserves his wife, resists approximately as much as
Draupadi does in the same situation: she trembles and laments, yet ultimately
helps Indra effect a plan (of his, not hers) to topple the enemy. 95 Typically
Irish is the Morrfgan, who threatens Cfichulainn in the forms of eel, wolf, and
cow because he refuses her sexual advances: powerful, but an object ofscorn. 96
One may now ask the following question: does the stronger Goddess figure of
Irish, as opposed to Indian, heroic literature indicate that at the time this
literature was composed Irish women enjoyed a higher social position or more
power than their Indian counterparts? One may only speculate upon the
answer to this question. In so doing, one finds it to be divisible into two halves,
which I shall discuss separately in this section ofmy paper.
First, does a society's recognition of a strong Goddess figure necessarily
imply that it accords a position of power to its women? Here the answer must
be negative, insofar as many exceptions to such a rule may be cited. In fact, the
clearest exception is India itself. As Indian society developed in the post-epic
period, the Goddess figure flourished; for example, as the wa?rior Devi and as
R~dhfi, Krsna's new favourite. Veneration of cattle continued to characterize
Hinduism'. ~7"Tile old ideology of Sovereignty was mirrored in the burgeoning
image of any given Goddess as the ~akti (power) of her spouse-God. But by
most standards, Indian women did not enjoy the same high status. Noteworthy, for example, is their lack of-independence in classical Indian drama and
dramatic theory, which apportions all heroines among the categories of'one's
own' (the wife of t h e hero), 'another's,' and 'common property'
(courtesans). 9a One may even suggest that the Goddess was able to attract
unalloyed praise precisely because mortal women had ceased to be much of a
threat to men. 99
This point brings us to the second half of the original question: were the
women of Ireland in fact more powerful than those of India in the period under
discussion? Here, I believe, an affirmative answer is indicated. Firstly, historians tend to support such a contention regarding the Celtic world in gen'eral,
largely on the basis of reports, including reports of female warriors, from
travellers who went there during Roman timesJ ~176
Secondly, Irish saga's
attitude of mingled hostility arid awe towards its Goddess heroines reflects
more than an Indo-European reaction against the autochthonous religions: it


Ruth Katz Arabagian

reflects hostility and awe towards women in general. This deep-seated emotion suggests that women were really threatening in Irish society: that they
enjoyed a certain power.
This power is perhaps reflected in Irish saga's recognition of the possibility
ofelopement among m,'irried women. Indian epic knows no such t h e m e - - n o t ,
at least, in connection with its humanized c h a r a c t e r s - - n o r can it conceive of
its heroines consorting with their captors. Draupadi, as mentioned earlier
(Part I I I ) , remains with her husbands, although the story patter n might be
better served by her loss along with that ofthe kingdom. Site's chastity while in
captivity is mythically guaranteed by a curse, but even so the gossip of the
people leads to her being rejected by Rfima in the end (she then retires to a
c h a s t e m o n a s t i c life), t~ Anyone who consorts with a married woman in
Indian epic is seen as a devil who must be purged. Irish saga, on the other
hand, evidences admiration for the lovers ofits Elopement heroines.
Ireland also places much greater emphasis tlmn does India on a bride's own
choice of her groom, as witness the figures of Medb and the Elopement
heroines. In India, by epic times the vestigal notion of the sva.yamvara (see
above, Part I I I ) is giving way (even where the old name is preserved) to an
heroic bow-bending contest. 1~ Here, too, one observes the sva)'amvara succumbing to a bride-stealing theme: Ambfi, Ambikfi, and Ambfilikfi are stolen "
by Bhisma from what was to be their svayamvara, and Krsna recommends the
theft of Subhadrfi to Arjuna in the following terms:
The baron's marriage is the bridegroom choice [Jva.yamvara] . . . But that is
dubious . . . since one's own sentiments have no influence on the outcome.
Forcible abduction is also approved as a ground ofmarriage for barons who are
champions, as the Law-wise know. Abduct nay beautiful sister by force, for who
would know her designs at a bridegroom choice? I~
T h e deterioration of the.svayamvara marks at the least a deterioration in the
ritual position of women in India under Indo-European domination. Whatever its Indo-European roots (see above, Part I I I ) , the notion of the bride's
self-choice also seems to reflect tile Goddess's self-choice of a spouse in the
pre-Indo-European period. Such a self-choice, reflected in the activities of the
Indo-European Prosperity/Sovereignty figure, x~ is suggestive of matriliny:
the woman is the donor of the power to the man. At least one humanized
heroine of Irish heroic l i t e r a t u r e - - M e d b - - s t i U claims such p o w e r ) ~ In
India, the idea has been modified seriously. Even the heroine of a true
svayamvara does not make her chosen husband the king of the realm, since
kingship, in these cases, is patrilineal. The heroines of false svayamvaras (i.e.,
bow-bending contests or bride stealings) are, ofcourse, even more caught up in
Finally, Irish saga presents a much greater variety offemale characters than

Cattle Raiding and Bride Stealing


does Indian epic: besides those already mentioned, some of the most memorable are the warrior-teacher Sc~thach, the warrior Aife, and Medb's seductive
daughter Finnabair. Evidently, the options open to women are conceived
more broadly in the Irish context than the Indian.
The indicators just outlined suggest that the position of women in the
Ireland which produced heroic literature may have been superior to that of
women in epic India. Ifsuch is indeed the case, it would seem that where the
Indo-European ideology took over more completely, the position of women
declined more radically. In this connection, it is necessary to turn once again
to the relatively high position of women reflected in 'classic' Indo-European
literature, mentioned in Part i l i , above. One can only suggest that the
deterioration of women's status was not inherently Indo-European, but was
rather an insidious result of the Indo-European/authochthonous encounter;
something related to the clash of differing cultures(one valuing the feminine
more highly than the other), the master-slave relationship of conqueror and
conquered, and the pride attendant upon military victory.
I have suggested in the preceding discussion that the Indo-European takeover
of India and Ireland resulted in both ideological and social changes, conduc-'
ing to the degeneration 0fthe female position in these areas. In concluding this
paper, I would like first to emphasize that all points made with regard to
Indian and Irish heroic literature might be paralleled with examples from
elsewhere in the Indo-European world. Helen has, in facl, already been
m e n t i o n e d (Part III) as a Greek parallel to Draupadi and Sitfi. It is perhaps
less obvious, but equally true, that tile story of Penelope is the story of a stolen
or nearly-stolen bride. Nor is Helen the only stolen woman in tile Iliad; for the
w r a t h of Achilles is set in motion by the thefts of Chryseis and Briseis.
An even closer parallel to Sitfi, stolen by a demon, is Andromeda of the
G r e e k Perseus and Andromeda legend. Androfiaeda, in turn, draws our attention to the fairy-tale theme of the princess threatened by a dragon, whom the
hero must rescueJ ~ The female version of t h e d r a g o n in fairy tales is the
fairy-tale witch, well exemplified by, among others, the Russian figure of Baba
Yaga. It is not surprising, then, that Baba Yaga's initiatory hut in the forest
closely parallels the habitation of Celtic Sovereignty.
Such Greek heroines as Ariadne 1~ and Medea offer parallels to Celtic
Wooing heroines. Note, too, tile interesting case ofthe daughters of Leukippos:
Leukippos... a descendant of Perseus, had two daughters, Hilaeira and
Phoebe, who were betrothed to the two sons ofAphareus, Leukippos' brother.
But Kastor and Polydeukes carried them off. Either for this reason, or as a result
of a quarrel during a cattle-raid, the sons of Aphareus . . . attacked them. 108
[italics mine]


Ruth Katz Arabagian

O r the case oriole:

Either before or after his marriage with Deianeira, Herakles fell violently in love
with Iole, daughter of Eurytos king of Oichalia. Her father and brothers,
however, would not let him have her, and to make matters worse, Herakles in a
fit ofmadness, hurled one of them, Iphitos, from the walls of Tiryns, whither he
had come to look for some lost cattle . . . . Finally, he set out against and took
Oichalia, and carried off Iole . . . . 109 [italics mine]
Another example of a Greek stolen bride is, of course, Persephone, the dying
and rising Goddess par excellence (see Part VI). She provides a dimension which
has not been noted in either the Indian or Irish examples discussed in this
paper: through her example, the grief experienced by an abducted unmarried
woman and her mother is expressed. In comparison with the stories ofother
bride-stealing heroines, that of Persephone shows itself to be or reflect a female
(autochthonous?) reaction to the bride-stealing scenario. In other IndoEuropean cases, the unmarried woman's fury may be explained in a different
manner. T o cite just one example, Skj~ilf of the Icelandic Ynglinga Saga, a
heroine nearly as powerful as Medb herself, kills her abductor not just to get
away from him, but also, it appears, to avenge the murder of her father during
the abduction. I l0 The case of Skjfilfleads to the examination ofother Germanic examples; thus Joseph Fontenrose on just one branch of that tradition:
in the Nibelung sources every step ofthe way can be seen, from the beautiful
but wicked demoness, the Vti'lkyrie, who lures the hero to his doom through the
demoness who fails in love with the hero, or who is fortzed by him, the Valkyrie
Brynhild, to the dragon-rapt maiden, Krimhild, whom the hero rescues.~lt

Yugoslav epic likewise presents many examples ofbride stealing or attempted

bride stealing.llZ And the celebrated abduction of tile Sabine women by
Romulus and his followers serves as an example out ofRoman 'history'.ll3
Some of the figures mentioned here have been identified explicitly by
scholars as humanized Goddesses.ll4 I trust that the analysis offered in the
preceding discussion has indicated the further demotion implicit in such
Some Indo-European parallels having been noted, one also notes that the
parallels do not end here. Turning to the Semitic world, one observes tile
following: Ti'~mat and Kingu of the Babylonian Creation Epic are remarkably
similar to Medb and Ailill, Hebrew Hochmah provides a close parallel to
Indian Vfic; 115 Deborah seems to reflect tile superimposition of warrior
themes upon a 'Mother' figure; ll6 the pre-Islamic razzia (basically', a camel
raid) parallels the Indo-European cattle raid. ! 17 Abduction is not so central a
theme here (though note the stories of Sarah [Genesis XII. 11-20 and Genesis
XX] 118 and Rebecca [Genesis X X V I . 7-11] and the tragic tale of Dinah
[Genesis IX. 34]), l l9 but the same transition from dying and rising god to hero

CaUt~Raiding and Bride Stealing

! 25

god found in the Indo-European world may be traced in such Semitic figures
as Marduk and Baal. 12~In this connection, one type of female figure appears
in the Semitic world who is little represented in Indo-European heroic literature: the female who helps the hero not merely by advice or moral support, but
by active fighting, the best example being Baal's sister Anat. 121
It is possible that the Indo-European and Semitic ideologies were originally
one; and mutual influence is certain. But I would like to suggest that the trends
outlined here are not limited to the geographic areas focused upon in this
paper; rather, they are universally human and might be discovered in all
regions through which pastoralists with warrior ideologies have m o v e d - - a n d
that means world-wide. It appears to be a question of similar ecological
conditions creating similarly patterned societies and mythologies, z22 NonIndo-European examples, therefore, may shed light upon the questions raised
with regard to Indo-European cases in this paper. Very helpful in this respect
is Peggy Reeves Sanday's study Female Power and Male Dominance: On the Origins
of Sexual Inequality. Some of her observations relate directly to the issue at hand,
for example:
One wonders how often in human history groups of migrating males have
endeavored to find a new place for themselves. The oppression ofwomen may be
an outcome of taking wives in the new land and regarding them as part of the
force they must continue to control in order to survive. Or, men and women may
migrate together into an arid environment that forces people to concentrate their
ritual energies on finding and renewing the sources ofgrowth. Once a stance of
control and manipulation is adopted, it is not easily abandoned. 123
Meggitt suggests that the Enga [of New Guinea] equate femininity with sexuality and peril because wives are acquired from neighboring groups who are in
competition for the same resources. The Enga have a saying, 'We marry the
people we fight.'t24
Azande history begins with the exodus ofthe Ambomu, who must have been so
organized that conquest and incorporation were possible. The evidence suggests
that the Ambomu moved more as a group of warriors tban as related families.
They migrated with the male and not the female part of their aboriginal culture.
Azande women are more like slaves and enemies than partners in a similar
cultural tradition. This is understandable if the Ambomu migrated as a group of
hunters who were forced to learn agriculture and to take wives from the peoples
they conquered, t25

The observations just quoted address the question of the encounter between
autochthons and immigrants. O f equal interest'are Sanday's comments regarding the migrating groups themselves. In sum:


RuthKatz Arabagian
9 in favourable environments and in autochthonous cultural conditions, sexual equality (or symmetry) flourishes, whereas in unfavorable environments or
in the face ofcuhural disruption (measured by the experience of recent migration), mythical male dominance or sexual inequality prevailsJ 26

Citing the examples of the Comanches and Cheyennes of the American Great
Plains, Sanday also suggests that tile cultural antecedents of a given migrating
group may be quite influential with regard to that group's attitude towards
women: the status of Comanche women was very low,127 while that of Cheyenne women was somewhat higher, 128 presumably because tile Comanches
were orginally hunters and gatherers, 129 tile Cheyennes originally farmers,
with 'well-developed female social and ritual principles. '13~ (Thus, the
Cheyennes combined the traits of autochthons and migrants within one
group.) 131
T h e Plains Indians deserve further investigation, as one group which parallels the Vedic Indo-Aryans in m a n y ways. These Indians were horse herders,
who used their horses to hunt buffalo. Their culture was thus a cross between a
hunting culture and a herding culture. T h e y had not domesticated buffalo
(cattle), nor was the domestication of the horse their own invention: h o r s e s
had been brought by Europeans, revolutionizing the lives of the Native
Americans in the seventeenth century. It may be suggested, therefore, tlmt the
Plains Indians represented a less advanced stage of economic development
than the Indo-Aryans, but were tending in the same direction. (Their natural
development was, of course, thwarted by the encroachment of European
It is striking that horse and buffalo play the same role in Plains Indian
culture as cattle play alone in the Indo-European context. 132 O t h e r similarities between the two cultures include the constant raiding activity (horse
stealing being the primary raiding objective of the Plains Indians)133 and the
warrior ethic, more or less.demeaning to women. It is striking, too, ahhough
not surprising, that the Feminine serves Plains Indian heroic lore in much the
same way as she serves Indo-European heroic literature: often in league with
the autochthons, she is the hero's foil, the Other. M a n y Indo-European heroic
motifs are paralleled in the folklore ofthe Plains Indians: in particular, quests
of various types. 134 One even finds a myth of the primordial freeing of the
buffalo by tile culture hero, just as I n d r a freed the cows. 135 As in the IndoEuropean world, so too a m o n g the Plains Indians, bride stealing has been
94ssimilated into themes ofcattle raiding. Compare these two passages:
The Comanche taking a guarded horse was a ghost. There are instances on
record of Comanches stealing hobbled and guarded mounts ofsoldiers. Colonel
Dodge says that a Comanche could crawl into a 'bivouac where a dozen men
were sleeping, each with a horse tied to his wrist by the lariat, cut a rope witbin
six feet of the sleeper, and get away with the horse without waking a s o u l . '136

Cattle Raiding and Bride Stealing


'Tonight, I'll go in to see what I can do,' said the second Comanche. When the
lights were out in the cabin, he crept forward. He entered the little house and
found the rancher and his wife sleeping together in their bed. With all the stealth
he would have used in untethering a picketed horse before the lodge ofan enemy
chief, he lifted the sleeping women from the side of her unsuspecting husband.
Without waking her, he brought her to the side of his friend. Together they took
her back to the main camp. The People said this was the greatest coup of all. No
Comanche had ever done anything like that before! 137
I n Plains I n d i a n m y t h and legend, bride stealing often entails the abduction
of a w o m a n by an animal. Such animal tales are paralleled in I n d o - E u r o p e a n
popular lore; 138 however, I n d o - E u r o p e a n heroic literature has, for the most
part, adopted h u m a n characters (the fairy-tale atmosphere o f the Rdmd.j'ana
providing an isolated exception to this rule). It m a y perhaps be suggested that
the Plains Indian tales show more kinship with a hunting and gathering milieu
than a pastoral milieu. It is noteworthy that the same structural slot as is filled
by the autochthons in I n d o - E u r o p e a n heroic literature is often filled here by
the hunted animal, particularly, Of course, the buffalo. T h u s one hears of
abduction by buffalo 'husbands '139 and of a 'piqued buffalo-wife'--in this case,
forcibly married by a human m a n - - w h o cannot long be contained, and eventually runs away. 14~ There are als0 animal husbands of other types, the most
interesting for the purposes ofthis paper being serpents, who might be seen as
r e p r e s e n t i n g - - i f one were to d r a w parallels with other parts o f the ,;vorld
- - a g r i c u l t u r a l i s t a u t o c h t h o n s J 41 (V..rtra himself was a serpent , ahi.) Sometimes a w o m a n cheerfully submits to her a b d u c t o r (seducer). 142 Sometimes
she is able to escape from him by her own devices. 143 At other times, she must
depend upon heroic a n d / o r animal a i d ) 44
I f t h e I n d o - E u r o p e a n example m a y be taken as a model, one would expect
to find that u n d e r p a s t o r a l / n o m a d i c influence, the Goddess did not die out
completely, but merely was transformed. 145 This expectation is fulfilled even
in the case o f the misogynous C v m a n c h e s :
Next, after the sun, the earth was worshipped as a Mother because it was the
receptacle and producer ofall that sustains life. The earth was thought ofas the
mother of man and animals) 46
Tile w o m e n in some o f the Plains I n d i a n tales m a y be a goddess too; certainly
this applies to tile piqued buffalo wife: 'She led them to a herd of buffalo and
they m a d e a rich killing. T h e y were aware that the strange w o m a n was the
cause o f t h e i r success...,147 O n e also notes a matriliny/sovereignty motif
a m o n g the Plains Indians:
M o o n e y . . . cites a Cheyenne myth attributing tl~e creation ofthe tribal council
to a captive woman. Her husband had been a chief in her former tribe and she
taught the Cheyennes its governmental organization. Grinnell... records a


Ruth Katz Arabagian

version in which a Cheyenne girl is taken captive by the Assiniboines. After a
number of years she returns to the Cheyennes and tells them how the Assiniboines govern themselves; the Cheyennes, who are impressed with her account,
adopt the Assiniboine system. The fact is, however, that the Assiniboines never
had a tribal council anything like that ofthe Cheyennes. 148

At a later stage ofreligious development, however, the figure of the Goddess

became so weak that official religion relinquished her almost entirely; this,
worldwide, is theJudaeo-Christian-Islamic stage of male-oriented monotheism. Was this monotheism simply a further development o f the nomadic
ideology, or does it represent a completely new development? T h e fact that the
Pentateuch is built upon an 'epic' base would serve as an argument in favour of
the former assertion. 149 On the other hand, the fact that in most instances
monotheism had to be imposed artificially from the outside argues in favour of
the second assertion. With regard to the position of women in this context,
ttie following hypothesis m a y be advanced: tile recognition of a powerful
Goddess may not guarantee a powerful position to women in a given society,
but the exclusive recognition of a male God appears to guarantee that women
will be weak. The reaction of Christianized heroic literature (for example, tile
chansons de geste and tile Arthurian romances) to the further retreat of the
Goddess under Christianity must remain a topic for future research.
R U T H K A T Z A R A B A G I A N is an Assistant Professor in the Department of
Religion, Florida State University, where she is currently engaged in research
on Indian religions and W o m e n and Religion.

Department of Religion, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL 32306, USA.

1 I follow the terminology used by H. Munro Chadwick and Nora Chadwick in The
Growth of Literature, 3 vols. (1932-40; rpt. Cambridge: University Press, 1968), in
which the term epic refers to heroic poetry and saga to heroic literature in prose.
2 Throughout this discussion I use the term 'autochthonous' to refer to those who
were alreadysettled in an area when the Indo-Europeans entered it, no matter
where they might have come from originally.
3 See, for example, R.g Veda 1.11.5, 1.32.12, I1.14.3, 1II.30.10, etc. etc. Note that
other Vcdic gods are also portrayed as cattle thieves occasionally, for example,
Agni and Soma in R.g Veda 1.93.4 and Brhaspati in .Rg Veda X.68.
4 Bruce Lincoln, Priests, Warriors,and Cattle: A Study in the Ecology of Religions (Berkeley, University of California Press, 1981), pp. 7-8.
5 Examples are numerous. For instance:
The Heifer hath brought forth the Strong, the Mighty, the
unconquerable Bull, the furious Indra.
The Mother left her unlicked Calf to wafider, seeking himself
the path that he would follow. (Rg Veda IV. 18.10)

Cattle Raiding and Bride Stealing


O tawny Bull, thus showing forth thy nature, as neither

to be wroth, O God, nor slay us,
Here, Rudra, listen to our invocation. Loud may we speak
with heroes i n assembly. (R.g Veda 11.33.15)


The Rudras' Mother, Daughter of the Vasus, centre of nectar,

the Adityas' Sisterm
To folk who understand will I proclaim it--injure not Aditi,
the Cow, the sinless. (Rg Veda VIII.90.15)
(As translated by Ralph T. H. Griffith in The Hymns of the R gveda: Translated with a
Popular Commentaly, 4th ed., Chowkhambha Sanskrit Series, Vol. 35, 2 vols..
[Varanasi: Chowkhambha Sanskrit Series Office, 1963].)
See, for example, Arthur Anthony Macdonell, Vedic Mythology (1898; rpt. Delhi,
etc.: Motilal Banarsidass, 1974), pp. 59-60. The connection is at least metaphorical; to quote just one example, R.g Veda 1.61.10 (trans. Griffith):
Through his own strength Indra with bolt ofthunder cut
piece-meal Vrtra, drier up ofwaters.
He let the floods go free, like cows imprisoned, for glory,
with a heart inclined to bounty.
For detailed discussion of this issue, see A. Venkatasubbiah, 'On lndra's Winning
of Cows and Waters,' Zeitschri~ der Deutschen Morgenl~ndischen Gesellschafi, 115
(1965), 120-33.
Lines 17ft.:
Born with the dawning, at mid-day he played on the lyre, and in the evening
he stole the cattle of far-shooting Apollo on the fourth day of the month; for on
that day queenly Maia bare him. So soon as he had leaped from his mother's
heavenly womb, he lay not long waiting in his holy cradle, but he sprang up and
sought the oxen of Apollo . . . .
The Sun was going down beneath the earth towards Ocean with his horses
and chariot when Hermes came hurrying to the shadowy mountains of Pieria,
where the divine cattle of the blessed gods had their steads and grazed the
pleasant unmown meadows. Of these the Son of Maia, the sharp-eyed slayer of
Argus then cut off from the herd fifty loud-lowing kine, and drove them
straggling-wise across a sandy place, turning their hoof-prints aside.
(As translated by H. G. Evelyn.-White in Hesiod, the Homeric Hymns and Homerica,
Loeb Classical Library [1914; rpt. Cambridge: Harvard University Press and
London: Heinemann , 1974], pp. 365-69.)
Brown, Norman O., Hermes the Thief; The Evolution of a Myth (1947; rpt. New York:
Vintage-Random House, 1969), p. 5.
Though if Lincoln is correct, even active raiding of the cattle ofothers was looked
upon as defensive rather than offensive, a fully justified repossession ofone's own
property (Priests, p. 132).
Mah~bh~rata IV.29-61. (all Mah~bhffrata references are to the Critical Edition.) See
Heino Gehrts, Mah~bh~rata: Das Geschehen und seine Bedeutung (Bonn: Bouvier
Verlag Herbert Grundmann, 1975), pp. 215, 222 If., for the suggestion that this
episode is modeled after the mock cattle raid which was one event in the Vedic
royal consecration ritual. Through this action, the king claimed 'the Indra power';
see Johannes Cornelis Heesterman, The Ancient Indian Royal Consecration: The Rffjas~ya Described According to the Yajus Texts and Annotated ('S-Gravenhage: Mouton,
1957), p. 129.


Ruth Katz Arabagian


Unless, indeed, tile Pfind.ava brothers' polyandrous marriage somehow identifies

them as non-Aryan; thus, for example, E. Washburn Hopkins, 7he Great Epic of
lndia: lts Character and Origin (New York: Scribner and London: Edward Arnold,
1902), pp. 376 and 400 and Johann Jakob Meyer, Sexual Life in Ancient lndia: A
Study in the Comparative tlistoo~ of lndian Culture (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1971),
p. 108. But compare Sadashiv A. Dange, 'Tile Pandava Riddle (Birth and Marriage in a New Light)',Journal of the University of Bombay, NS 26, No. 2 (1959), 176:
It is this confusion that has caused many scholars to doubt tile Aryan origin of
the Pfndavas; but on seeing clearly through the whole mist, we can understand
how ha'sty it is to call them non-Aryans . . . .
Dange argues that the Pfindava polygamy may be explained by the family's
peculiar political circumstances.
12 Rdmd.)'ana1.50 ft., etc. (All R~mfyana references are to the Critical Edition.) This
story is discussed by Lincoln in Priests, pp. 143 ft. Compare the story ofthe conflict
between RfimaJfimadagnya and Arjuna Kfirtavirya, Mahdbhdrata, I I I. 116. ! 9 ff.,

13 ThomasKinsella, The Tain: Translatedfrom the bish Epic Tdin Bd Cuailnge (1969; rpt.
London: Oxford University Press, 1975), p. 55.
14 For discussion ofsuch a substitution in tile Iranian tradition, see Lincoln, Priests,
pp. 108-09. That women and cattle are frequently grouped together as booty is
particularly clear from examples such as the following passage from the Tdin
(Kinsella, pp. 116-17):
Mac Roth came to Cfichulainn again and said they would give him the
noblest women and all tile milkless cattle out of their phmder if he would stop "
using his sling against them at n i g h t - - h e might kill as he chose by day.
"I can't agree to that," Cfichulainn said, "for if you take away the bondwomen our freewomen will have to take to the grinding-stones, and ifyou take
away our milch cows we would have to go without milk."
Mac Roth came to Cfichulainn again, and said tltcy would leave him instead
the bondwomen and tile milch cows.
"I can't agree to that either," Cfichulainn said, "for the men of UIstcr would
sleep with the bondwomen and beget slavish sons, and they would use the milch
cows for meat in the winter."
15 SeeMeyer, p. 77, n. l. The Md,:ava Dharma{dstra (l lI.24, 26) "speaks of marriage by
capture (rdks.asa marriage) as appropriate for the warrior class, although the very
name "rdks.asa'(demonic) suggi~sts some disapproval.
16 For an Indian example, see Lawrence A. Babb, The Divine ttierarchy: Popular
ltinduism in Central lndia (New York and l.ondon: Columbia University Press,
1975), p. 85. For the situation in Ireland, see Alwyn Rees and Brinley Rees, Celtic
Heritage: Ancient Tra'dition in Ireland and Wales (London: Thames and Iludson,
1961), pp. 267-68.
17 See Bhagwat Saran Upadhyaya, Women in R gveda (New Delhi: S. Chand, 1974),
pp. 81-82, 117-18. But the R g Veda also suggests a distrust of Aryan-ddsa
l i e gained possession of the Sun and Horses, Indra obtained
the Cow who feedeth many.
Treasure ofgold he won; he smote tile Dasyus, and gave
protection to the Aryan col0ur. (.Rg Veda 1II.34.9, trans. Griffith)
18 Macdonnell, p. 65. Hymn X.85, the marriage hymn for Sfiryfi, is the single major
exception to the R.g Veda's neglect ofquestions oflove and marriage. With regard

Cattle Raiding and Bride Stealing



to the Rg Veda's lack of interest in the feminine, two additional facts may be cited.
F i r s t l y , ' . . . no desire for the birth of a daughter is ever expressed in the entire
range of the .Rgveda' (Upadhyaya, p. 42). Secondly, the greatest number of hymns
dedicated to any goddess in the .Rg Veda is twenty, to Us as, goddess ofdawn; this
compared to approximately two hundred fifty hymns to Indra, two hundred to the
fire god, Agni!
R.g Veda 1.112.19, 1.116.1, I.I i 7.20, X.39.7, X.65.2.
Trans. Griffith.
Upadhyaya, pp. 54-56.
R.g Veda 1.118.5, 1.119.5.
Macdonell. D. 124.
See, for example, ~atapatha Ili,2.1.18--24. Even within this BrS.hmana,
one also finds variations of this theme; for example, the struggle for V~.c becomes a
struggle betwi~en the gods and tile gandharvas, rather than the demons (I I Note the misogynous ending of this version:
The Gandharvas recited the Vcdas to her, saying, "See ho';v we know it, see how
we know it!"
9The gods then created tile lute and sat playing and singing, saying, "Thus we
will sing to thee, thus we will amuse thee!" She turned to the gods; but, in truth,
she turned to them vainly, since she turned away from those, engaged in
praising and praying, to dance and song. Wherefore even to this day women are
given to vain things: for it was on this wise that Vfik turned thereto, and other
women do as she didl And hence it is to him who dances and sings that they most
readily take a fancy.
(As translated by Julius Eggeling in Satapatha-Brdhmana According to the Text of the
Mddhyandina School, Tile Sacred Books of the East, V01s. 12, 26, 41, 43, and 44
[Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1882-1900].)
See AIf Hiltebeitel, The Ritual of Battle: Krishna in the Mah8bhSrata (Ithaca and
London: Cornell University Press, 1976), pp. 154-66. The mffjor epic references
are Mahdbhdrata XII.124.54-60 and XII.215-21.
Mah8bMrata 1.96.11 (as translated by J.A.B. van Buitenen in The Mah8bhSrata,
Books I-V, 3 vols. [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1973-78]); compare
MahJbh~rata 1.211-12. Note the interesting connection beween Subhadr~ and
cattle: when Arjuna brings Subhadrfi home, his first wife, Draupadi, is consumed
with jealousy ;
Hurriedly, Arjuna had Subhadr~, who ~as wearing a red silk shirt, change
into a cow maid's dress. The woman looked even more beautiful in it. When she
came to the main house, the glorious Bhadrrt of the wide copper-red eyes greeted
Prth?t [Arjuna's mother], and then, her face shining like the full moon, hastened
to greet Draupadi: "I am Bhadrfi, your serving maid!" she said. (I.213.17-19,
trans, van Buitenen.)
It is mentioned briefly in Mah~bhdrata III.13.28, 102, V.47.68, etc.
Mahdbh6rata 1.96 and V.170 ft. This abduction and the abductions of Subhadr~
and Rukmini are the best known cases of this sort in the Mah6bhdrata, but lesser
examples may also be cited, notably, Duryodhana's theft of a bride with Karna's
aid, in Mah~bhdrata XI 1.4.
For the winning of Draupadi, see Mahfibhfirata I. 176--81. For that ofSita, Rfimfi.)'ana


According to at least one edition ofthe Mah~bMrata, Subhadrfi is so pleased at the













Ruth Katz Arabagian

prospect ofmarrying Arjuna that she herself drives the chariot in which he abduct.,
her! (see Meyer, pp. 75-76, n. 2).
See Krsna's defense of Arjuna'a abduction ofSubhadrfi (Mah~bMrata 1.213.2 ff?j
As Arjuna's maternal cousin, Subhadr-5. is, in fact, particularly well suited tc
becoming his wife, by tile rules of cross-cousin marriage (which, however, were
later discredited in India; see P. V. Kane, History of Dharm~astra [Andent and
Medieval Religious and Civil Law in lndia], 2nd ed., Government Oriental Series,
Class B, No. 6, 5 vols. in 8 [Poona: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute,
1968-77], especially II, 458-63).
SeeMah~bhffratalI.58.31 f., the story ofthe Pfindavas' near loss ofDraupadi in the
great Mahdbh~rata dice game.
See, for example, Mah~bhdrata V.80.
Mahabh~rata1II.248-56; compare III.154, IV.13-21.
RdmS_)'anaIV.8 IT.
Compare theaccusations lodged against Si~'upfila by Krsna, Mah~bh~rataI1.42.10 I
Kinsella, pp. 8-20. On the sons of Uisliu as cattle raiders, as well as bride stealers,
see Kinsella, p. 13:
But still the men of UIstcr pursued them until they crossed the sea to the land of
They settled there in the waste places. When the mountain game failed them
they turned to take the people's cattle.
Kinsella, p. 19.
Rees, Chapter 14. With regard to 'Trystan and Esyllt,' tile Rces brothers arc
evidently referring to the 'reluctant lover' aspect of the story, on which see, for
example, Sigmund Eisner, The Tristan Legend: A Study in Sources (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1969), Chapter 7.
Rees, 293-9-I:
The sympathy rests with the elopers, and great pains are taken to establish the
hero's innocence. He is the victim of a destiny which works through such media
as an accidentally drunk love-potion, the inadvertent uncovering of the lovespot on his forehead, or the fortuitous concurrence of his colours in a homely
winter's scene.
Besides, the hero is often forced to comply by tile heroine, as is Noisiu by Derdriu.
Rots, pp. 271 ft.
Rees, pp. 271-73.
Rees, pp. 262 ft.
Kinsella, p. 37.
Kinsella, p. 27.
Recs, p. 226. Complexity ofcharacterization accounts for the fact that one may in
some cases also feel a certain sympathy for tile bereaved parent: O!wen's father,
after all, objects to her marriage to Kulhwch only because of a curse which says
that he will die when his daughter marries (Rees, p. 263). Nonetheless, even his
own daughter does not let this consideration (which, ofcourse, is secondary for the
story pattern as a whole) stop her from advising her suitor regarding the appropriate means of winning her. In Emer's case, the father is clearly shown t o b e a
no-good, who has tried to kill Cfichulainn.
Lord, AlbertB., TheSingerofTales(1960;rpt. New York: Atheneum, 1973),p. 186.
Mah6bhdrata 1.61.95, etc. On the mythic complexities inherent in such an identification, see, especially, Hiltebeitel, pp. 144-47.

Cattle Raiding and Bride Stealing


50 Rrm~_yana,books I and VII, for example 1.14-15.

R6m~yanaVI 1.45.15.
52 For example, in the words ofR~vana, Rffmff.)'ana III.44.15-16:
Who are you, O one with golden lustre, dressed
in yellow silk, like a lotus pond bearing
a beautiful garland of lotuses?
Are you Hri (Modesty), ~ri (Prosperity), Kirti (Fame),
beautiful Laksmi, or an apsar~ (nymph), O beautiful one,
or Bhfiti (Welfare), O fine-hipped women, or self-willed Rati (pleasure)?
53 Rrma.yanaVII, App. I, No. 3, lines 219 ft.
54 Mah~bh~rataI, 566* (cited by Hiltebeitel, p. 145).
55 See Sir Monier Monier-Williams, A Sanskrit-English Dictionary Etymologically and
Philologically Arranged with Special Referenceto CognateIndo-European Languages (1899;
rpt. Delhi, etc.: Motilal Banarsidass, 1979), p. 882 (entry: Rukmini).
56 See, for example, Sabatino Moscati, The Face of the Ancient Orient: A Panorama of
Near Eastern Civilizations in Pre-Classical Times (1960; rpt. Garden City: AnchorDoubleday, 1962), p. 219, regarding the Canaanite goddess Anat. Compare
Helmer Ringgren, Religions of the Ancient Near East, trans. John Sturdy (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1973), p. 143: 'She appears as the sister of Baal, but it is not
impossible that this word, as in, for example, the Song of Songs, has the meaning of
'beloved' or 'bride'.'
57 See, for example, Hiltebeitei, p. 175, referring to Coomaraswamy, Krappe, the
Rees brothers, and Dum~zil.
58 For the strongest defense ofthis view, see Alexander H. Krappe, 'The Sovereignty
of Erin,' AmericanJournal of Philology, 63 (1942), 444-54.
59 ~atapatha Brdhmana II.4.4.6, trans. Eggeling. This passage is mentioned by Hiltebeitel, p. 149, citing Jan Gonda. Compare ~atapatha Br~hmana XIII.2.6.7, regarding the horse sacrifice:
It is the wives that anoint (the horse), for they--to wit, (m~ny) wives--are a
form of prosperity (or social eminence); it is thus prosperity he confers on him
(the Sacrificer), and neither fiery spirit, nor energy, nor cattle, nor prosperity
pass away from him.
60 See for example, Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, 'On the Loathly Bride,' in Roger
Lipsey, ed., Coomaraswamy, I, Bollingen Series No. 89 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1977), 353-74. Coomaraswamy traces this figure, in the Indian
tradition, all the way back to the Vedic figure of Apala (see .Rg Veda VIII.80).
61 I would like here to point to one detail, in addition to the many noted by various
scholars, in support ofthe Prosperity-Sovereignty identification: the number five.
Flaith, in two of her best known tales (the story of Niali and the story oftbe sons of
D~iire), chooses her future favorite from among five brothers (Rees, pp. 73-74),
while the number of Draupadi's husbands is also five. That the number five is
indeed significant is indicated by its survival in the Wife of Bath's Prologue of the
Canterbury Tales: there, the Wife of Bath, who then goes on to recount a version of
the loathly bride story (indicating her connection with the Sovereignty motif),
boasts ofher five (in this case serial) husbands, and 'Welcome the sixte, whenthat
evere he s h a l l . . . '
62 Note the parallel with the adventures of Draupadi and Sit], already cited above.
63 Kinsella, pp. 8-10. The closest parallel in the 3lah~bh6rata is the omen at the birth
of the Kaurava leader, Duryodhana: ' . . . there was a sudden outcry on all hori-








Ruth Katz Arabagian

zons of gruesome beasts that feed on carrion and of jackals of unholy howls'
(I.107.28, trans, van Buitenen).
Kinsella, p. 53.
Compare the words of~ri in Mah~bhhrata XIII.I 1; 6 ft. For thorough discussion of
Medb as sovereignty, see Georges Dumfzil, The Destiny of a King, trans. AIf
Hiltebeitel (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1973), pp. 83-107 and M.)'theet
ipopee [II]: T)pes ~piques indo-europ&ns: un h~ros, un sorrier, un roi (Paris: Gallimard,
197 !), pp. 316-77. Two striking points made by Dum6zil in these writings have to
do with the connection between Medb and the Indian M~dhavi (the names of both
referring to the intoxicating attraction inherent in royal power) and the fact that
more than one Medb/Sovereignty figure is to be found in tile Irish literature.
Kinsella, pp. 53-54.
The broader meaning of this figure is expressed by Christine Downing in The
Goddess: Mythological Images of the Feminine (New York: Crossroad, 1981), pp.
12-13, as follows:
To see the goddesses only as fertility goddesses is to see them as they were
viewed in a later period. Recovery of the full scope of the goddesses' power
during the period in which their worship predominated reveals that, like any
primordial archetype, the Great Mother provokes profound ambivalence: her
cruelty is no less salient than her benevolence. The nurturing goddess is also the
devouring one. In the world of the goddesses, creation-and-destruction and
feast-and-famine were seen as two phases ofthe one ever-recurring inescapable
pattern, not as irreconcilable opposites. Perhaps it is the greatest gift of the
goddess to teach us that good and evil, life and death, are inextricably intertwined.
SeeMarijaGimbutas, GoddessesandGodsofOldEurope, 6500to3500B.C.:M),thsand
Cult hnages (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982), pp. 216 ft.
Thus, an analytical psychological interpretation of I t .the Goddess
stresses her
simultaneous attractiveness and repulsiveness; see, pnmanly, Erich Neumann,
The Great Mother: An Analysis of the Archetype, trans. Ralph Mannheim, 2nd ed.,
Bollingen Series, No. 47 (1963; rpt. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1974),
particularly Chapters I0-11.
On gri as pre-Indo-European, see, for example, Suvira Jaiswal, The Origin and
Development of Vaisnavism (Vaisnavism from 200 B.C. to A.D. 500) (Delhi: Munshiram
Manoharlal, 1967), pp..90 ff.
The archaeological sites of the Indus Valley Civilization are rich in goddess
For example; the major deities ofthe Hindu tradition, Visnu (particularly incarnate as Krsna), ~iva, and the Goddess, all clearly combine Indo-European with
pre-Indo-European characteristics. The same claim may be made for the ancient
Greek deities, as is asserted, for example, by W. K. C. Guthrie, throughout his The
Greeks and Their Gods (1950, rpt. Boston: Beacon Press, 1955). The Rees brothers
and others argue for the Indo-European component of Celtic religion; its autochthonous element is embodied in the continuing sfdh presence of the Tuatha D~
See Margaret Stutley, Ancient Indian Magic and Folklore: An Introduction (Boulder:
Great Eastern, 1980), Chapter 3: 'Charms relating mainly to women.'
The Goidels or Gaels, thus clearly Indo-Europeans; see Myles Dillon and Nora K.
Chadwick, The Celtic Realms (New York: New American Library, 1967), pp. 5-6,
citing T. F. O'Rahilly, and Proinsias MacCana, Celtic Mythology: London, etc.:
Hamlyn, 1970),p. 64.

Cattle Raiding and Bride Stealing


75 MacCana, p. 64.
76 Note the bawdy references to Fergus's 'sword' throughout the Tdin (see Kinsella,
p. 103, etc.).
77 Seeabove, n.61.
78 Rees, pp. 283 If., notes the seasonal significance ofthe Elopement tales, featuring
an old husband and a young lover.
79 See Jan Gonda, Aspects of Early Visnuism, 2nd ed. (Delhi, etc.: Motilai Banarsidass,
1969), pp. 209-10, on the connection between gri and blackness.
B0 Compare ~iva's epithet Tryambaka.
81 See, for example, Mircea Eliade, Patterns in Comparative Religion, trans. Rosemary
Sheed (1958; rpt. New York: Meridian-World, 1972), pp. 83, 86, etc. and Rites and
Symbols of lnitiation: The Mysteries of Birth and Rebirth, trans. Willard R. Trask ( 1958;
rpt. New York: Harper and Row, 1955), pp. 56-57. It is striking, however, that in
a number of the most ancient sites, the male principle offertility is depicted as an
animal or part-animal, but the female in human form. Such is the case, for the
most part, among the Indus Valley finds. Similarly, ~atal Hfiyfik~ see James
Mellaart, The Archaeologyof Ancient Turkey (London, etc.: The Bodley ttead, 1978),
9 p. 20. Compare tile various Greek stories of women (Europ~, Pasipha~-) mating
with bulls; or a toned-down version of the same: Medb offering her 'friendly
thighs' in exchange for the bull she desires (Kinsella, p. 56). It appears, thus, that
the bull, not the cow, is construed as the sacrificial animal (an hypothesis supported by later developments: see Kane, especially II, 772-73), perhaps an
embodiment ofthe dying and rising god.
82 The extreme of this reversal is reached in India in the cases ofvarious heroes, for
example, Drona and Krpa of the Mah~bhffrata, who are conceived and born
without mothers! (Compare, of course, the Greek Athena.) It was Mary Carroll
Smith's paper on this peculiar image, entitled 'The Un-Womb-Born Figures in
Indian Myth,' read at the American Academy of Religion national meeting held in
New York City in November 1979, which inspired the lines of research reported
upon here. Among other conclusions, Smith sees the Indian emphasis upon tapas
(austerities), contingent upon celibacy and avoidance ofwomen, as a product of
Indo-European influence.
83 Thus, such Sanskrit epithets as 'narapumgavah' ('bull among men' 'best ofmen').
On parallel Celtic names and titles, see Jack Randolph Conrad, The tlorn and the
Su'ord: The History of the Bull as Symbol of Power and Fertility (1957; rpt. Westport,
Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1973), p. 156.
84 Strikingly, the results presented here offer a clear parallel to the transformation
('depotentiation') of the female in connection with the emergence of the ego,
traced by Erich Neumann in The Origins and History of Consciousness, trans. R. F. V.
Hull, Bollingen Series, No. 42 (1954; rpt. Princeton: Princeton University Press,
85 Analytical psychologists would identify this power as the unconscious; see
Neumann, Origins, Chapter IBI I, 'The Slaying of the Mother.'
86 Kinsella, pp. 250-51.
87 The stupidity of Medb's 'woman's thinking' is mentioned several times in the
Tdin; see, for example, Kinsella, pp. 66, 162,251.
88 Compare Sitfi's fate in Rdmdyana VII.43 ft.
89 Note Neumann's statement on the emergence ofthe male enemy (Origins, p. 179):
The young hero's growing masculinity now experiences tile destructive side
of the Great Mother as something masculine. I t is her murderous satellites, with
whomare connected the destructive elements stone and iron, who carry out the








Ruth Katz Arabagian

sacrifice ofthe adolescent son. In mythology this side manifests itselfas a dark!
homicidal male force, a savage animal, in particular the boar, which is akin to
the sow, symbol of the Great Mother, but later it manifests itself as her
masculine warrior consort [Ailill?] or as tile priest who performs the castration.
Mah~bh~rata 1II.29.34-35.
Mah~bh~rata 11.60-64. ' O f a l l the women ofmanklnd, famous for their beauty, of
whom we have heard, no one have we heard accomplished such a deed! While the
P~rthas and the Dhartar~stras [P~ndavas and Kauravas] are raging beyond
measure, Krsna Draupadi has become tile salvation of the PS.ndavas! When they
were sinking, boatless and drowning, in the plumbless ocean, the Pfinc~li
[Draupadi] became the Pfindavas' boat, to set them ashore!' (II.64.1-3), trans.
van Buitenen).
See Rees, pp. 306-7; the story told here is from "The Wasting Sickness of
Cfichulainn," not part ofthe Tdin.
In Indian epic, the powerful Goddess persists most regularly as a temptress apsaras
(nymph) set against a tapasbin (ascetic), usually a brahmin. Contrast the Tdin's
image ofFinnabair, Medb's daughter, who is offered to various warriors to attract
them to her mother's army (Kinsella, pp. 122, 129, etc. etc.).
Mah~bhJrata V. 11-15. Most references to the Goddess in her violent form have
been omitted from the Critical Edition of the Mah~bhhrata, the single striking exception being her appearance as K~lardtff ("the Night of Destruction") in MahdbhYrata
X.8.64 ft.:
They saw Kfilarfitri, black, with red mouth and eyes, adorned with a red
garland, wearing a red garment, with a noose in her hand, crested, smiling,
poised, having bound men, horses, and elephants with terrible fetters, immovable, carrying offhairless ghosts ofvarious kinds, bound in fcttcrs . . . .
Kinsella, pp. 132-37. At the conclusion ofthis cpisgde, the connection between
Goddess and cow is made apparent:
The M6rrigan appeared to him in the shape of a squint-eyed old woman milking
a.cow with three teats. He asked her for a drink and she gave him milk from the
first teat.
"Good health to the giver!" Cdchulainn said. "The blessing of God and man
on you."
And her head was healcd and made whole. She gave him milk from the second
teat and her cye was made whole. Shc gave him milk from the third teat and her
legs were made whole.
Other Goddess figures appearing in the Tdin include the Babd and the Nemain,
vengeful spirits ofthe battlefield.
Rf.dhS. herself is a gopi (cowherder girl), and veneration of cattle is intimately
connected with the Krsna cult. There is scarcely an illustration of the loves of which does not include cows!
Sylvain L6vi,/2 Th/atre indien, Bibliotheque de l'Ecole des Hautes Etudes, Sciences
Philologiques et Historiques, 83 (Paris: Emile Bouillon, 1890), p. 72. Compare
Mdnava DharmoJ&tra V. 147 IT. Thus tbe character of ~akuntalS. has weakened
considerably from its Draupadi-like nature in the epic (Mah~bh~rata 1.62-69) to its
more-demure-than-Sit5 quality in the famous Gupta-period play, Abhij'hfinMakuntala, by KS.lidfisa.
The Indian image of the Goddess has even been used to control women; see the
words of the philosopher Mehta in Premchand's novel Godan (The Gift of a Cow),
trans.Jai Ratan and P. Lal (Bombay:Jaico, 1979), pp. 123-24:

Cattle Raidingand Bride Stealing


Devijis, when I address you like this--"goddesses"--you find it nothing

unusual. You take this honour as a matter ofright. But have you ever heard a
woman addressing a man as "god"? [!] Ifyou address him as "god" he will think
you are pulling his leg. For sympathy, devotion and sacrifice are the precious
virtues of a woman. And what about man? What has he to give? Nothing. He is
not the giver, he is the taker. He fights to wrest his rights from others; struggle
and violence are tile basic traits of his character.
Nor, upon closer consideration, as Devi as warrior truly the powerful female
figure she appears to be: she has actually been co-opted, for her story is just
another version of the Indo-European conquest of the autochthons. Thus, the
buffalo-shaped demon whom Devi kills is, in fact, a transmuted version of her
own husband, Siva (see David Shulman, "The murderous Bride: Tamil
Versions of the Myth of Devi and the Buffalo-Demon," History of Religions, 16
[1976-77], 125 ft.), the developed story of Devi being an Indo-Europeanized
reworking of the sacrifice of the bull (buffalo) king (see above, n. 81). Devi as
warrior does not really represent powerful femininity; she is merely borrowing
attributes (M~rkandeya Purina 82.9 ft.) and adventures of other deities!
Therefore, the very texts which praise her can, in the next breath, demean
women, as pointed out by David Kinsley in his discussion of the Devibh6gavata
Purdna, entitled "A Paradox of Goddess Worship: a Male Chauvinist's
Adoration of the Goddess," offered at the American Academy of Religion
national meeting, November 1979.
100 See, for example, Dillon and Chadwick, pp. 25, 153-54; also Nora Chadwick, The
Celts (1970; rpt. Harmondsworth, etc.: Penguin, 1981), pp. 115 and 136. Unfortunately, both these references include mythic or heroic characters along with
historical evidence, arguing that "the high prestige ofwomen is a feature characteristic of early Celtic civilization and especially of Celtic mythology [italics mine]"
(Dillon and Chadwick, p. 153), which undermines their his~rical argument.
More conservative is Carole L. Crumley, in her CelticSocialStructure: The Generation of Archaeologically Testable Hypothesesfrom Litera(y Evidence, Anthropological
Papers, Museum of Anthropology, University of Michigan, No. 54 (Ann Arbor:
University of Michigan, 1974), who states simply (p. 22): "Sex was a statusdetermining factor in Celtic society, although the treatment of women was
generally more egalitarian than in many other groups on similar levels ofsocial
organization." Far more extreme in her views, but thorough in her gathering of
evidence on this issue, is Elizabeth Gould Davis, in The First Sex (Baltimore:
Penguin, 1971), Chapter 13.
101 Seeabove, n. 88.
102 The true svayamvaras of Indi.qn epic include those of Kunti, Damayanti, S~vitri
and M~dhavi (Mahhbhhrata 1.105.1ff., 111.51-54. 111.277. 32ff V.118) Draupadi's so-called sva)'amr,ara is actually a bow-bending contest, while a similar
contest for Sitfi is not even called a svayamvara (for references, see n. 30, above).
103 Mah~bh~rata1.211.21-23, trans, van Buitenen.
104 Referred to by Hiltebeitel, pp. 155 ft., as the "Sva.yamvaramythologem."
105 Though note Ailill's whining response to her (Kinsella, p. 54):
I never heard, in all Ireland, of a province run by a woman except this one,
which is why I came and took the kingship here, in succession to my mother
Mata Muiresc, Magach's daughter. Who better for my queen than you, a
daughter of the high king of Ireland?
He admits a matrilineal succession, but denies that Medb is the female link.
106 See Stith.Thompson, Motif Index of Folk Literature: A Classification of Narrative


Ruth Katz Arabagian

Elements in Folktales, Ballads, Myths, Fables, Mediaeval Romances, Exempla, Fabliaux,

Jest-Books and Local Legends, rev. ed., 5 vols. plus index (Bloomington: Indiana
I l0



University Press, 1955-58), R i 11.1.3, and related motifs.

Note in particular Ariadne's association with the land of the half-bull monster,
the Minotaur. Ariadne's father is, ofcourse, Minos, King of Crete, son of Europfi
by Zeus, who abducted her in tile form of a white bull.

H.J. Rose, A lIandbook of Greek Mythology Induding lts Extension to Rome (New York:
E. P. Dutton, 1959), p. 231.
Rose, pp. 218-19. The result of Deianeira'sjealousy towards Iole was far more
devastating than Draupadi'sjealousy towards SubhadrS. (above, n. 27), and led
ultimately to Herakles' death.
Lee M. Hollander, trans., Heimskringla: History of the Kings ofNom, ay by Snorri
Sturluson (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1964), p. 22. The Heimskringla also
offers several other pertinent stories: abductions (Hollander, pp. 35, 187), a
self-choice (Hollander, pp. 171-72), etc. etc.
Joseph Fontenrose, Python: A Stud). of Delphic M)'th and its Origins (Berkeley, etc.:
University of California Press, 1959), p. 538.
For example, tile tales o f ' T h e Marriage ofDjuro ofSmeredevo,' 'Porgza of Avala
and Vuk tile Fiery Dragon,' 'The Marriage of Vuk the Dragon-Despot' (some
versions), 'The Captivity and Marriage of Stjepan Jak~i6,' etc.; see Chadwick,
Growth of Literature, I I, 317, 322-24.
The case of the Sabines has been discussed at length by the great IndoEuropeanist Georges Dum6zil; see his Jupiter, Mars, Quirinus: Essai sur la conception .
Indo-Europ/enne de la soci/t/ et sur les origines de Rome (Paris: Gallimard, 1941 ), pp.
155-98 and Naissance de Rome (Jupiter, Mars, Quirinus, II) (Paris: Gallimard,
1944), pp. 128-93. In conjunction with this story it is appropriate to comment
upon tile connection between Dum~zil's findings and the materials discussed in
this paper. To summarize: what Ires thus far been termed 'authocbthonous' in
this paper is classed by Dum6zil as 'thlrd function Indo-European. Tile clash IS
not a new one: Dum6zil devotes much effort to overturning tile argument for
autochthony which had been advanced by some of his predecessors. H e states
that certain myths and legends which have often been interpreted as reflections of
historic struggles between Indo-Europeans and autochthons (such as the story of
the Sabines, or of the Aesir versus the Vanir in Scandinavia) are rather reflections
of'conceptual opposition' within the Indo-European social ideology; see Gods of
the Ancient Norsemen, ed. Einar Haugen (Berkeley, etc.: University of California
Press, 1973), p. 12. Note tile Rees brothers' parallel analysis of the mythic
invaders of Ireland, Celtic Heritage, Chapter 4. Although Dum6zil's ideas thus
seem difficult to reconcile with my own as expressed in this paper, I would argue
that such is not really the case: for the Indo-Europeans, the 'third function' of
society, largely agricultural, might well have been filled primarily by indigenous
agriculturalists. It must have been primarily in confrontation with the autochthons that the Indo-Europeans were able to vivify their myth of interfunctional warfare. Dum6zil expresses a related idea when he states: ' . . . we
admit perfectly willingly that the Indo-European gods of the second and third
l e v e l s . . , probably annexed to themselves certain conceptions ofanother origin,
already popular among the conquered indigenous population' (Gods, p. 18). For
one particular case of amalgamation pertinent to this paper, see Linda Lee
Clader, Helen: The Evolutionfrom Divine to Heroic in Greek Epic Tradition, Mnemosyne Bibliotheca Classica Batava (Leiden: Brill, 1976), pp. 81-83.
See, most recently, Clader's book on Helen, cited in the preceding note, and
Downing, Chapter 3, on Ariadne.



Cattle Raiding and Bride Stealing


115 'Most strikingly, compare the Vedic hymn of V~c, R g Veda X.125, with the
classic Biblical statement of Wisdom, Proverbs V I I I . It is the same figure
speaking, telling ofhow she stands beside and behind the gods (or God) and how
she offers treasures to her admirers!
116 Judges V.7.
117 This point brings up the issue ofthe substitution of other animals for cattle, with
either prosperity or fertility significance. Such interchangeability is found even
within the Indo-European tradition; note, to give just two examples, the horse
raid of Iliad X.436 ft., and the implicit sheep raid of the Romanian ballad
"Mioritza." The fertility significance of horses is perhaps as well developed in the
Indo-European ideology as that ofcattle; thus, the ancient Indian horse sacrifice,
the Celtic horse goddesses, etc. See, in particular, Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty,
IVomen, Androgynes, and Other Mythical Beasts (Chicago and London: Un!versity of
Chicago Press, 1980), pp. 149-262. For horses as a bride-price, see the fascinating tale of M~dhavi (Medb's namesake [above, n. 65]), in Mah6bMrata V. 11318. In this story, the horses obtained in return for Mfidhavi are destined for
Vi~vamitra (see above)! On the connection between Prosperity/Sovereignty
and ram, lamb, or fawn, see, for example, Krappe, p. 448.
118 For Sarah as Sovereignty, mentioned by Coomaraswamy, p. 359, n. 18, see Philo,
De Cherubim3-10, etc.
119 Note Genesis 34.26-29 (RSV):
They slew Hamor and his Son Shechem with the sword, and took Dinah out of
Shechem's house, and went away, and the sons ofJacob came upon the slain,
and plundered the city, because their sister had been defiled; they took their
flocks and their herds, their asses, and whatever was in the city and in the field;
all their wealth, all their little ones and their wives, all that was in the houses,
they captured and made their prey.
120 Marduk is mourned as dead at the Babylonian New Year's festival, but praised
as a conquering hero in the Babylonian Creation Epic. Baal's story also has two
parts: he fights against and defeats the sea-dragon Yam; he is taken captive by
Death, but afterwards rescued.
121 See Theodor H. Gaster, Thespis: Ritual, Myth and Drama in the Ancient Near East,
new ed. (1961; rpt. New York: Harper Torchbooks-Harper and Row, 1966), pp.
175,221, and 236. Note the following simile (Gaster, p. 220):
CAnat goes searching for him.
Like the heart of a cow for her calf,
like the heart of a ewe for her lamb,
so is the heart of~Anat on account of Baal.
122 As discussed by Lincoln, citing Ake Hultkrantz, in Priests, pp. 9-10. The focus of
Lincoln's study is the ecological and religious similarity between Indo-Iranians
and East African Nilotes.
123 Peggy Reeves Sanday, Female Power and Male Dominance: On the Origins of Sexual
Inequality (Cambridge, etc.: Cambridge University Press, 1981), pp. 50-51.
124 Sanday, pp. 194-95.
125 Sanday, p. 210.
126 Sanday, p. 172.
127 Sanday, p. 147:
9 the legal position of women became largely that of chattel. Wives were
bought with horses and treated like property.' Upon marriage a woman passed
to her husband's group and the husband had the right to kill or torture his wife.
It was also the right of a brother to kill his sister. Other categories of property
consisted of horses and dogs.


Ruth Katz Arabagian

Sanday, pp. 148-52. However: 'The seeds for (3heyenne male dominance were
clearly present' (Sanday, p. 152), gang rape as the prescribed punishment for
'adulterous' women being a sure sign of the presence ofsuch seeds! (p. 151).
129 Sanday, pp. 144-45, 152. Societies heavily dependent upon hunting, particularly
the hunting oflarge game, tend to undervalue the feminine; see Sanday, pp. 64 iT.
It is easy, too, to imagine how such societies might evolve into pastoral-warrior
groups with the sorts of practices focused upon this paper; see Eliade, Rites, p. 83:
I will only mention that the behavior of the Indo-European warrior bands
offers certain points of resemblance to the secret fraternities of primitive
societies. In both alike, the members of the group terrorize women and
non-initiates and in some sort exercise a "right of rapine," a custom which, in
diluted form, is still found in the popular traditions of Europe and the Caucasus. Rapine, and especially cattle stealing, assimilate the members of the
warrior band to carnivora.
130 Sanday, p. 152. Thus, as Cheyenne society evolved, women kept their role in the
ritual life ofthe group (Sanday, p. 149).
131 Sanday, p. 152: 'There is evidence that agriculture was not completely abandoned by Cheyenne women.'
132 Ernest Wallace and E. Adamson Hoebel, The Comanches: Lords of the South Plains
(Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1952), p. 36:
Horses constituted the most important type of property and the staple form
of weahh. Because taking them under difficult conditions had a sociopsychological value, the acquisition of a large herd added greatly to t h e
prestige of the owner. The owner of a large herd could make more munificent"
gifts to a prospective wife and members ofher family and to other members of
the tribe. Horses served also as an informal medium of exchange. They could
be presented as gifts in reciprocity for services rendered and as fees to medicine
men. When they were used in the settlement of controversies between
individuals--as they generally were among the (]omanches--they had legal
as well as monetary significance.
Comanche esteem of horses knew no bounds. Each man had at least one
favorite horse, although his personal string might run to dozens, or even
hundreds, ofanimals. His favorite horse was kept picketed close to his tipi at
night while the remuda grazed on the open plains. He tended it, petted it, and
adored it. "Some men loved their horses more than they loved their wives,"
said Post Oak Jim. To this, others added, "Or child, or any other human
being." And in seeking legal settlements, whatever else the prosecuting man
and his friends might demand of the offending culprit, they were sure to insist
on the favorite horse.

Wallace and Hoebel, p. 50:

Tile buffalo was as indispensable to the Comanche as the horse. No part of
the slaughtered animal was wasted except the rump, spine and skull. Hair,
skin, flesh, blood, bones, entrails, horns, sinews, kidneys, liver, paunch, and
the dried excrement were all utilized.
Buffalo also had great religious significance. See George Bird Grinnell on the
Cheyennes (Grinnell, The Cheyennelndians: Their tlisto~y and Ways of Life [New
Haven: Yale University Press, 1924], II, I03-4):
As with most pra. irie tribes, the buffalo was greatly reverenced. Before the
entrance of every sweat-lodge, propped up against a sagebrush, a pile ofstones,
or a mound of earth, stands an old buffalo-skull. A very long time ago, a

Cattle Raiding and Bride Stealing


medicine man's dream told him to make a sweat-house, and then to take the
skull of a b u l l - - o n e that had been killed for a long t i m e - - a n d to put it in front
of the, and then to go in and take a sweat. When he came out, he
should fill the pipe and hold the pipe to Heammawihio [chiefgod and creator]
and ask him always to keep plenty of buffalo on the earth for the people to eat.
He must present the pipe to the skull also, and smoke to it, and must ask the
skull to rise to its feet, clothe itselfwith flesh, and come to life, so that the people
might have its meat to eat, and its skin to make their lodges. At the same time
they prayed to the buffalo in general, asking them to travel over smooth
ground, not to run where it was rough and where there was danger that the
horse might fall and break men's limbs.
Sometimes the buffalo-bulls talked to them, and sometimes the elk and the
bear. It was always a male that talked. Not everyone could understand their
language. Only now and then a person understood.
Later, cattle stealing also became an objective; see Wallace and Hoebel, p. 267:
About the time of the Civil War, when the cattlemen were pushing westward
beyond the line of settlements across Texas into the Comanche country, Texas
cattle became an important article ofplunder. Stolen cattle were exchanged for
goods with the Comancheros,or traders from New Mexico. Cattle constituted a
commodity easily procured and transported, and they could be obtained in
almost unlimited numbers. The Comanches felt that ifonly the raiders could
succeed in driving off enough of the intruders' cattle, it would discourage
further encroachment into their country.
See Stith Thompson, Tales of the North American Indians (1929; rpt. Bloomington
and London: Indiana University Press, 1966), Tales 39, 'The Sun Tests His
Son-in-Law'; 46, 'The Son-in-Law Tests'; 54, 'Mudjikiwis' (Thompson's notes
make clear the fact that versions ofthese tales are common to the Plains Indians).
See also Robert H. Lowie, 'The Test-Theme in North American M~thology,' The
Journal of American Folklore, 21 (I 908), 97-148.
Thompson, Tales, Tale 21, 'The Release of the Wild Animals.' Sometimes the
freer ofthe buffalo is a trickster figure (e.g., Coyote); compare the fact that Indra
is sometimes said to conquer by way of his mfi)'fi (magic power)(see ~,g Veda
1.11.7, I I . l l . 1 0 , V.30.6, X.147.2). Often the captor of the buffalo is an old
woman, sometimes depicted as antagonistic, sometimes as helpful.
Wallace and Hoebel, p. 44.
Wallace and Hoebel, p. 247. Compare Sanday, p. 63: "Competition for 'bravery
ranking' is a major male pastime and includes, among other things, stealing
women from their husbands."
Thompson, Motif Index, R. 13.1 if, various references.
Thompson, Tales, Tale 59: 'Splinter-Foot-Girl.'
Thompson, Tales, Tale 57, 'The Piqued Buffalo-Wife.'
Thompson, Tales, Tale 63, 'The Rolling Head.'
Thompson, Tales, Tale 63, 'The Rolling Head.'
Thompson, Tales, Tale 51, Type 2, 'The Star Husband: The Girl Enticed to the
Sky.' Also 'The Piqued Buffalo-Wife' and 'Splinter-Foot-Girl,'Thompson, Tales,.
pp. 159-60.
Thompson, Tales, Tale 59, 'Spllnter-Foot-Girl.'
As in the Indo-European case (see above), pastoral/nomadic groups tend to
accept a certain religious syncretism; for example, the Mongols, who despite
their ferocity were strikingly open-minded religiously (see Walter Heissig, The
Religions of3.1.ongolia, trans. Geoffrey Samuel [Berkeley and Los Angeles: Uni-


RuthKatz Arabagian

versity of California Press, 1980], pp. 4-5).

146 Sanday, p. 147.
147 Wallace and Hoebel, p. 201. The version of'The Piqued Buffalo-Wife' presented
by Thompson (Tales, Tale 57) is not so explicit on this point, but contains anothez
fascinating element: it culminates in the death and rebirth ofthe hero!
148 E. Adamson Hoebel, The Cheyennes:Indians of the Great Plains, Case Studies in
Cultural Anthropology (New York, etc.: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1960), pp.
149 Sanday (pp. 224-25) seems to accept such a reconstruction.