As a young girl, I once went out with my dad and uncle to my dad's land. My uncle's cattle were grazing and I was playing near by. Something spooked the cattle and they began to run... run right toward ME! Stampede!
Now, I am no cowgirl... no, indeed this Texas girl has no knowledge of how to rope or ride but here I was in a field with cows running right toward me. Obviously I took off running for safety ie. the back of the pickup truck. As I threw my leg over the back end and leapt (gracefully, I am sure) I was grateful for the years of gymnastics and vault training.
I stood in the pick up and watched the cows part like a wave and rush past the truck. Their power and their intensity was overwhelming. I was scared - I could of died! ( okay - I was a dramatic teenager but this was serious!)
Several years later I read Ernest Hemingway's account of his run with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain at the Feast of San Fermin in his book The Sun Also Rises. (One of my favorite books of all time) From that moment, watching the running of the bulls in Spain was firmly placed on my "bucket list." This past summer, I checked that box.
First of all what is this whole thing? Why the running of the bulls? What is the purpose?
The run is part of a larger festival that celebrates the patron saint of the area, San Fermin. San Fermin was a Roman in the 2nd /3rd century who converted to Christianity and later was Bishop in Pamplona. He was martyred later while in France - and there are various stories around this. The first day of the festival, the saint's statue is paraded through the town and at various stops locals pay their respects via song, dance, music etc. Our place on the parade route allowed us to enjoy the chorus of children from a neighboring town. This particular town had been sending their children for 700 years singing the same hymns each year.
The run itself is said to have originating in the regular market at the beginning of the fall when cattle were brought to market. Bullfights evolved from there. It was all so very Roman if you asked me.
You, of course, can research more about this festival. The point of my writing is to speak to what I saw in the evolution of human beings via these kinds of rituals and entertainments.
It started in Crete really, at the ruins of Knossos (the Greeks pronounce the K). The frescos restored show the pivotal importance of the bull in the ritual life of the Minoan people. The bulls are shown in a dance with youths (male and females) leaping over them playfully. I am reminded of the Hindu reverence for the great cows, And that in Egypt a Goddess fills her temples with golden cows. Indeed didn't the Hebrew people get in trouble for reverting back to worshiping a golden calf!
Cows are money in some African tribes. In the west, cattle is king. I am sure some researcher out their could do a fantastic job writing about cows much like the books Salt and Cod which inform us about these small commodities.
This was my mindset when I researched Pamplona. We watched the first run from the street level. I wedged myself near the fence, I sat on the booze soaked street. The smell of an all day party hung in the morning air. The runners bounced in excitement. They stretched and they turned to look down the filled street as hundreds of people all dressed in white with their red kerchiefs on. The bouncing intensified, the energy swelled. Some runners changed their minds and climbed to the other side of the fence.
The rocket exploded indicating the fence would be opened. The second rocket went off and the police and other officials began to yell for the runners to run, not to wait for the bulls to come... run, run!
The bulls swept past us in a blur of chaos. There was no way to make any sense of the images at that speed from the street level.
What does this say about us as beings? This kind of thing peppered the Roman Empire and indeed are our sport games any different? Each night of our travels World Cup Soccer followed us on the televisions where ever we went. These rituals filled with energy, danger, and violence speak to us deeply - but are we developing beyond them? I don't know.
But in this experience I felt that thread to those ancient people living on a rock in the Aegean Sea. The sacrificed their bulls and fed their people and their Gods. Here too the bulls would be killed and would feed the people.
What in your ritual life feeds you? What brings you into community? When did you last feel charged with energy that is larger than yourself?