The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005
General wisdom states that goats were the first animals to be successfully domesticated. Goats are involved in a lot of firsts:
Goats are credited with leading people to coffee, once a sacred beverage. (For many, it still is.) An Ethiopian shepherd noticed that his goats were particularly perky; he watched as they chewed coffee berries and tried some himself, thus initiating the cult of caffeine.
Goats brought various fragrant resins to people, most especially rock roses, among Aphrodite’s holy flowers. The aromatic essence was discovered clinging to goats’ beards.
Some of the most ancient existing evidence of magical/spiritual ritual involves the unearthed funeral rites of a Neanderthal child discovered in Teshik-Tash, modern Uzbekistan. The child’s partial skeleton was encircled by ibex horns, a type of wild goat, arranged vertically in pairs, the pointed ends stuck into the ground, reminiscent of later European funerary spells that involve driving spindles into the ground, usually intended to quiet the restless dead.
Goats are responsible for the discovery of the Oracle of Delphi. Before there was ever a shrine, Delphi was a playground for goats, which thrived on the rocky terrain. Humans followed them up the slopes and domesticated them c. 1400 BCE. As legend tells it, a massive earthquake created a chasm or fissure at Delphi through which some sort of vapor emanated. (Modern science has been unable to detect or explain these vapors.) Goats exposed to the vapors were observed to act strangely, suffering spasms and bleating in odd voices. Their keepers began to have similar experiences except that their odd voices were discovered to be prophetic. Delphi eventually became an organized oracular shrine, originally dedicated to Gaia, the Earth and then to Apollo. Goats remained the ritual sacrifice at Delphi.
Goats are associated with love, knowledge, fertility, prophesy, expiation, regeneration, and rebirth. They are intensely associated with sex, sexual energy, and the procreative urge and power. Goats serve as Aphrodite’s mount and as companions of various Middle Eastern fertility spirits, including Inanna-Ishtar and Lady Asherah. Perceptions change: once upon a time, comparing a man to a goat implied admiration. Today’s “old goat” is a pathetic, foolish lecher, kind of like those dumb-ass donkeys.
According to a Germanic magic spell, goat tallow rubbed onto the penis serves as a babe magnet, irresistibly attracting women.
Goats were profoundly involved with a multitude of ancient spiritual traditions including Celtic, Greek, Jewish, Norse, Roman, and Sumerian. Goats are sacred to Aphrodite, Azazel, Dionysus, Freya, Hera, Hermes, Pan, Thor, Zeus: sexy deities, one and all.
Goats were respected, sacred, and beloved in ancient religion. Goats were people’s teachers, companions and in many places, primary food animal, supplying meat, milk, dairy products, and material for clothing and tents.
Goats were not generally considered to be witches’ familiars, nor do witches transform into goats. Goats do frequently serve as witches’ mounts however, and many medieval woodblock prints depicting witchcraft show witches riding on goats’ backs, just like Aphrodite, although this may have been intended to euphemistically suggest that witches copulate with the devil. No animal is more associated with the Christian devil than the goat. Artistic renditions of the sabbat from the Middle Ages to Goya’s masterpieces depict Satan presiding over the witches’ sabbat in the form of a tall man-sized upright goat. Satan is also depicted as a composite creature, frequently with bat’s wings and a snake’s forked tongue, but with goat’s eyes, horns and hooves.
More in-depth discussion of goats’ ancient spiritual roles and the part they were given to play during the Witchcraze are found in HORNED ONE.