The cow jumped over the moon

The cow jumped over the moon

Most of you probably know the nursery rhyme

Hey Diddle Diddle
The cat and the fiddle,
The cow jumped over the moon.
The little dog laughed,
To see such sport,
And the dish ran away with the spoon.

I always pondered particularly at the line ‘ The cow jumped over the moon’, thinking it was just a silly little nursery rhyme to pacify children who would not want to go to sleep. But in fact, there is a theory that ‘the cow jumped over the moon’ related to the Ancient Goddess Hathor and was probably badly translated from Ancient Greek texts and put into a nursery rhyme.

The Minoan culture

I recently visited Knossos, the birthplace of the Minoan civilization. For all of you that have not heard much about this place, Knossos was the largest Minoan royal palace, situated in Crete.

The Minoans were the first major culture in Europe ( 2700 to 1450 B.C.) to worship only one God. They left behind palaces, advanced pieces of pottery, fantastic jewelry, and many unsolved mysteries. Below you can see the throne room where ‘King Minos’ reigned in the palace that is famous for its Minotaur.

The Minoan had a complex lunisolar calendar system and there are traces of both left in the palace. They were on the whole a peaceful,
monotheist society and their prime God was a woman – similar to later Demeter, the Greek goddess of agriculture and harvest – a shorthand for Mother Earth/Nature.

I took part in a guided tour of the famous ruins and towards the end, I asked the guide, ‘ Where actually was the famous labyrinth?’  The guide answered,’ You are standing in it – it was the palace itself. It had so many rooms that foreign visitors saw it as a labyrinth’. My remaining question of course was – and where was the Minotaur?

According to legend, Minos prayed to Poseidon to send him a snow-white bull as a sign of support and as an offering to the Goddess. But Minos did not slaughter the bull but kept it instead alive. So Poseidon punished him by making Minos’ wife Pasiphae fall in love with the bull and conceive an offspring called the Minotaur, half man – half bull.

The moon and the origin of the Olympic Games

The bull was always very connected to the Minoan culture. There are still frescos preserved that show young athletes, male and female, jumping over a bull. It was a common sport and sign of bravery in Knossos, similar to bullfighting in Spain, but the bull did not lose its life as it was a worshipped animal, closely connected to the Moon God. The Palace still is decorated with cow horns, most likely showing the crescent waxing and waning moon and the connection to the land, fertility and the bull was its obvious manifestation on earth.

Babylonian calendar records exist that points to a very possible Minoan connection and suggest that it has to do with the existence of the lunisolar calendar. In it, the priests recorded many celestial events, such as solstices, solar and lunar eclipses, and of course various star patterns.  This occurred more than a thousand years before the Babylonians established their own calendar version.  It looks like the Minoan culture in Crete was the blueprint for all the other cultures that followed.

A rich and seafaring civilization such as the Minoans would have had a calendar system of sorts and would have traded with Egypt, the Phoenicians, and of course the Sumerians. Furthermore, King Minos was not one person, but a title, such as Ceasar or Pharoah. So there were many ‘King Minos’ figures and their time in office was limited to one big lunisolar cycle, lasting around 8 years. Then a new King Minos would come into the office. The most likely explanation is the octagonal cycle that occurs every 8 years when Venus completes her cycle and returns to its original position at the same point in the sky. As no firm calendar records survive we can only speculate.

But it would totally correspond with the practices of other cultures, including the Mayans. They also used the Venus cycle (when the path of Venus, the Earth, and the sun align) together with the lunar phases to calculate the synodic period of Venus (584 days). The ratio of the earth cycle to Venus is 8:5. So 5 Venus years and 8 Earth years coincide, making this a marker when the sky resets to its original position. This is quite significant in a time when there were no other ways of recording precise timings.

So coming back to the cow and the moon. The Minotaur most likely represented the worship of the sun and the moon. The mother goddess = nature, represented by the 8-year cycle where the Sun, the Earth, and Venus perfectly aligned again – and the Moon God (represented by a bull with 2 horns showing the Waxing and the Waning Moon cycles). The monster Minotaur was most probably a kind of ritual involving bulls and sacrifices in the palace of Knossos.

Another explanation is what we know as the octaeries.   This describes the phenomenon that after a period of 8 years the moon phases occur at the exact same time during the calendar year  (with very small discrepancies).  These calculations determined the exact dates of the Olympic Games (50 moon cycles between games). Both calculations and games, seem most likely to be Minoan legacies.

But why is the cow jumping over the moon?

The bull-jumping has certainly something to do with it. We know that the Minoans build their palaces to align with the solstices and the winter solstice seems to have had a particular significance, as it symbolized the rebirth of the sun and still lives on in our current Christmas tradition.

The star Orion, ‘the bull of the sky’, is visible in the Northern Hemisphere between November and February and rises over the crescent of the winter moons. Could that be the cow jumping over the moon?


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