Don’t be confused: bulls are more than just male cows. Bulls are thick, powerful, sturdy beasts with a symbolic history as old as time. The bull isn’t like its steer counterpart for several reasons, the biggest one being: a bull isn’t castrated. Yes, the bull has all its manly private parts, allowing for its aggression and power to come full throttle — full throttle as a symbol as well as in the form of bull tattoos.
This common conception of the “bull in the china shop” is due in part to this aggression (and probably because of Looney Toons), but the rest of the origins of the idiom are lost to time. The earliest recording of the phrase comes from an early 19th century dance hall song, titled A Bull in a China Shop, with the lyrics:
Whate’er with his feet he couldn’t assail,
He made ducks and drakes with his horns and his tail.
So frisky he was, with his downs and his ups,
Each tea service proved he was quite in his cups.
Quite in his cups. So you’re either clumsy or drunk according to the (perhaps commonly misused) phrase. But the bull has been considered sacred, not clumsy, for hundreds and hundreds of years, dating as far back as Ancient Mesopotamia. In Greece, there was the infamous Minotaur, and in Egypt, that was Apis, the sacred cow son of the god Hathor.
The bull has represented numerous things throughout the Torah and the King James’ Bible — the golden calf being one of the more famous stories, where the newly freed Israelite slaves were discovered to be worshipping golden statues rather than their beloved God. Thou shalt have no other gods before Me (Exodus 20:2), remember? But the bull has represented more than just a religious misstep — the bull, a symbol of strength and fertility, was often invoked as a way to express that a specific person in the Bible was powerful, or as a way to show God’s leadership. God brings them out of Egypt and is for them like the horns of the wild ox (Numbers 23:22).
The bull is also the icon for the Zodiac sign for Taurus — a strong and stubborn Moon sign. And if you want to be a powerful person with a bull tattoo without any of the bullish stigma, you can always seek out some great pop culture bulls — specifically, The Story of Ferdinand, the young tender bull who just wants to smell the flowers.