When exactly did witches and the folkloric devil become associated with male goats? Goats just seem like such a random choice since goats on the whole are cute as kids and chill as hell when they're adults. Is it because goats are so intelligent? Is is a holdover from an older belief system? Is it a more domestic version of horned-animal reverence? And is the association widespread across European witchcraft traditions?
Ah boy. Asking the big questions today…
From what I know and have learned, there isn’t an exact answer as to when. Goats have always had a close association to (Western European) witch lore. In fact, goats have a huge associations with the occult and paganism overall as well: Baphomet and Pan as examples. Goats even appear in Abrahamic religions, Azazel being of particular note due to some believing him to be associated with Lucifer or the Serpent.
Due to its close associations with animism, witchcraft just in general has a LOT of animal associations.
Though the association is quite old, goats (amongst other animals) became more infamously associated with witchcraft during the medieval times, especially with the European Inquisitions.
Goats (and sheep) though were a lot more common in French witch lore, goats can be found in a variety of different fairy lore: bucca and puka being two examples. Particularly in the British isles and Celtic nations, the fairy faith and witchlore are very intertwined.
Interestingly, the Basque word for Witches’ Sabbat being
“Akhelarre” (goat pasture).
Now, I am not certain if the goat has associations in witchcraft lore beyond Western Europe (even then not all places in Europe have goat associations with witches and/or the devil). However, it is very prominent today in a number of witch traditions.