Horses: Mythology and Symbolism : Horse, horseplay an important role in many mythological systems. They are an attribute (or image) of a number of deities. The horse symbolism is extremely complex and not completely clear. The horse symbolizes intelligence, wisdom, nobility, light, dynamic strength, agility, quickness of thought, the running of time. It is a typical symbol of fertility, courage, and powerful power. Also, this image is an ancient symbol of the cyclical development of the world of phenomena (horses, carrying Neptune with a trident from the depths of the sea, embody the cosmic forces of primitive chaos).
The horse in the tradition of many peoples is revered as a sacred animal. He acts as a necessary attribute of the highest pagan gods and at the same time is a chthonic being associated with the cult of fertility and death. Among the Slavs horses also participated in calendar rituals, including Kolyada, Svyatki, etc.
Horses on the roofs of Russian huts are placed to this day as a sign, calling on the harvest, and, consequently, prosperity in the house. And in the old days, when building a house, a horse was laid in the foundation, while when a house was moved, its skull was taken out of the ground and buried under the foundation in a new place. The city wall was erected in the same way.
In ancient Russian pagan mythology, the Horse is one of the most revered sacred animals, an attribute of the highest pagan gods, special creatures associated simultaneously with the productive power of the earth (water) and the mortifying potential of the underworld. In ancient Russia, it was believed that a horse is endowed with the ability to portend fate, and above all death, to its owner. In pagan times, the horse was buried with the owner.
The veneration of the horse in Russia was such that even in Christian times special patron saints and horse festivals were established for it. The patrons of horses were considered St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, St. Florus and Laurus, St. George the Victorious, and St. Elijah the Prophet. Special “horse holidays” were celebrated on the day of remembrance of Sts. Flora and Lavra and on spring St. George’s day.
The Indian Upanishads describe the ritual of sacrificing a horse to the gods. The same is present in the Satapatha-brahmana, Vajasaneya-Samhita of the Yajurveda, which indicates the creation of the world from the parts of a horse during its sacrifice.
The Zoroastrians also worshiped horses, in the mythology of which the chariot of the god Ardvisura Anahita is harnessed by four white horses: wind, rain, cloud, and sleet. And the thunderer Tishtriya, personifying Sirius, according to legend, every year descends from the sky in the form of a white golden-eared horse to battle with the drought demon Apaoshi, acting in the form of a black, shabby, ugly horse. According to the Iranians’ beliefs, it depended on the outcome of their battle whether there would be rains, hence, fertility and life itself.
In the Permian Komi tradition, horses are the holders of the land: “The earth is supported by three horses: black (raven), red and white. When a black horse holds – hunger and pestilence on earth when a white horse – there are continuous wars and deaths on earth, when a red horse – peace, tranquility, and prosperity reign.
In China, the horse represents heaven, fire, yang, south, speed, tenacity, a good omen. In Japan, the goddess Bato Kannon, the merciful Great Mother, appears either in the form of a white horse, or with the head of a horse, or wearing a crown with the figure of a horse.
Buddhism considers the horse to be a symbol of indestructibility, the hidden nature of things. The winged horse Cloud is one of the images of Avalokiteshvara. Another winged horse, Pegasus, is represented in ancient mythology. He was the son of Poseidon and Medusa. Poseidon is generally considered the creator, father, or donor of horses. Once he pursued Demeter, inflamed with love for her. Trying to escape, she turned into a horse, but he took the form of a horse and managed to get his way. From this marriage was born Arion, a divine horse who could speak.
In the Roman pantheon, there was a goddess-protector of horses named Epona, borrowed from the Celts, associated with fertility, abundance, healing, and at the same time – with the cult of death (acting as a guide and guardian of dead souls during the transition to the kingdom of the dead). The Celts generally had a lot to do with horses. In Ireland and Wales, the word “horse” is present in the names of many mythical characters associated with the solar cult and the other world. For example, the good god Dagda bears the name Eohaid, the Father of all, and one of the rulers of the Fomorians is called Eokho Ehkend (“Eoho horse’s head”).
The goddess Epona was considered the heavenly patroness of horses. She was invariably depicted surrounded by horses, often with symbols of fertility and abundance. Epona was often identified with healing, in particular with hydrotherapy. Moreover, her cult is associated with death; it is believed that she played the role of a guide and guardian who guarded the souls of the dead during the transition to the underworld.
In German-Scandinavian mythology, the horse is dedicated to Odin, who rode the eight-legged Mare Sleipnir.
In Christianity, the horse symbolizes the Sun, courage, nobility. It is the emblem of the saints (George and others). Finally, the four horses of the Apocalypse are war, death, hunger, and plague.
As a symbol of the Sun or solar god, the horse gradually became an attribute of royal power. But how can a solar symbol be associated with the cult of death? It’s very simple: as the Sun makes a cycle through the day and night side of the world, so the horse must carry its rider through death to a new rebirth, to a new life.
Among the peoples of the Caucasus (Abkhaz, Ossetians, etc.), the horse participates in funeral and memorial rites, in particular, it is dedicated to the deceased, circling around the body, putting a bridle in the hand of the deceased, and cutting the horse’s ear or cutting the hair. On the day of the commemoration, circles of animal lard and pieces of meat were hung on the trunk of a branchy tree, and a fire was made under it. Riders at the races competed in the art of snatching lard and meat from the fire of a fire, the winner was awarded a ram, which he brought as a memorial sacrifice. However, the customs of equestrian games at weddings, calendar holidays, etc. are well known.
The suit of the knight is not accidental. In various traditions, you can see the predominance of two colors: gray and red. On Russian icons depicting snake fighting, the horse is almost always either white or fiery red. In these cases, the red color clearly represents the color of the flame, which corresponds to the fiery nature of the horse. White, on the other hand, is the color of otherworldly beings, beings who have lost their corporeality – wherever a horse plays a cult role, it is always white. Thus, the Greeks sacrificed only white horses; in the Apocalypse, death sits astride a “pale horse”; in Germanic folklore, death is riding on a skinny white nag.
The horse personifies unbridled passions, natural instincts, the unconscious. In this regard, in ancient times, he was often endowed with the ability to predict. In fairy tales, the horse, as possessing the qualities of clairvoyance, was often entrusted with the task of timely warning its owners. Jung believes that the horse expresses the magical side of Man, intuitive knowledge.
The most important and famous Vedic ritual is the “horse sacrifice”, Ashvamedha. Elements of a space nature are visible in its structure – the horse practically personifies the space and its sacrifice symbolizes (i.e. reproduces) the act of creation. The ritual was intended to cleanse the entire country from sin and ensure fertility and prosperity. Traces of this ritual can be found among the Germans, Iranians, Greeks, and Latins.
The horse occupies a very special place in shamanic rituals and mythology. The horse – primarily a carrier of souls and a burial animal – is used by the shaman in various situations as a means of helping to achieve a state of ecstasy. It is known that the eight-legged horse is a typical shamanic attribute. Eight-hoofed or headless horses are recorded in mythology and rituals of Germanic and Japanese “male unions”. The horse is a mythical image of Death, it delivers the deceased to the other world, makes the transition from one world to another.
Throughout history, horses have been credited with the gift of clairvoyance, which allows them to see the invisible danger. Therefore, they are considered especially susceptible to witch conspiracies. In the old days, witches took them at night to go to the Sabbath, they rushed on them for a long time and returned at dawn exhausted and covered with sweat and foam. To thwart “witch racing”, witchcraft and the evil eye, horse owners put trinkets and amulets installs and attached copper bells to their reins. During the witch hunt, it was believed that the devil and the witch could turn into horses.
Unicorn. It is one of the most romanticized images and has different names, appearances, and attributes in different cultures. One of the most popular incarnations of the unicorn in modern Western culture is the white horse with a long, often golden horn growing from its forehead. In Eastern culture, the unicorn is depicted as a cross between a horse and a goat with the limbs of an artiodactyl and a goat beard. The Japanese unicorn is called “kirin” and in China, it is called “ki-lin”. Both words are derived from the Hebrew “re’em” which means “one horn”. The Greek historian Ctesias wrote in 398 BC. about unicorns the following: outwardly it resembles a wild bull, the size of a horse, has a white body, a dark redhead, blue eyes, and one horn. Probably, such a description appeared as a result of the colorful stories of travelers who imagined the unicorn as a cross between a wild bull, a Himalayan antelope, and an Indian rhinoceros.
Various magical qualities have been attributed to the horn of the unicorn. For example, the ability to heal the sick and wounded, and even raise the dead. In some images, the horn is white at the root, black in the middle, and with a red tip. One medieval tale tells of a unicorn who lowered his horn into poisoned water, thereby purifying it and allowing the animals to drink. Probably, this is the origin of the tradition of noble and royal families to drink from vessels in the form of a unicorn horn, thereby protecting themselves from the danger of poisoning.
In Western culture, the unicorn is considered an inaccessible wild animal, in the east, on the contrary, an affectionate and submissive creature.
Centaurs are very popular mythological characters. From head to hips, they have the body of a human, and the rest is a horse. The ancient peoples considered centaurs to be light and kind creatures, doing good. An exception to this was the Greek legend, which tells of several centaurs who were invited to a feast, where they waged a battle, as a result of which many centaurs died.
The most famous centaur was Chiron, who was educated by Apollo and Artemis and was an excellent hunter, herder, healer, and soothsayer. According to legend, Chiron became the teacher of the great warrior Achilles. This centaur was so respected by the gods that after his death Zeus took him to heaven and turned him into the constellation Sagittarius.
The Trojan Horse was a huge hollow wooden horse that helped the Greeks conquer Troy. The Trojan prince Paris fell in love with the beautiful Helen, the wife of the Greek Menelaus, kidnapped her and took her to his kingdom. In revenge, Menelaus gathered a huge Greek army and began a siege of Troy, which lasted ten years. Finally, the cunning Odysseus came up with the idea of how to outwit the Trojans. He proposed to make a huge wooden horse and climb inside the Greek army, before that pretending that it had departed for its homeland, and the horse left behind was a gift to the gods. The Trojans believed, opened the gates and dragged the horse into the city. The Greeks got out of it and captured the city. Since then, the expression “Trojan horse” has been a household name, which means “trick”.