Carl G. Jung is quoted as having said the horse represents ‘the mother within us’ explaining that the animal has a power understanding, intuition and magical side that is distinctive from anything else in nature.
In ancient Greece the horse was worshipped and prized as a special possession being associated with the Goddess Artemis. For many centuries most horses have been considered to be lucky bringing good fortune to the owner, with white ones possessing extra special qualities. Almost universally in paintings and chalk drawings such horses have been seen as sacred, revered and were once seen as the most perfect animals for carrying important members of state or priests. In films the brilliant hero, the victor or the innocent maiden is seen charging upon a white steed. White horses were also animals to be feared with suspicion traditionally, and a rural custom of spitting on the ground immediately should one pass by was common. British traditional beliefs indicate that it was the black horse that was seen as the lucky mount with piebald horses the most unlucky to own, whilst in mainland Europe tradition indicates the reverse was generally believed. The colour of the colt was thought possible to arrange by displaying a piece of material in the chosen colour to the mare before the foal is born according to an old American belief.
In ancient times the Celts believed that after death the soul of a person was transported to the land of the dead on horseback believing them to possess special powers worthy to the task.
Horses have played a central role in helping man manage or travel the land, and it could be said that the development of each is interdependent until the arrival of the combustion engine. Many people now enjoy the pleasure of owning horses for leisure or sporting purposes. Those with either a white starred marking on the forehead or white stockings are generally considered to be a sign of good fortune. The horse that has a white stocking on a hind leg that reaches no further than a few inches up and also has a white star is deemed to be the luckiest of all in sporting circles. It seems that such a horse is traditionally thought to be one that is not prone to stumbling or faltering at a hurdle. Although it is not known outside of the British riding fraternity, there is a belief that there is one word that can be said to horses to control and train them, and only those who are true horsemen shall know it.
The sight of a woman with red hair on the back of a white horse was an ill omen according to North American First Nation beliefs. It was said that such a sight would prelude a long period of misfortune if the animal and rider crossed your path. Plaiting a horse’s tail is still very popular not least for dressage work, but traditionally this practice was commonplace throughout Europe to divert the attentions of witches. Even better if the horse had ribbons woven into the plait, perhaps this has connections with the Crusades, when remnants of the banners taken into battle were plaited into the tail to ward off darker forces. This practice of using ribbons as part of the decoration of the animal or costume is similar to that of English Morris (UK) dancers today (See Mystical WWW Arts : Dance - Morris, Mumming). Akin to the practice of Morris dancing, a ‘Hodening Horse’ was a common sight during the celebrations on November 1 and 2 in Cheshire (UK). This was traditionally a time for Celtic celebration when the New Year began and spirits of those who had died were believed to return briefly. A man covered in a sheet would take part in the ‘souling’ (perambulatory dance and song through a village for food or money). He carried a horse’s head and would dance whilst opening and closing the animal’s mouth as though it were singing. Perhaps this is why the all singing and dancing horse is still very much a part of Christmas celebrations, especially pantomime and comedy. A similar event occurs at Halloween in Antrobus, Acton Bridge (UK) when a soul-caking mumming play is performed according to rural community customs known as the ‘Wild Horse of Antrobus’ (See Mystical WWW Arts : Dance - Morris, Mumming).
When a group of horses are seen close to a hedge with their backs turned towards it, British folklore has it that a storm is imminent and if a horse should snort on a journey it is said to indicate that good news and events will follow.
A widespread belief tells of how any horse that has a groove in its neck is to be treasured and treated with great respect as it believed to come from a the line of horses that belonged to the Prophet Mahomet. If you can place your thumb gently into the groove on the neck, which is known as the ‘Prophet’s Thumb Print’, then the horse is allegedly connected to one of the five brood mares that Mahomet owned, and therefore sacred.
In east and western Europe it is a familiar tradition, believed to be around five-thousand years old, to dress the horses with bells, leather strapping, coloured ribbons and small decorated commemorative brass plates known as ‘Horsebrasses’. Now collectible, the brasses were originally used to distract the attention of witches and the Evil Eye, also being a form of protection against any charms. The metal brasses were highly polished taking the form of a talisman and were designed carefully with mystical symbols. Some of the most notable ones used universally include flowers, birds and beasts, acorns and hearts. Seen to hold positive energies brasses are now sought after and displayed within the home for much the same purpose as when part of the dressing.
It has long been a tradition in horse racing to avoid placing a wager on a horse that has had it’s name changed or to wish the jockey or even the horse ‘good luck’ at the start of a race. The skill of the jockey combined with the intelligence of the horse are a formidable force and therefore nothing is left to chance, hence there being no need for such encouragement. Selection for a wager is often determined by the relationship and form of the horse and jockey, but it has been known for the colours worn by the two to play an important part. All colours have a spiritual meaning and have been selected with care. If you feel like a wager avoid selecting the runner by chance. If you cannot see an obvious choice then folklore has it that to select one by closing the eyes and sticking a pin in the list is one way - but the pin must be from a bride’s wedding dress. Such a pin is said to be very lucky and should bring you success.
To find a horseshoe on a road when out walking is said to be a sign of good fortune. By nailing the shoe above the entrance to the property, with the ends of the shoe turned upwards to ensure the good fortune does not drain away, the prosperity resulting will be increased. Some believe that to place the shoe on its side will also bring good fortune as the shoe indicates the letter ‘C’, symbolic of ‘Christ’.
The power of the horseshoe is said to have come from the fact that it was first forged in a sacred fire and made of a most precious sacred metal, iron. The shape has been said to symbolise the roof of a house, or the heavens above the earth. Both together the two represent man’s inner and outer life, his spiritual and material. When the horseshoe was first used man believed that the shoe itself held incredible powers as when the shoe was fitted the horse seemed to feel no pain. Coupled with the fact that the shoe was being fitted to the noble horse the shoe has understandably developed a mystique. Whether for marriages, auditions, interviews or for moving home, the horseshoe has become a universal symbol of hoe and good fortune from one friend to another. Sailors were known to nail a shoe on board the ships as protection whilst at sea. In southern England (UK) there was a belief that if a horseshoe was found in the road, by spitting on it and then casting it over the left shoulder as a wish was made, any desire would be granted! Though to make a ring out of the shoe could also bring the wearer prosperity and fortune - and last longer.
For added success a racehorse owner could become a ‘Toadman’ (See Mystical WWW Mystic’s Menagerie : Toad).
The horse has traditionally been thought to be able to see earthbound spirits and ghosts, signalling this by sweating and shying. If owners believed that this distressed the animals horsebrasses were often used to provide protection (See Mystical WWW Mystic’s Menagerie : Horsebrasses).
To ‘Hag-ride’ was a term used to express the way witches were once thought to travel to coven gatherings during the Middle Ages in Europe. Witches were thought to steal horses, who were used as familiars by them, and return them after the meeting before the sunrise. This was believed to be another reason why horses might be found in the stable or field covered with sweat and exhausted. The development of adoring horses with bells is thought to have been the result of country folk preparing amulets against the Evil Eye, providing audible indication of the witch’s presence. This way the owner could save his horse from transformation.
In England and Wales the ‘Horse Goddess’, also known as ‘Epona’ and ‘Rhiannon’ respectively, was worshipped for more than just protection during shamanic Celtic rituals associated with magical flights to realms inaccessible to others by using the horse (in some countries the horse would be sacrificed for the shaman in order that the flight to the ‘otherworlds’ was possible). It is said that she rode upon a white mount called the ‘White Mare’. The horse was revered. The horse and it’s shoe both have associations with the moon. One theory for the appearance of a chalk crescent at the ‘Westbury Horse’ in Wiltshire (UK) near it’s tail indicates that this lunar connection is clearly marked. There are two similar chalk drawings; the ‘Red Horse of Tysoe’, Warwickshire, and a horse hewn into the hillside near ‘Uffington Castle’ in Berkshire (UK). Further evidence that the Celts thought highly of the horse can be seen on coinage (the Uffington Horse being very similar to the representation). The Westbury Horse was redesigned in 1778 and lost a saddle and crescent moon design from the very end of the tail. The presence of a saddle indicates perhaps a connection with the belief in the horse transporting the dead to the afterlife, but also indicates that the Celts had sufficient skills to ride and domesticate the animal to some degree with horse races being very common across Britain during this time.
It was once thought a horse that was proving difficult to catch would succumb to gingerbread with added fennel.
According to Arthurian legend a horse with a magical bridle was often sought by knights the most famous being Gawain. It was believed that once found the horse would turn back into a woman, having been previously transformed.
In India, the ritualistic practice of dedicating a stallion to then be sacrificed as part of a ritual is thought to have it’s origins in the royal ‘Vedic Horse Sacrifice’. The prosperity of the royal family was believed to be ensured. The horse is also symbolic of the cosmos in the Hindu ‘Brihadaranyanka Upanishad’.
In ancient Greece, the horse was revered for three main qualities each linked to a goddess of worship. ‘Demeter’ was the goddess of fertility, ‘Artemis’ the goddess of hunting and ‘Aphrodite’ the goddess of love. Both the Romans and the Greeks associated the horse with war, and also the wind, water and thunder.
A Russian stallion called ‘Clever Hans’ became well-known in Berlin in the early 1900’s for his ability to answer questions in various ways. It is said that he shook his head and stamped his feet, whilst also sorting letters/alphabet blocks into words. Investigation indicated that the horse was picking-up on clues from the questioner. One successful attempt to prove the ability of horses to work out mathematical problems was achieved by Karl Krall in Germany. His horses became known as ‘wizard horses’ as they became known for stomping their feet to indicate the square root of numbers by using either the left or right hoof. The horses were not able to see Krall as their heads were covered with sacking.
‘Lady’ became well-known as a filly from America, in the early 1920’s, capable of tapping out clairvoyant messages on a typewriter. Despite attempts to prove this was fraudulent by J.B. and Louisa Rhine and Dr Thomas Garrett, Lady was proved to be on the level. She later became known for predicting the involvement of Russia and America in WWII, the election of Harry Truman as President of the US. She is also alleged to have helped search for a missing young boy in Massachusetts, leading the police to the location. Some said that in her youth she was able to choose horse race winners.