H is for Horse
Symbols in Stories from Around the World
My Mom had 1’ tall plastic horses as a child that I loved to play with and cherish. The heads could move while one had wheels on the bottom of its hooves and another could bend its legs and be in all kind of majestic positions. With the number of horse books and posters available—as well as figurines about 4” high—it is no wonder that I as well as many people in the world find horses fascinating.
The horse is a creature of nobility and symbolizes royalty and deity. Many gods from different cultures had chariots pulled by horses. White or flaming horses pulled the Greek sun god Apollo’s chariot, the Indian sun god Surya’s chariot, and the Celtic gods Lugh and Mannanan rode upon them. In fact, anyone who rode upon Mannanan’s horse was then invulnerable. For Christianity, God sent flaming horses to pull a chariot to bring the prophet Elijah to heaven.
The Welsh horse goddess, Rhiannon (also known as Epona by the Celts), was represented by the white horse. As a result, a recently crowned Celt kings sacrificed a white mare and then the king soaked in the horse’s broth as if to say that the king was honored and had intimate relations with Rhiannon to deserve his kingship. Celtic kings–newly crowned or long-time rulers–and priests rode upon white horses, and these horses had their own sacred groves separate from the other horses. Then horses of all kinds were celebrated during Celtic tribal meetings and harvest festivals through races and mounted archery contests. Even the Romans adopted the worshipping of Rhiannon/Epona because of their military use of horses and their love for them.
Mongolian horsemen rode without harness and reins to show their skills and power as men. It is believed this tradition originated from when these men had to keep their hands free to fight during battle. Even the cowboy culture reflects the sense of power by staying atop a bucking bronco for as long as possible. It was—and still is—an honor to conquer such a wild and noble animal.
Many Native American tribes connected the horse with thunder due to the pounding of hooves. The Greeks also saw horses associated with storms. Zeus had Pegasus, the winged horse, ascend to Mount Olympus and then made to carry Zeus’ thunderbolts. Poseidon, who oversaw the seas, created seahorses that pulled his chariot and caused the huge waves upon the waters.
There were the scary horses, too, such as the man-eating flesh ones that Hercules had to clean up after as one of his Twelve Labors. The Bible tells of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse that represent Death, Famine, War, and Pestilence. Typically welcomed creatures, here these horses are symbols of doom and despair.
For Buddhism, a white horse symbolized purity and loyalty that connected with the Seven Treasures of Buddhism: the treasure of conviction, the treasure of virtue, the treasure of conscience, the treasure of concern, the treasure of listening, the treasure of generosity, and the treasure of discernment.
The Japanese sacrificed horses to Shinto gods as a way for there to be peace and good harvests. Many cultures see the horse as bringing luck—or in this case—answering prayers. Throughout Europe, the horseshoe became an extension of that luck.
Many heroes had a horse that either assisted or was crucial to the success of the quests. Often the horses could talk and give guidance. These talking horses usually were princesses or princes in disguise or cursed. These horses became human once the heroes did exactly what these creatures told them.
Some stories that feature horses:
- “The Walling of Asgard and the Birth of Sleipnir,” Norse tale, a supposed-stone mason uses his stallion Svadilfari to build a wall around Asgard and Loki turns into a lady-horse so the Viking gods do not have to keep their promise to let the mason marry the goddess Freyja (Sleipnir, the eight-legged horse born as a result)
- “N’oun Doare’,” Celtic tale, when boy turns 17 he chooses a rusty sword and a skinny mare (later learns the horse can teleport, talk, and is really a princess in disguise)
- “The Fox and the Horse,” German tale, an old white horse is told by its master that he will no longer feed the horse until the horse can prove he is strong enough to bring back a lion—which the horse does—with help from a fox
What stories do you know that involves a horse? Please comment below and share with others of this post.
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