Derived from classical mythology, the Bible, world folklore, literature, and other sources, these fantastic tales recount the exploits of angelic steeds and demonic horses as well as centaurs, hippogryphs, and unicorns. Supernatural warhorses and headless phantom horses gallop through these stories, in addition to fairy horses, sea horses, hobbyhorses, bridal horses, corn-horses, moon-horses, wind-horses, and many other fabulous equine exemplars. Readers will also find legends of the gods and patron saints of horses, the horse and metempsychosis, the horse in creation myths, and much more.
A bibliography appears at the end of each chapter, providing scholars and folklorists with an excellent range of resources. The informal and colorful narrative, enhanced by several fanciful illustrations, makes this unique book a treat for horse lovers and readers of all interests.
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The Horse in Magic and Myth
By M. Oldfield Howey
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 2002 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
FAMILIAR as we have all been from early childhood with some of the equine marvels which inhabit Fairyland, many people may be surprised to discover what a large amount of tradition is to be found in regard to the existence of such an order of beings. I have endeavoured to collect certain instances that are fairly representative, and it will be seen that a number of these are singularly arresting and dramatic in character.
This visible, physical world in which we live is interpenetrated by more than one unseen world, just as perfect and complete in itself as the material planet, which is the only one most human beings are conscious of. All around us is the great crowd of witnesses, themselves, except upon rare occasions, invisible. The fairy realm in which we are now about to wander in search of fairy steeds is remarkably like our own in many respects. Even the denizens of the ghostly realm, consisting of the earthbound spirits of former mortal creatures, cannot draw quite so close to us, for they are nearly always living over and over some regrettable event of their past life, or are obsessed by some one dominant desire which allows them to think only of the means by which they hope to fulfil it; but the fairies, if tradition is to be credited, eat and drink, and marry, and have children and homes and horses and cattle, and even assume the human form so perfectly for the purpose of associating with man, that mortals talk and trade with them totally unaware of their true nature. The "Good People" are often extremely "horsey" in their tastes and fond of acquiring mortal horses for their purposes, though why, it is hard to say, since fairy horses exist as certainly as fairies. Apparently the supply does not equal the demand, however, and fairies seem to have the power of bestowing some of their own gifts upon the mortal steeds they take over, including that of immortality, or at least of comparative immortality.
The following story concerning a fairy horse and its rider may be found in the Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border:
"Osbert, a bold and powerful baron, visited a noble family in the vicinity of Wandlebury, in the bishopric of Ely. Among other stories related in the social circle of his friends, who amused each other by repeating ancient tales and traditions, he was informed that if any knight, unattended, entered an adjacent plain by moonlight, and challenged an adversary to appear, he would be immediately encountered by a spirit in the form of a knight.
"Osbert resolved to make the experiment, and set out attended by a single squire, whom he ordered to remain without the limits of the plain, which was surrounded by an ancient entrenchment.
"On repeating the challenge, he was instantly assailed by an adversary, whom he quickly unhorsed, and seized the reins of his steed. During this operation, his ghostly opponent sprang up, and darting his spear like a javelin at Osbert, wounded him in the thigh. Osbert returned in triumph with the horse, which he committed to the care of his servants. The horse was of a sable colour, as well as his whole accoutrements, and apparently of great beauty and vigour. He remained with his keeper till cock-crowing, when, with eyes flashing fire, he reared, spurned the ground, and vanished.
"On disarming himself, Osbert perceived that he was wounded, and that one of his steel boots was full of blood.... As long as he lived the scar of his wound opened afresh on the anniversary of the eve on which he encountered the spirit."
Another story of a similar case is related in the Hierarchy of Blessed Angels, but has a tragic ending. A Bohemian knight was travelling on horseback at night accompanied only by a single friend, when they came suddenly upon a fairy host arrayed under displayed banners.
The knight, in spite of all his companion could say to deter him, spurred forward to combat with a champion who came from out the ranks of the fairies apparently in challenge. The knight and his steed were quickly vanquished by their fairy adversaries. The companion fled, but next morning returned to the place, only to find the mangled bodies of the knight and his horse lying on the ground.
It is interesting to note here how fairy customs and fashions keep pace with those of human beings. A completely modern fairy scene might show them using aeroplanes!
The ancient Highland family of Maclean of Lochbury are forewarned of death by the spirit of an ancestor who was slain in battle. Mounted on his steed, he is heard to gallop along a stony bank, and then to ride three times round the family residence, ringing his fairy bridle. Thus he presages the approaching peril. Probably his faithful steed bore him in his last fight and perished beside him on the battlefield, though the fairy bridle which is so expressly mentioned seems to connect his charger with elf-land, and we have therefore decided to include the legend in this category, rather than among the stories of ghostly horses. Perhaps horse and rider were admitted into Fairyland at death.
There are many legends of such admissions even before death. The doorway between the two worlds is not always closed, though those mortals who pass its portals seldom have any wish to return. For them time ceases to exist and life is one long joy. There, at least, existence justifies itself. Yet those who have loved do not entirely forget, and the peril of the loved ones has often proved to be a spell of such potent power that it has recalled mortals even from Fairyland. This would seem to be the case of our Highland rider.
The following story is related by Dr. Grahame:
"A young man, one day roaming through the forest, observed a number of persons all dressed in green, issuing from one of those round eminences which are commonly accounted fairy-hills. Each of them in succession called upon a person by name to fetch his horse. A caparisoned steed instantly appeared ; they all mounted and sallied forth into the regions of the air. The young man ventured to pronounce the same name, and called for his horse. The steed immediately appeared; he mounted and was soon joined to the fairy choir. He remained with them for a year, going about with them to fairs and weddings. On one of these occasions the bridegroom sneezed, and the young man, according to the usual custom, said 'God bless you.' The fairies were angry at the pronunciation of the sacred name, and when he repeated the offence on a third occasion they hurled him down a precipice. He found himself unhurt and restored to mortal society."
Here, indeed, is an instance of the open door to which we have just referred. The story also illustrates the equestrian tastes of the Good People and the power of aerial flight possessed by the fairy steed.
Nearly two centuries ago the mountain known as Southerfel, in Cumberland, was haunted by spectral horses and their riders. Apparently the first human beings to note these uncanny apparitions were a shepherd of the name of John Wren, of Wilton Hill, and his servant, Daniel Stricket. These two were sitting at the door together one summer evening after supper, in 1743, when they saw a man and dog chasing some horses on the steep and slippery sides of Southerfel. Although it would have been most difficult for a horse to keep its footing there at all, these creatures fled at an extraordinary speed, and seemed to disappear at the lower end of the hill. Their wonderment thoroughly aroused, Wren and Stricket went next morning expecting to find the dead body of the venturous man and the cast shoes of the fleeing horses. But not a trace of either man or horse having passed that way could they discover. Fearing to arouse the ridicule of their neighbours, they refrained from telling their story for a long time, but when they did venture to relate it, they were much laughed at, and no one believed them. Nothing further happened until the 23rd of June (the eve of St. John's Day) in the following year. Stricket had changed his master and now served a Mr. Lancaster, of Blakehills, the next house to Wilton Hill. He was taking an evening stroll a little way above Blakehills about 7.30 when, chancing to look over to Southerfel, he saw a company of mounted men riding along the mountain side in fairly close formation, at a brisk walk. He gazed on the strange sight for some time before he could bring himself to tell anyone else what he saw, fearing further ridicule, but at last, satisfied of the reality of his vision, he asked his master to come out as he had something to show him. Mr. Lancaster came, expecting to see a bonfire, as it was the custom for shepherds to light these on St. John's Eve, but to his amazement saw what we have just described. Finding they both saw alike, the two men called the other members of the household, and all saw the phenomena. The troops of horsemen appeared to come from the lower part of the fell, and first to become visible at a place called Knot. From thence they rode in regular order along the side of the hill in a curving line until they were opposite to Blakehills. Then they disappeared over the mountain. The last but one in every troop galloped to the front, and then walked at the same quick speed as his comrades. The spectators found on comparing notes that one and all saw these changes of relative position alike and at the same time, and not only the witnesses we have followed saw the phenomena, but every person within a mile saw it also. The procession lasted two hours and a half from the time when Stricket first observed it, and then night shut out any further view. Blakehills was half a mile from where the troops were seen. The account in Mr. Lancaster's own words, signed, and declared to be true by himself and Daniel Stricket, is given in Clarke's Survey of the Lakes (1789).
Mr. Clarke suggests that the vision might have been prophetic of the rebellion which took place the year after its occurrence.
The date on which it was observed was the 23rd of June, 1744, and it appeared on the side of the mountain between Penrith and Keswick.
To take another parallel case to that we have just recited: Lord Lindsay has described how his friend and companion, Mr. William Wardlaw Ramsay, when crossing the valley of the Wady Arabia, saw, to his own complete conviction, a party of horses and riders moving along the sandhills, though accurate information obtained after the vision proved that no horseman could have been in the neighbourhood. Lord Lindsay speaks of the experience of his friend as affording an example "of that spiritualised tone the imagination naturally assumes in scenes presenting so little sympathy with the ordinary feelings of humanity," but this does not give us much of a clue. He seems to imply that he thought his friend had imagined the horsemen. He goes on to describe Mr. Ramsay as "a man of remarkably strong sight, and by no means disposed to superstitious credulity," adding that he was never able to divest himself of the impression that he had distinctly seen the horsemen. To the Arabian, no such apology and explaining away of phenomena is necessary. To those who spend their lives in the vast loneliness of the desert such glimpses of the inhabitants of another world are almost commonplace. But they are not regarded lightly, but with awe, as foretelling that death is nigh for the seer. Thus it proved in this case, for a few weeks after the vision Mr. Ramsay died at Damascus.
It is probable that the reason why these strange horsemen are seen by those about to cross over is not that they have any intention of giving a warning of the approach of death, but that those who are nearing the crossing have their spiritual senses sharpened, and get glimpses of the inhabitants of other worlds—the interpenetrating astral regions, which normally are invisible.
Whether the desert horsemen seen by Mr. Ramsay were fairies or not, I cannot say. They may have been the ghosts of men and horses whose lives had been spent in these lonely fastnesses. Or they may have belonged to some celestial order.
Many are the legends that a hero of bygone days has never died, but sleeps along with his warriors and horses in some hidden cave awaiting the call of his country's need to lead them forth to victorious combat on her behalf.
The Moors, for instance, who were left in the Valentia mountains, expected that their hero, Alfatimi, would one day return from his hiding-place in the Sierra de Aguar to avenge their wrongs and destroy their tyrants. The point to be noted here is that he was to be mounted upon a green horse when he fulfilled the prophecy. This, being the special colour of the little people, is certainly a clue to its origin, and justifies us in classifying it as a fairy steed (see Malory's Morte d'Arthur).
The horse of Vishnu, on the other hand, I have included among the angel horses, as it is obviously of a celestial nature.
Cheshire furnishes the following curious and interesting tradition of the adventures into which the ownership of a white horse drew a local farmer. According to the legend, about the twelfth or thirteenth century a certain farmer who lived at Mobberley had a beautiful white horse which he decided to put up for sale at Macclesfield Fair. On the morning of the fair, therefore, he set off riding his horse. His road led along the heath that skirts Alderley Edge. As he went, he stooped over his steed to arrange its mane to the best advantage. Suddenly he felt the animal start beneath him, and, looking quickly up, he found himself confronted by an exceedingly tall and commanding figure dressed as a monk, which barred his further progress by holding a staff of black wood across his path. The apparition informed him that he was on a fruitless errand, since Destiny had decreed a far nobler mission for his horse. It then proceeded to bid the farmer meet it again with the steed on the same spot that evening when the sun had set. The message given, it disappeared.
The farmer decided to test the truth of the strange monk's words and hurried on to the fair. But his efforts to sell his horse were in vain. He reduced his price to half, but no one could be found to buy, though the beauty of the steed provoked much admiration. At last he resolved that he must brave the worst and meet again the strange monk at the appointed place, so, summoning all his courage, he rode back to the heath. The monk met him there punctually, and commanding the farmer to follow, led the way by the Golden Stone, Stormy Point, to Saddle Bole. When they reached this spot the neighing of horses was heard, the sound apparently proceeding from under their feet, and on the monk waving his black staff the earth opened, and a pair of heavy iron gates were disclosed to view. The farmer's horse was naturally terrified and in his fright plunged and threw his rider, who, scarcely less alarmed, knelt at the feet of his spectral companion and earnestly prayed for mercy. The monk bade him be of good courage and enter the cavern, where he should see what no mortal had ever beheld. Passing the portals, the farmer found he was within a roomy cavern, on each side of which stood horses that in size and colour were the counterparts of his own. Beside them lay soldiers wearing armour of a by-gone period, and in the recesses of the rock were arms and heaps of gold and silver in ancient coin. Taking the price of the horse from one of these piles, the monk gave it to the farmer, and in reply to his question as to the meaning of the strange spectacle replied as follows:
"These are caverned warriors preserved by the good genius of England, until that eventful day when, distracted by intestine broils, England shall be thrice won and lost between sunrise and sunset. Then we, awakening from our sleep, shall rise to turn the fate of Britain. This shall be when George, the son of George, shall reign, when the forests of Delamere shall wave their arms over the slaughtered sons of Albion. Then shall the eagle drink the blood of princes from the headless cross [query corse ]. Now haste thee home, for it is not in thy time these things shall be. A Cestrian shall speak of it and be believed."
The farmer left his horse with the monk, and the iron gates closed behind him, but though often sought for, the scene of his strange adventure has never been discovered.
Excerpted from The Horse in Magic and Myth by M. Oldfield Howey. Copyright © 2002 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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Table of ContentsCHAPTER I
THE DEMON HORSE: MARË AND OTHERS
DEMON HORSES: THE WILD HUNTSMAN
THE HEADLESS PHANTOM HORSE
THE SAXON HORSE
THE TROJAN HORSE
THE HOODEN HORSE
THE BRIDAL HORSE
THE HORSE IN CHARM AND INCANTATION
THE PROPHETIC HORSE
THE SYMBOLIC HORSE
"WITCHES, FAIRIES, AND HORSES"
THE GODS AND PATRON SAINTS OF HORSES
THE SACRIFICIAL HORSE
OTHER SACRED HORSES
THE FUNERAL HORSE
THE HORSE AND METEMPSYCHOSIS
THE HORSE IN CREATION MYTHS
THE MORAL AND LEGAL RESPONSIBILITY OF THE HORSE
LUCK AND UNLUCKY COLORATION OF HORSES
"CENTAURS, HYPPOGRYPHS, AND UNICORNS"
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