On an evening fine
In a meadow green
And laze and play
Red poppies grow
Among the grass
In the sun
Of a summer's day
Red poppies change
Their shape becomes
Like exotic cranes
While horses play
They rise and flutter
Red butterflies now
As horses wonder
As horses gaze
Turn now to white
They fly round faces
And light with love
They gently play
As horses stand
In awe of this
At end of day
Become white birds
In flocks of white
They rise and fly
Above the meadow
While horses watch
The magic sight
As evening falls
- Kris Hughes 2014
This poem describes a dream I had maybe seven or eight years ago. It was so full of wonder that I've remembered it quite vividly, although I don't begin to understand its meaning. Recently, a friend who did a Shamanic journey on my behalf urged me to begin working with the goddess Rhiannon. In doing so, I've become convinced that this dream was a gift from Her.
Exploring the Shetland Pony card from several angles
As some of my readers know, I have been experimenting with readings on relationships with animals. In one of the first readings I did, the Beach card came up. The Beach is one of several cards which describes a "thin place" or a liminal space where two entities converge. In Celtic spirituality, such places are particularly magical or prone to "supernatural" happenings. As I considered this reading I realised that there are points in human-animal relations that have this powerful, liminal quality, and that both animals and humans may experience this. I am talking about something different than simply sharing love or affection, companionship and mutual support. I think these experiences draw their power from the essential differences between the human and the animal involved. While the opportunity for such moments may always be there, many of us don't experience them, or only rarely, although part of our attraction to animals may be that we recognise the potential for them at a deep level.
I once did a reading for someone who was constantly plagued by feelings of both anger and anxiety. This card was central to her reading. It turned out that her husband was somewhat verbally abusive, but what she found most hurtful was that he never took her seriously, no matter what she did or said, he'd consider it childish or silly. The Shetland Pony is a card of the misunderstood, of the one not taken seriously. Frequently the response is to avoid eye contact and just put up with things, or to find an outlet in rebellion.
This failure to understand, and to think we know best, carries over into impatience when we find that the other person has dug their heels in over "something silly". But we're all afraid of something silly! I know people who would rather jump out of a plane than give a speech in public and others who would prefer to have a tooth pulled than learn to use a computer. Just as we might see someone's refusal to do something as stubborn, when they are really afraid, so we may make the same misjudgement about ourselves. Then we come up with phrases like "It's just the way I am, " or "No way am I doing that, it's stupid!" because these positions feel less threatening than simply saying, "I'm scared. You'd have to be really patient with me for me to even try that."
This is the obvious and "top layer" meaning of the card. It's the one I would probably focus on when it comes up in someone's reading. However, I knew there was more to this card, and for days, I have caught glimpses of it and wrestled with it, but there were missing pieces. I hope that I have found, if not all the missing pieces, at least enough of them to show us the way...
Water horse, liminal horse.
Some readers will recognise the Scottish/Irish Kelpie, or "water horse", in this description. (Forget the whole 2007 movie of the same title - just forget it. We're talking about someone's traditional beliefs here, not about Hollywood.) There are certainly parallels all over Britain, Ireland and Scandinavia, where such creatures are sometimes called the nøk, or nyk, etc. Etymologists tell us that this may well be the origin of referring to the devil as "Auld Nick" as well as possibly relating to sea gods like the Celtic god Nechtan, and even Neptune (who created the horse, in some myths). Horses and water are frequently linked in both myth and folklore. I've also noticed that if you remove the letter N from the names Nechtan and Neptune, it is possible to see the relationship of both words to early word roots denoting the horse including the Latin equos/equus, the Greek hippos, and the Gaulish epos. These roots gave us words like Epona, pony, and the Gaelic word for horse: each.
Back in Shetland, another common prank of the njuggle was to inhabit the space under mill wheels and stop the wheel when it took their fancy. Maybe they were jealous, as the tails of some njuggles were said to be like wheels, which they used to propel themselves through the water. Or maybe they simply wanted to halt the wheels of "progress" which would eventually drive them into a kind of extinction. In these cases, they could be scared away with fire, like so many of the things we once feared.
At the liminal point between land and water there is a field of energy which at once repels and attracts - where we fear and yet desire to enter the wildness of the water, to give up control of the wildness in us to a greater wildness. The Irish mystic writer, John Moriarty, talked in an interview, about this need for wildness ~
"We shape the earth to suit ourselves. We plough it and we knock it and we shape it and we re-shape it. Dolphins were land animals once, and they went down into the sea. They said to the ocean, "Well, shape me to suit you." And now -- the Lord save us, I was in a house in Connemara sometime recently, and I saw a dolphin bone. The curve of it was as beautiful as any couple of bars of Mozart's music. It was so beautiful! I've no bone in my body that is shaped to the earth like that.
For some reason horses offer us a way to make this connection, but not by harnessing and forcing them into our control. Not by "knocking and shaping and re-shaping" them. It is only when we find a way to merge our wildness with theirs, or have the merger thrust upon us, that it actually does us any good. Still, this involves some danger. Swimming or putting a small boat out into wild water, riding a horse galloping out of control, both must be similar on the scale of dangerous things to do. There is always vulnerability in liminal experiences. The danger of getting stuck "in limbo", of not finding our way back...of somehow falling through the cracks of our own experience.
Modern people, I think, lack the liminal experiences which were once achieved through ritual, through feeling themselves a part of nature, through rites of passage and though belief in the supernatural. Yet these are things we long for. How and whether modern people manage to recover this part of life may just be the defining questions of our survival, and whether, if we survive, we thrive or we languish. Yet, simply having a liminal experience may not be enough if we don't have points of reference for it. In "traditional" cultures, points of reference were marked by the rituals and prescriptions surrounding various life events, both the pivotal and the routine. They gave an assurance of success to the experience, if not a guarantee. Many folk beliefs, and their associated tales, offer advice as to how to avoid unwanted outcomes within liminal experiences or how to deal with them if they overtake us, and many heroic myths have grown up around dealing with such things.
Much has been written in the past twenty years about our spiritual connections with horses. Throughout human history they have been repeatedly raised as icons of something wild, free, powerful and supernatural. Perhaps only the sea, itself, shares a similar place in our deepest ideas of power and mystery. In northwest Europe, early peoples tended to gravitate to the coastline. Much of the land was boggy, steep or heavily wooded, making travel by sea much easier than by land, and the sea shore provided a bounty. The little primitive horses were probably only interesting as an occasional source of red meat. The sea was everything.
As populations grew and moved slowly inland, and farming and land travel became more important, so did the horse and its many uses. Yet most horses remained essentially wild animals, with many more being "owned" than were ever tamed, and this is still the case today with most of the mountain and moorland breeds of the British Isles, where many are still allowed to breed in semi-wild conditions and only some are tamed. As this shift was made, and men turned more toward the land and less toward the sea, perhaps the horse both replaced, and became mixed with, the sea as the ultimate symbol of unknowable power and wildness. Spiritually, the horse led us back toward the water, and toward our wildness.
The small ponies of Shetland, a land hovering in its own liminal position between Scotland and Scandinavia, are the closest horses we have to the first horses to walk the earth. They are shaped to the earth, and not so much by the hand of man, as most animals we call domestic. As such, I think they are truly an ideal symbol of our longing toward our own inner wildness and a guide into the waters of liminal experience.
Today, the njuggle is often thought of as a story for children. Which may be to say "Something thought to be childish is entirely misunderstood..."
More on the ideas in this post -
Liminality - This article contains more than you ever wanted to know about the concept of liminaltiy, which I didn't explain very thoroughly.
Njuggles - My thanks to Adam Grydehøj's paper "The Dead Began to Speak" for insight into the etymology of njuggles, as well as some great insights into folklore studies. (p 139 for njuggles, nøks, etc.) And thanks to Adam for agreeing to make the entire text available on the internet.
The John Moriarty interview link
Radio Essay on Britain's wild ponies
If you enjoyed this post, you might also like The Beach, a series of posts exploring liminal space through myth, or Rambles with the Mari Lwyd, about horse traditions in British culture.
Black Pony - A relationship may be frustrating for both parties. What appears wild and untameable should sometimes be left so. Tact and great patience will be required to avoid loss of dignity. When an oracle card has a meaning or definition that long, you know you are looking at some deep layers of complexity. (I will also add a disclaimer here, for those who know me, that this card doesn't refer to either of the flesh-and-blood black ponies I happen to own, so if you know them, or stories about them, don't muddy the waters by adding them to the pot.)
In other cases, they discover that they don't have enough time for the horse, are not physically fit enough to cope with some aspects of horse ownership, the costs mount up far beyond the budget, there are problems over pastures and stables and places to ride, not to mention the many mysterious and expensive injuries and ailments that can trouble horses. You'd wonder why anyone would ever want to own a horse at all, but they are so beautiful, so seductive and iconic. They are enormous fun to ride when things are going well. Like other domestic animals, there are also plenty who are "in trouble" and need rescuing in one way or another, and that is a very strong pull for some people - especially when horses are so, well, you know - beautiful and iconic, etc. etc. On the flip side, in most cases where the human isn't coping with having a horse, their horse is not having a great time, either. It may suffer from neglect or even abuse (there are a thousand kinds of unintentional neglect or abuse which befall horses) or may be afraid of the owner, or very confused about what it is being asked to do. It may simply be dying of boredom...
You may be getting an inkling of how all of this can be a metaphor for projects, and even relationships, that we find ourselves drawn to. I've mostly talked about the negative aspects of having a horse, here, but of course there are many potential positives, too, for both horses and humans. A successful horse/human partnership is a wonderful thing, where both parties are getting what they need, feel a strong sense of purpose, have fun, and find their lives enhanced. They are both happier and healthier as a result.
None of us has perfect judgement, and there is no universal formula for making right decisions. Many projects we look at are fairly safe bets. Either it's pretty obvious that we can get the job done, or it's something where nobody will get hurt if we don't. Then there is wild horse taming. If you're going to try that, I suggest that you take a long look at your skills and other resources. A long honest look. A long, well-researched, honest look. Then I suggest you take a long look at who might get hurt, and please don't forget the horse, or yourself, or your family - and I'm not just talking about physical injury here. Emotional and even spiritual damage is very real.
One great natural horseman, Pat Parelli, has a very useful list, called "The Seven Keys to Success". The list is his, the comments in brackets are my own.
I've found this to be a pretty good guide for getting things done in life, and a pretty good way to assess what I can do, and what I might be wise to leave alone. Even if you don't use this exact criteria, this is the type of thinking that the Black Pony card is urging you to apply to this crazy thing you're considering. There is no doubt that sometimes being strong on Attitude or Time can compensate for a lack of Support or Knowledge, etc. However, if you are in doubt about whether to go into something big, that doubt alone is a little warning flag, isn't it? Few of us naturally assess our abilities accurately. We either believe that we can do anything we are passionate about (or can afford, or that we can fake it a little, or whatever) or we are the type to have low expectations of ourselves, when we could actually do more than we realise. Either way, an honest inventory of what is needed and what we actually have, is going to get us closer to the truth.
What about following your heart? Fair question! I am actually a great believer in following your heart. Remember that this post is really about the Black Pony oracle card, and its meaning. So if you see this card in a reading, then I believe it is definitely directing you to consider the question from these practical angles. Even then, passion is definitely an aspect of "attitude" and is worth including in the calculations!
Interestingly interrelated information on hawthorn
It used to be a common folk belief that in winter, as things slowed down, our blood got thicker. Then in the spring, it was a good idea to take a spring tonic to get the blood flowing freely again. While the belief about the blood is quite a comfortable one, it doesn't seem to have any basis in reality. However, the taking of a spring tonic is still not a bad idea. Early bitter herbs are a good choice, nettles and dandelions taste great, and of course, there's hawthorn. After all, in common with our ancestors, we tend to move less and eat more comfort foods in the winter, so when these things become available it's a good idea to get our digestion going properly, pep up our liver and improve our circulation.
Hawthorn as defined in my oracle
When hawthorn leaves are green and tender in the spring, people will sometimes munch on a few, or gather some to add to a salad. Animals are also attracted to them at this time. Equine herbalist Hilary Page Self recommends hawthorn for horses with both laminitis and navicular syndrome, because of its good effect on the circulation of blood to the feet. When I lived in Scotland it was common to see native ponies stuffing themselves on hawthorn leaves in spring. That was a good choice to follow, as it is in the spring that the lush grass is most likely to cause the metabolic upset that leads to laminitis - which is an extremely painful and potentially lethal condition.
As spring moves into May and early June, the hawthorn (also called May, or May tree) blooms. These blossoms were a traditional part of May Day celebrations, being used to deck the May queen and May king, Maypoles, and the entrances to houses. However, there is a well-known taboo against bringing hawthorn into the house, as it is believed that it brings death. In fact in some areas it is known by the name "dead man's froth". I always found this strange. Why would a flower associated with spring, fertility and health also be associated with death? Then I came across an essay by Paul Kendall on the wonderful Trees for Life website. The following passage offers a good explanation:
Mediaeval country folk also asserted that the smell of hawthorn blossom was just like the smell of the Great Plague in London. Botanists later discovered that the chemical trimethylamine present in hawthorn blossom is also one of the first chemicals formed in decaying animal tissue. In the past, when corpses would have been kept in the house for several days prior to burial, people would have been very familiar with the smell of death, so it is hardly surprising that hawthorn blossom was so unwelcome in the house. It has also been suggested that some of the hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) folklore may have originated for the related woodland hawthorn (Crataegus laevigata) which may well have been commoner during the early Middle Ages, when a lot of plant folklore was evolving. Woodland hawthorn blossom gives off much more of an unpleasant scent of death soon after it is cut, and it also blooms slightly earlier than hawthorn, so that its blossoms would have been more reliably available for May Day celebrations.
Hawthorn also has a strong association with fairies, particularly in the sense that the areas around some hawthorns were places prone to offer openings into the fairy otherworld. The well known story of Thomas the Rhymer, who went away with a fairy queen, begins in such a place. They say he came back able to speak only the truth! Hawthorn trees are also the most common species among clootie trees, which although they are now mostly Christianised sometimes have fairy lore connected to them.
Hawthorn in the form of agricultural hedges is, of course, used to enclose pastures and fields. A well laid and maintained hawthorn hedge is as stockproof as any barbed wire fence, but has many advantages beyond looking prettier. It provides a windbreak for the animals it contains, a source of medicine, and the haws (berries) are somewhat useful as a food, if not very tasty. The real benefit is to nature, though, in the form of food and shelter for many small animals, plants, birds and insects. It's no wonder that hawthorn is such a strong symbol of spring, fertility and the summer to come.
If you enjoyed this post, you might also like Thoughts on Hawthorn for May Day.
I hope this little essay, straight from the Garron's mouth, will make clear the meaning of this card in the Go Deeper oracle deck.
There is mist on the hills this morning, but no rain. Down the glen where the people live I can hear them starting the land rovers and making a lot of noise. If I were a deer, maybe I'd be worried. If I were a deer I'd be headed somewhere where they'd never find me. Or maybe not. Maybe, if I were a deer I'd be ready to meet my end today, ready to move on...
Stalking ponies, or Garrons, near Ullapool. (Roger McLachlan)
Last night I ate the hay inside this fence and some grass, too, and all of the dead thistles in that one corner. Water from a bucket. I am impatient to get back to the pastures. Life is more interesting there.
In a little while the man called Archie will be here. He almost always comes first. We know each other. He'll brush me very fast and throw the deer saddle on me. I'll spend most of the day waiting, but I'll probably be carrying a stinking, heavy stag by afternoon. I am one of the strongest ponies, they say. How frightened I was of that job when I was younger. The smell of blood! My instincts told me that this was dangerous. Blood attracts predators. I see now that the only predators here are the men, and they treat me almost as one of them. I know that they will keep me safe, but I do wish they would wash that smell off me at the end of the day, or let me roll in the mud where the burn is wide and shallow. I roll and roll in this enclosure, but even if I get the stink off of me, then it is all around me. I am glad that there are other ponies here with me. I am friends with the one they call Meg.
Ah, here comes Archie up the track. He'll be here soon. Later I'll be dozing in my saddle, tied to the rail there. I think it will be sunny. Yesterday, I dreamt of sweet spring grass and the smell of spring mares. I feel sure that they will turn us out on the hill soon! We have a winter of snow and hay ahead before the spring comes again.
Some of the men who walk with us are strangers. They smell odd and have loud voices. They look at the beauty of the glen with such wonder. Most of them stay near the land rovers, sometimes they come to look at me, slap my neck, fuss over the tying of their stag. I see the awe in their eyes. This place is strange to them, yet they are hungry for it. This is my home. I never leave. I see it's beauty all the time.
You may remember the lovely guided visualisation which was posted as a guest blog by my friend Sue Burness a few weeks ago. I returned the favour with this post on Sue's EFT Coaching by Phone website over the weekend. For those of you who didn't catch up with it there, here it is.
Around the coast of Ireland and Britain there are countless stories of seal people. Often called selkies, they are usually said to be able to cast off their skins on land to take the appearance of humans. In many versions of these stories, a human falls in love with one of these beings, and although the feelings are returned, the human never quite plays fair. In order to keep their new love on land, they take the seal skin and hide it away, so that their lover is also their prisoner. These stories have an inevitable ending which I'm sure you can guess. Yes, one day the skin is found, and the selkie returns to the sea.
"Seals on the Rocks Farallon Islands" Albert Bierstadt (1830 - 1902)
Other selkie tales may concern seals who help humans who are in some kind of trouble (perhaps the human has spared a selkie's life in the past) or they may be about selkies who approach humans for help. One of my favourite of these stories tells of the adventure of a seal fisherman among the selkies, and is told by Tom Muir in this video.
I spent many years among "horse whisperers". The things I learned certainly deepened my thinking, and not just about horses. Bridging the horse/human divide - mentally, emotionally or spiritually is an immense challenge, and it's interesting how attracted we humans are to that challenge - whether it's horses or house pets, or even selkies. The man who many people consider to be the father of the natural horsemanship movement, was a fellow called Tom Dorrance. In one sense, you might call him a wise old cowboy, but his Zen-like approach to horses went a long way beyond spit and sawdust. It was an approach that he was known for extending to his human associates and students, too. Stories of how he simply set people up to see a lesson in something, then left them to figure it out, are legendary. I'll let you get a feel for Tom with a couple of quotes.
Tom's words are not easy to fathom. That's probably why he didn't write books. Most of the people who learned from Tom did it by watching, by doing, and most of all by some mysterious art of feeling what Tom was about. It was really only when some of these people, with a little more charisma, with more interest in words, began to take the message to the masses that the study of natural horsemanship became something people intentionally undertook.
The horse's need for self-preservation is deeply basic. It is fear of predators (and humans are innately predators, like it or not) which causes them to do all those inconvenient things like run away with their riders, shy in traffic or buck people off. Tom Dorrance, however, peeled away a layer that is still ignored by too many - the horse's need for mental self preservation and for spiritual self preservation, and that being herd animals, if we were to work with them under those terms, this included a need to be together with us. Many people in the natural horsemanship movement believe that this brand of thinking could save humanity, and I'm not sure that they are overstating their case.
What the lesson of the selkie and the horse whisperer both teach us is the need for feeling togetherness, and that togetherness needs to be perceived as fair by both parties. Ultimately, it's not enough for me to say "I hid your seal skin because we loved each other" or "I trained you by a consistent set of rules, which were fair rules". If the other party doesn't feel fairness, it wasn't really togetherness. Anytime we are trying to initiate a relationship we need to meet the other party a lot more than halfway. We need to go most of the way. If that doesn't make sense, maybe the following little exercise I learned from a student of Tom's will.
Most people are looking to feel comfortable. Perceived common ground is what gives them comfort. Especially common ground of spirit, and of energy. Go somewhere where you can shake hands with a bunch of people. Some of them will crush your rings into useless scrap metal, some will have a touch like a wet paper towel, others will hold onto your hand just a bit too long for decency. Don't meet them halfway. Meet them all the way, if you can. Feel your way into what they are offering, and return it, and they will feel that you are together for that moment. You will be much more likely to have their trust, their interest, whatever.
Of course, you may recognise this exercise from an Aikido class or a workshop on sales techniques - it gets around. It may spark your interest, or it may spark in you a feeling that you would be giving up your authenticity if you shook hands in any way but your way, but consider this: if you can feel together with another being for a moment, you will be enriched. That, in itself, should be reason enough to do it, but there's more, because by feeling together you also create the opportunity to lead them to a better place -- perhaps toward that middle ground where you will feel safer, too. Just be aware - they may have places they want to take you, too.
I was asked to write a piece on the energetic connection between humans and animals. I hope that this piece hasn't veered too far off topic. I sometimes do readings for people about their relationships with their animal friends, and it's interesting that they always seem to end up being about meeting the animal on it's own ground, where true togetherness is gained. Next time you are trying to create some rapport with another being, why not give this approach a try?
If you enjoyed this post, you might also like Wild Child, another piece I wrote linking horses and water from a different angle.
No plenty without earth energy.
This is the third of three visions I had in meditation recently. These may have partly been the result of saying a prayer which is addressed to the three deities Brigid, Manannán and Epona - I don't know. However since the first two visions concerned Brigid and Manannán I couldn't help but half expect to have a vision concerning Epona in the third meditation. I tried to keep my mind out of the way, so to speak, but I admit that it was more difficult this time, as I had an expectation which was difficult to suppress. If you are coming in in the middle of this series, and I'm not making things clear, then you might like to read the introduction to part one here.
I went to the beach once again in meditation. It got very dark. Storm? Nightfall? Of course, I thought, based on the prayer, that I "should" have a vision of Epona. Hmmmm...
At some point I remember thinking/saying that I would really like to see those forests and pastures I saw from afar in the first vision, with Bride. We went somewhere like that, briefly. It was full of colour and also full of predators and she struck at them with her forelegs in anger.
Everything went black. We were going down into a deep tube or tunnel. I couldn't see/feel anything, it was hard to stay "present". I think it was the terror/bliss of loss of control. This went on for a long time. I sensed that I wasn't alone. She was still there, but I must face it alone. Dark. Black. Emptiness. A feeling that it would split me in two. Power - energy - terror - bliss - death - birth all in one.
Finally it became lighter. I saw a red orange swirling stuff. Are we deep in the earth? I long for the surface, for plants, soil, water - but she is only concerned with energy!
~ ~ ~
I came out at this point. I think I was trying to make a landscape in which to exist, and when I saw it, it was devoid of biological life. However, I believe that this was the work of my mind and I stopped there.
Thinking on this, Epona doesn't bring us baskets of fruit or grain. She isn't a horse, or a woman -- She is an aspect of the earth itself. Perhaps She is the earth. The animating force, the energy without which life is not possible.
Were there horse cults in ancient Britain? Is there a cohesive thread connecting Macha, Epona and Rhiannon to hobby horses, the Mari Lwyd and the Uffington horse?
Sometimes, many signposts seem to be directing us to a single destination. Yet, when we arrive there, we find it difficult to recognise any landmark as the definitive reality of the place we had intended to go. This may be one of those journeys.
Mari Lwyd, Horse of Frost, Star-horse, and White Horse of the Sea, is carried to us.
The Uffington white horse, a chalk hill figure of a horse in Oxfordshire, is around 3,000 years old. Around the same time, somewhat similar horse figures were popular on local coinage. A little later, the worship of the horse goddess Epona was popular in Gaul, and became widely adopted by the Roman Cavalry. The sun god Bel, or Belenos, and sea god Manannan mac Lir also had strong connections with horses. In Welsh mythology, Rhiannon is linked strongly with horses, as is her probably Gaulish cognate Rigantona. In Ireland, the goddess Macha is an important figure, and as late as the 12th century we have Geraldus Cambrensis relating the coronation of an Irish king including the requirement that he mate with a mare.
We bring from Cader Idris
Great light you shall gather,
Mari Lwyd. What does it mean? Mari can be translated as both "mare" and "Mary". "Mare", in turn, as well as meaning a female horse, seems to refer also to creatures of the night, to incubi and to "nightmares". Lwyd means grey (or white or fair) and also pure or holy. A white horse is correctly referred to as "grey" because most white horses are born black or dark grey and their coats lighten with the passing years. (In Christian times white horses and other livestock were often kept by monastic orders as a way to distinguish their animals from those of the laity - who were forbidden from keeping them.) So Mari Lwyd can be interpreted as simply "grey mare" or holy mare, or as Holy (or fair) Mary - and part of the tradition surrounding her is the story that she represents a pregnant mare who was turned out of the Bethlehem stable to make way for Mary the mother of Christ to give birth. Whether this is a cipher for the replacement of the horse cult with Christianity is probably an open question.
Under the womb of teeming night
Records of Mari Lwyd only go back to the 1790s, I'm told. However, since Wales was, at least at one level, a devoutly Christian country at this time, it's unlikely that the Welsh suddenly thought "Let's put a mare's head on a pole and pretend it's a magic horse," in the 1700s without a deeply rooted precedent. The Cornish 'obby 'oss tradition was recorded somewhat earlier, but it is still unlikely that it sprang into being fully formed just before someone thought it was worth writing about. The truth is, we don't know where these things came from, and we probably never will. In both traditions, there are aspects of wildness, of fertility rites, and of playfulness and energy raising activity. Things long associated with horses. Is this how early people perceived their horse deities? Did they dress up as horses to create a closer contact with these deities - to offer them a familiar looking form to inhabit or possess during some kind of ritual? Again - we don't know.
Mari Lwyd, Lwyd Mari:
What you might feel when you see a horse, or when you see a Mari Lwyd is a very personal thing. There is your primal response, which should always be given its rightful place. You may find the appearance of a skull and a white sheet scary. The snapping jaws may give you nightmares. Of course, many people find themselves frightened by up close contact with a real horse, too! You may also feel awe or reverence - but I guarantee that you will feel something a little out of the ordinary!
O white is the frost on the breath-bleared panes
And what of her snapping jaws? The snapping jaws of the Mari, of the hobby hoss who chases the maidens of Padstow to shrieks of fear and delight. Does this echo the strange beaked mouth of the Uffington horse - so often remarked at as being un-horse-like? Is it an accident that the Mari in her sheet so resembles Mary in her veil and robes? We are in goddess territory here, maybe in shaman territory, too. We are warm in the house, smugly awaiting the opportunity to be open-handed, and we are bone-cold at the window, desperate to gain admission to life inside. Perhaps we are required to know both realities.
Poetic quotes from Ballad of the Mari Lwyd by Vernon Watkins (1906 - 1967)
Do you blog about nature, herbs, spirituality, intuition, meditation, divination, folklore, mythology? I'm looking to do some guest-blog trades with other bloggers, so get in touch if you're interested! ♥ Kris
Kris Hughes - writer, musician, horsewoman, cartomancer, cat whisperer.