White Horses by Vanessa Armstrong
December 6th, 2017 was a blustery, bleak and cold day here in the UK. I decided to take my dog for one of his favourite walks down to the shore which is about a 10-minute walk from my home. It’s a beautiful place to walk, whatever the season, as you can walk as far as you want and is separated from the main road by miles of stunning fields and home to some of our beautiful wildlife.
We hadn’t gone very far along the shoreline and I was looking at my surroundings, taking in the smells, sights and sounds and looking out at the horizon. The tide was coming in fast and the wind was blowing hard. Some of the spray caught up in the incoming wind and blew in my face. I looked at the sea and watched as the waves crashed onto the sea defence rocks. "white horses" I thought...and then I began to wonder what was the origin behind the term
'white horses". I felt that there had to be something magical behind it so decided to do some research to see what I could find out...
It transpired that white horses are well known in stories of mythology in one form or another. The ‘white horse’ of the sea is just one of them.
Poseidon is a Greek God and is a God of many things - the sea, floods, earthquakes, droughts, water, sea creatures and horses. He looks to me a powerful God, fearless and sometimes aggressive. When I look out to the sea on a windy and chilly day, like I did the other day, you can almost feel his presence - the deep sea is something that has always terrified me - the cold dark deep blackness and the power behind those waves. Even on warm, still days when the waves are gentle, there is still that power.
I wondered why Poseidon relates to the white horse and why we see them on our shorelines...
It is said that Poseidon had a bit of a thing for Demeter, Goddess of grain and the harvest. Demeter was not really impressed by Poseidon and in order to prove his love, she asked him to make her the most beautiful animal in the world.
Apparently, he made several other animals first, such as the camel, zebra and hippo, but Demeter was not impressed, when at last he made her the most beautiful white horse with long flowing main and tail, sculpting it from the turbulent waves of the sea. Whether that won her heart or not was neither here nor there, as Poseidon’s interest in Demeter had waned. Maybe he felt that the first horse wasn’t as it should be, making many more until he was happy with it. The white horses we see today as we walk along our shores and beaches are perhaps all those other horses that I made first and they are free to roam the seas, chasing each other, galloping to the sands and back out to the sea.
While I was researching white horses and their connection to the sea, I mentioned earlier that there are lots of other connections with white horses in ancient cultures and it was interesting to find out what they were, so I thought I would share them with you. You may have heard of some or all of them...
Rhiannon, a Welsh Goddess, rides upon a white horse. which links her to the fertility Goddess Epona, protector of horses and who is said to escort the souls of the dead to the otherworld upon a team of white horses.
We can’t forget Pegasus - son of Poseidon. Pegasus was a white winged horse god. He is one of the most recognised figures in Greek stories - he was the creator of a fountain on Mount Helicon. He resided there and was, one day, caught and ridden by Bellerophon, a Greek hero, slayer of monsters! This particular time, Bellerophon was on a mission to kill Chimera, a monster with a head of a lion, a goat’s body and a serpent’s tail. Pegasus went on to be companion in many other exploits before Zeus transformed him into a constellation and placed him in the sky.
White horses are mentioned in Hindu mythology too. Many times in fact. In ancient writings, one of them is called Puranas, it is mentioned that while the devas and demons were churning the milky oceans - Samundra Manthan as it was known - a precious animal appeared from the waters. A snow-white horse with seven heads.
The chariot of the sun deity Surya is drawn by seven white horses, although it is also thought that each horse is each colour of the rainbow.
White horses are mentioned in Korean mythology as well as stories from the Philippines, Vietnam and from the Native Americans.
Why horses? and in particularly, white horses?
Although they can mean different things in different cultures, the symbol of the horse always comes across as one of freedom and power. White signifying wisdom. Riding horses gives the rider a feeling of unbridled freedom, free to go wherever they want with the wind in their hair and the power of the horse beneath them. Horses were our first means of transport - goods and with carrying heavy items as well as ourselves.
The horse represents spirit, similar to freedom which is perhaps they resonate with so many cultures. They represent inner strength, physical strength and vitality and our desires.