Monday, 22 August 2011

The Horse, the Land and Sovereignty II

Before the gods that made the gods
Had seen their sunrise pass,
The White Horse of the White Horse Vale
Was cut out of the grass

G.K. Chesterton; The Ballad of the White Horse

* * *

I have opted to skip one of these blogasms; I was going to prepare a piece on the religo-magical appearance of the horse in Indo-European cultures. Instead I am going to jump right in to the part that really interests me more than anything at the moment.

I am also going to make a confession, for this first bit I am going to rely on the scholarship of Miranda Green and Alexei Kondratiev. Essentially I am taking from both of them the notion that to the 'Celts' horses were associated with sovereignty and the goddess of sovereignty. Proper, primary sources for this are out there I am sure but right now I don’t have the time to trawl that much. Refs. for them will be at the end, do you can look it up and blame them if it is wrong :)

So, this is perhaps the most contentious part of this mini series of blogasms on horses; the Horse Sacrifice.

The Horse Sacrifice

The idea of this fascinates me; on the surface it seems bizarre; to actually sacrifice and kill the very animal which represents sovereignty and the goddess who confers it. And yet it appears in at least 3 Indo-European cultures to differing extents and finds itself echoed in a couple of others.

The Ashvamedha
this Vedic ritual involves the sacrifice of a stallion by the king (and only the king) in order to bestow glory, sovereignty and prosperity to the kingdom. The stallion in question is chosen and set free to roam for a year during which time it is followed by soldiers who ensure it is unimpeded and comes to no harm. After a year it is brought back, various rituals and hymns are sung and the stallion sacrificed;

Steed, from thy body, of thyself, sacrifice and accept thyself.
Thy greatness can be gained by none but thee.

Queen ritually simulates sex with the corpse and spends the night with it. Interestingly this last part is also carried out during the sacrifice of a human.

The Irish Coronation
This story is rather familiar to most people and comes from Gerald Cambrensis. The would be king mates with a white mare which is then killed and cooked. The King then bathes in the broth and eats it, along with all those gathered. In this way sovereignty is conferred.

The Roman Equus October Ceremony
The horse on the right hand side of the chariot which wins a series of races is sacrificed and dismembered; the head and tail are sent to different locations within the city. During the sacrifice it is dedicated to Mars

The last(ish) pagan king of Sweden during his inauguration had a mare killed, dismembered and eaten. Its blood was sprinkled upon the sacred tree at Uppsala.

* * *

All of these rituals and commonalities are supposedly derived from a Proto-Indo-European myth involving a King-Horse Goddess-Sovereignty complex and the birth of a divine pair of twins (one of the possibly being a horse), that we find such a strong echo of this PIE myth in the Mabinogi is heartening.

At some point over the next week I will do a final piece on pulling all of this together and working it into personal practice.

Miranda Green 1992 - Dictionary of Celtic Myth and Legend
Alexei Kondratiev 1997 - Basic Celtic Deity Types
Georges Dumezil 1988 - Mitra - Varuna
Ceisiwr Serith 2007 - Deep Ancestors

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