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(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea, was said to have created the horse—whipping up the wave tops, the thunder of the surf sounding like the thunder of hooves. Many gods and goddesses have been associated with the horse. Demeter, the Greek goddess of fertility, was sometimes represented as having the head of a horse. Epona, the Celtic goddess, was almost always depicted riding side-saddle on a white horse. She was adopted by the Roman cavalry as a protector of horses. The famous White Horse of Uffington, in Berkshire, England, which was cut into the chalk scarp near a pre-existing Iron Age hill fort in the first century CE, was of cult significance and probably marked a site sacred to the horse goddess Epona.

The Norse god Odin had an eight-legged stallion named Sleipnir, regarded as the finest of all steeds. It could carry him to the land of the dead and back. The god Hermod once rode Sliepnir down to Hell to rescue Balder from the Underworld.

In many areas, the horse is considered a fertility symbol. In parts of Germany,

the last sheaf of the gathered harvest is called the "Oat Stallion."

Martingales were hung from horses to protect them from evil and to promote health, strength, and fertility. These were lengths of leather onto which were fixed brass talismans of different shapes, known as horse brasses. The symbols used included the sun and the crescent moon, horseshoe shapes, stars, acorns, oak leaves, trefoils, and hearts. Martingales and individual brasses can still be seen worn on horses throughout Europe and elsewhere.

The martingales were important, because it was believed that witches would steal unprotected horses to ride to the sabbat. The animals would be found in the morning, exhausted and covered with sweat. They were referred to as "hag ridden." A stone with a natural hole through it, known as a "hag stone," was often nailed up in the horse's stall to protect the animal from theft.

It was also believed that a witch could turn a person into a horse. In 1633, in Lancashire, England, an eleven-year-old boy named Edmund Robinson encountered two greyhounds that later changed into a woman and a young boy. He recognized the woman as Frances Dicconson, a neighbor's wife. The woman offered him money to keep quiet about the incident, but he turned it down. She then changed the accompanying boy into a horse and forced Robinson to ride the animal to a gathering of witches. The usual way for a witch to turn someone into a horse was to throw a magic halter over the head of the desired changeling. This would immediately transform the person into a horse, which the witch could then ride. If the person was quick enough, he could pull off the halter and throw it over the witch's head, in turn changing her into a horse.

Hobbyhorses were a part of many old Pagan rituals, some of them extant today. The hobbyhorse is a wooden or wickerwork frame, draped with cloth, carried by a man who stands inside it. It includes a simulated horse's head—which may even be an actual horse's skull—and a tail. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, it "is a fertility animal disguise that appears at a change of season. . . . To stimulate renewal of life it chases women and brings `luck' (i.e., fertility) to the houses it visits in exchange for food or money." There are hobbyhorses found all over Europe. In England, the best known are the "Old Hoss" at Padstow, Cornwall, which participates in the May Day revels, and the Minehead horse in Somerset, which is "ridden" by a man in a tall pointed hat who wears a metal mask. Some Morris Dancers' sides feature a hobbyhorse. Many early ecclesiastical prohibitions mention the hobbyhorse specifically, due to its Pagan connections.

The Witch Book: The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft, Wicca, and Neo-paganism © 2002 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
References in classic literature ?
One evening a "domidor" (a subduer of horses) came for the purpose of breaking-in some colts.
At that moment, as the Horse Guards, having passed him, disappeared in the smoke, Rostov hesitated whether to gallop after them or to go where he was sent.
"Well, well!" said the horse, now thoroughly provoked.
"This thing resembles a real horse more than I imagined," said Tip, trying to explain.
When the Nez Perces, Flatheads, and Pends Oreilles are encamped in a dangerous neighborhood, says Captain Bonneville, the greatest care is taken of their horses, those prime articles of Indian wealth, and objects of Indian depredation.
The master said that `if horses had been used to them, it might be dangerous in some cases to leave them off'; and John said he thought it would be a good thing if all colts were broken in without blinkers, as was the case in some foreign countries.
In fact, the road was trodden by horses' feet, visible even in the approaching gloom of evening.
The tribe consists of four bands, which have their nestling- places in fertile, well-wooded valleys, lying among the Rocky Mountains, and watered by the Big Horse River and its tributary streams; but, though these are properly their homes, where they shelter their old people, their wives, and their children, the men of the tribe are almost continually on the foray and the scamper.
"I must overtake him, if I kill my horse," thought the musketeer; and he began to saw the mouth of the poor animal, whilst he buried the rowels of his merciless spurs into his sides.
Keep up!' shouted another, ceaselessly beating his horse with the switch.
'Thou shalt stay in thy stable and be well taken care of.' And so the poor old horse had plenty to eat, and lived--till he died.
His horse was drifting up the street in the most mysterious manner--side first, with his head towards one side of the way, and his tail towards the other.