Wednesday 16 January 2013

Extract: Shaman Pathways - Black Horse, White Horse

In February, Moon Books is publishing Shaman Pathways - Black Horse, White Horse, a book aimed at pagans, witches and shamans as well as at anyone who loves horses and horse lore. The book is written by Melusine Draco, author of Traditional Witchcraft for Urban Living, Traditional Witchcraft for the Seashore and By Spellbook and Candle. Here is an extract from Black Horse, White Horse, printed here with permission from Moon Books:


Many of the traditional superstitions connected with horses make it very difficult to separate historical fact from fiction. From very early times, horse skulls and bones were among the most frequent finds in old buildings and these were obviously placed there as some form of protection against malevolent forces.

A church in Elsdon, Northumberland, has three such skulls in its bell tower, and more than 40 were discovered screwed to the underside of the floor in the Portway public house at Staunton on Wye in Herefordshire. This custom of severing a horse’s head for the purpose of acquiring a protective relic, may have given rise to the numerous headless horse legends that abound in the British Isles. It stands to reason that the discovery of horse remains, minus the head, would give rise to all sorts of grisly tales to be told over a pint of ale.

Horse-bones are discovered in the foundations of houses during renovation and these are often removed when the owners discover the macabre remains. Folklore maintains, however, that the bones serve as amulets to keep away the Night Mare.

According to one local tradition, if the family owned a good horse and it died, it was the custom to bury the head under the house to retain the virtues of the animal and to protect the building and its occupants from evil. By removing these equine amulets, the new owners may be courting disaster by allowing superstition or squeamishness to interfere with a protection rite.

Far better to re-consecrate them and re-inter the remains, rather than tempt providence by getting rid of them. This may be viewed as pure superstition in these days of scepticism, but the disturbance of specially interred remains may invite unwanted psychic phenomena as a result.

The supposed magical influence of horses survives in folklore, such as the placing of horsehair around the throat to cure goitre, or eaten in a sandwich to ward off worms in children – while the parings from horse’s hooves were given to dogs to cure worms. It was also thought that if tail hairs were left in water, they would turn into eels.

John Wesley, who had an interest in folk-remedies, recorded that dried and powdered horse ‘spurs’ (callosities found on the inside of the animal’s leg), could be taken as an infusion in warm milk and ale. A cure for whooping cough was to allow a piebald horse to breathe on the patient; consumption or chest complaints could be healed if a sufferer went to the stables and inhaled the breath of any horse there.

Weather lore tells that if a group of horses are seen standing with their backs to a hedge, it is an omen of bad weather. Wispy cirroform clouds have long been known as ‘mares’ tails’ or ‘fillies’ tails’ and are often used to forecast the weather. For example: mares' tails moving in from the south indicate unsettled weather on the way. This is especially true during the summer half of the year. According to Paul John Goldsack in Weatherwise,mares’ tail cirrus should be considered the weatherman’s cloud, for it is covered by thirty-three different points of weather lore that reliably predict future winds, rain or fair skies and perfect summer days.

There are all manner of superstitions connected with the colour of horses. In some areas it is said to be unlucky to dream of a white horse; that black horses are lucky and a piebald is unlucky – in other regions the reverse is true. In certain rural areas it is said to be unlucky to meet a grey (white) horse when setting off on a journey and those encountering one should spit on the ground for good luck. If the horse snorted during a journey this was considered to be a good omen. As we have seen, some people on meeting a white horse will keep their fingers crossed until they see a dog.

‘My grandmother made me keep my fingers crossed all the way into town and back again because we happened to see a white horse in a field just after we’d left home and couldn’t find a dog anywhere!’ remembers one horsewoman.

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