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Articles listed in this section were contributed by members of the wider community and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of House Shadow Drake.

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Water Horses and Other Fairy Steeds




By: Aisling Bronach of House Shadow Drake
Published in Traditions Magazine, Samhain 2004 Issue


Fairy horses are known throughout the British Isles and Ireland by many names such as the Irish phooka, Manx glastyn, and Scottish kelpie. These beings are fairy shape-shifters imbued with the ability to take on both a human and equine countenance. Even when within the guise of an animal they possess full command of the human language and can therefore speak.

In such popular stories like that of Tam Lin or of Niamh and Oisín, the fairy steed is depicted as a means of conveyance between the world of mortals and that of the otherworld. The otherworld is a spiritual realm that remains just outside of the known world and lurks hidden within the mists, just beyond the shadows, beneath the water, or amongst the clouds – beyond the boundaries of the human touch.

If we examine the places that are held to be the sacred homes of the fairy horses of the British Isles and Ireland, we find them at home in the traditional gateways to the otherworld: the high places on the mountains, the lakes and waterways, the seas, and beneath the earth within caves.

Perhaps these fairy steeds are all that remains of a pre-Christian equestrian cult…..

Kelpies

Sometimes these fairy horses remain as spirits of a place and are connected to the watery realms such as the Scottish kelpie and the each uisgé. In lowlands of Scotland, the river spirit known as the kelpie appeared in a variety of shapes. The most common was in the form of a horse, and lived in running water. In contrast, the highlands of Scotland referred to the water-horse as the each uisgé. The each uisgé was in most ways similar to the kelpie but its home was made within the lochs and the sea.

The kelpie is usually depicted as a black horse with staring eyes, however, sometimes the coat is said to be white. A more fanciful description from Aberdeen describes the kelpie as having a mane formed of small fiery serpents that curl through each other and spit fire and brimstone. The Eastern areas of Scotland depicts the kelpie as having golden hair and there are even ballads and songs that are sung about the golden-haired ones moving through the water and seaweed.

The kelpie haunted the fords of swollen stream and would lure any unwary traveler to their doom. When a traveler came to the river at night he would see only a horse, and if he were so unlucky as to attempt to mount the creature the creature would kill its rider. The cabyll ushtey is a Manx and Scottish name for the water-horse fairy. Like the kelpie, it appears as a pale gray horse and will rush its rider into the water killing them and then eating their bloodied remains.

Deep pools in the river were believed to be inhabited by the kelpie as a guardian spirit. It is said that a kelpie haunts the Loch Ness in Scotland. The fairy appears in the woods as a finely decked horse and would rush its victim into Loch-na-Dorb, Loch Spynie, or Loch Ness, and devour them. One similar kelpie was said to have been previously banished by St. Columba from the River Ness.

The each uisgé appears as a hideous shaggy young horse and was said to eat humans, cattle, and sheep. Their eating practices were somewhat gory and involved tearing the body to shreds and devouring all but the liver which was left untouched and whole. Even the skin of the each uisgé would cause human hands to become adhered to its surface allowing the animal to carry the unwilling victim to a watery grave. The smell of freshly cooked meat could entice the beast from the water, and it could be killed but all that remains would be a starshine, a jelly-like substance that is said to be made from the stars themselves, or a puddle of water.
Although the kelpie is a water spirit, its home is in living water. The kelpie is unable to go across stagnant or unmoving water. If needed, all a traveler must do to escape the clutches of the kelpie is to find and cross over a puddle or other form of stationary water.

Both the kelpie and the each uisgé are shape-shifters that are said to possess the ability to assume human form and countenance. In human form, the kelpie is able to have sexual intercourse with a woman. Sometimes the identity of a kelpie can only be uncovered by the woman if they discovery a piece of water-weed, or rush, in the kelpie's hair that would give away their disguise.

There is a story about a young servant girl who allowed a man to put his head upon her lap while she went to comb his hair. She found a little bit of liobhagach an loch, which is a slimy green weed found in the water, in his hair. She worked until the man fell asleep in her lap, and then used her apron to gently lay his head upon the earth and then ran away. When she looked back, she could see him chasing after her in the guise of a horse.

However, in Loch Garve, Scotland, there was a kelpie who had a human wife. He was quite loving and as most kelpies enjoyed the cold. He ate cold fish and lived in an icy lake. After his wife complained about their living situation and her discomfort, he made a bargain with a man to build a hearth for his wife. She was henceforth very happy from that point forward as she was able to cook her meat and heat their home. Like many of the shape-shifting fairies who marry mortals, the kelpie is known to be capable of love.

The kelpie is not always male, and may also take the form of a human woman. In this instance, the kelpie is often referred to as a water wraith and is most often seen clothed in a green dress with a hostile disposition. In some folklore, the kelpie will even take the form of a great bird. The kelpie is also associated with the storm and it is said that it the sound of its wailing can be heard on the winds of the approaching tempest. Even the tail of the kelpie sounds of thunder as it is submerged beneath the water. In some folklore, the kelpie is said to be able to transform into a will o’ wisp and float along the bogs and also to disappear in a brilliant flash of light when he dives into the water. It is even possible given these descriptions that the kelpie might even be a manifestation of the elements of a storm.

Glashtyn

Another name for the fairy water-horse on the Isle of Man is the glashtyn. The glashtyn is described as a goblin that often rises out of the water and is similar in nature to the Manx brownie. Like the kelpie, the glashtyn appears as a horse: specifically, a gray colt. It is often seen on the banks of lakes and appears only at night.

Phooka

There is also an Irish fairy known as the phooka, pouca, or puca, this is very similar to the Welsh pwca. The Irish phooka derives its name from ‘poc’ and refers to a male goat. It has also been speculated that the name might also possess Scandinavian origins and refer to ‘pook’ meaning a nature spirit. This second origin would be congruent with the use of the term phooka as it is sometimes used within Ireland as a general reference to all fairies.

As a shape-shifter, the phooka is able to take on a variety of animal forms including that of a goat, a horse, an ass, a bull, and an eagle. In Co. Waterford and Co. Wexford, for example, the phooka appears as an eagle with a huge wingspan.

The phooka has been described as a beautiful and sleek horse, dark and wild in countenance, with a long mane and sulphurous yellow eyes. The beast roams across the countryside at night wrecking havoc and mayhem. If it rains and the sun is shining brightly, it is considered a sign that the phooka will come out that night. Of course, it is not all that unusual for the sun to be shining while it rains in Ireland so it must be assumed that the phooka is out almost every night!

The phooka is said to tear down fences and gates, tramples and ruins crops, and frightens the farm animals to the point where the chickens will not lay eggs and the cows will not give milk. But, this is not all without good reason. The phooka is mischievous and will call out the name of those it wants to ride with him. If refused, the phooka will revenge itself by damaging the landowner’s property.

Contrary to popular belief, the phooka was not always malevolent. In times when the old traditions were still upheld by the people, the phooka was venerated for his wisdom. The day that was held as being most sacred to the phooka was the first of November. Mountains, hills, and other high places – these were the sacred places where the phooka could be found and rituals were performed in his honor.

The Púca na Samhna emerges from Croagh Patrick in Co. Mayo at Samhain and will speak to people of the coming year and foretells the events that might befall them during that time. In past times, gifts were left for the phooka at the mountain. But, this tradition has ceased due to the rise in Catholicism and the presence of the clergy. In the case of the story of the piper and the phooka from the “Leabhar Sgeulaigheachta,” the phooka conveyed the piper to the sidhe mound at Croagh Patrick and back again without causing him any harm.

In Co. Roscommon the phooka is said to appear as a black goat with large curling horns. However, in Killorglin, Co. Kerry, there is also a three-day festival that is held in mid-August known as the Puck Fair. A wild goat, or puck, is brought down from the mountains and is crowned as king. The definitive history of the festival remains unknown, but the fair has been held since 1603 and is probably older than that. During the English occupation, it is said that a goat broke away from its herd and alerted the nearby town of Killorglin of danger of an approaching army. In that goat’s honor, the recent Puck Fair was born. Perhaps we can speculate that it was indeed one of the phooka that came to the aid of the people? We will never know…

Small mountain lakes and springs are sometimes known as the pollaphuca, or the Phooka’s Pool. Many of these waters originate or are within close proximity to the River Bann and the River Liffey. Many of the pollaphuca have been renamed in more Catholic time to St. Patrick’s Well. The poula phook, is the name of a waterfall that can be found in the Wicklow mountains where the River Liffey flows, but it is also a term that can be used to describe almost any cave or hole in the ground.

In Co. Fermanagh there lies the Binlaughlin Mountain is also known as the ‘peak of the speaking horse’. In the south of the county there was even a tradition of gathering at certain high places, such as the tops of mountains, to wait for the speaking horse, or phooka, to appear. This occurred on Bilberry Sunday, or what some prefer to refer to as Lughnasdah.

The phooka, or aughisky, is said to also take the shape of a horse. It is said the if a person is able to bridle one of the aughisky and keep them away from the water that they make a most wonderful steed. However, should the fairy horse see but a single glimpse of the water, he would run at full speed toward the water plunging the rider into its depths and devouring him. The bridles used are said in some instances to belong to the phooka, but that seems doubtful. Some stories refer to the use of three of the hairs from a phooka to be used in the making of the bridle and that the power would be granted to person to capture the creature – but the ongoing conflict to gentle the creature would still be quite voracious.

The phooka is also said to induce children to mount him, and then to plunge with the children over a precipice killing them. The Scottish kelpie is also attributed with similar feats.

Some bits of folklore states that the phooka is only visible to the person to whom it attaches itself. The phooka is also said to take the form of the bogeyman and frighten children. This folk belief is still commonly held in Co. Laois.

Some stories relate how the phooka is helpful and will assist with the sweeping and cleaning of the house. In the case of the story of the piper and the phooka from the “Leabhar Sgeulaigheachta,” the phooka conveyed the piper to the assembly of the sidhe at Croagh Patrick and carried him back again without causing the piper any harm.

In the rural regions of Co. Down, the phooka appears as a small misshapen goblin and demands the ‘phooka's share' of the harvest that remains on the ground. The folk custom of this area make the gate posts of your land in such a manner as the right post contains a nice bench for the benevolent phooka to sit and the left post has sharp rocks for the nasty malignant fairies. The Mountains of Mourne are also home to the phooka.

Throughout Ireland, the blackberries are considered to belong to the phooka and that they are spoiled and no longer edible after the first of November which commemorates the beginning of winter. Some say that the phooka has spit on them, but this seems odd as the act of spitting can be seen as a blessing rather than a curse. But the sentiment is apparent in other bits of folklore that state that the phooka either urinated or defecated on the blackberries!

In other areas of Ireland, the blackberries are considered to belong to the phooka after Michaelsmas has passed. It is said that Michaelsmas was the date on which the Catholic devil was thrown out of heaven and landed on a blackberry bramble. In his anger, he cursed the bush and performed several heinous acts that consequently made the berries inedible.

This depiction of the phooka also harkens back to the folkloric depictions of the Catholic devil as a horned and cloven-hoofed creature that appears as half-human and half-goat. In many ways this countenance is also reminiscent of a satyr or the appearance of Shakespeare’s Puck character in his play, “A Midsummer’s Nights Dream.”

Hodening

The Welsh tradition of hodening was practiced most often during either All Soul’s Day or the Christmas season depending on the particular locale. The focus of the custom included a man who was covered with a cloth, usually white, who would carry a horse skull, or an object made of wood or other material made to resemble it, that was lit by a single candle placed inside the cavity of the head.

In Wales during late December, the Gwasseilwyr was a wassailing party whose appearance was dirty and dark. Each member of the processional party carried sticks that they used to beat each other with. They wore a dark brown cloth and carried with them a horse skull that was placed on top of a pole. Also, in Kent, a similar ceremony is held using the dark brown horse instead of the white horse found elsewhere within most of Wales.

The Gwasseilwyr, another mumming procession that participated in hodening, were often described as being similar to Punch and Judy as they would strike each other with cudgel sticks. One of the speculated translations of the term phooka refers to “a blow of the cudgel.” This is interesting as it seems to relate to the Welsh tradition of the Mari Lwyd, or gray mare, that appears during the time of the new year which was also the time of the Púca na Samhna in Ireland. In the older traditional reckoning, the new year began in November but now the modern year starts in January.

In some areas, the procession is known as Hoen Dawnswyr or the Y Fari, and includes two men who are dressed as Punch and Judy. Punch will play mischievous tricks on people while Judy sweeps the hearth and anything else her broom comes near. Later, Punch and Judy might even engage in a dancing contest with the Mari Llwyd during a jig. It was not unusual for fiddler to accompany the festivities with his music.

The mischievous duo also appear in Northern Wales as Fool and Cadi. Whereas in the Southern Wales it is almost always Punch and Judy. The popular puppets appear to be a more recent addition within the last few hundred years and are not found in all of the traditions associated with the Mari Lwyd.

One custom in Mumbles, Gower actually involves the horse being ritualistically beat to death by a mummer disguised as a coachman. However, in most of the other examples of the tradition, the cudgel beatings involved the mummers or the inhabitants of the house and not the Mari Lwyd.

The appearance of the mummer dressed as a coachman or horse groom probably has some relationship between the folklore of the Irish dullahan as it seems to retain the same key elements of the headless horse escorted by the dark coachman.

The entourage of those engaged in the tradition of hodening also participate in the practice of souling. Souling involves the collection of soul cakes that are made for those who have previously passed away from the mortal realm. The mumming party, or sometimes the children, collect the bannock that are made as soul cakes in exchange for prayers that will be said for the departed souls.

The act of collecting soul cakes can easily be seen as a symbolic portrayal of the ride of Gwynn ap Nudd, a Welsh god of the Wild Hunt or Fairy Raid, as he rides out on his pale white horse to collecting the souls of the dying.

The Irish Dullahan, known also as the Far Dorocha or dark man, is the original headless horseman and gather of souls. He is also known to drive a black coach called the Coiste Bodhar that is drawn by six black horses and acts as a transporter of mortals to the fairy world. Another name for the dark horseman is the Ankou, referring both to the man and the black coach he is sometimes said to drive, and can be found in both Ireland and Wales.

Other areas of rural Wales include the custom of the Mari Llwyd, or gray horse, as they would go caroling throughout the village as a form of a seasonal Eisteddfod. It should be noted that the Eisteddfod is more than just caroling, but rather a bardic competition of music, song, and dance.

This was a masculine procession of mummers performed by a group of well-dressed men wearing all white and carrying torches. The person chosen as the Mari Llwyd would wear a white cloth and carry a horse skull on the top of a long pole or pitchfork. The skull was decorated with brightly colored ribbons, bells, and other beautiful adornments that were often gifted by the women and girls of the area for the purpose. The jaws of the horse were made to open and close so that it made a snapping sound. The man chosen as the Mari Llwyd was then able to ride on the pole in much the same fashion as a ‘hobby horse.’ The younger boys of the village might join the procession disguised as hares, foxes, squirrels, bears, and other forest creatures.

The doors of the village houses were all firmly shut and the mummers would sing songs about the hardships of winter and of the people. As the procession moved from house to house, they would knock and beg for hospitality.

The meeting of the processional party with the inhabitants of the house was often confrontational and sometimes involved contests of song, wit, agility, and even symbolic physical abuse. A contest of rhyme was the most common and the inhabitants of the house would not let the processional party inside until they were outwitted. However, in South Glamorgan the processional party was admitted as soon as they arrived with no contest needed to gain entry.

As soon as the mummers were inside the house, a feast was presented complete with ale and cakes. During the celebration, the Mari Llwyd would attempt to bite people and those who were bitten had to pay a fine. The money collected was placed in a bag. The bite of the horse, though, was deemed as a sign of luck and fertility in the year ahead.

Although this ritual took place during Christmas and New Year’s eve, the original procession most likely was held on what is known as Halloween as that is the date of the old year. The horse was also sometimes known as Marw Llwyd, or the gray death, and was a symbol of the old year.

The appearance of the horse skull used in the procession varies from area to area. In Pembroke, the horse skull is not a skull at all but is instead made of cloth and filled with straw. The horse skull that was used at St. Fagans is decorated with bottle ends that have been set into the eyes, and even has ears made of cloth.

The horse skull on the pole is also known as the aderyn bec lwyd or the bwca lwyd. Translated from Welsh, this means the bird with the gray beak and the gray puck. These terms are important as they demonstrate a clear relationship with the appearance of the phooka of Ireland as it is capable of appearing as both a great bird, a horse, and a male goat. The puck that is referred to in the bwca lwyd if you recall that the “w” is cognate with “u,” “ou,” and “oo,” and that the “b” and “p” are sometimes interchangeable within the Irish and Welsh language.

In the Cheshire area hodening and souling processions, the horse skull was known as Old Hob. Old Hob was a nickname of sorts and referred to a goblin or fairy. This also seems to support the similarities between the traditions as they are practiced within both the British Isles and Ireland and thus are most likely derived from a common origin.

Hillside Carvings

White horses are inscribed within the very land of the British Isles. The ancient tradition of carving chalk white horses into the hills of the British countryside is quite ancient.

It has been theorized that the black horse was the symbol of the Arthurian Britons and the white horse was the symbol of the Saxons. In mythology, the white horse was thought to be a symbol of the Welsh god Gwydion who was believed to be a skilled shape-shifter and magician.

Most people are familiar with the popular white horse at Uffington; however, there are many such carvings across the countryside. The Uffington horse carving is believed to be female and this could potentially be linked to the white mare and her relationship to land.

Although most of the hillside horse carvings are white, there was also the red horse that was carved into a hill just outside of Warwickshire called the Red Horse of Tysoe. The carving is believed to belong to the 14th century, however, there no records of its existence before 1607 A.D. There are actually five such horse carvings that have been discovered in the same area but they have become overgrown due to lack of maintenance. There is also evidence of a figure of a man and another of a bird that was once carved farther down the hill.

It should be noted that these carvings usually appear on hills. The reasons for this could simply be that the hill represents the best canvas for carvings the horses and great visibility. Or, the significance could be similar to that of the appearance of the Irish phooka on the tops of mountains and hills. Of course, it should be noted that if there ever were any horse carvings in Ireland they would have faded due to the heavy peat layers.

Even in Britain, the figures must be re-cut or chalked on reoccurring basis to keep them visible and prevent them from becoming lost. The process was usually repeated on a set date around May Day every year; or sometimes once every seven years depending on the particular figure. Like most festivals, this scouring of the figure was filled with games, dancing, music, drinking, and other revelry.

White Mare of Sovereignty

The hag, or Cailleach, is also linked to the sovereignty of the land as is demonstrated in the Arthurian story of Sir Gawain and Lady Ragnell the Foul. Or, in the Irish story of Niall of the Nine Hostages he bestows a kiss upon an ugly hag and through that act gained the blessing of sovereignty. These stories may also be linked to the equestrian marriage ceremonies wherein the chieftain marries a mare and thus symbolically also the goddess of the land.

Geraldus Cambrensis states that until the 12th century, the Kenelcunill of Ulster maintained an inauguration ritual that involved a white mare. The people were assembled and the man who was to be king presents himself as an animal and has sexual intercourse with the horse. The mare is then sacrificed, butchered, and then boiled in water. Before the assembly, the beast-man bathes in the water and both he and the people consume the cooked horseflesh. He then drinks the broth by lapping it up directly while he sits in the pot with the horse soup. After the ceremony is completed, the sovereignty including the rite of kingship and dominion over the land are conferred upon the man.

Gods and Horses

The horse of Manannan mac Lir is often shown as being white in color and is capable of riding across both land and water. Aonbharr, the white mare, was said to be swifter than the spring gales and that no rider was ever killed while riding astride her back. Aonbharr was a magical horse and was capable of raising great tempests or calming the seas. The fishermen of the Irish Channel were said to watch the white of her mane as it would crest the tops of the waves near the Arran, the Firth of Clyde, and the Isle of Man. She was later presented as a gift to Lugh, the foster son of Manannan.

The Dagda, an Irish god, was said to wear boots made of horse skin and one of his epithets, Eochaid, alludes to a horse.

A white horse and a wheel also symbolized Beli Mawr, a Welsh god and giant. This is most likely a solar reference to the sun. The same is most likely also true of the Rhiannon, a Welsh goddess, who first appears on a swift white horse that seems to travel at the same speed and yet cannot be caught.

Death and Immortality


Yet, in other instances the white of the horse is a sign of its associations with death and the otherworld. The equestrian steed of Gwynn ap Nudd is a white horse. Geroid Iarla, the son of the fairy Aine and the Earl of Desmond, is said to live under a lake and emerge from the water every seven years riding a ghostly white horse. Even the phantom appearances of the White Lady often show her mounted on a white horse.

The Welsh Gwragedd Annwyn were beautiful lake maidens with golden hair that lived in the Black Mountains. They too were said to sometimes be seen riding on milk white horses and occasionally married mortal men.

Like the story of Tam Lin and the young maiden Janet, a mortal could be returned to the human world if, at midnight at the fairy fort, the human was pulled down while riding a white horse.

If a fairy, or someone who had become like the fairies by living with them, they usually returned to the mortal realm astride a white horse and were forbidden to touch the ground lest they become bound to the world of humans and lose the part of them that is fairy.

However, separating a mortal from a fairy steed could be dangerous and even deadly for the human. In the story of Oisín and Niamh, when Oisín returns from the lands of the fairy and finds that three hundred years have passed he steps down from his horse and the years come upon him all at once killing him.

Wild Hunt

In Ireland, the Far Dorocha, or dark man, rides upon a black horse and is a messenger of death who calls out the name of the person who is about to die. The fairy steed dispenses fire from its nostrils as it races through the night with its galloping of its hooves sounding as thunder. As the Far Dorocha rides across the Irish countryside, the hedgerows are sometimes set on fire by speed at which the equestrian and its rider pass. The Far Dorocha is also reputed to abduct mortals and bring them into the other world of the fairies. However, usually the journey was considered to be one way only.

The sound of the horses of the Wild Hunt was always believed to be accompanied by the jingling of bells that were hung from their horses – especially in Scotland.

The fairies of Orkney folklore ride forth at midnight and fly through the air on white horses during the festival nights associated with the changing of the year such as Halloween, Christmas, and New Year’s eve.

It is difficult to imagine a hunt venturing out without dogs or horses. Most of the stories and folklore concerning the Wild Hunt include the terrible sound of the hooves galloping across the land or through the night sky. The huntsman is described as riding upon a horse that is white, black, or gray in color. The sound of the hunt as it passes is filled with shouting, barking dogs, and the blowing of horns; and is often said to come on the harsh winter winds.

Similar in nature to the Death Coach and its rider, the huntsman also sometimes appears as headless. Both the Death Coach and the Wild Hunt include processions of the souls of the dead, although those who ride in the Wild Hunt are often thought to be restless or cursed.

In some stories, the huntsman’s horse might be either a black horse or a black he-goat. The interchangeable nature of the horse and the puck are found throughout the folklore of many of the Western and Northern European cultures.

Witches and the Sabbath

It is not unusual to hear stories or read about the appearance of the medieval witch who rides upon the back of a goat as she travels to the sabbat. Satan was also said to appear at these sabbat gatherings in the form of a satyr or goat.

In Germany there are stories of witch women who transform themselves into black horses and fly to Block Mountain, a reputed place where the sabbat was held on May Day eve.

England also has stories of men and women who are transformed into horses by the use of a magical bridle. The person who is transformed into a horse might be used to travel to the sabbat or fly and meet the Queen of the Fairies. Sometimes, the transformation suits personal needs and the horse is sold for money or used for revenge, sexual favors, or physical labor.

Irish folklore has it that the witches broom was called a ‘fairy horse.’ This is yet another indication that the horse was a means of traveling to the otherworld.

Fairy Steeds

Of course, there are also the many stories about fairies stealing horses and riding them to the point of exhaustion almost killing them.

During the winter months, the Cailleach is said to be responsible for the knots that occur in the manes of horses and are called ‘hag knots.’ These knots reputedly act as stirrups for witches and fairies as they ride the horses at night.

If the hag mounts or sits on the chest of a sleeping human, it is said to cause nightmares. The nightmares, although disturbing, are believed to be visions from a horse goddess. Scandinavian folklore referred to the nightmare spirit as Mara and it was thought that being ridden by the mare could cause fear and even death. Interestingly, a hagstone, is believed to ward off nightmares if hung near the bed and to prevent fairies from riding horses at night if hung in the stables.

Cornish folklore focuses on the pixie. The pixie was a trickster that would steal horses and ride them throughout the night. A colt pixie is a pixie that has taken the shape of a horse and enjoys playing tricks such as neighing at the other horses to lead them astray. Pixies, like most of the fairies of their ilk, are not always nasty but also help around the house by cleaning and helping with the chores. They have the ability to turn themselves into hedgehogs and

Sacred Horse

Now, some might question relationship between a shape-shifting goat and a horse and how these fairy creatures could have any relevant connection. The key here lies within the function of these fairy steeds. In all instances, they serve as a way for mortals to travel between the two worlds and are capable of providing wisdom and guidance to those who seek it. By marrying the king to the white mare, he gains dominion over the land and the blessing of the fairy realm.

The horse within the British Isles and Ireland guaranteed the fertility of the land and was celebrated at the times of the year during which the fairy and mortal realms converge upon each other. As a protector, the bones of horses were buried within the walls and foundations of houses. The sacred nature of the horse is an undeniable aspect of pre-Christian folk traditions and beliefs that have continued into the modern era but like many of the equestrian chalk figures are beginning to become lost and fade from memory.

References

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