A Horse of Another Colour

Lascaux Cave is a Palaeolithic cave situated in south-western France, near the village of Montignac in the Dordogne region, which houses some of the most famous examples of prehistoric cave paintings. Close to 600 paintings – mostly of animals – dot the interior walls of the cave in impressive compositions and horses are the most numerous, dominating the imagery, walking and grazing and congregating in herds. Now, a group of researchers has used distinctly modern techniques to help decipher the mystery, at least in the case of Pech-Merle cave’s famous spotted horses. By comparing the DNA of modern horses and those that lived during the Stone Age, scientists have determined that these drawings are a realistic depiction of an animal that coexisted with the artists.

An author of the study, Michael Hofreiter, an evolutionary biologist at the University of York in England, said: “Why they took the effort making these beautiful paintings will always remain a miracle to us.  It’s an enigma, but it’s also nice to see that if we go back 25,000 years, people didn’t have much technology and life was probably hard, but nevertheless they already endeavored in producing art. It tells us a lot about ourselves as a species.”

He and his colleagues did not set out to study cave art. They were simply continuing their work on coat colour in prehistoric horses. Only after they found the spotted horse gene in their ancient samples did they realize they could say something about archaeology. “What we found is that there were really only these three colour patterns – spotted or dappled; blackish ones; and brown ones,” he said. “These are the three phenotypes we find in the wild populations. And then we realized these phenotypes are exactly the ones you see in cave paintings.”

Terry O’Connor, an archaeologist at the University of York who collaborated on the study, said spotted horses in particular had been used to argue that cave art was more symbolic than realistic, and that as a result the finding could cause a stir. “One of the things that most pleases me about this paper as a piece of ancient DNA science,” Dr. O’Connor said, “is it kind of begins with a question. These spotty horses, were they magical or real? But now it is clear that some horses had a gene for that coat colour. “People drew spotty horses,” he said, “because they saw spotty horses.” 

Last summer, exploring a cave in the Dordogne region, Dr. O’Connor said he became transfixed by a series of line drawings. “They were absolutely superb, some using contours of the cave itself, capturing the size and shape and movement,” he said. “You look at that and say, ‘These guys know what the animals looked like, and they can draw.’ ”

What also becomes evident is that very few animals convey such majesty, power, pride, and nobility of spirit as the horse for both prehistoric and modern man. Horse symbolism also speaks about an unbridled desire for freedom because of its naturally wild and powerful spirit, and it always wants to break free.  In fact, horse symbolism holds so much meaning that can stir our heart and set our imagination running wild! The horse is known for being one of the most hard-working animals on earth, with the ability to carry on even on the roughest roads and the toughest climbs – signifying the overcoming of obstacles, and how we should carry ourselves in the face of adversity.

When we accept the horse as our totem, this most commonly represents power and stamina, allowing us to see the true essence of freedom in our life, and if we have this powerful animal working for us, we will truly experience the energy of a genuinely free spirit.  The horse is going to bring forth a number of different ideas and theories surrounding the symbolism that is associated with this animal. However, we do need to pay close attention to the animal and the way in which it is viewed in real life as this is something that is seen as being quite majestic and almost regal in its approach. The same symbolism is then going to be applied to the spirit animal and what it represents, according to spirit-animal.com  The horse-spirit may encourage us to push our boundaries, even if we are not sure of the outcome.  But because the horse can be head-strong and unpredictable we need ro consider the repercussions of our actions.

We also need to familiarize ourselves with the magical associations of the farrier because the folklore of iron and smithing has been common since prehistory, and one of the oldest folk-tales tells of a blacksmith forging a deal with the denizens of Otherworld.  Blacksmiths have long been revered and feared thanks to their skills with metal and flame … they often held a high status because people thought they had magic powers.

The magical power of a horseshoe derives from the obvious elemental energies that go into its making: the heart of the forge (Fire); the sacred metal, iron (Earth), the cooling (Water) and the bellows (Air) – not forgetting the (Spirit) smith who makes and fits the shoe. Should a cast shoe be found in the road, this should be taken home and nailed above the entrance door – with the prongs pointing upwards – to attract and hold good fortune.

While 17th century antiquarian writer John Aubrey, commenting on contemporary social customs, wrote: ‘A horseshoe nailed on the threshold of the door is yet in fashion: and nowhere more than in London: it ought to be a Horseshoe that one finds by chance on the Road. The end of it is to prevent the power of Witches, that come into your house.’ A popular greeting of the same period expressed the wish, ‘That the Horseshoe may never be pul’d from your Threshold.’

Different types of horseshoe required different types and styles of nail for fixing and the social position of the ‘nail-man’ was in no way inferior to that of the farrier. To the uninitiated, it might appear that the nail is an insignificant part of the shoeing operation, but it would be the unwise witch who overlooked its importance as an integral element of ‘horse power’.

Another magical element of the blacksmith’s forge is acquisition of a bottle of thunder water taken from the trough or bucket that is used to cool to shoe when it comes from the fire.  This water has all manner of magical/healing properties …

Shaman Pathways: Black Horse, White Horse: Power Animals Within Traditional Witchcraft by Melusine Draco is published by Moon Books – www.moon-books.net : ISBN 978 1 78099 747 6 : UK£4.99/US$9.95 : Pages 84 : Avaialable in paperback and e-book format.

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