Riding the White Horse


In ‘The Conversation of Gwyn ap Nudd and Gwyddno Garanhir’ Gwyn introduces his white stallion, Carngrwn, before introducing himself. He says:

“My horse is Carngrwn from battle throng
So I am called Gwyn ap Nudd”

At first I was surprised to hear Gwyn introducing his horse before himself. Then I realised a medieval audience would have recognised riding Carngrwn ‘Terror of the Field’ was an essential part of his identity as a gatherer souls and a precedent to the revelation of his name.

Later in the poem ‘the white horse’ calls the conversation between Gwyn and Gwyddno to an end. Carngrwn leads Gwyn away to battles not in Neath and Tawe in this land but a Tawe ‘far away in a distant land / where the tide ebbs fiercely on the shore’.

Gwyn’s service as a psychopomp is necessary not only in thisworld but Annwn. It seems Carngrwn, the white horse, has power over his destiny and he has little choice but to trust in and ride this wild kindred spirit to where he is needed most.

Nothing is known about how Gwyn came into partnership with Carngrwn. My intuition is this story may bear similarities with Cu Chulainn’s. Cu Chulainn was born at the same time as two horses: Liath Macha ‘The Grey of Macha’ and Dub Sainglend ‘The Black of Saingliu’. The grey (or white) horse is a companion from birth and protects him until death.

Gwyn is associated with a white horse: Carngrwn and a black horse: Du y Moroedd ‘The Black of the Seas’. Both are supernatural in origin. I feel Gwyn’s relationship with Carngrwn is stronger and the white horse will be with him until the end. In his case this could mean until the end of the world. The white horse is his destiny.

These insights have helped me understand my own relationship with the white horse. Horses have been part of my life since childhood and I worked with them in my twenties. I constantly dream about them and a white fairy-mare is my guide to the otherworld.

Although I haven’t been called to serve as a psychopomp (yet) I know what it’s like to walk between worlds, tell the stories of the dead and feel my destiny is beyond my control. Whenever I’ve sought to find a comfortable role in the system something with big hooves has kicked back and galloped me away.

Yet since meeting Gwyn I’ve got better at riding the white horse: trusting his guidance; staying true to my wild inner nature; letting my fay-mare run and take me where I’m needed; not being restricted by today’s opinions knowing my destiny will keep running until the end of the world.

6 thoughts on “Riding the White Horse

  1. Brian Taylor says:

    That’s interesting. There seem to be clear parallels here with the role of horses in shamanism. I’ve recently stumbled across a few references to the growing popularity of using/working with horses as healers. I’m not sure how I feel about that, or how free the horses are to withold their psychic labour …. Have you come across this?

    • lornasmithers says:

      Hello Brian, I’ve heard of it although not been involved. I guess my feelings about it are similar to how I feel about the use of horses in riding schools and competitions. We’ve got a long history of partnerships with horses. Some horses enjoy being ridden – will put their heads into the bridle and bounce on the spot in excitement at the prospect of going over a jump – but some hate being tacked up and will do anything to dispose of their riders. I think it’s important to respect their feelings on this. And would apply that to healing. I guess like some horses like people are natural healers and some would be uncomfortable with the role. I’d tenuously say it’s ok so long as the feelings of the individual horse are respected and they’re not forced to do it or taken advantage of.

  2. Awen says:

    So weird/wyrd because when doing the video I knew the horse was the impetus for Gwyn’s movement. In that culture a man on his horse meant a noble but also it gave the upper hand in everything, the better the relationship between horse and rider, the longer a warrior lived. Everything changed with the horse. People knew of someone’s horse, they’d hear tales about them before meeting the rider or even knowing the rider. Horse sovereignty goddesses like Queen Rhiannon and The Morrigan show how the upper class is tied to the best horses (and much more).

    Indo-European religion usually has twin Gods who are horses, but one is God and one is mortal or some other big difference. They are young men. It’s thought that Pyrderi and the foal born and stolen by the claw on May Day makes Pyrderi and that foal those twins. Anglo-Saxon ( Horsa and Hengest), the Greeks and Romans (Castor and Pollux), the Vedic Indians (the Aśvins) and the Balts (the Dieva Deli),

    “Although twins, they are not identical in nature. One is a god for riders and owners of horses; he has a warlike nature, so he is also a good patron god for cavalry soldiers. The other more peaceful, is associated with cattle; since cattle equal wealth, he may be prayed to for general prosperity. Though they have different function and personalities, they are invoked together. In fact, their separate names are not recoverable. As a pair, they guide mankind, especially sailors, farmers, and riders, and may be prayed to for healing, fertility, and prosperity. They are divine rescuers from all sorts of immediate crises.

    “The Twins are closely related to the
    sun and mare goddesses, and are often found in the same stories. Helen (perhaps originally a sun goddess) is the sister of the Dioskouri; the Welsh Pryderi is the son of mare goddess Rhiannon and the husband of the daughter of “Fair Shining One;” the Aśvins (“Horsemen”) are the husbands of Sūryā (daughter of the sun), and Saules Dukterys (“Daughter of the Sun”), in Lithuanian folklore, is wooed by her brothers the Dieva Deli (“Sons of God”), who accompany her through the sky. Castor and Pollux also accompany the sun, and in some versions of their myth are the sons of a mare goddess.

    “They are so strongly connected with horses that one or both might appear in horse form. Such is the case in the Welsh collection of tales, the Mabinogion, where Pryderi is born on the same day as a horse, and the two are raised together. The Baltic Twins appear as horses, while the Theban twins are called “The White Colts of Zeus” (Ward, 1968,12). They are sometimes described as the horses that pull the sun’s chariot across the sky. And Aśvins means “Horsemen.”

    “Pryderi is fostered by Teyrnon, whose name means “Lord;” with such a name it is possible that he is a reflex of Dyḗus Ptḗr (although it must be pointed out that Ford, in the notes to his translation of The Mabinogi (1977, 12) suggests instead that he is a sea god).”

    – Deep Ancestors by Ceisiwr Serith

    I’m geeking out here.

    In the runes Horse comes first as a symbol like M, then comes man (human) with the horse symbol with an added cross. Horse comes first.
    Anglo-Saxon poem for the rune.
    [Eoh] byþ for eorlum æþelinga wyn (Horse is a joy to princes in presence of earls,)
    hors hofum wlanc, ðær him hæleþ ymbe (Horse in pride of its hooves,)
    welege on wicgum wrixlaþ spræce (when rich men, mounted, bandy words,)
    and biþ unstyllym æfre frofur. (and is to the restless ever a comfort.)

    “Tacitus reports (Germania: 10) that white horses yoked to a sacred chariot were observed for purposes of divination. Other examples of the use of horses, especially white ones, in divination are cited by Grimm (1966, II: p. 2).

    “According to Tacitus,the Naharvali, a tribe on the North Sea, worshipped twin gods called the Alcis, “revered under the character of young men and brothers” (Germania: 43), whose attributes were the same as those of Castor and Pollux. Ellis-Davidson mentions the find of an urn from the La Tène period in the same region showing men on horseback connected by a crossbeam, which is similar to the Spartan symbol for the Dioscuri (1964, p. 169).

    “Although the twin gods seem to be mainly associated with fertility, healing, and youthful skill in warfare, their duality may also have sexual implications. Tacitus tell us that the priest of the Alcis presided over the ancient rites conducted in the sacred grove “dressed in women’s apparel.

    “The domestication of the horse led to a significant extension of man’s ability to travel for hunting or herding, to move objects, and to make war. In such situations, the bond between horse and rider can become intense (some of Francis’s descriptions of steeplechase riding convey a sense of almost mystical union). The psychological impact seems to have been a virtual expansion of consciousness, and the horse swiftly acquired immense spiritual and symbolic significance. The horse sacrifice was a major ritual from Ireland to Siberia; the beast could represent sovereignty, the tribe, the solar light, or simply the most valued possession the people had.”

    From Taking Up the Runes, Diana Paxton

    As for Mongolian shamanism, “Personal psychic power is called hii (wind), or hiimori (windhorse). This force resides in the chest and will vary in strength according to how one uses and accumulates it. Very strong windhorse allows one to think clearly and analytically and see through deception. Windhorse is the force that allows shamans and other powerful people to accomplish what needs to be done simply and easily. The concept of windhorse is also found in Tibetan religion and has essentially the same meaning.” From Riding Windhorses by Sarangerel

    And with Vodou and Voodoo

    “When you see your first Vodou possession, it’s likely to scare the pants off you. As a person is “mounted”or “ridden”by the lwa, they will frequently stumble or thrash about like they have been hit with an electrical current. Often their eyes roll back in their head and their face becomes contorted. Shrieks or involuntary utterances of gibberish are not uncommon. As the possession state begins, hounsis will run over to the prospective “horse”(possessed person) and remove his or her shoes, because it is believed that contact with the earth will strengthen the possession. Depending on the spirit who is coming, the horse may be sprinkled with rum, Pompeii lotion, Florida water, or some other appropriate liquid. A houngan or mambo asogwe may begin speaking langaj in an attempt to call down the lwa and bring the possession to culmination. Once the spirit has arrived, the horse will usually be dressed in one or more scarves of the appropriate color. It will be given its favored implements.

    “It may make demands, propose marriage, offer blessings and advice, or chastise those who have neglected their duties to the spirit. It may kill the animal that is to be sacrificed, or consume the food and drink the congregation offers. It may also induce possession in others present. As a sign that the possession is genuine, the spirit may perform acts that would be impossible for the horse. A horse possessed by Maman Brigitte may rub a Scotch Bonnet pepper over the genital regions; one possessed by Ogou Feray may eat a lit cigar. A horse who normally speaks only Kreyol may speak in French when ridden by Freda; a horse possessed by Zaka will reveal secrets that the mounted individual could not have known. Superhuman strength is not uncommon.

    “The Pythoness at Delphi would become possessed by the divine and utter prophecies that influenced Greek rulers and commoners. Hawaiian priests and priestesses were regularly possessed by their deities, and to this day the Burmese seek counsel from nats, ghost spirits who possess their kadaws (priests) at nat pwe ceremonies.”

    From the Haitian Vodou Handbook by Kennaz Filan

    Today neopagans who are possessed use the term “horse” for the one the deity “rides” because we’ve lost our own language for this and most people study with African Diaspora religions to learn to be a horse safety. However it’s very likely we did this.

    “Gunnar had the idea of putting on the adornments of the god (Freyr) and impersonating him, and this plan succeeded brilliantly. They arrived at the feast to which they had been invited in spite of the bad weather, and now the god was able to eat and drink with men, which pleased them mightily. Moreover he demanded valuables and clothes from them instead of human sacrifice, which pleased them even more. The season proved a good one, and when in a few months time it was found that Freyr’s wife was with child, his reputation grew apace.”

    From H D Davidson Gods and Myths of Northern Europe

    This is considered Olaf the Traitor Christian propaganda, Gunnar was showing how naive the heathens were, to believe that he was Freyr, but the way no one thought it to be unusual hints at possession of humans by Norse gods.

    Also as someone with cerebral palsy, equine therapy (horseback riding) really helps because it’s the ONLY way to get the body to mimic human walking and help maintain or gain those muscles, which can make walking easier. With dyspraxia (like the actor who played Harry potter) my coordination is so terrible between limbs, I never crawled and can’t drive a car. Horseback riding again helps my body feel how it would be if I had that coordination. It’s been known to help many.

    The fact that the only thing that mimics walking is horseback riding makes me think the bond between rider and horse would be physical and psychological and spiritual. Literally the body can feel normal and at one.

    Wow, that’s a lot, it was spurred by Brian’s comment (happy birthday Brian!).

    Spurred. LOL.

    • lornasmithers says:

      I knew about Pryderi but not the other examples of horse ‘twins’. I like the idea of the windhorse very much 🙂 Really interesting to hear about how your experience of horse riding helps with your disabilities. I’ve always found pretty much any activity around horses from mucking out to grooming to riding to be quite therapeutic in itself.

  3. crychydd says:

    So our gods guide us along our true path through the world and if we hear them we can be what we are destined to be. May Gwyn guide your path and the Horse Mother hold you to it and keep you on the bonny road across the ferny brae.

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