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.