Celtic Animal Symbols: Horse

celtic horseThe horse has a long history with the Celtic people, and at times was a deity unto itself-perhaps even the first Celtic deity. Horses were associated by the Gauls with several gods and goddesses, and were emblems of the sun. The horse was a tremendously important animal to the Celtic tribes, and its domestication transformed the Celtic culture Horses were used for meat and milk and provided labor for farming and transportation, making for huge advances in hunting and war-making. The horse was so important to the Celts it was associated with the sun god, who often appeared as a horse with a human face.

The horse is also linked to a number of ancient war goddesses Perhaps the best-known horse deity of the Celts was the Goddess Epona (Gaulish, “mare”), the horse-mother, a favorite goddess of warriors who was so popular, she had the singular honor of becoming the only Celtic goddess worshiped within the borders of Rome.

spacer
Teutates Entwined water horses, from a Pictish carving
spacer

The father-god Teutates often appears in art as a bearded horse, and one of the names of Im Dagda, “Eochaid,” means horse or horse-father. The triple war goddesses associated with sovereignty and kingship were closely associated with horses (as well as ravens), and the divinatory king-making ritual of the Druids involved a prophetic sleep sewn inside the skin of a sacrificial mare.

The tragic goddess Macha had shapeshifting ability, and one of her three aspects appears to have been a horse. The wife of Otherworld god Midir is Etain, whose aspect was originally equine.The Welsh worshipped a goddess similar to Epona, called Rhiannon, who could appear as a horse, and is the mother of Peredur, who became a legendary rider in Welsh tales (and later, a knight of the Round table.)

Horses also figure in Irish and Scottish fairy lore. Most notable is the Puka or Pooka horse, a dangerous fairy-creature who lures unwary travelers to their death. Another is the water-horse, a sort of mer-creature associated with the sea god Manannan Mac Lir.

More Celtic Symbols

Related Symbols:
SleipnirCernunnos, HerneUffington Horse
spacer

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Mariana April 22, 2014 at 12:22 pm

Thanks so much for this wonderful site! It’s beautifully and simply organized, and I have found it very helpful as a source for a paper in my Medieval Lit course. There’s always that one little extra bit of info a writer needs, and it’s not easy to find…but there you are, and I found just the perfect little juicy tidbit of Celtic lore I needed. Thanks so much! Mariana

Reply

richard knight October 17, 2012 at 4:41 am

i’m having trouble finding other references to teutates as a bearded horse, please could you help?

Reply

ben July 10, 2011 at 9:54 pm

the three horses stand for the three ages of man- youth, adulthood, and old age. these horses were red, black, and white. red stood for vigor and vitality of youth, black stood for the strength of maturity, and white stood for the wisdom and purity of old age. together, intertwined as they are in a celtic knot, they stand for the development of all three qualities in one person. these three colors appeard in “snow white” where snow white the ideal woman, has lips as red as cherries, hair as black as a raven, and skin as white as snow. in “iron john”, the hero must ride three horses; red, black, and white. only after riding all three horses does he achieve victory in a tournament, wich symbolizes his intergration as a man

Reply

Mariana April 25, 2014 at 5:44 pm

Ben, that is really fascinating stuff…I’d love to be able to corroborate that and potentially use it in an upcoming paper. Did you use a particular source for that? If so, would you mind sharing the name? Thanks!!

Reply

melody June 18, 2010 at 6:22 pm

i have a celtic charm with 3 horses and the sheild knot on the back im tring to find more info about the meaning of the 3 horses. any help would be great ….. thanks

Reply

Jennifer June 21, 2010 at 5:05 am

If it is taken from a genuine Celtic design, the meaning could only be guessed at, but it would likely represent Epona/Macha or Rhiannon. Horses were the Celts’ most sacred animal:

http://symboldictionary.net/?p=937

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: