Horse Gods and Goddesses of the Ancient World: Celtic, Greek & More
One of nature’s most majestic and noble creatures is the horse. Dating back thousands of years are stories of these beautiful animals. All over the world, cultures have revered the horse for its swiftness, but also for its power and independence. Horse medicine is strong medicine. The Celts and the Native Americans revered the horse, as did the Germanic and Norse people. The gods had a strong connection with the horse. Here we examine the horse gods and horse goddesses of the ancient world.
The DIVINE Horse and Wild Deities
For thousands of years the horse has been revered for its swiftness and otherworldliness. It seems the horse is a liminal creature by nature, and so it’s no wonder it’s also connected to multiple gods and goddesses worldwide. The horse is considered a psychopomp in various cultures, meaning it’s a spirit that leads souls to the afterlife. A guide and guardian to many. If you’ve ever been around a horse in person, you’ll know why they’re called majestic. These horse gods and goddesses embody this beautiful animal’s wild yet tame (when they want to be) spirit…
1. Aine: The Red Horse Goddess
Aine is an Irish Celtic horse goddess and Fairy Queen who healed and granted fertility to her followers. Cnoc Aine in Knockainey was Aine’s center of worship. In ancient times, royalty performed marriages on top the hill to honor Aine and to seal the kingship. This act means Aine was an important sovereignty goddess. Aine’s sacred lake, Lough Gur, which isn’t far from Cnoc Aine, was used as a place of healing and transition from this life to the next.
Aine’s Magical Abilities
Aine was a fertility goddess, but also a goddess of healing, sovereignty, the otherworld, and abundance. As a fairy queen, she could shapeshift like any other fairy. She often turned into a large red mare, which made her a sacred horse goddess to the Celts. The color red signified the otherworld, bloodline, and the occult mysteries, which makes Aine a psychopomp to the afterlife.
2. Ares the Horse God & His Warrior Horses
Ares, the Greek god of war, was well-known for his destructive ways. Born to Zeus and Hera, Ares was a god that Zeus kept at arm’s distance. The Greeks were wary of Ares, as he had the reputation of being a cruel man-slaughterer. Ares is well-known for his scandalous affair Aphrodite. In this myth, Aphrodite’s angry husband catches Ares in a net and humiliates him in front of the gods.
Ares’ Link to Animals
Following this event, Ares turned himself into a boar when he learned Aphrodite had fallen in love with another god – Adonis. Then he charged at the boy with all his might. Ares and the horse are closely linked, as well as other animals like the bull and dog. Ares charged into battle in a chariot pulled by two divine horses. On his shield was an emblem of two war-waging, powerful horses. And the ancients sacrificed horses in Ares’ name.
3. Poseidon: Greek God of the Sea and of Horses
Poseidon is a Greek god and one of the Olympians who is well known for being a ruler of the sea. Yet he was also closely connected to horses and is even called the “giver of horses” by some. Apparently, in his efforts to impress the goddess Demeter, he was tasked to create the most beautiful animal in the world. And after some trial and error, Poseidon created the horse. Essentially, he’s credited with giving the horse to the world and humanity. Thank you, Poseidon!
4. Belenus: The Shining Sun God
Belenus, also known as Belenos, was a Celtic horse god who survived the Roman conquest and became part of the Gallo-Roman religion. As a sun god, solar wheels are sacred to Belenus. Belenus lends his name to the ancient Celtic sabbat Beltane . He was a sun god, and the beginning of May was once considered the official start to summer in Celtic times. He is sometimes depicte in a horse-drawn chariot similar to Apollo. Clay horse figurine offerings inundated his shrine in Burgundy, France.
5. Epona: Celtic Goddess of Horses
No deity’s name evokes the image of the horse quite like the name Epona. Epona was a widely-worshiped Celtic horse goddess in the region that is present-day France and Germany. Her cult survived the Roman conquest and became part of the Gallo-Roman religion. Her name literally means “Great Mare”. Epona the horse goddess ruled over all equine animals including donkeys, ponies, and mules. She is a fertility goddess who carries a cornucopia, grains, and is accompanied by foals.
6. Freyr: Norse God of Peace and Prosperity (And Horses, Apparently)
Freyr is the King of the Vanir, the Norse god of peace and prosperity. And while most associate Freyr with his sacred golden boar, he also has a horse ally named Bloody Hoof. In the Poetic Edda, Freyr gifts a divine horse to his messenger. This horse may have been Bloody Hoof, though the poem doesn’t clarify. In the Icelandic sagas, Freyr is closely associated to horse cults in the new settlement.
7. Rhiannon: Welsh Fairy Queen & Horse Goddess
Rhiannon is a Welsh mythical figure from the The Mabinogion. She is a beautiful fairy maiden who marries a mortal Welsh king. Her story is a sad, yet inspiring one. Rhiannon is blamed for murdering her kidnapped son. She’s punished in a horrifying manner, while also grieving for her lost son. They strip away her dignity and force her to carry the castle’s guests on her back like a horse. Rhiannon never runs away or complains; she believes her good character will be restored. Her story is one of hope and strength and is empowering to women who have been oppressed or abused.
Rhiannon’s Connection to Horses
Rhiannon is a fairy goddess and therefore has dominion over wildlife, but her favorite animals are birds and horses. In the Mabinogi, Rhiannon is a mare and her son is a foal. She’s so strongly related to horses that scholars believe she could be the Welsh version of the continental horse goddess Epona. The fact she carries people around on her back like a horse is strong enough evidence to relate her to horses. Not to mention when her mortal husband first pursues her, Rhiannon escapes on her fairy horse.
8. Shango and the Black Horse
Shango is a horse god in the Yoruba religion. He is an Orisha of thunder, justice, virility and fire (among other things). In legend, he was the fourth king of Oyo, the second dynasty of Oduduwa, in the Yoruba empire in West Africa. His consorts were Oshun, Oya, and Obba. He was son to Oddumare in some legends, and in others he was the heir of Obbatala and Oddua. His sacred number is six, his colors are red and white, and his sacred day is December fourth because of his comparison to Saint Barbara.
Shango’s Black Horse
Sources say to place a black horse statue on Shango’s shrine. Shango rides his black horse in ancient sculptures all over Africa. In Medieval Africa, people saw horses as powerful figures – they were owned by warriors and royalty. Because of Shango’s kingship, he has a close association with horses but also because of sacred rituals.
9. Loki Shapeshifts Into a Mare?
Yes, you read that right. Loki, the Norse trickster god that so many of us know and love, is another of the gods who has an inseparable link to horses. It’s interesting how Loki gets such a bad rap, and yet he’s constantly saving the gods and Asgard as a whole. In this particular story, Loki saves Asgard yet again.
Once there was a man who came to Asgard’s citadel and struck up a deal with the gods. He said he would build an impenetrable wall around the citadel in exchange for Freyja’s hand, as well as the sun and moon. The gods said he had to finish it within one season and the man asked if he could use his stallion in the construction. The gods of Asgard agreed and didn’t realize that this man would have the wall nearly built in a short span of time. So they held a counsel and tried to figure out how to stop the man from completing the job so that they wouldn’t have to give him Freyja, the sun and moon. They blamed Loki for striking the deal in the first place and then forced Loki to figure out how to stop the man from completing his work.
Well, Loki being cunning and smart, shapeshifted into the form of a beautiful mare and lured the man’s stallion away from the job. Interestingly, in mare form, Loki becomes pregnant and goes on to birth Odin’s trusted steed Sleipnir. Basically, Loki is blamed for the gods’ deal and yet saves Freyja, the sun and moon in the end via his shapeshifting abilities.