Astrologer Laura Craig

The Mare Goddess

Paul Gaugin, “Women and a White Horse”

Animals often show up for me as themes in birth charts, and when they do, I find it useful to turn to mythology for an understanding of how the human psyche has interpreted the nature of whatever it might be. What does it symbolize culturally and what does it symbolize to the individual? And what can the animal teach us? This past week, it has been the horse, and specifically the mare.

The horse has had a longstanding symbolic connection to kingship and sovereignty in many traditions. In mythology, horses often feature prominently in the birth stories of culture heroes or divine twins. To the ancient mind, the mare was a representative of the Earth Goddess, and as such, had the power to confer royalty to whoever she deemed (or whoever proved himself) worthy of protecting her land and her people. Both in ritual and in oral tradition, the man who successfully captured or tamed the wild mare, and married her, became ennobled.

As attitudes towards women and power shifted, stories of the Mare Goddess took on a darker aspect. The Welsh Rhiannon, the beautiful and elusive woman atop a white mare, marries the king and bears a son, but then is falsely accused of killing her baby and is sentenced to stand by a mounting block and carry visitors back and forth to the castle on her back while recounting her shameful story. Macha, in the Irish tradition, brings wealth and happiness to her husband as long as he promises never to mention her name to anyone, so when he brags that his wife can outrun the king’s horses, the king summons her to court, and commands her—heavily pregnant!—to run a horse race. She wins, and then lays a curse upon all the men of the land for the next nine generations. The Greek fertility goddess, Demeter, in one of her vengeful aspects, was called “Mare-headed,” because she assumed the form of a horse to escape Poseidon, who raped her. The Roman Epona, harvest and earth deity, came to be linked primarily with the realm of warfare, cavalry and utilitarianism. As concepts of chastity and virginity took root in culture, and as women’s sexuality became problematic within the dominant power structures, the Great Mare was reduced to an abused beast of burden; the bountiful mother became the devouring mother; and the fertility goddess was transformed into the temptress or the lecherous witch, all while maintaining their equine associations. The wild beauty and free spirit of the mare, and the feminine power she represented, became a dangerous eroticism to the masculine psyche.  A woman, whether astride a horse, a broomstick or a man, was a woman in control of her sexuality. And to many, it was a flagrant inversion of the expectations of feminine submissiveness and passivity, and needed to be repressed or demonized. How sad. 

Let’s leave humans and our complexities aside and go back to the animal itself for guidance. Regardless of your gender, if the horse is a totem for you or feels like a kindred spirit, there is a part of you that resists domestication and needs freedom to run. There is gentleness and playfulness, strength and stamina, power and fecundity. You embody ancient royalty, as the archetype of kingship and queenship run through your story. You are one face of the Earth Goddess, who is asking to be remembered and redeemed. Don’t let them tame you.

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