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Symbols - What does heaven look like

Hobby horse

In Europe, in many old festivals we find the use of the ‘hobby horse’ – a symbolic horse that people ‘ride’ in processions.  The symbolism also owes its origin to the word Hob.  It has these days been relegated to the status of a toy but at one time it had considerable symbolic significance.

 The child shows how the hobby horse is ‘ridden’, but the photo on the right shows better how the horse is often portrayed  in festivals and pageants, where it is a complete horse with a man ‘riding it’.

To a large extent, it has exactly the same symbolism as that of the centaur in the form shown to the right.

For example, it was once the custom in Cheshire on All Souls' Day, November 2nd, for a construction known as 'Old Hob' to be carried about the streets. It consisted of a 'horse's head', over which was draped a sheet which enveloped its bearer. Old Hob and his helpers would go from house to house to the accompaniment of song and merriment, something that would continue right through until Christmas.

Old Hob is also to be found in the Germanic tradition of the Schimmel (white horse), which in rural folk ceremonies was represented by a 'horse's head'  on the end of a pole carried by a bearer on all fours, under the cover of a white cloth. Sometimes as many as three or four individuals bore the enormous Schimmel around, with a veiled rider astride the construction, known as the  schimmel-reiter.

Paul Devereux – Shamanism and the Mystery lines

The riding of the broomstick is reminiscent of riding a steed, which is a reminder of the Siberian shamans riding their horse headed sticks through the skies of ecstatic trance....

The remnant of these traditions is doubtlessly the folk image of the hobby horse.

 And we should also note that Frigg, wife of Odin, was depicted riding a broomstick.  Freya is closely associated with Frigg in Norse myth, and the two are generally considered to be the same mythological character, with Frigg emphasising the maternal principle and Freya fertility.  Freya …. was the teacher of seidhr, a form of trance divination.  ….This was women's magic and the seidhkona would travel around farmsteads and hamlets predicting the future.... In the course of divination, the seidhkona would go into trance and have an out-of-body experience.  It was therefore clearly shamanic.  ……… 

Again we have the hint that the secrets of magical flight -  of ecstatic trance -  were passed on to men by women long ago.

Returning back to Britain, we find other examples of 'hobby horse' ceremonies which link with archaic folk-customs, such as Mari Lwyd, Old Hob, the Penglog and Schimmel.

For instance, the famous horn dance which takes place annually at Abbot's Bromley in Staffordshire, today in September, but formerly at Christmas, has long included a hobby horse. Plot in his Natural History of Staffordshire of 1686 speaks of the ceremony as the 'Hobby-horse dance from a person who carried the image of a horse between his legs, made of thin boards.'


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