folklorelei: (the siren)


Here’s another ancient oddity, taken from Pausanias (2nd c. AD). In his “travelogue” called Description of Greece (also known as Guide to Greece) he describes a phenomena which occurs at the chariot racing stadia of Olympia, Isthmos, and Nemea. The translation below is public domain, by W. H. S. Jones , 1918. It can be found in its entirety here. Mr. Jones talks about a type of ghost or demon called a Taraxippus. He doesn’t bother translating that, but Peter Levi who did a Penguin Classics edition in 1971, translates that as “horse-scarer,” and it’s been rendered “horse frighteners” in other places ( encyclopedia).

[6.20.15] The race-course [at Olympia] has one side longer than the other, and on the longer side, which is a bank, there stands, at the passage through the bank, Taraxippus, the terror of the horses. It has the shape of a round altar, and as they run along the horses are seized, as soon as they reach this point, by a great fear without any apparent reason. The fear leads to disorder; the chariots generally crash and the charioteers are injured. Consequently the charioteers offer sacrifice, and pray that Taraxippus may show himself propitious to them.

[6.20.16] The Greeks differ in their view of Taraxippus. Some hold that it is the tomb of an original inhabitant who was skilled in horsemanship; they call him Olenius, and say that after him was named the Olenian rock in the land of Elis. Others say that Dameon, son of Phlius, who took part in the expedition of Heracles against Augeas and the Eleans, was killed along with his charger by Cteatus the son of Actor, and that man and horse were buried in the same tomb.

[6.20.17] There is also a story that Pelops made here an empty mound in honor of Myrtilus, and sacrificed to him in an effort to calm the anger of the murdered man, naming the mound50 Taraxippus (Frightener of horses) because the mares of Oenomaus were frightened by the trick of Myrtilus. Some say that it is Oenomaus himself who harms the racers in the course. I have also heard some attach the blame to Alcathus, the son of Porthaon. Killed by Oenomaus because he wooed Hippodameia, Alcathus, they say, here got his portion of earth; having been unsuccessful on the course, he is a spiteful and hostile deity to chariot-drivers.

[6.20.18] A man of Egypt said that Pelops received something from Amphion the Theban and buried it where is what they call Taraxippus, adding that it was the buried thing which frightened the mares of Oenomaus, as well as those of every charioteer since. This Egyptian thought that Amphion and the Thracian Orpheus were clever magicians, and that it was through their enchantments that the beasts came to Orpheus, and the stones came to Amphion for the building of the wall. The most probable of the stories in my opinion makes Taraxippus a surname of Horse Poseidon.

[6.20.19] There is another Taraxippus at the Isthmus, namely Glaucus, the son of Sisyphus. They say that he was killed by his horses, when Acastus held his contests in honor of his father. At Nemea of the Argives there was no hero who harmed the horses, but above the turning-point of the chariots rose a rock, red in color, and the flash from it terrified the horses, just as though it had been fire. But the Taraxippus at Olympia is much worse for terrifying the horses. On one turning-post is a bronze statue of Hippodameia carrying a ribbon, and about to crown Pelops with it for his victory.

Mirrored from Better Than Dead.

folklorelei: (the siren)


Returning once again to my old favorite, Meeting the Other Crowd: The Fairy Stories of Hidden Ireland by Eddie Lenihan and Carolyn Eve Green, to speak of fairy horses, the fíor-làr. There are many, many stories in Celtic lore about horse spirits, but Mr. Lenihan’s informants say that they are generally born to regular mares. There’s some debate what makes a horse fairy instead of ordinary, because to outward appearances they look like any other horse. One story goes that you know you’ve got one of those “funny fish” when the gestation of the foal takes 366 days—the old, magical formula of a year and a day. Most foals gestate in ten or eleven months (according to the old timer telling this story).

Like as not when you have a fairy horse they will be a good horse, but given to disappearing for short spells of time when the fairies require its services. But never fear, the fairies play fair in this regard. If you’re depending on that horse, they’ll substitute another until it’s time for the fíor-làr to be returned to you.

And then there’s this, a more spirit-horse version of fairy horses, taken from The Paranormalist.

He recounts the story told him by author, Herbie Brennan:

Shortly thereafter, as Herbie and Jim turned to leave the rath, along the top of the earthen ring, there suddenly appeared a herd of approximately twenty to twenty-five tiny, white horses “no bigger than cocker spaniels”, in the words of Mr. Brennan. The tiny horses galloped along the top of the earthwork, disappearing down the opposite side. Herbie and Jim ran out of the rath andto the other side to see what had happened to to the tiny horses, but they had vanished. Neither man had any explanation for what they had just seen.

Some years later, Herbie told the story of the white horses to his good friend, the late author Desmond Leslie. Leslie had a fascination with mythology and was quite knowledgeable about the subject. Upon hearing Herbie’s account of the tiny horses, Leslie replied, “Dear boy, don’t you know what those were?”. Herbie replied that he had no idea whatsoever what they were, only that he’d seen them. “Those were faerie horses,” Mr. Leslie continued. “They’re associated with the megaliths of Ireland, and there are also reports of them in Japan.”

You can watch Mr. Brennan himself tell the tale below, the first of three stories that explain how he was very reluctantly convinced in the reality of fairies through personal experience:

I’ll have more to say about “fairy photography” one of these days, but let me conclude by saying that I think anyone who’s been around horses much—and I used to be, although sadly not so much anymore—knows that some horses just are special. Even if they don’t have unexplained disappearances to their credit, are not miniature white glowing spirits, sinister kelpies or what all, some of them do seem to have a touch of the fey. Great, dreamy-eyed beasts that they are, they often have their heads in two worlds at once and seem to know much more than the two-leggers astride them. Old souls or fairy-led, I cannot say. Just that they are special.

Mirrored from Better Than Dead.

"Because I have heard that for those who enter Fairy Land there is no going back. They must go on, and go through it." —R. Macdonald Robertson, Selected Highland Tales