The first horse
The original horse lived 50 million years ago in North America. It was about the size of a fox and its hooves were soft. Today's tame horse is a cloven hoofed animal and a comparison between the two animals shows considerable differences. Eventually the horse died out in America but was re-introduced there in the 16th century.
The horse came to Europe across the land connection between America and the Bering Strait and eventually spread via Asia to our area. Before people learned how to tame the horse it was a well sought after prey.
The horse used as an instrument of force
About 4000 years ago, 2000 years B.C., the first horse came to Sweden. In 1990 archaeologists in Västergötland found the remains of a horse from the period known as the early Stone Age.
Contemporary findings showed even elegant axes which had the shape of a boat, which are said to come from the Russian nomads who had learnt to tame the horse and had spread terror as they proceeded on their military expeditions. The form of the axes which they handed down to posterity has given them the name “Boat axe people”.
Thus the first contact our ancestors had with the horse was when it was used in the service of violence, but soon it was shown how all the advantages of the horse stood out even in peaceful utilization.
Marija Gimbutas, professor of anthropology at the University of California, has spent a part of her life studying the Russian horse people and what it meant having the means of using the horse as a military force. Gimbutas was of the opinion that the peaceful, women dominated culture which had developed during a long period of time, was wiped out by the Indo European tribes. The riders came in waves and with weapons took over the power. What Gimbutas bore in mind and interpreted was the method of burial. The man began to be placed in the centre along with their weapons and the women and children on the other hand, more often were placed in insignificant spots.
The horse of the myths
The upheaval caused by trying to get access to the muscular strength of the horse and thus perhaps getting power over others has inspired the forming of many myths round the horse.
Pegasus (Greek Myth) the winged horse, a modern symbol for the inspiration of poets, “to mount Pegasus”.
The Centaur (Greek myth) was a sort of half person/ half horse, and according to the tales wild and with a fondness for wine and women.
The Unicorn, a fabulous beast from ancient times, a symbol for purity and virtue during the Middle Ages, could only be captured by a virgin.
Helios, the sun god, travelled with the sun in a carriage and four across the heavens.
Sleipner was Odin's eight footed horse which bore dead warriors to Valhalla, the Vikings equivalent to heaven.
Frejfaxe belonged to the As god Frö and powerful fertility myths have flourished around this horse. For instance how a king redeemed a farmer and his family from a heathen horse worship which is connected to a fertility theme is mentioned in the sacred story in Olav the Holy`s tale.
The four riders of Apocalypse, the messengers of death in the book of Revelations in the Bible which were said to predict war, famine, plague and death.
The horse of the God which suddenly became the horse of the heathens
We can see the horse depicted in caves (e.g. Lascaux about 20000 years old) on rock carvings, stone drawings and ship heads. In the As religion the horse was exalted as a holy animal and horse meat was eaten as a sacrifice in honour of the As gods.
As Sweden gradually reformed to Christianity, from the 11th century onwards the Christians tried to break the As – religion's hold over the people. One way was to attack the attributes which were sacred to the As religion and that was for instance the horse. The project wasn't that simple to carry out, especially in the North of Dalarna where the people on the shores of the lake Siljan obviously didn't uncritically accept the teachings of the church. There are several indications which show that the horse had a special standing there, partly from records of the so called spreading of prejudices around the horse slaughter which stemmed from as long ago as the 15th century and partly from the court records of the witch trials of the 17th century. Both phenomena make up parts of a strange puzzle around the wooden horse. Together with the knowledge that the areas around Siljan were used as settlements for the Vikings (several burial findings have been discovered) a picture emerges of a region which has had a long and strong history of respect and warmth for the horse, both as a living animal and a symbol.
Toys of the devil
Perhaps the most extraordinary document regarding the wooden horses is from the 17th century during a witch trial in Mora. The notes from the trial describe a statement from a witness, Mora's parish priest, Elavus Andre Skagge, who stated that the witches used a so called “baror” that is to say a magic wooden object in the shape of an animal (for instance, a wooden horse) to do the work of the devil. The county constable in Mora also stated that it was the devil himself who distributed small horses to the children.
The original fight for the souls against the As religion, had now actually developed into a regular persecution of people with the men of the church and the men in power as the instigators. A dark but not less important chapter on our way to understanding ourselves and our history.
North Dalarna free from horse prejudice.
Another interesting phenomenon has been described in Egardts book” The Slaughter of Horses and The Shame of The Devil“ In the book she describes how towns round the centre and northern parts of Dalarna were some of the few places in Sweden where the prejudice against horse meat and slaughter was not outspread. The area is called a relic of former times. In a record of traditions for the time from 1830 onwards, this area stood out as a clean spot on the map of prejudices.