Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth

In Which One Midwest Man-in-Black Confers, Converses & Otherwise Hob-Nobs with his Fellow Hob-Men (& -Women) Concerning the Sundry Ways of the Famed but Ill-Starred Tribe of Witches.

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Light of the Sun: An Antique Latvian Horse-"Brass"

Horse "Brass" with repoussé design (bronze): Latvia, 1880s (?) 5 x 3.5 cm. (2 x 1 1/4 inches)

This 19th century Latvian horse-“brass” (actually made from sheet bronze) would originally have hung from the leather straps of a horse's head-stall, probably on the brow or cheek of the horse. Likely there would have been other (possibly two) companion pieces, now lost, hung along with it.

Although decorative, this piece will have functioned as an amulet as well. And thereby hangs a tale.

The Old Gods lived long in Baltic folk memory: their names in the dainas or folk-songs which were sung at virtually every social gathering, their symbols (raksti) in weaving, embroidery, and wood-carving, their reality in the world all around. The old Baltic pantheon has a deeply archaic feel to it, its gods the Old Gods of nature and deep antiquity: Earth, Sun, Moon, Thunder, Fire. The Old Ways lived on longer in the Baltics than elsewhere in Europe (in some parts of Lithuania there were public sacrifices into the 17th century), and some of Europe's first New Paganisms arose there during the “Baltic Renaissance” period of independence between the First and Second World Wars.

This little horse-bronze is filled with solar symbolism. (The horse has been the Sun's since the Bronze Age at least: think of the Trundholm Sun Chariot.) In Latvian mythology, Sun rides across the sky in a fine wagon every day. This amulet invokes the eye and blessing of the Sun upon the horse that wears it, and light upon its path: fine blessings indeed.

The amulet consists of three lobes, each of which holds three rows of six Suns, and below them a large Sun made up of a ring surrounded by eight Sun-disks: a Sun made of Suns, in which the powers of Sun, Wheel, and Eye are all present.

Three, six, and eight are the prime Sun-numbers in Latvian lore. Three represents the Sun's three great daily stations: sunrise, noon, and sunset. (The midnight Sun is the Sun of the dead.) Six is the Day-Sun's three stations in this world along with those of the Night-Sun in the Other World, for travels by day and by night. And eight recalls the spokes of the Year-Wheel: the Sun's blessing throughout the year.

Even the round suspension-holes of the piece are solar: held up to the light, a round Sun of light shines through each one. Because the designs project out from the bronze, we may read this side of the piece as the Day-World. Flip it over and one sees the shadowed cups and hollows of the Night-World and its Suns; but this side, of course, is secret and hidden, interior.

Reuse, repurpose, recycle. Being myself a man of no horses, my plan is to hang this piece from the rear-view mirror of my car, and to pray for the blessing and light of the Sun upon my road.

And the light of the Sun be on your road also, today and every day.


Photo: Helga

With special thanks to Sean and Ingrida, as always






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Poet, scholar and storyteller Steven Posch was raised in the hardwood forests of western Pennsylvania by white-tailed deer. (That's the story, anyway.) He emigrated to Paganistan in 1979 and by sheer dint of personality has become one of Lake Country's foremost men-in-black. He is current keeper of the Minnesota Ooser.


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