When I was very young, I used to hang posters on the walls of my room of horses rushing into the azure. Why horses? Regardless of cultures, eras and continents, the horse is, in the collective human unconscious, the animal most charged with symbolism and meaning. It is the animal that has been the most represented in art, starting with prehistoric art more than 20,000 years ago. The horses of myths, legends and tales are capable of speaking and teaching, of crossing the air like Pegasus, of going to the gates of Paradise like Albaruk, the mare that carried the Prophet Mohammed. They are capable of accompanying the sun in its course, like the turquoise stallion of the Navajo Indians, or of combining instinctive knowledge and human intelligence, like the centaur Chiron, teacher of Aesculapius and patron saint of doctors. Companion of the Gods, horses accompany the Sun in its daily race from Greece to the Gnostic myths of Abraxas and even to the Amerindian cultures… and horses also accompany human beings in their travels. Able to travel between worlds, they carry man beyond heaven and hell and bring him back safe and sound. They traverse the dark depths of the human unconscious. In the depths of the oceans, Neptune’s magical horses are those which are not yet manifested and have no form.
Yet, in reality, we no longer need horses in today’s world because cars, machines and trains provide all the transportation that human beings need. Even the physical strength of the horse is no longer necessary for human beings. However, the number of horse owners is very high in all industrialized countries, with a market approaching one billion dollars in the United States. Why is this? Because we human beings need to create a relationship, and sometimes to reconnect with Nature and the animals around us. To create a relationship with an animal that weighs between 500 kg and a ton is suddenly to feel very small. The horse in us is also the inner child.
Pegasus, the messenger of the Gods, is undoubtedly the most famous archetype of this legendary universe. Pegasus is a divine winged horse, white as snow, one of the most famous fantasy creatures of Greek mythology. The story of his birth contains a treasure trove of rich symbols. This initiatory tale, is a tale so rich in symbols and teachings that one could meditate on it for days on end.
To seduce Medusa, a beautiful ocean dweller with abundant hair, with whom he was passionately in love, Poseidon transformed himself into a horse and guided her to a temple dedicated to Athena. There they united and Medusa became pregnant. For having dared to defile the pure temple of Athena, Medusa was transformed into a horrible creature, the Gorgon. And the angry goddess did not stop there. In order to appease her anger, she also transformed her two sisters. Medusa was known for her exceptional beauty and for her magnificent hair. As punishment for her impure act, Athena transformed her hair into a crown of venomous snakes and cast a curse on her eyes, which turned everyone she looked at into stone. The three sisters lived at the foot of Mount Atlas, a region that corresponds to today’s Morocco. Medusa was the only one of the three sisters to be mortal. Snakes whistled on her head and her frightening gaze petrified anyone who came across it. The hero Perseus, son of Zeus, conceived the plan to rid the world of Medusa. Athena lent him her shield, and Hermes gave him a sharp serpent and a leather bag to hide Medusa’s head. Perseus approached cautiously, looking not at Medusa directly, but at her reflection in Athena’s bronze shield. When Perseus cut off Medusa’s head, the two children of Poseidon were freed and gushed blood from her neck. Thus, the horse Pegasus was born from the blood of Medusa, along with his brother Chrysaor. Perseus then brought the head of the Medusa to Athena, who placed it in the center of her shield.
Like many Greek myths, this story is deeply symbolic. Perseus represents the hero in us, the seeker of truth who is ready to face all dangers to transform the world. But alone, even a hero can do nothing. For Medusa represents all that the past has built inside us, the guardian of the threshold, all the mental representations inside us that paralyze us if we look at them. That is why the goddess Athena, the virgin purity of new thinking, gives her a shield, the shield of a particular inner state, a shield that will enable her to confront Medusa and defeat her.
Who is Medusa in reality? Medusa is a double being. She is a woman of great beauty turned into repulsive ugliness. Her name Medusa means “she who protects”. Medusa was originally the strength of the gaze that wraps her love and protects what she looks at. When she became a monstrous and evil being, with a gaze that petrifies those she looks at, she was Gorgon, a word that means “with a piercing look”. Her beauty and her magnificent hair, her friendly face, her lively and seductive gaze, all this turned into a terrible curse. To see the horrible Medusa is to be petrified of horror and to die. Perseus represents the intention of the one who has decided to travel the path of initiation. The first step of his heroic journey will be to be confronted with the reality of the mental/emotional state of humanity. For the inner life of humans is twofold: at the same time encompassing high ideals, beauty, clear vision and the will to improve, while also harboring lowliness, passions, fear and horror. The hero must fight against the spirit of the world, the spirit that tries to paralyze his being and reabsorb it into the usual atmosphere, and this spirit is twofold.
It was said, “He who has seen Medusa face-to-face must die”. To sustain, in its naked truth, the view of the state of the fall, the view of the dialectical culture and its results dating back eons, means absolute death for the whole being of the ancient nature. Facing Medusa, with the shield of Athena and the Serpent of Hermes, it only takes a fraction of a second and the hero will be freed. The sign of this victory, the head of Medusa, will be protected in the leather bag of Hermes, and this ‘Hermes’ bag symbolizes a new way of thinking. Then, the sign of victory, the head of the Medusa, will be placed in the center of Athena’s shield, where it can still be seen today, for example, in the Louvre museum, as a sign that purity and truth always triumph.
Pegasus ascended to heaven after his birth and placed himself at the service of Zeus, who charged him with bringing lightning and thunder to Olympus.
Friend of the Muses, used to traveling between the world of humans and the world of the gods, Pegasus created the source of Hippocrene, the source of poetic inspiration, which he made spring from a hoof. Pegasus became, in the world of myths, the messenger of the gods, a messenger who still appears today to those who want to rise to the door of the divine kingdom.
Many wanted to tame the winged horse, so that they, too, might gain access to the divine secrets. Prince Bellerophon, full of the ardour of youth, wanted, above all, to tame the Pegasus horse. He was unable to do so, in spite of all his cunning and vivacity. Still, Pegasus escaped into the air. History tells us that one night Athena appeared in a dream to Bellerophon and gave him a golden bridle, the only one capable of taming the fiery winged horse.
Captured by Prince Bellerophon, thanks to Athena’s golden bridle, Pegasus allowed this Greek hero to ride him in order to defeat another monster that was devastating the country, the Chimera, and performed many other feats with his rider. But Prince Bellerophon fell victim to his pride. He tried with his mount to ascend to the top of Olympus and to become the equal of Zeus, the master of the Gods. Then Zeus sent a horsefly, which stung Pegasus, made him swerve, and knocked down the rider. Bellerophon broke his spine, became paralyzed and could never ride again.
Pegasus regained his freedom and rode up into the azure, until he disappeared. He found Zeus, who entrusted him with the mission of carrying lightning to earth.
Thus, Pegasus had become the messenger of the gods, bringing to humans the most precious message on any spiritual path: humility, “the greatest knowledge is that I know nothing and that I am nothing”.
…. Zeus eventually transformed the winged horse into a constellation and placed it in the sky, where it still stands today.
Pegasus flies free among the stars. When you hop on his back, you learn what true freedom is! True freedom is the responsibility to make inner choices. Pegasus reminds you that you are always connected with the soul. Freedom is to listen to the whistling of the wind from Pegasus’ wings with an almost imperceptible whisper: the voice of your own soul.
To go further:
1. Catharose de Petri, The Golden Rosycross, Chapter XI, Septenaire Editions.
2. Bettelheim, Bruno: Psychoanalysis of Fairy Tales, Poche, 1999 (ISBN 9782266095785), pp. 90-91.
3. Franchet d’Espèrey, Patrice: La main du maître: réflexions sur l’héritage équestre, Odile Jacob, 2007.
4. Carl Gustav Jung, Metamorphosis of the soul and its symbols, Georg, 1993.
5. Jung, Emma and Von Franz, Marie-Louise: La légende du Graal, Paris, Albin Michel, 1988, pp. 214-215.