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Ehwaz means “horse” in Proto-Germanic and is associated with transportation, trust, movement, quickness, and adventure. Ehwaz represents the vehicle we use to travel, whether that be the horse, the chariot, the car, or even the body itself. Ehwaz is that which we depend upon to move around the landscape and quicken journeys over vast distances. Great trust, care, and love was bestowed upon the horse, as one would treat their vehicle in modern times. General health and maintenance of the vehicle should always hold a top priority in necessary duties.
Ehwaz represents the physical body and that which our soul inhabits. While Raido is the soul, or “driver,” Ehwaz is the vehicle that the soul uses to “ride” in, as one uses a horse on a long journey. The horse can also be applied to our thoughts as well, as the skilled visionary can separate oneself from their thoughts, watching them as if one would watch a wild horse in an open field. This is a dissociative meditation practice where one can take a third person view of their own thoughts, observing them in awe, without attachment, being represented by the wild running horse.
Horses were of high importance in Germanic culture, being associated with the gods Odin and Freyr in particular. Both gods possess magical horses, Odin with the 8-legged Sleipnir (Slippery One) and Freyr with Blóðughófi (Bloody Hoof). Freyr’s temple in Þrandheimr was said to host a herd of sacred horses. We also have the word Yggdrasil, the name of the great world tree, which translates to “Terrible Steed,” a shamanic reference to Odin as he travels the 9 worlds of the tree. Two other notable horses of Norse myth are the horses of Dagr (day) and Nótt (night), Skinfaxi (Shining-Mane) and Hrímfaxi (Frost-Mane).
The “Old English Rune Poem” is the only of the old poems to invoke Ehwaz, although in Old English this rune is called Eoh, meaning “horse,” but also, “stallion.” Admiration for this noble beast is shown here, stating:
“Stallion is for earls among athelings a joy,
a horse haughty on its hooves, when warriors,
wealthy in steeds, trade talk about it;
and for the restless it is always a remedy.”
Through this poem, we can deduce a few meanings that the Anglo-Saxons associated with this rune. First, they reference the stallion as opposed to just a plain horse, giving this rune a masculine and “fertile” role. Second, it invokes the “athelings,” or nobles, linking royalty and regality to the rune. The third line has a “Fehu” tone to it, stating that one can be “wealthy in steeds,” showing that this animal was worth money and could represent a person’s wealth. The last line refers to being “restless” or anxious, stating the horse as a remedy to these feelings. This would tie us back in with the meditative association with the horse, as this quick and possibly “reckless” movement can be therapeutic to those suffering from uneasiness.
In Sanskrit, we have the relative word áśva, which translates to “horse,” also being the name of the constellation Sagittarius, a cluster of stars resembling horse-like features. It is also a term denoting the “Knight” of the chess board. Through many branches of the Indo-European language family tree, we can see this word emerge, nearly unscathed by time. We can see this in the proto-Indo-European root word h₁éḱwos, meaning “steed/horse.” This word remains in the lexicon almost unchanged over thousands of years, showing up in Latin as equus and Primitive Irish as eqas. In modern English, we see this word evolved into equestrian, a word relating to those who ride horses.
It’s debated whether or not the horse was domesticated first by (Yamnaya) Indo-European speaking peoples or (Botai) Urgic speaking peoples, but many have traced horse domestication back to people of the west Eurasian steppes. These people are said to be the alleged “proto-Indo-Europeans,” and this could be very well be the reason the Indo-European language family spread so far and so quickly; carried by those riding on the backs of these fast and powerful beasts. Regardless, humans have had a very close connection to these animals for nearly 6000 years. Prior to their domestication, horses were hunted for food like many other wild game, even being consumed in sacred religious ceremonies amongst the northern Germanic tribes. In “Unmentionable Cuisine” by Calvin Schwabe, he says:
”In pre-Christian times, horsemeat eating in northern Europe figured prominently in Teutonic religious ceremonies, particularly those associated with the worship of the god Odin. So much so, in fact, that in A.D. 732 Pope Gregory III began a concerted effort to stop this pagan practice, and it has been said that the Icelandic people specifically were reluctant to embrace Christianity for some time largely over the issue of their giving up horsemeat.”
Among this, he also references cross cultural similarities and associations amongst Indo-European peoples and the horse, stating:
“For among our Indo-European forebears, many legends bespeak the prime religious importance of the horse, not only as a manifestation of Odin worship but as the Gaul’s horse goddess Epona, who was but a form of the Celtic people’s mother goddess. Among Teutons, Slavs, and Iranians the sun traversed the heavens in a horse-drawn chariot.”
To conclude, we can see Ehwaz holds a very important place in the rune row, representing one of the most important animals to our ancestors, if not the most important. The horse was used by most classes of society, whether for farming, war, or regal means, making it an animal of the people and a part of the living “organism” of society. Ehwaz has direct association to gods such as Odin and Freyr, as well as celestial and natural deities such as Day and Night, or Sun and Moon. It’s because of the horse that more than 3.2 billion people speak an Indo-European language today, as the adventurous young warrior bands, or Männerbunds, spread across the world in search of wealth, glory, adventure, and wisdom.