Saddle up, and get on over to your local tattoo artist for a horse tattoo design. Somewhat rare as an animal totem tattoo, horses still carry a lot of cultural and historical meaning – though these meanings are sometimes vague and contradictory.
Beginning in the Ice Age, where cave dwellers sketched early horses on their walls, the horse has fascinated humankind. Seen simultaneously as intelligent yet skittish, the horse is used as both a positive and negative symbol: day and night, sun and moon, good and evil, reasoned wisdom and unbridled lust.
Sometimes the interpretation given the horse is based upon who is riding it or following it on a chariot/wagon. Islamic tradition tells of Mohammed’s journey from Mecca to Jerusalem, and then to heaven, on the back of the great steed Alborak. That is quite a different horse story than the four horsemen of the Apocalypse that John foretold in the New Testament’s Revelation.
Some might call those stories “a horse of a different color.” True to form, the color of horse you choose might also influence the nature of the story told. White horses symbolize purity and the journey of the soul (see also Unicorns, Pegasus), while black horses – especially in dream literature – are a symbol of grief. The grey horse was an omen of death in English, German, and Norse folklore, and remains so in Wales.
Chinese tales of the horse are especially rich. The winged horse MAAH was a heavenly creature who disrupted heaven with his boundless spirit. His wings were clipped and he was sent to earth, where humans tried – but failed – to squelch his wild nature. The horse is the seventh sign (July) of the Chinese zodiac, and it has a year in its honor every 12th year (with the next coming in 2014). Those who embody the horse symbol like to be useful, but are equally difficult to tie down.