by Joyce Mason
All Rights Reserved
Why was Chiron half horse rather than half goat, ram, llama or turtle?
Here’s one possible answer from a rich site on symbolism, The Horse Archetype in Poetry and Anthroposophy. In the poem, "Death of Myth-Making" Sylvia Plath associates the horse with human thinking. The horse is a swift airy vehicle, wafting thoughts instantaneously to the mind of the rider.
The Horse Archetype site further notes:
Reason and common sense allow us short-term security but force us to think in a chain of endless causes and effects. The capacity to think creatively with inspired awareness is lost and the direct cognition of the world of ideas, the source of all myth, is replaced by sense-bound thinking. The subject-object dichotomy separates us from the rest of the cosmos.
This paragraph speaks to one of the most prominent features of the Chiron archetype—a being that is both instinctual and intellectual. He is both-brained, able to think creatively and objectively. Chiron is a balanced being.
Psychiatrist Carl Jung associated the horse archetype with never giving up and called him the “enduring” horse:
[Horses] mirror, and help us recover, the beauty, power, and nobility of our own spirit, that elusive Presence so easily lost in the frenzy and disconnection of civilized life. Now that horses are no longer obliged to work in our fields and carry us to war, they’re free to do something arguably more important: work on us. – Way of the Horse: Equine Archetypes for Self Discovery – A Book and 40 Cards by Linda Kohanov illustrated by Kim McElvoy
Creative Mind + Never Give Up = Soldiers Making Lemonade
Considering just these two aspects of the horse—his airy connection to creative thinking and his never-give-up spirit, the horse lends to mythical Chiron the “juice” to soldier on despite his lingering pain as a wounded mentor, teacher and hero-maker. The Chironic spirit is best captured in the expression, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”
Hope starts in the mind. My theme when celebrating this Autumn Equinox with my Solsisters was “Harvest of Hope.” With the Cardinal T-Square squeezing the last drop of change out of us like lemons in the juicer, we have to hold onto the idea that hope is at the end of all this disorientation and disconnection. Hope doesn’t come from the rational mind.
Hope is independent of the apparatus of logic. ~ Norman Cousins
Or to share yet another of my Harvest of Hope quotes:
Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all. ~ Dale Carnegie
Chiron was wounded, shot accidentally by Hercules with an arrow dipped the poison of the many-headed Hydra. Since he was the son of Chronos, an immortal, he could not die. From where he stood with pain that never ended from the moment of the injury, it’s hard to fathom how Chiron had the optimism to face each new day. Chiron’s story is a testimony to the true grit of his horse half archetype. He lived on, soldiered on and taught on. Chiron never gave up on life and helping others, even without a suggestion of a cure or way out.
Ultimately, Chiron was willing to suffer for another, namely Prometheus. Because he stole fire from Zeus, Prometheus was doomed to nightly torture by an eagle that pecked out his liver. Every morning his liver grew back to ensure a continuous cycle of suffering. There they were; Chiron and Prometheus—both suffering without any hint of let-up.
Yet through creative thinking Chiron finally found his “out.” He offered to take the place of Prometheus. No skin off Chiron’s nose; he was suffering himself anyway. He figured why have two people suffer when one would do?
The gods were so impressed by this act of altruism, they released Chiron from the bonds of his immortality, allowed him to die and raised him to the heavens in the constellation Centaurus. (Some versions of the myth say it was the constellation Sagittarius.) When we’re willing to do for others, we find the most satisfactory resolution to our own life issues and often face the death of who we used to be—a chronically suffering soul without solutions.
The Horse-Goddess, Epona was a protector of horses, donkeys, and mules. In Celtic tradition she governs the life cycle of birth, death, the afterlife, and rebirth; thus, Horse medicine is often associated with these aspects. ~ The History, Legend and Symbolism of the Horse
Body and Spirit
The horse half of Chiron has often been associated with our instinctual nature; his human half with our spirit, the “reasoning” man separate from other beasts, closer in likeness to a god/God.
Chiron’s duality speaks to me of grounded spirituality. We need to gallop the earth with our heads still in tune to the stars, to the energy and cycles of Spirit and the rhythms of the living Gaia. It’s our job to bring heaven to earth and earth to heaven, why we were given a big brain to work with and a spirit as free as a wild stallion.
Wild at Heart
Artist LBerry has this to say about the art illustrating this post:
As a child, I was told that like a wild horse, my spirit needed to be broken. Although I was wounded by those attempts, my spirit remained strong, and eventually I came to realize that it was the one part of me that could never be owned by another. A wild horse galloping in an endless field seems like an appropriate metaphor for freedom of mind and heart, along with a boundless spirit; hence the title, "Wild At Heart". This also goes along with my belief that God never tries to break our will. Instead he asks only that we willingly give ourselves over to the greater divine will.
Now that you’ve heard my thoughts on the subject, I’d love to hear your ideas on why Chiron had to be a centaur—half horse.
I suspect there’s a hint in those classic Westerns with a happy ending. The hero rides off into the sunset on a horse.
Photo Credit: “Wild at Heart” © June 1997 by LBerry. Prints available. Contact Joyce if interested.
Thanks to Janet Boyer who’s eclectic site—janetboyer.com--introduced me to the work of Linda Kohanov, author, speaker, riding instructor and horse trainer who has become an internationally- recognized innovator in the field of Equine Experiential Learning and a respected writer on the subject of Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy. Linda’s site, Epona Equestrian Services, explores the potential of human/horse relationships.