When the magic is working

Daily myth

Ponies 1

Animal encounters often come in clusters -- one month there are deer bounding constantly through the woods, another month brings several badger sightings in a row or the frog population exploding in the pond or hedgehogs appearing under every hedge and bush. In naturalist terms, this is easily explained by the seasonal cycles of animal life -- but in folkloric terms, the meeting of animals has deep mythic significance, for in traditional stories and sacred texts the world over animals are both themselves and more-than-themselves: creatures who negotiate the Mysteries, the elders and the teachers of humankind, messengers from the gods, the fates, the faeries, the nonhuman realms and the lands of the dead, speaking in the language of symbolism, metaphor, riddle, taradiddle, and dream.

Ponies 2

For Tilly and me (and indeed for many in Chagford), the month of March has been marked by encounters with wild ponies...for this is the season they come down to graze and give birth on the village Commons. We often see them sunning on the Commons, or climbing the slope of Nattadon Hill, walking the path in a single file as they come and go from the open moor.

Ponies 3

Tilly is fascinated by them, though knows she musn't bark or get underfoot. They're gentle with her and allow her to pass close...though this will change when the foals are born.

Ponies 4

Looking down on the valley from my studio windows, I can watch the herd as it drifts across the land -- stopping now in this field and now in that one, disappearing for days and then back again. As they roam across the moor and the lanes and fields nearby, Dartmoor's famous, much-loved ponies are iconic creatures of flux and flow, of duality and liminality -- not entirely wild, not entirely tamed.  They are spirits of edges, borders, interstices, and the faery paths betwixt and between. They are modern and archaic, common and uncanny, gentle and fierce. They are only ponies. They are so much more.

Ponies 5

In mythic symbolism world-wide, both horses and ponies represent the following things:

Physical strength, inner strength, vitality, appetite for life, the driving force that carries you forward, the driving force that overcomes obstacles, passion, movement, flow, self-expression, and that which makes you thrive. They are also symbols of vital life forces held in perfect, exquisite balance: love and devotion paired with freedom and mobility; the wild and instinctive supported by the disciplined and domestic; strength balanced with vulnerability, mastery with modesty, power with compassion.


Movement. Flow. Vitality. That's just what I need -- what many of us need -- as winter slowly turns to spring. If winter was the time for staying still and dreaming deep, spring is when the sap rises and pushes us back up to the sun again; a time to open to new ideas, new possibilities, new creative directions. "May what I do flow from me like a river," said Rilke, "no forcing and no holding back, the way it is with children." The way it is with wild ponies too, as they flow across the Devon landscape.

Tilly and the ponies

And here's the other gift the ponies bring, and it's one I value equally:

In an age when Beauty is so often defined by the tall, the slim, and the ethereal, the ponies show me that there is also Beauty to be found in what is small, shaggy, sturdy, and built for endurance. Like me. And like so many of us. We are ourselves and more-than-ourselves; ordinary and extraordinary. It's good to be reminded.

Ponies 6

Ponies 7Photographs above: Dartmoor ponies on the village Commons


Am I right in thinking that the Dartmoor ponies (and possibly those of the New Forest) are survivors of the ancient breed used by the Britons? If so, it was their forebears that pulled the chariots against the invading Romans. And later when Rome was established on these shores, it would have been these same ponies who also drew the avenging chariots of Boudicca in her revolt against tyrannical rule that saw her burning even Londinium. As you say, Terri, a combination of gentleness and power indeed.

I love their mythic element too. The idea that they are messengers and psychopomps, the bearer of news from the Gods themselves, is perfectly suited to their knowing air. Here in the industrial Midlands ponies appear in the most unlikely places as Romanies tether them on roadside verges to graze - possibly some survival of ancient grazing rites -. It's not uncommon to come across them quietly munching at the side of a road while huge articulated lorries roar past.

There are local myths too. When I was a child I was told that if I didn't get to sleep quickly the 'Nine o'clock horses will get you'.
Apparently this was a hangover from the days when the Post Office would lead their horses back to the stables at nine o'clock every night, a time when every good little boy and girl should be in bed. The roots and routes of myth are not always ancient.

And finally perhaps it would be best not to disturb the terrifying beast that is the Night Mare!

"The Nine O'clock Horses" -- what a great title! Thereby, surely, must hang a taile.

Breaking Into Blossom

"If I stepped out of my body, I would break into blossom."--James Wright

There is that moment every spring,
when the green runs through your veins.
When that juice rills and fizzes through you,
even the tips of your hair tickle with it.
When the light slants off your lashes,
fans into your eyes, you see through a new color,
blossoms fall from your lips, leaving a sweet taste
of honey in your mouth. It is spring
and you step out of your body
and blow yourself like milkweed
into the path of the wind.

©2014 Jane Yolen all rights reserved

Oh, that's lovely, Jane!

Serendipity and coincidence are afield as well--or--those who think alike are like companions. I stumbled on to a national Geographic wherein one feature on Navajo horses sustained and delighted me...but this post so delighted me today, I can't/but do day! One March, if the fates allow, I will see the ponies of Chagford eye to eye, breath to breath. Meanwhile I'll see them in my dreams both day and night. I was born in the Chinese year of the horse and, in my suburban youth, was in love with a welsh pony.

sposed to be "can't/but do SAY" Ha.

Oh, this is my favorite post in a while! I love everything about it!

Just flat out gorgeous, stirring, rich and fertile, Terri and Jane!
Here's a response that came for me.

lying with you
on the earth
that pressed us back

our heads so full green
with every breath

we sank into the ground
and sailed
the blossoming air

when rumored
through the drum of hills
we heard the beat

the coming
of the land incarnate

rushing by us
shaggy with the moor

and dark out of their eyes
a wild imperious
glance of praise.

"Taradiddle"...what a great word! I will have to look it up and see how many times I can use it in conversation this weekend!

I love the sturdy, wild and shaggy. That's what drew me to the long-haired, wild eyed Pasha cat and his Maine Coon kind. And I am surely more round and shaggy than tall and ethereal. That the ponies come down to the commons to give birth is potent - they bring this most sacred act as a gift to the lowerlands. Love that, and love this: "We are ourselves and more-than-ourselves. Ordinary and extraordinary. It's good to be reminded."

That should be "full of green" in the fourth line.

Absolutely; and it would have to be a horror story. The threat of the Nine O'clock horses was always so scary and deeply ominous!

Bit out of keeping with the positive tone of the rest of the post and replies. Sorry.

Thank you once more for the delighting and beautiful mixture of thoughtful considerations you pin together here. I love in particular the enduring notice you give to those of us who were built low to the ground. 'Built like a brick sh*t house my Ma used to tell me!" Built like a Dartmoor Pony, I like that visual ... perhaps better:)

Hello Mokihana, what a wonderful use of a good old Anglo-Saxonism! Most of the more earthy English terms were probably coined by that particular Germanic tribe, and 'sh*t house' is probably exactly what the forebears of the English race would have called their 'comfort station', toilet being a polite euphemism, as you probably know, borrowed from the French.

Personally speaking I'm fat but too small to be described as a brick sh*t house, perhaps 'low-rise dung-heap would be more accurate.

horse dreaming in this Year of the Horse

One of my former husbands talents was being a drummer. He showed me what was called taradiddle by drummers, a swift smart cute march. I didn't know it had another meaning.

Ah, yes!

I must investigate James Wright's poetry. How beautiful....Once in my home town Bend I saw a small brown horse running down an alley, free, mane & tail flying. It seemed to be a lovely omen.

Long ago, when I was part of a fantasy APA called Apanage (Amateur Press Assn), we sent out letters in packets once every other month on the topic of children's fantasy books). My "blog" I suppose you would call it now, was called Taradiddles.

Coming full circle here, folks!!!


Would that be the town of Bend, Oregon?
I lived for a short but memorable time parked in a field with Rescue Ponies small and brown ones. They were curious but mostly shy of us. Early in the morning though they would rifle through our bins sniffing out our stores of oatmeal and boxed cookies. They were an omen for us ... we were ponies needing 'rescue' at the time.

-happy sigh- What a beautiful place, you live in. And what a beautiful blog, you share with us.

Thank you...

(Upper NE of the US)

Love this. You seem full of pith these days.


Yes, Mokihana, I grew up in and around Bend, Oregon. I write fables based on my memories of how magical and beautiful it is, the mountains,forests, river and streams.
When we lived in the country we had horses and I still miss them. When I mention my
enchanted forest it is in the DeChutes County. After reading your comments here it is a
joy to fine this out. Oh, and we used to go east on the high desert and bought some horses there, and saw the wild horses like phantoms in the dust.

Stuart, are the "Nine O'clock Horses" related, do you think, to the Welsh legend of the Mari Lwyd?

My friend Clive Hicks-Jenkins, an amazing Welsh artist, has done a lot of work on the the subject of the Mari Lwyd, both visual art:


and puppetry:


Thank you so much for this. It always feels like such a gift when poems appear in the Comments section.

I didn't realize that this was the Year of the Horse. Wonderful!

What a lovely way to grow up.

Thank you for your kind words, Tessa. I feel so lucky to live in beautiful Devon, and love sharing it with others here.

All power to the fates!

Thank you, dear.

Hi Terri, the possibility of a link between the 'Nine O'clock Horses' and the Mari Lwyd folk custom is certainly an intriguing idea. The Welsh tradition marking, in some cases, the transition from the old year to the new, could well be echoed in the Nine O'clock Horses marking the transition from day to night. The rather ominous atmosphere that surrounds both with the mare's skull and the veiled threat of what would happen if you weren't asleep by nine o'clock, could also show a distant echo of folk memory.

I've often thought that the very Anglo-Saxon/Viking area of the East Midlands has a definite Celtic atmosphere; not only does Leicester's river have a Celtic name - the Soar - which I'm told means clear or pure, but King Lear also supposedly ruled from Leicester in the pre-Roman and therefore Celtic era. And there are many other Celtic references to be found in place names and legends, but I won't waffle on about that any longer. I'll just say that the link between Celtic and local Midlands traditions would provide fertile research material for any history/archaeology/anthropology student on the lookout for a doctoral thesis.

P.S. wonderful artwork, Terri. I've never seen the work of Clive Hicks-Jenkins before; beautiful and unsettling!

This is the magic of things, isn't it? Onto a page as illusive as keystrokes, we connect in a field with ponies, enchanted forests and "phantoms in the dust." One of those rescue ponies was called Dusty. Thank you Phyllis.

I remember being up on the western edge of the moor last spring when the new ponies were just about finding their feet, I knelt down and one bimbled up and gave me a kiss on the lips!

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