Visualizing the patterns of Black Elk’s Horse Dance made me think of the Spanish School of Riding in Vienna. It has been in existence for over 400 years and one of the special performances they preserved is the Quadrille. I watched many versions of eight horses weaving patterns of hoof-prints on the sand of the arena on you-tube. While some, like the Lipizzaner stallions, are all one color, most performances pair light and dark horses. It is one of the rare examples of horse people working together for the sake of harmony and I like to think it is a remnant of the original horse dance.
The spiel on High School movements for horses, the rationale for teaching them to dance in place and leap into the air on command, is that these movements were taught to horses who carried their riders to war. However Black Elk’s version of war is a little different from our modern ideas of cavalry and might give some insight as to the context Medieval horseman were actually training their horses within.
Black Elk says:
- And when we stood so, the oldest of the Grandfathers, he who was the Spirit of the Sky , cried out: ‘Let all the people be ready. He shall send a voice four times, and at the last voice you shall go forth and coup the sacred teepee, and he who shall coup it first shall have new power!’ All the riders were eager for the charge and even the horses seemed to understand and were rearing and trying to get away. Then I raised my hand and cried ‘Hey-hey’ four times, and on the fourth the riders all yelled ‘hoka-hey’ and charged the teepee.
I found a wonderful you-tube example of a similar sort of charge in this contemporary Moroccan Fantasia. Interpreting the battles and destruction in Revelations as expressions of this aspect of the Horse Dance makes it clear the ancient ceremonies still live on.
Black Elk says:
- Then the horses were rubbed down with sage and led away, and we began going into the teepee to see what might have happened there while we were dancing. The Grandfathers had sprinkled fresh soil on the nations hoop that they had made in there with the black and red roads across it, and all around this little circle we saw the prints of tiny pony hoofs as though the spirit horses had been dancing while we danced.
Most riders nowadays would be quite startled at the idea of their quadrilles being echoed in the spirit realms, and that loss of the sense of oneness with the spiritual realms affects the horses the most. Instead of being mysterious and divine creatures capable of lifting their riders out of the mundane world and taking them into a place of harmony and life, they are all to often reduced to nothing more than recalcitrant slaves. And far too many riders feel free to torment their mounts as though they were unfeeling machines. Then I find myself agreeing with when Revelations says:
- The people grew passionate, and thy passion came, and the season of the dead to be judged, and the season to give their recompense to thy slaves the seers, to the devotees, and to those who fear thy name, the small and the great, and to destroy those who are destroying the earth.
Although we lack the spiritual structure and mythology Black Elk and the Horse Dancers of Revelations took for granted, we have ideas like deep ecology, humanism, and animal rights 1nstead. Personally, I don’t care what you call it, as long as the respect for the non-human world and the desire for a harmonious and life-sustaining way of life are acted on whole heartedly.