Ghost Riders in the Sky
A Cantering Rumination about Angelic Horses
Much of what I’m writing about here is speculative. Like, how-many-angels-can-stand-on-a-pin-head level speculation.
But it’s also fun, so don’t get bent out of shape.
“In high seriousness and with equally high glee, we should play with Scripture.”
-Robert Farrar Capon
Open your bibles to 2 Kings and take note of the horses.
And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.
-2 Kings 2:11
And Elisha prayed, and said, Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.
-2 Kings 6:17
Has it ever struck you that these horses are spiritual beings? If ever the veil of the unseen realm were lifted and you happened to have a glimpse, would you expect to see horses?
Ok, these horses were on fire, or of fire, or whatever, but they were identified as horses nonetheless.
There is so much that we don’t know about the Spirit Realm, so it’s kind of amazing that one of the things we do know is that there are Horse Spirits. Or Horse Angels, whatever you want to call them, it’s right there in the Bible.
Now we could take the Platonic route and discuss how the Heavenly Horse is the True Form and Ideal that all Earthly Horses participate in, and there might be something to that, but let’s go another direction.
If there are Angelic Horses in the Spiritual Realm, can we infer that there are other Angelic Animals? I don’t see why not. Why couldn’t the Spiritual Realm be just as stocked with wildlife as our Physical Realm? Heavenly Hounds, Empyreal Elephants, Supernatural Squirrels, Numinous Newts.
Speaking of newts, or salamanders, the weird and winding path of history led the medievals to identify these little frog-lizards as the Elemental Spirit of Fire. I find that highly intriguing because the Scriptures provide us a glimpse of another Angelic Being called a Seraph. You may know these Seraphim as the six-winged throne guardians crying Holy, Holy, Holy in the Temple in the book of Isaiah, but wait! there’s more! Seraph, in Hebrew means ‘burning’. And it’s also the word used to indicate a certain kind of serpent. A seraph is a fiery serpent. (And in some places, like Isaiah 14, we’re told this fiery serpent can fly!) Back to the Salamander. I’m not saying they are seraphs. But I do think their connection, in the medieval mind at least, in making this slithery little guy the Elemental Spirit of Fire is actually related to the Biblical image of the fiery serpent. It’s not a far stretch.
What might be an easier dot to connect is the link between these angelic flying fiery serpents and dragons. All ancient cultures have dragon myths. Is that because there are cultural memories of the Seraphim? Do they look like dragons? They’re described like dragons. The Scriptures use the imagery of the dragon; calls Satan, a fallen angel, The Dragon. Is Satan a Seraph? Holy Horses! We’re off the track, folks! Let’s see if I can find a path back. How about go this way:
The Ancients knew more about this stuff than we do.
Just look at the Zodiac. Regardless of Western or Eastern versions, they’re full of animals that serve as a connection either as representatives, entities, or symbols that belong to the Spirit World. Do you think they just made that up out of thin air? What the pagans sought to portray in their myths and religions may be twisted and broken, but I want to highlight that, even twisted, they still saw something we moderns typically don’t. That is a spiritual reality connected to what they were worshipping. Too often we think some tribe worshipping a Frog God is due to a fertile (or, perhaps, tepid) imagination. It’s possible. But what I’m saying is that maybe, in the ecosystem of the Spirit Realm, there really is a Frog Spirit that they are seeking to appease.
If ancient paganism were a child’s room, the worship of animals would be the Lego’s on the floor. It’s everywhere. Monkey gods, Leopard cults, deities with Crocodile heads, sacred Cows, Serpent worship, and shape-shifting Hawk gods of the sky. What drew ancient man to deify a Cat?
Through the glimpses of the Spiritual Fauna we gain from the Scriptures, and the abundance of spirit animal myths in the cultural memories of humanity, I think we can reasonably say that Animal Spirits, fiery or otherwise, seen or unseen, are actual beings. I don’t know how to rightly classify them in the Spirit Realm; maybe they are some part of the Elemental Spirits Paul discusses in Colossians. Maybe we might think of them as Nature Spirits, similar perhaps to what has been called dryads and naiads, fairies and nymphs. Maybe they function similarly to the wildlife in the Earthly Realm, as helpers, companions, pets, and perhaps they have some spiritual “ecological” function that we can’t even fathom. Maybe they hate that they’re being worshiped by Man. Maybe they revel in it. Maybe they have no clue.
Mayhap an Angelic Horse could, like an Earthly Horse, be used for good or bad purposes without taking any moral culpability upon itself. God used Angelic Horses to protect Elisha and to take Elijah to heaven in a whirlwind. Can evil spirits use Celestial Horses for evil deeds? What if there really is something to what the Northern Europeans called The Wild Hunt? Where demons or the spirits of wicked men are said to ride before the onset of a storm. Enormous horses blazing through the skies, hoof beats like thunderclaps, ridden by huntsmen frenzied with their hellish hallooing, and the baleful baying of hounds that produces a portentous dread in the hearts of men.
Now I’m not saying pagans were right to worship Animal Spirits. But I am saying that we are wrong if we believe they were worshiping nothing. Their worship of the Horse Spirit was wrong, not because there is no such thing as a Horse Spirit—there is such a thing, you just read about it in the Bible—but because their worship is in the wrong direction. They worshiped the creature instead of the Creator. The Horse Spirit is a servant of the Most High who alone is worthy of our worship. Worship is due to Christ because “by Him all things were created in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible”.
So in light of the Biblical Horses of the Whirlwind, the Nordic tales of Odin’s flying eight-legged horse, Sleipnir, or the Greek stories about the winged stallion, Pegasus, don’t seem so outlandish. Even if we don’t take the myths at face value, we can readily see the parallels. There is something true there. Ghost riders really are in the sky.
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