You go to fetch your horse or pony in from the field one morning and find, buried in its mane, a perfect plait. Where on earth did it come from? These mysterious plaits are a common enough phenomenon and have been reported all over the UK, causing much speculation.
Up till now there have been two theories about the braiding:
- they’re caused by the wind rolling and tangling the horse’s mane
- they’re made by fairies, and indicate that the horse was ridden by these fairies all night (old school theory, this)
- they’re “markers” left by horse thieves, who will later turn up to steal away the horse.
Theory three has led to lots of panic, but seems to be urban (rural?) mythology as the majority of the horses are not subsequently stolen. Now police in Hampshire and Dorset think they know what lies behind the braids: it’s pagans doing “knot magick”. The Bournemouth Echo has details (many of which it appears to have cribbed from earlier articles in other publications):
West Dorset officer PC Tim Poole investigated the pagan angle and told Paranormal Magazine: “This is part of a white magic ritual and is to do with ‘knot magick’.
“It would appear that for people of this belief, ‘knot magick’ is used when they want to cast a spell.
“Some of the gods they worship have a strong connection to horses so if they have a particular request, plaiting this knot in a horse’s mane lends strength to that request.
“The fact that this plaiting coincides with one of their ceremonial times of year [the winter solstice] adds weight to the theory.”
I know there are folk in the UK worshipping the Celtic pony goddess Epona, but knot magick has not traditionally been part of her worship, so I’m curious to know which gods are involved. Of course, “pagans” have also been blamed for “horse ripping”, although many experts on the subject believe that most “horse ripping” is a result of field injuries or damage done by other horses, who can be more vicious, and more precise in that viciousness, than their owners might want to credit. This form of knot magick seems pretty harmless, although you can get a nice frisson from reading this Wikipedia article on knot fetishes or “witch’s ladders”, which include human hair, cock’s feathers and broomsticks. A how-to guide is found here.
However, though one warlock told the police this was a pagan practice, another denied it, saying it was probably people just”playing at” Satanism. I have a feeling that British paganism isn’t exactly standardised, which could well account for this difference of opinion. Here’s the full article at Paranormal Magazine, which also suggests that rocking horse manufacturers have been lopping off horses’ tails to use on their creations. Given that said rocking horse makers can probably pick up tails by the dozen at a local abbatoir, that seems a little silly.
Theory number five comes courtesy of a commenter on the Bournemouth Echo piece:
“Maybe some little girls who don’t have a My Little Pony and use a real pony instead?”
Sounds about right. For aspiring MLP-ers, here’s a video on plaiting the mane of a Spanish horse in the traditional style.
UPDATED: another great piece on the phenomenon by the Fortean Times.