The Vedic solar deity Surya riding a chariot drawn by seven horses.

Creative Commons License D. CATHERINE | 2017
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

From a geocentric viewpoint—which is surely the most ancient perspective—there were originally only five planets observed in the night sky: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. When the sun and moon are added (since they too were perceived to traverse or cross the ecliptic), then these can be said to amount to seven.

However, if the sun is included in this particular grouping of seven, then it could be argued that the typological origin of the seven horses or the horse-with-seven-heads hauling round the solar chariot of the Vedic Surya (who is depicted as separate from the horses) does not derive from the planetary, lunar or solar bodies on or in the near vicinity of the ecliptic. It arguably derives from an earlier astro-mythical period involving the stellar ‘heptanomis’ and where the sun or solar barque—in its daily, annual or precessional (i.e. Great Year) circuit—was mythically depicted attached to a rope or chain that was fastened to the pole-star in the north[1] (of which there were traditionally seven successively in the circuit of approximately 25,800 years).

This is not to say that the horses in the Vedic myth are necessarily referring to the precessional pole-stars. The horses of Surya might very well might be referring to e.g. the planets on the ecliptic; but if so, then they are surely typologically inheriting the number seven of the original pole-star haulers of the solar or soli-lunar boat? Unless, as another possible option, “the seven” were in reference to the ecliptic zone of the celestial sphere that was at some stage partitioned into seven ‘houses’ through which the sun travels; but either way, the myth would ultimately relate to precessional movement. There are some who’ve suggested that the seven refer to the seven colours of refracted light, but this discounts the mythical typologies which were initially chronocentric and cyclical (pertaining to some form of a circuit).

Some solar chariots, for example in the case of the Nordic Sól, are drawn by only two horses. This may allude to either the Gemini constellation or the twilight at dawn, or perhaps the Evening and Morning Stars (or light by day, and darkness by night). Other solar chariots, for example in the case of Helios, Apollo or Sol Invictus, are drawn by four horses which suggest either the four corners of the earth or the four seasons.


[1] Gerald Massey writes: “Descendants from a god whose hauling or towing force was represented by a rope would naturally be the ropemen. And the Spartans claimed to be the ropemen, from σπαρτογ=rope. As they sprang from the teeth of the dragon sown by Kadmos, it is possible that they dated from the ropeman who was ruler of the pole-star in the dragon from 4,000 B.C. to 1,000 B.C. in round numbers. When [the Egyptian deity] Ra calls on those who pull the rope of the solar boat in Amenta to tow him “towards the dwelling of stable things” and free themselves upon “the mysterious horizon,” they say to Ra, “The rope is with Ak”=the pole-star. The upper end of the rope was fastened to the pole, whilst the bark was being towed round the ecliptic.

The imagery here does but involve one rope and one pole-star at a time; but as the pole-stars in the course of precession were seven, there were seven ropes or bonds, all reckoned, and in one character the seven primal powers are called the seven Tesu or Tasu. These are the seven who hauled at the rope and who were the makers of the seven ties, bonds, knots, or fastenings of the cable to the pole when the rope was a primitive link of connection that preceded Newton’s law of gravitation; the rope that is carried in the form of a noose by Shu-Anhur, who also carries the staff of the pole with which heaven was uplifted. The seven Egyptian Tesu are a kind of seven ropemen, who passed into the Babylonian mythology as the seven bonds by which the universe was bound and held together by the seven lords at the seven stations of the pole.

In the Hindu representation the seven powers that hauled round the solar bark by means of the rope have been converted finally into the later seven horses which draw the chariot of the sun. The seven became the first company of the gods in the Aarru fields as the rulers of the seven polestars, who were the formers or creators in the domains of space and time. These were the seven great in glory called the khuti or spirits, represented by beautiful white water-birds, the prototype of Cygnus the swan. The seven khuti still survive in the seven swans of legendary lore, more especially in India. The seven khuti, as white birds on the celestial waters, represented souls or spirits, but as star-souls—not human souls—external to human beings, and so they became seven souls as seven swans in the folktales.” (Gerald Massey, Ancient Egypt: The Light of the World, London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1907, pp.598-599.)

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