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The Myth of Pegasus

The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths of Secrets, by Barbara G. Walker, 1983

Winged horse of Greek myth, symbol of the sacred king's or hero's journey to heaven; an image of death and apotheosis, like the mythic death-hordes of northern Europe. Pegasus had archaic, matriarchal origins. He sprang from the "wise blood" of the Moon-goddess Medusa, who embodied the principle of medha, the Indo-European root word for female wisdom. Or, alternately, he was the magic horse Arion, "the moon creature on high," born of the Goddess Demeter and ridden by Heracles in his role of sacred king in Elis. There was an earlier female Pegasus named Aganipe, "the Mare Who destroys mercifully," actually a title of Demeter herself as the destroying lunar Night-Mare.

Pegasus was named for the Pegae, water-priestess who tended the sacred spring in Pirene in Corinth. The cult seems to have been rooted in Egypt. The oldest shrine of Osiris at Abydos (ca. 2000 B.C.) centered on a sacred spring called Pega.

The Greek Pegae preserved an ancient dying-god cult, as shows by the myth of Bellerophon, who mounted Pegasus and tried to ride to heaven "as though he were an immortal." He failed and fell. Bellerophon's predicessor (mythologized as his "father") also failed and was devoured by wild man-eating mares. This was not meant to suggest that human flesh ever became incorporated into an equine diet. It meant rather "the pre-Hellenic sacred king was torn in pieces at the close of his reign by women disguised as mares."

Pegasus represented divine inspiration as well as god-like apotheosis. A man who rode him could become a great poet. Pegasus's crescent-moon-shaped hoof stamped the ground and dug the Hippocrene (Horse-Well), a spring of poetic inspiration on Mount Helicon, the home of the Muses. This was another kind of immortality: the rider of Pegasus could figuratively "fly through the air to reach the heavens."

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