One of this past weekend’s news items included the following story: Octagonal dies Aged 24. Octagonal, known as the ‘Big O,’ was a champion, New Zealand-bred thoroughbred stallion that won multiple races during the 1990’s. Born on October 8, 1992, Octagonal’s career included a “second placing in the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth Stakes, his 28th start, with 14 wins, seven second placings and one third for in $5,892,231 stakes.” Octagonal became Australian Horse of the Year in 1996, retired with stud status in 1997, and went on to sire several other thoroughbred horses. On October 15, 2016, Octagonal was euthanized due to poor physical health at the age of 24. As many articles that day stated, “although still bright and alert mentally, the horse was struggling physically in recent weeks and was euthanized on Saturday morning.” The intent is to bury Octagonal at the Australian Woodlands Stud reserve, where Octagonal spent the better part of the past 16 years of his life. (More info can be found here)
The point of this inquiry is to examine a potential correlation with the date of October 15 and a rite of antiquity known as the October Horse.
What’s in A Date? Or Jumping Tracks to Sir Frazer’s The Golden Bough, and the Potential Tribute to Virbius and the Killing the Corn God
The deity Virbius, as Frazer states, is the “first of the divine Kings of the Wood at Aricia.” Virbius was the male companion of the Goddess Diana, and assisted in Diana’s supreme reign in the sacred wood. Virbius allegedly manifested into this plane of existence as Hippolytus, and kept Diana’s Greek counterpart, Artemis, company in the sacred wood of Aricia. Forgoing any interest in other women’s love or attention, Hippolytus spurned the interest of Aphrodite. Aphrodite, in turn, enthused Hippolytus’s stepmother, Phaedra, to fall in love with Hippolytus. Hippolytus turned away the “wicked approaches” of Phaedra. Phaedra, now also upset with a lack of acceptance from Hippolytus, forged a false story to her husband and Hippolytus’s father, Theseus, and accused Hippolytus of having made inappropriate advances on to her. Theseus believed his wife, and in anger summoned his sire Poseidon to destroy and kill Hippolytus in revenge for the false wrong. The execution eventually occurred. Poseidon summoned a fierce bull from the ocean and attacked Hippolytus and his horse drawn chariot on the shores of the Saronic Gulf. The horses, terrified at the Poseidon creation, bolted and threw Hippolytus from chariot, eventually dragging him to his death.
This myth was utilized by members of his and Diana’s worship to preclude the allowance of horses into the sacred grove of worship due to the injury they inflicted upon their dead deity. However, as Frazer discusses, there was the possibility of an annual exception; a once a year ritual wherein the horse was allowed access into the sacred grove for use of death and sacrifice. This was similar to the sacrifice of the goat once a year in Athens to praise Athena. Frazer argues that the common thought of horse sacrifice, as being the slaughter and death of an enemy of the deity, is incorrect. Frazer states that the horse was not slaughtered as “an enemy to the deity of the grove,” but rather as being representative of the deity of the Arician grove. At a unique time in the calendar of the ancients, when the fall harvest was to soon begin, the horse represented the fructifying spirit of both the deity of the tree and the deity of the corn. The sacrifice of this spirit was therefore representative of the killing of the god that they adored, who in turn would be resurrected the following spring and bring with it a new, successful yield of crops for the adoring populace.
The Roman Sacrifice of the October Horse
A similar event or ritual celebrated in ancient Rome that Sir Frazer touches on occurred October 15th of every year. It involved a chariot race that was run on the Roman Field of Mars. The victor’s right-hand horse was speared and sacrificed to Mars for the purpose of ensuring good crops. The horse was sacrificed as a symbol of the corn spirit to ensure a beneficial, autumnal harvest. The horse’s head was cut off and adorned with a string of loaves. Wards of the Sacred Way and Subura then performed a “scrum” to determine who kept the head. If the Sacred Way resulted in possession of the decapitated horse’s head, the horse’s head was fastened to the wall of the king’s house. If Subura won, the horse’s head was fastened to the Mamilian tower.
Not wanting to let any of the horse go to waste, the Romans also severed the tail of the horse and carried it to the king’s homestead. The tail is where the Romans alleged that the fructifying, or ability to be fruitful and productive, power resided in the horse’s tail. The blood of the deceased horse was also collected and stored; this blood would later be used at the ritual of April 21, in which the Vestal Virgins mixed it with the blood of sacrificed unborn calves (killed six days prior to the 21st of April). This mixture of blood was then “distributed to shepherds, and used by them for fumigating their flocks.”
Much like the sacrifice of the deity of the Arician grove, as embodied by the horse, the Roman autumnal rites celebrated within the Field of Mars also acted as a blessing of the harvest. The dead horse’s head, tail, and blood symbolized the corn deity’s principal parts, and were stored at the king’s residence. The aggregate of this rituatl acted as a form of blessing upon the upcoming Roman harvest.
Another Potential Conclusion
Putting this all together, it intrigues me that October 15 is both a key date in the world of the occult and a date known as the Roman’s October Horse. Is this just coincidence? Why was October 14, or October 16, or some other date not chosen to put Octagonal to sleep? Might it be possible that, for whatever reason, there is some occult, ritualistic significance to the co-occurrence of these events on October 15?
To be honest, I cheated on this. I had recently listened to a podcast with David Charles Plate, and there was a discussion regarding Stanley Kubrick, The Golden Bough, and Hollywood executives. Plate mentioned that Kubrick, being in possession of the rare, extended Golden Bough series, would lend or give these said executives copies of these books. The idea of interest was not so much the “controversy” of Frazer’s work regarding folklore and religion, but more so on the idea of rituals and ceremonies that permeated in the ancient world. Since I have been working though an unabridged copy of the Sir Frazer’s Golden Bough, I scanned the pages for key dates in the month of October. When the pages turned into a discussion of the deitiezed corn spirit in the symbol of the horse, the Roman sacrifice of the horse, and the date of October 15, I made a mental note to keep tabs on the news on October 15. After searching for news articles regarding “horse” and “death” this previous Saturday morning, and some 1300 words later, I somehow arrived here.
I, of course, can not say whether the date chosen was intentional or not. I do know that the world and industry of horse racing and breeding includes a very small, wealthy, and educated portion of the world’s population. However, I do not know for certain whether that implies that this group embraces rituals from ancient Rome, Greece, or Aricia that symbolize the birth, death, and resurrection of a deity of corn, tree, or something else. This is a question others may have a better answer to.
At the end of the day, I might simply read an unfortunate news story about a beautiful and well-loved horse that passed away. I pass along my condolences and sympathies to all those who were close to him and were saddened by his early demise.