I am a dreamer. What’s possible or impossible is not my business – it is up to God and nature. But what is up to me is to keep dreaming, keep imagining, keep trusting and believing, keep working towards it and keep persevering, and do the best I can along the way, giving it my heart, my hands and all.
Today we’ll talk about love. I’ll take you across the mystical and enchanting desert lands of the East for a tale reminding us how we all need an ebony horse sometimes to reach the unreachable and inspire us to see beyond the horizons, beyond the borders of our mind.
Photographed above is a most beloved flower painting of mine with the tarot card the knight of cups symbolized as the tale of The Enchanted Horse, also known as The Ebony Horse, from the Fairytale Tarot by Baba Studio. And there really is no other tale to more beautifully and finely portray the romance of this knight – the knight of love, the one who sweeps you off your feet as if by magic and suddenly all you ever wanted is right in front of you. He is the one you dreamt of and searched all along; your heart whispering you “yes, he exists”, even though along the twists and turns of life’s pathways there wasn’t always hope nor evidence that he really did exist. But always, always, something mysterious shifted your eyes towards the distance as if you are looking for something, waiting for something, watching for something, listening for something.
Towards the I don’t know what exactly but I know it’s there because I feel it. Towards some sign or sound of wind or omen … And there were signs of it – of this knight of your heart – along the way; signs of almosts but not quite yet, almosts but not quite it, echoes that faded away yet still lingered catching your ears in the wind-blown leaves to shift your eyes towards the horizons again. And so it went. Perhaps many years. Trusting in the existence of something even when all around you physically may not have given you the reason to trust it. But the outside doesn’t matter – when our heart knows, when our soul pulls us.
And so, moons waxed and waned, and many seasons changed. Until one day you found yourself before the landscape, which embodied everything that you have been looking for your entire life; the echo that called you for so long now swells into the sound itself. His voice.
And you know.
Here is the one I was made for.
This is the knight of cups. Not just a knight, not just a lover – it’s the voice of your soul, the desires of your heart, that pull you towards what and where you belong. It is the voice from a time before time beyond time.
The Ebony Horse, also known as The Enchanted Horse or The Magic Horse, is a beautiful and much loved tale from One Thousand and One Nights. I’ve previously written on the power of storytelling, the power of words, and the history behind these tales in Weaving Magic with Scheherazade, and for those of you interested, this article is part of my Story Thread series, where I discuss various tales and stories from around the world and then unfold the layers of symbolism; you can read these in my folklore + myth section.
The Ebony Horse is one of the most curious and interesting tales among the Arabian Nights, because unlike all the rest, it features not a magical carpet or genie to move the narrative – but rather – it features a man-made horse. Instead of presenting the Persian sorcerer in the beginning of the tale as a sorcerer who enchanted a horse to fly, the storyteller offers us an inventor who has constructed a horse made of ebony wood, and with buttons and some kind of bellows to make it fly towards the Sun. Some scholars view this tale as an example of early science fiction.
According to researcher Ulrich Marzolph, The Ebony Horse was part of the story repertoire of Hanna Diyab, a Christian Maronite who provided several tales to French writer Antoine Galland – who was the translator and writer of the 1001 Nights. As per Galland’s diary, this tale was told to him on May 13, 1709 – which was 200 years before airplanes were invented.
There are many similar stories found in different cultures around the world, and The Ebony Horse is sometimes analyzed as a variation of a common trope in folk tales known as the Prince’s Wings motif.
The motif of the “equine machine” as a flying object is actually quite common in Indian folk tales. The oldest attestation and possible origin of this tale type is suggested to be an 11th century Jain recension of the Pancatantra, in the story The Weaver as Vishnu. In this tale, a poor weaver fashions an artificial likeness of legendary bird mount Garuda, the ride of god Vishnu. He uses the construct to reach the topmost room of the princess he fell in love with and poses as Lord Vishnu to impress his beloved.
To me personally, this is a tale about love, seeking and not giving up, being brave in following the true desires of your heart; and it’s always been one of my most favourite from One Thousand and One Nights.
Illustration by John D. Batten
The Ebony Horse
One day, many many years ago, an Indian craftsman and inventor of magical devices arrived in the beautiful Persian city of Shiraz. He mounted upon a splendid ebony made horse – surprisingly life-like, despite its mechanical nature. The king was so impressed with this creation, one he had never seen before despite his riches, that asked to have this horse – but the Indian said he’d only give it on one condition: to receive the Princess’ hand in marriage. “What joke is this!” laughed the King, “My daughter to you? Well, I don’t even know that the horse can fly!”
Just as curious was the Prince, so he asked his father to remain calm, and offered to try out the horse. Certain that it wouldn’t fly anyway, the King agreed to give his daughter’s hand in marriage to the poor Indian, but only after testing the horse. And so, the Prince got on it, pushed the button, and lo and behold, he was flying at wind’s speed in the skies towards the Sun. Before the King and all kingdom could blink, both the horse and the Prince were away from their sight, not to be seen again. Angered, the King put the Indian in prison.
The Prince was perfectly well – he was enjoying the wonders of travel and the skies, but as the Sun began to set, he pushed another button to allow the horse to descend and direct his own course. And the horse gently landed in a distant foreign kingdom, one in which he saw the most beautiful woman in his life – one for whom his heart skipped a beat, as she was the one he had always been dreaming of. And she was too – and both fell in love at first sight.
“By the law of nations and of all of life, I am already yours, and I have only my heart, that is my own, to offer you. But what am I saying? My own? It was yours from the first moment I beheld you!” said the Prince to her.
The two became inseparable, whispering sweet nothings into each other’s ears all day and night, and falling more and more, deeper and deeper in love. Indeed, they both felt they were made for each other and could not believe their blessing that they found each other despite the seas and mountains that had separated them from birth.
Time went by, and as much the Prince enjoyed living in her father’s kingdom, he knew he has to go back to his own kingdom as he was the heir and he knew his parents were worried. “Princess,” he gently said to her, “it may be that in your heart you class me with those false lovers whose devotion cannot stand the test of absence. If you do, you wrong me; and were it not for fear of offending you, I would beseech you to come with me, for my life can only be happy when I am with you. Marry me, come to be my Queen in my kingdom, I vow to you all will love you and I’ll always take care of you, for you are my life, my love, my heart.”
The Princess agreed, though she was really sad to leave home and go into the unknown, and against her fathers wishes who also did not want to let his beloved daughter go with some “so-called prince from foreign lands”, she got up on the ebony horse and both flew towards the Prince’s kingdom. When they arrived and reunited with the family, the Prince released the Indian from prison; however, now angered and wanting vengeance, the Indian kidnapped the Princess and using his horse disappeared over the horizons – and eventually arriving into another kingdom.
Long story short, because these are 1001 Nights after all, the Prince went by foot all over searching for his beloved, and eventually found her. At the other kingdom, the King of Cashmere has fallen in love with her also – she had pretended to be sick so that she doesn’t marry him – and the Prince pretended to be a doctor to see her. He then uses his wits to think of a plan – tells the King her remedy is to get up on her ebony horse, and then they both escape and return home to live happily in love ever after. Convinced that it was the ebony horse that had caused their misfortunes, the Prince destroys it.
Art by Su Blackwell
The Prince in our tale today is a romantic dreamer – he is sensitive, emotional and trusting that the only path forward is the path of following our heart. This quality of his is immensely attractive and can certainly sweep us off our feet – he is a devoted and faithful lover also, whose belief in love at first sight along with his integrity and loyalty makes him magnetic. He is also courageous, willing to walk the earth to find his Princess; and he is creative and smart thinking of a plan to take her back from the King of Cashmere.
So why did he destroy the horse? Didn’t he realize that it was precisely the ebony horse that brought them together? Didn’t he realize that the horse was merely a vehicle operated by human hands, and not a thing to be blamed nor a curse of destiny? If one reads the full story we see that it was actually the Prince’s faulty behaviour and own inability to protect his beloved that led him to almost lose her; and that he just gets a bit too emotional and impulsive sometimes and loses clear sight and basically, he just makes some mistakes that lead to her kidnapping. As much as we need to keep our eyes towards the skies, and to follow love wholeheartedly and without questioning, romantic as the Prince is, we must also remember that we are still of this earth and we need to keep ourselves grounded and our minds clear and focused.
Or perhaps … he destroyed the ebony horse because he realized that he no longer needed it; because he now knew how to make things himself.
While destiny may play a role in meeting us with the right person, whether we stay together or not after only depends on the two of us, and the choices we make each day.
This tale speaks of the part of us that dreams, believes, imagines, loves and trusts – and is willing to go after what our heart truly desires and seeks. Love is sometimes like Goddess Venus sleeping serenely in her garden – the way a body gently moves throughout the night to adjust its position, to make itself more comfortable, reminding us that balance is not static, it is flexible and ever moving. In other words – love puts into balance all that which isn’t yet.
Like a body in a dreaming state … still aware, and constantly moving and adjusting, so love is too, continuously moving and being moved through all and everything. Sometimes it is quiet, sometimes it needs us to swim across oceans or pray towards the starry skies. It is ever moving, and moving through us, and moving us towards itself. Because love is not a stone nor ebony wood, it is not even air though it feels untouchable sometimes, like a sense of being that gives us purpose and oxygen; love is like bread – it needs to made and remade each day, each morning, made anew.
Perhaps we all need an ebony horse – to remind us of the creative powers that we hold as human beings; and of the possibilities, of that which is reachable beyond the horizons, so that we are more inspired and willing to cross the mountains and seas.
Follow your heart’s desire.
We’ll bump into some things in the dark but then somehow, something will shine through, forming a luminous thread to unite us back.
The word desire comes from the Latin desiderare: “to long for,” which comes from de sidere: “from the stars.” From the stars. Our desires are our gifts from the stars; they guide our heart towards our destiny. In our imagination, our love and longing actually lead us towards our greatest paths: l’amor che move il sole e le altre stelle… “the love that moves the sun and the other stars.”
If we have a strong desire for something – this means that we are meant to experience it because otherwise we would not have had that desire in the first place. Often times in life the strong feelings that we suddenly experience towards something, when we are mystically being drawn to it, are the precursors to the physical manifestation.
Because what you seek is seeking you.
There is nothing more powerful than love, and love is worth it all. So when you hear the voice of your heart, follow it. Love is a kingdom for the brave, so do not fear, follow that love, follow that joy, follow it not just because but because your soul asked you to. Trust it. Because the heart knows, always; and will lead you where you belong. It’s inevitable.
For more of my writings, browse through my Art of Love.
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Cover photo is my own, featuring a card illustration of The Ebony Horse fairytale, from the fairytale card deck created by Baba Studio.
All rights to the art in this article reserved by the artists.