The White Horse
by Rev. David R. Simons
"And I saw heaven opened and behold a white horse: and He that sat upon him was called Faithful and True ... and His name is called the Word of God" (Rev. 19:11, 13).
From ancient times, when men knew the spiritual correspondence of natural things, horses have been used as noble symbols of the human understanding and its capacity to receive truth. Because the Lord comes to man in the form of Divine truth, as the Word which is first received by the understanding, therefore horses, or members of the horse family, are associated with every coming of the Lord. When the Lord was born on earth in His first advent, He was laid in a manger - a feeding place for horses. On Palm Sunday, just prior to His appearing in the resurrection as the One God of heaven and earth, the Lord rode into Jerusalem on the foal of an ass and established His kingship. In the Apocalypse, the same Lord Jesus Christ revealed Himself prophetically as He would make His second coming. "And I saw heaven opened and behold a white horse: and He that sat upon him was called Faithful and True ... and His name is called the Word of God." And in the Heavenly Doctrine of the New Jerusalem the Lord reveals Himself in a book under the title "The White Horse mentioned in the Apocalypse with particulars respecting the Word and Its Spiritual or Internal Sense."
In most ancient times men saw internal things in external. They saw the things of heaven in the things of the world. They saw human qualities mirrored in every natural thing. From perceptive insight, gained by open contact with the angels of heaven, the men of the Most Ancient Church learned to interpret their natural environment in spiritual terms - in terms of their own minds and in terms of the human love and wisdom of their Creator.
For them, animals in general brought to mind good affections. Gentle and useful animals, they saw, corresponded to good affections; fierce and useless, to evil affections. "Every animal had its special signification" (AC 1823). They did not make up this relation of animals to human qualities, but derived this knowledge from the spiritual world where "animals of all kinds are seen," where affections and thoughts of those in the spiritual world appear in the form of various animals (TCR 66). A horse, these men knew, corresponds to the affection for understanding, and a rider, one who is intelligent. When there is deep meditation - the intense use of the understanding - horses appear in the spiritual world.
This phenomenon in the spiritual world, known to the ancients, is confirmed by Emanuel Swedenborg by his own direct experience: "I have often observed [he tells us in the work The White Horse] when any were thinking from their understanding, that at such times they appeared as if riding on horses; their meditation was thus represented before others, they themselves not knowing it" (WH 3). And further, in the work Apocalypse Explained he states: "That a ‘horse' corresponds to the intellect, and [the color of the horse to the quality of the understanding] has been made familiar to me from experience; for spirits who were meditating from the understanding upon some subjects have several times been seen by me to be riding upon horses, and when I asked them whether they were riding, they said that they were not, but that they stood meditating upon some subject; which made clear that riding upon a horse is an appearance representing the operation of their understanding. There is also a place called the assembly of the intelligent and wise, to which very many resort for meditation, and when anyone is coming to it, horses of various colors and variously caparisoned, and also chariots, with some riding and others sitting in the chariots, appear to him; and then also when they are asked whether they are riding upon horses, or are carried in chariots, they say that they are not but that they ate going along meditating .... From this [experience] it can now be seen why John saw horses when the seals of the book were opened, [and also a white horse] and what they signify. These horses were seen because all the spiritual things of the Word are presented in the literal sense by means of such things as correspond, that is, as represent and thence signify [spiritual things]; and this in order that the Divine may be [in the Word] in ultimates and consequently in fullness," holiness and power (AE 364:3).
It is from this reality in the spiritual world, from their correspondence to the understanding of man, that horses have their place in the Word, and also in the myths and legends which come to us from antiquity and which had a prior origin in the ancient Word. The general concept of the correspondence between horses and the human intellect is that everything horses do for the bodies of men, the understanding does for the mind. Horses provide transportation; they carry burdens; they are a mount from which to fight; they are a beauty to see and a pleasure to ride. Similarly, or rather correspondentially, the understanding enables us to journey to distant ideas; the understanding carries past experience and knowledge on its back; the intellect supports our conclusions as we fight the cold war for ideas and ideals; there is beauty in a well-ordered mind, and delight in its use. Something of a memory of the spiritual meaning of horses has also crept into our everyday language, and we talk of "horse sense" - meaning common sense, intelligence, or understanding.
That the ancients loved to use correspondences in their writing and in their art, and that the horse had a special place with them, is clear from the ancient Greeks who originally portrayed the many Divine qualities of the one God as different gods and goddesses, many of whom were pictured with horses and chariots. Apollo, the god of the sun, daily drove his fiery steeds across the heavens, representing intelligence from love. Neptune, god of the briny deep, had his chariot and horses picturing how the sciences came from an understanding of the sea of experience. And when the Greeks, using the language of correspondences "described the origin of the sciences from the understanding, they represented it by a winged horse (Pegasus) which with its hoof broke open a fountain, at which sat nine virgins called the sciences. For from the ancient churches they received the knowledge that ‘the horse' signifies the understanding; 'wings,' spiritual truth; 'the hoof,' what is scientific from the understanding; and a 'fountain,' doctrine from which sciences are derived" (WH 4).
Athene was the Greek goddess of war. She represented the systematic and intelligent combat against falsity and evil. Her intelligence is reflected in the myth that gave her a crested helmet decorated with a rising line of horses. It is also said that she was the first to tame the horse and to bridle and yoke it to the chariot, "a significant fact, representing the submission of the human understanding to the authority of [the Word]" (Mythology of the Greeks and Romans, C. Th. Odhner, p. 90). Also Athene bridled Pegasus. In the Trojan war it was Athene who taught Epeus how to form the famous wooden horse by means of which the Greeks gained entrance into Troy. This wooden horse is spoken of in the Writings as "an artificial contrivance by the understanding for the purpose of destroying walls," (WH 4) - the walls of enemy falsities.
Because the Old Testament has an internal sense, because in it spiritual things are taught correspondentially, therefore wherever horses are used they correspond to the human understanding. Soldiers battled on horses; horses were houghed or crippled; kings possessed huge stables; the mountain was seen by the lad of Elisha to be full of horses and chariots of fire; and Elisha ascended into heaven in a fiery chariot (see 2 Kings 2:11, 12). "Elijah and Elisha represented the Lord as to the Word; the doctrine of love and charity from the Word was represented by 'a fiery chariot'; and the doctrine of faith thence derived [is represented] by 'fiery horses.' The doctrine of faith is the same as the understanding of the Word as to its interiors, or as to its internal sense" (AC 2762).
The New Testament also has a spiritual sense and is written entirely in correspondence - "Without a parable spake He not unto them" (Matt. 13:34). At His first advent the shepherds were told that the Lord should be found in a manger: "And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger" (Luke 2:11, 12, 16). The reason why the Lord was to be found in a manger is revealed in the work Apocalypse Explained: "'A manger' means the doctrine of truth from the Word, because 'horses' signify the understanding of the Word, and thus a manger, as a feeding place for horses, signifies the doctrine of truth from the Word" (AE 706:12). Thus " 'a manger'…signified spiritual nourishment for the understanding, a manger having this significance because a horse, which eats from it, signifies the understanding" (TCR 277). It is doctrine from the Word which feeds the understanding so that it can grow in spiritual intelligence and wisdom.
On Palm Sunday the Lord rode into Jerusalem on the foal of an ass to establish His kingship. The ass corresponds to the understanding - the ability to reason in the natural man, which, we are taught, "ought to serve the rational, and this the spiritual, and this the celestial, and this the Lord; such is the order of subordination" (AC 2781:9). We place the Lord on the colt when we learn to think and reason from His truth. Then he rides into our lives as King and establishes His kingdom.
But by far the most spectacular and dramatic correspondential use of a horse in the New Testament, and one that should have a special place in the minds and hearts of the men of the New Church - in their art forms, representations and symbols - is the sight seen by John when his spiritual eyes were opened to see in prophetic vision the New Christian Church to be established at the second coming of the Lord: "And I saw heaven opened and behold a white horse: and He that sat upon him was called Faithful and True ... and His name is called the Word of God."
Heaven has indeed been opened! The Writings reveal the spiritual world in a fullness never before possible, so that the man of the church may know the Lord in the perfection of His own kingdom. Men who will can now behold this white horse and his majestic Rider in the clarity of heavenly light. Now that the Heavenly Doctrines have been given, men can "enter intellectually [with rational understanding] into the mysteries of [the Word]" (TCR 508). Now that the spiritual sense has been disclosed, now that the doctrine of correspondences has been restored, the men of the church can know what every detail in the book of Revelation means. For the understanding of spiritual truth, now open to the human intellect, brings the Lord present in the fullness and power of rational truth, so that He can be seen as "Faithful and True," as the source of all faithfulness and truth, and as the "Word of God." For it is in His Word that the Lord is to be approached and known; it is in His Own Body of Truth that the Lord comes most powerfully present with us; it is in the Word of the Old Testament, the New Testament, and now the Heavenly Doctrines of the New Jerusalem that the Lord makes His advent - as the Rider on a white horse, into the minds and hearts of all who will approach Him and receive Him with intelligence, understanding and love.
-New Church Life 1983;103:279-282