Until the 1120s there was a much-visited shrine of the god Trzyglawa in Szczecin, a grandiose temple covered in frescoes housing a live black horse which was consulted as an oracle.
Okay. I admit — and heartfelt apologies to worshippers of the god Trzyglawa — my first thought upon reading this was: Mr. Ed. My second thought was: a clairvoyant horse?! Apparently, yes, there is, or was, such a thing as “horse divination.” And not just in Szczecin: horse divination was practiced in many ancient cultures to predict the past, present and future. Horses were considered to be among the most psychic of all animals and to be able to see and communicate with spirits of the dead. “Hippomancy” is defined as “a form of divination involving the observation of horses, especially by listening to their neighing” and observing their gait, stamping, and sometimes sweating. “The act of divination,” write the authors of Old Norse Religion in Long-term Perspectives about the shrine in Szczecin, “was performed in front of the temple and consisted of a horse walking over two crossed spears, stuck in the ground. Good or ill fortune was predicted depending on whether the horse stepped over the spears with the right or left leg or whether it touched it with a hoof or not.” But “only the equally good result of both lot-casting and horse oracle was considered a favorable sign for a planned campaign.” The horse was cared for by one of the priests, and no one was allowed to sit on it.
I suppose things haven’t really changed much: nowadays we have Mani the Parakeet.
Zamoyski, A., The Polish Way, Hippocrene Books, New York, 1993.
Andren, A., Jennbert, K., Raudvere, C., Old Norse Religion in Long-term Perspectives, Nordic Academic Press, 2006.