Rash of horse mane weaving in the UK- pagans?

Update 8-13-14

I wrote this article in 2010. For some reason, there continues to be a lot of interest in it, and I don’t know why. It was pretty clear this was a natural phenomenon, for instance when you can find discussions like this one in a 2007 Horse and Hound forum where horse owners discussed ‘wind plaits’.

I did find a subsequent 2012 article in an online search, Mane or tail plaiting – is it witchcraft? (Horsemart May 8, 2012) with erroneous ‘witchcraft’ info, which was unfortunately referenced last month in Witches Have Been Attacking Horses And Braiding Their Tails (The Toast, July 31, 2014). The Toast author (from San Francisco, USA) did not do any research or provide any new information – she probably had no idea this story uses various ‘others’ or scapegoats, like elves, fairies (the Good Folk), or Gypsies (Romani people).

That’s because horse mane braiding is an old urban myth (easily found out about on the internet), that unfortunately now has hints of a 1980s style moral panic against witches or pagans. For an analysis with quoted experts, studies, and research read this very in-depth article: The urban folklore of Otherworldly horse mane braiding, and the persistence of superstition regarding “witch knots” in horses’ manes, from Shakespeare to Spiritual Warfare by Melissa Harrington presented at the April 2013 Folklore Society General Meeting at Cardiff University.

[I also found this video where someone documented the plaits that occur when horses groom each other.]

I would love to hear from readers about why they are still so interested in this story.

There’s concern in the United Kingdom in Dorset and surrounding counties about 20 horses that have mysteriously had plaited manes appearing over the last 3 months. This has been happening on nights of high wind and rain, with some owners believing that the wind is driving the horse manes into sorts of plaits or knots.

At first some horse owners and the police thought this was a gypsy tagging trick, to mark horses for future theft. But the horses were not stolen. (Really getting that much gypsy horse crime these days, Constable?) Voices of reason in the local horse community mentioned that these plaits are normal in horses manes, and intentional plaiting is an urban myth. Then Dorset area police research came up with the idea that pagans are ‘weaving’ or using ‘knot magic’ with these horses!

This research included talking with a ‘warlock’ by early December, so they feel they are on the right path. (Apparently, the fact that no one in-the-know calls themselves a warlock wasn’t a clue for them.) Policeman Tim Poole also stated that- “The fact that this rash of plaiting coincides with one of their ceremonial times of year adds weight to the theory. ” (So this pagan ‘ceremonial time of year’ has been going on for 3 months so far! In winter, at night, in the cold, in Britain!)

Messy braiding or knots in horse manes after storms is now “knot magic”? Not children playing pranks (or pretending to be the current movie fantasy character)? Not some nutter? The police would be more credible noting the folk tradition belief that it is the Fair Folk (fairies) who braid horse manes. One commentator (from a hunting, not a magickal group) stated that there were reports of changed behavior in the affected horses; if you have a horse who’s behavior is changed by having their mane braided by people (not the Fae), then get rid of the horse!

It’s sad that the police in these areas consider this an activity worthy of their time, and that they have chosen to foster fear of pagans rather than dealing with facts and evidence.

[And when I thought this story couldn’t get any weirder there is the belief that this braiding of horse’s manes is done by Sasquatch or your local Sasquatch analog!]

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