The Four Horsemen & Psychology

The four horsemen of the apocalypse has been one of the most cryptic and studied passages in literature for thousands of years. Part of the book of Revelations in the Bible, the horsemen are included as a central part of the series of events known as "the last days."

There has been a lot of controversy about whether the Bible should be taken literally or symbolically...

I intend to steer clear of that debate by stating my belief that it is possbile to take it both ways. In the interest of my message here, I am going to present my thoughts primarily from the symbolic perspective, confining my ideas to anything useful to each of us in our day-to-day lives.

One caveat: I do not claim to have any special knowlege about these four horsemen, nor do I expect anyone to take these writings as fact. These are just my thoughts from my studies of the Bible and other writers, such as Emmit Fox, in the interest of holistic growth and development for my own bio-psycho-social-emotional-spiritual/true self. In other words, these thoughts are what I believe to be true about the four horsemen and how they might be helpful to us.

I also integrate these ideas about the four horsemen into what I have learned about being human through my work as a professional helper and therapist. I have found that my faith and my career are so highly reconcilable that they enrich and expand each other rather than limit and restrict. Having said that, the remainder of this article will focus on what I think the four horsemen can teach us that's useful information for healthy living.

The Four Horsemen as Symbols

Why is a lot of the Bible written in such a way that it can be interpreted as symbolism? Emmit Fox and others suggest that symbols have been the most effective way of passing knowledge down to future generations every since the first cave dweller drew on a wall, creating what we now know as hieroglyphics. We also know that the subconscious mind actually "thinks" in symbols, while the conscious mind thinks in sequential, literal, and logical ways. This is why stories and metaphors are such powerful ways to teach and learn.

    The Pale Horse: "And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him." (Revelation 6:8)

    Again, there are lots of ways to interpret these four horsemen and I make no claim to have the correct interpretation: just a helpful one that sounds as plausible as anything else I've heard. Emmit Fox suggests the pale horse represents the physical body that has become "the master" of one's life; the "if it feels good do it" attitude.

    When pleasure-seeking, sensuality, & physcial gratification becomes the central focus, our life becomes fertile ground for all sorts of addictions to develop. These are the "tip of the Iceberg" issues such as addictions to alcohol, drugs, food, work, gambling, sex, drama, etc. Anyone who has ever experienced the wreckage that comes with addiction can testify that "...Hell follows with it!"

    See my article on the Seven Deadly Sins & Addiction for more on riders of the Pale Horse.

    The Red Horse "And there went out another horse that was red: And power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth." (Revelation 6:4)

    According to Fox, the Red horse stands for our emotional aspects. I suspect that "red" is consistant mostly with problems regulating the more negative emotions, such as those related to the wound of abandonment issues, the infection of shame, and the scab of contempt I refer to in the Iceberg Model, and that these types of emotions are what "take peace from the earth."

    The opposite of peace is unrest which is why we refer to being restless, irritable, agitated, and even get triggered into an emotional outbursts. We need connection with the full range of emotions - but we need to be the master of that horse. When an unbroken red horse becomes the master of our life, all sorts of problems in our relationships can develop to the extent that even the Horse Whisperer might have trouble sorting out!

    See my article on Feelings & Emotions to learn how to tame the Red Horse.

    The Black Horse "...And I beheld, and lo a black horse; and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand." (Revelation 6:5)

    Fox identifies the black horse with the intellectual part of us. I would call this the Adult Ego State, aka the CEO of the Self. It is the part that is unencumbered by emotion. It is the part that handles all the executive functioning such as problem-solving, evaluating options, decision-making, and so forth; whatever it takes to "get the job done." When this part becomes the master, to the extent that we exclude or disconnect from our feelings, body, and spiritual aspects, we are "riding the black horse."

    This is where we experience emotional cuttoff to some extent and a excessive dependency on logic. Much like Spock and Data on Star trek we are not well equipped to mangage the more intimate details of our most important relationships because we lack full integration with the other parts. Imagine riding a horse with a set of scales in one hand - how much balance can one achieve? Unless the rider of the black horse is on a Tennessee Walker, he or she will find it impossible to achieve any real balance at all. And so the Black Horse typifies "imbalance" in mind-body-emotions-spirit.

    It is ironic that the black horse is associated with the intellect because black often symbolizes a lack of understanding in Biblical terms.

    The White Horse "And I saw, and beheld a white horse; And he that sat on him held a bow; and a crown was given to him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer" (Revelation 6:2)

    Fox likens the white horse with our spiritual nature, the I AM in us. In the Iceberg Model, this would be your True Self; the person you were created to be. The lie of our False Self is at the root of our troubles with the other three horses! The False Self is a counterfiet, an imposter that came into being out of the adaptations we made in order to survive the wounds of unmet childhood dependency needs.

    The rider of the white horse carries a bow. Fox points out that in ancient times the bow and arrow were symbols of God's Word - it goes where you aim it and always accomplishes its task. The crown on the rider of the white horse stands for victory! Any man or women who consciously chooses to ride the white horse, always getting back on after they fall off, will be victorious because the other three horses will gradually merge into and become subordinate to the white horse - in psychology we call this integration of the self. We retain each horse, but they exist in harmony working together with each other.

Consequences of Ignoring the Four Horsemen

All we really need to do to learn about what happens when we ignore the message of the Four Horseman is to look around.

  • For evidence of the Pale Horse... do we see addictions in the world?
  • For evidence of the Red Horse... do we see unrest & emotional turmoil in the world?
  • For evidence of the Black Horse... do we see atheism, group think, rigid ideologies, arrogance, and false pride in the world?

This video shows how riding the Pale Horse can deceive the rider in the same way a frog is deceived into staying in a pot of water that is getting hotter and hotter:

This video shows the power of symbols in healing riders of the Red Horse:

This video demonstrates consequences of those who choose to ride the Black Horse: