A Diamond-Studded Golden Horseshoe
New -- 15 December 2007
In Mikhail Afanasievich Bulgakov’s world-class novel, The Master and Margarita, Woland (aka the Devil) gives to our heroine Margarita a diamond studded golden horseshoe. The gift is a reward for Margarita having displayed exemplary courage and a royal demeanor while performing the duties of hostess for the Devil’s Grand Ball. The latter, entitled as "Satan's Rout" in the novel, introduces the reader to a rather wide assortment of unsavory and ultimately doomed individuals.
Following the ball, and in a spirit of appreciation, Woland offers the gift to Margarita as "a souvenir." She is reluctant to accept it, but Woland gently insists. Margarita does in fact leave his abode with the horseshoe, but somehow manages to momentarily lose it on the way to her waiting transportation. The horseshoe is quickly retrieved, however, by one of Woland's faithful companions who describes the horseshoe as "dear to me as a memory."
Really? A horseshoe? A gift to be treasured as a memory?
One is immediately struck with the idea of this particular gift. Assume, for example, you wanted to honor some lovely woman with a present, the kind that will make her very, very grateful. You know the kind.
Clearly, if your gift was one of gold and studded with diamonds, it would almost certainly be well received. Any woman would love that kind of thoughtfulness on your part. Gold and diamonds are always nice. But in the shape of a horseshoe? Are you kidding? Like, did you think she needed to be shoed? Really... what were you thinking?!
But perhaps... just perhaps... there is method to your madness. Maybe there's a bit more here to understand. After all, Mikhail Bulgakov is clearly not an author who would be careless in his use of symbolism that did not come fully equipped with a deeper meaning. This would be especially true when it was included in his final masterpiece of writing -- the one destined to be the ultimate work of his literary career. Accordingly, it might be appropriate for us to dwell upon this subject a bit longer. In fact, it is very likely that a treasured trove of deeper insights awaits us... but for the asking.
Obviously, horseshoes can be deemed lucky, and by tradition have been deemed as such for millennia. One of the reputed origins of this tradition is the story of Saint Dunstan and the Devil. Dunstan, who would become the Archbishop of Canterbury in AD 959, was a blacksmith by trade. [Obviously, there have been a lot of former blacksmiths elevated to the job of the Archbishop of Canterbury over the centuries... but we'll not dwell on this curious aspect of the legend... if only as a courtesy to those who would find no fault in such minor, albeit very weird details.]
In any case, the story relates that Dunstan once nailed a horseshoe to the Devil's hoof when he was asked to reshoe the Devil's horse. [Apparently, there was some confusion as to what or whom Dunstan was shoeing.] Having a nail driven into his hoof naturally caused the Devil great pain, and Dunstan agreed to remove the shoe and release his victim from this grievous affliction, but only after the Devil had promised never to enter a place where a horseshoe was hung over the door. 
It's a good story, and amply illustrates the notion that something as mundane as a horseshoe (golden or otherwise) has notable powers of its own. Furthermore, from this perspective one can assume Woland was both rewarding Margarita for a job well done and simultaneously assuring her that she need never again fear having the devil at her door or crossing her threshold. She had done her duty as hostess of his ball in the best traditions of royalty -- "blood will tell" -- and therefore her stint was done. There need be no more obligations.
It is also important to relate that Margarita’s name was and is connected with a French Queen, historically either Margarite de Valois or Margarite Navarre. Woland mentioned Queen Margarite's name, apparently because in her time she had also served as Ball hostess. Woland even made a point of saying that all of his ball hostesses were named Margarita or Margarite. Presumably, the name of the ball hostess and the gifts were traditions in and of themselves.
We can also note in The Master and Margarita, that the golden horseshoe was diamond-studded... as if one wanted to add stars to the mix of gold, royalty and Margaritas. As it turns out, the constellation Corona Borealis -- also known as the Northern Crown -- is in the shape of a horseshoe. In addition, one of its brightest stars is called the Margarita Coronae, or the Pearl of the Crown. In effect, "Margarita" simply means "Pearl". At Satan's rout, Margarita was in fact obliged to wear a diamond crown, and was treated by everyone as French royalty. Inasmuch as "the word pearl has become a metaphor for something rare, fine, and admirable," it is clear that the heroine of Bulgakov's novel was well named.
Among other associations, Corona Borealis has by some cultures been considered to represent the crown that was given by Dionysus to Ariadne, the daughter of Minos of Crete. In all respects, Ariadne is linked in most of the ancient cultures to the Great Goddesses -- including, for example, Venus and Inanna. Crete was in fact the last bastion of officially sanctioned Goddess worship – one portion of the southwestern edge of the island even being named Kali Lumenes. In addition, the star, Arcturus (one of the brightest stars in the night sky) is located at the mid-way point between Corona Borealis’ brightest star and one of the key stars of the constellation Libra, the latter traditionally associated with the Goddess – and also with her "womb of the world" labyrinth located at Chartres Cathedral in northern France. 
In other cultures, Corona Borealis was considered to belong, in a sense, to Boötes, the herdsman, or the keeper of the bears. The Cheyenne tribe called it "Camp Circle" as they arranged their camps in a semicircle. In Welsh mythology, the Northern Crown was called Caer Arianrhod, ‘the Castle of the Silver Circle,’ and was the heavenly abode of the Lady Arianrhod.
Alphecca -- the "Pearl of the Crown" -- is at the center of the seven brightest members of the constellation, and in modern times is the one which has been called Margarita Coronae. Occasionally it is also referred to by the name of Saint Marguerite.
The other six brightest stars that form the Corona Borealis are Nusakan and the stars given only by their Greek Letter designations: gamma, delta, epsilon, iota and theta. Their locations in the constellation are as shown below in one personalized version of the diamond-studded golden horseshoe. (The diamonds -- and sapphires -- by the way, also approximate the various colors and sizes of each of the seven stars.)
Of particular note is the fact that the horseshoe shape is one of the most sacred in the ancient world. A stylization of the yoni, it signified entrances and exits in general, a concept glorified in numerous Druidic temples, Hindu and Arabic arches. The sacred alphabet of the Greeks enclosed all things between the birth-letter alpha and the horseshoe-shaped omega. The name of the latter means "Great Om", and represents the conclusion of each cycle, the other side of the Goddess, the Kali part of Kali-Maia.
The Christian God's description of himself as 'the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending' (Revelation 1:8) was usurped from older titles of the Mother of birth and death. The Omega connection goes back far beyond the mother and/or wife of Jesus, and is in fact very much a symbol of antiquity. It was taken over by the Christians probably to bolster their own faith. The Great Om concept clearly goes far beyond Christianity, and is more linked with the Great Goddess than any fledgling male upstart.
As previously mentioned, the omega-shaped horseshoe has been hung 'for luck' over doorways, protecting the threshold just as it did in pagan times. There was always controversy, however, about whether its opening should point upward or downward. Christian orthodox piety insisted the omega should be reversed or turned upside down -- like the letter "U" --, so 'the luck wouldn't run out.' Pagan tradition, on the other hand, said the symbolic yoni form over the doorway should retain its original upward arch -- in the form of the Greek Letter Omega -- as shown in the figure above. 
If the horseshoe is hung with points up, the argument is that the luck won’t fall out. But if hung with points down, then the luck pours onto you and anyone else entering your dwelling. For those believing luck has no limits, the luck pouring down on all who pass across the threshold would appear to be far better than attempting to bottle up the Genie or contain the luck and store it away for a rainy day. In all traditions, however, luck is contained or created in the horseshoe and can pour out through the ends.
You know... this gift to your lovely lady is beginning to sound better all the time!
The two ways of hanging the horseshoe actually echo the astrological signs called the Dragon's Head and the Dragon's Tail -- also known as the ascending node and the descending node, both connected with the path of the moon above and below the ecliptic.  Astrologically, the Dragon’s Head (North Node) denotes an individual’s true destiny and the direction in which he or she can strive. This is in contradistinction to the Dragon’s Tail (South Node), which is one's past life, and something to shed. For example, the North Node "shows you the lucky stuff to do and the best people for you. Like blueberry yogurt, it's delightful and good for you." Whereas, the South Node "is the real garbage bag of your chart. You have to look after it, but do it too much or mess with people on this point, and it all begins to reek. It's your line of least resistance." 
Obviously, one is better advised to follow the Omega, to hang the horseshoe upright like a yoni and thereby not offend the Great Goddess -- a very unwise move in anyone's book. This would be the preferred route, rather than go the path of least resistance, hang on to the past, and keep the luck in the horseshoe bottled up as if you were a miser with a severe if not terminal fear of lack.
The feminine yoni is also easily associated with the Goddess, Mary Magdalene, and/or the Holy Grail. This Grail connection may in fact be the reason for “The Knights of the Golden Horseshoe” expedition in 1716 in the British Colony of Virginia. The Royal Governor and a number of prominent citizens traveled westward, across the Blue Ridge Mountains on an allegedly exploratory expedition into the Shenandoah Valley.  The fact that all of these well-placed individuals braved the wilderness speaks volumes, while the infamous partying going on was probably a ruse to confuse the uninformed.
One notes among other things that:
Obviously, Bulgakov had done his homework in the process of writing The Master and Margarita, as well as incorporating a great deal of profound symbolism in what could easily have been just a minor detail. That seems to be the way of the world when it comes to truly great literature. Things are never quite as simply as they may appear at first glance.
Now, if you can just manage to encapsulate the above in a brief card to go along with your gift of a diamond-studded golden horseshoe to that lovely lady. Good luck.
Meanwhile, your homework assignment is to read the novel and write an essay on the derivation of the name, Woland. Hint: What was Bulgakov's favorite opera?
 Taken from: Barbara G. Walker, The Woman's Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects, Harper San Francisco, 1988.
 Debbi Kempton-Smith, Secrets from a Stargazer's Notebook, Bantam Books, 1982.
2003© Copyright Dan Sewell Ward, All Rights Reserved [Feedback]