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  • Madeline Mitchell

The Four Horses of the Apocalypse

Updated: Dec 27, 2019

Ah the Apocalypse story. What better way to start off my wildlife conservation portfolio than with a series to remind us of our inevitable end?

Now, for those of you who are unfamiliar with this tale as old as time, let me give you a brief synopsis. In the end, in Christian teachings, it is believed that Christ, the son of God, will open four seals (technically five, but for our purposes we will look at four) that will release the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Each seal releases a different horseman representing four apocalyptic events- Conquest, War, Famine and Death. The releasing of these events onto the world is meant to bring about the ultimate end of...well... everything.

Cheery, I know.

The story is meant to be a prophecy for humanity, however, in my series, I chose to remove the image of the riders, of humanity, altogether and shift the focus to the four horses. The series isn't necessarily a retelling of the "ultimate end" tale, but rather an adaptation of it to convey a different point. The point being that most of the time, if not every time, that humanity carries out these "apocalyptic" actions, it's not just humanity that is hurt, but the wildlife and environments around it as well, often resulting in the abrupt end of many, many species.


Conquest.

"I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a golden bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest"



The term "conquest" is deceiving in how the word is often associated and idolized with fan-fair and heroic actions. The white horse embodies this deception with its 'righteous' appearance, with its white coat (traditionally symbolizing purity), strength (honestly, that horse has better muscle definition than I will ever have), grace (complete with Revlon hair flip), and adornments of gold. Overall, it looks like the kind of steed found in fairy tales that the brave knight would heroically ride in on to claim his princess. And yet, upon closer examination, there is an underlying story of the dangers of conquest. The background, showing the slightest tint of red, acts as a foreshadowing of the blood spilled in the pursuit of conquest, while the baring of the horses' teeth displays a subtle show of aggression and menace. The most obvious sign of danger is the iconic golden arrow that, however aesthetically pleasing, is a weapon that points towards the inevitability of war.

War.

"Then another horse came out, a fiery red one. Its rider was given power to take peace from the earth and to make men slay each other. To him was given a large sword"


"War! What is it good for?" Well, I suppose economic stimulus and industrial innovation, but I digress. War is a lot like fire in the sense that it can oftentimes be essential for our survival and advancement, and yet it can also be like fire in the way that it is deadly and destructive. The smoke of that fire can be blinding as well, to the point where we do not see all that is being affected and "burned" by it. It is easy, while in the pursuit of victory, to overlook the irreparable scarring and damage being done to the land and ecosystems within it. Unfortunately, this damage can remain decades after the "fire" has been extinguished and, without a healing hand, can keep a once thriving environment as a barren wasteland. The long-lasting effects of that damage leads us into our next existential steed- famine.


Famine.

"before me was a black horse! Its rider was holding a pair of scales in his hand."

Back in ye olden times, scales were commonly used to weigh and distribute food and, as it were, scales are also commonly seen as symbols representing justice and the judgement of weighing souls. Famine is the last step in our apocalyptic journey, the proverbial setting sun on the last day, and it is by far the most effective at its job. Deforestation, drought, and pollution are among the many pet-names we've given our long-time companion, Ms. Famine. Whatever we decide to call her, the results are always the same, as the land begins to wither away so too do the inhabitants of that land. In the end, we are lead into our final sinister stallion- Death.


Death.

"I looked and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him."


Ah Death, she is unavoidable and undeniable. The affects and destruction of Conquest, War, and Famine can be denied and ignored all day long, but the truth of Death looks us all fully in the eyes. She sees us all. And (much like those creepy Victorian portraits) her gaze follows you wherever you go. And, despite our best efforts, all the gold, land and excess in the world cannot change that. In fact, it is those things that often encourages the beginning of our apocalypse story thus bringing our biblical tale full circle.


Ultimately, this series has evolved over time into a narrative of caution and awareness. The damages we inflict upon the world are our responsibility to heal, because well, the world isn't ours alone despite how easy that can be to forget. This story brings to our attention the overwhelming potential for destruction we as humanity possess and how that can affect this world and everything within it.


But don't despair or spiral into an existential crisis just yet, because on the flip side of our ability to destroy, we also have an incredible capacity to heal and create. Humanity has the power to nurture and care for this world and create a living, thriving Earth that can in turn nurture and care for us. So, perhaps we can change the narrative from one of "apocalyptic" destruction to a more hopeful one of "heavenly" creation and conservation.



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