THE HORSEMAN AND CRISTIANITY
The aristocratic Orphic doctrine gradually lost its mysterious, esoteric /initiate/ nature under the powerful impact of Hellenistic religious syncretism in which myths, cults and rites dedicated to gods from various religions were brought in unity and were not discriminated against. As the power of kings in Thrace weakened, their teaching was further profaned and during the Roman invasion was debased to a commonly professed faith in which social and doctrinal differences vanished. This was the worship of the Horseman.
The Horseman was modeled on votive relief tablets /placed in shrines/ and for burial /placed in graves as wished by the deceased and his family/ between the 1st and 3rd century AD. Excavations and finds have produced almost 4000 such tablets. Such tablets, which are daily acquired by museums and collections, feature the Horseman in a hunting scene, often with deities, and with his name inscribed. Most common is the old Greek name "Heros", i.e. a hero patron in the shape of a mandemon with an immortal soul, and inscriptions on the relief tablets containing religious and even rustic epithets and general definitions like "master vs. ruler".
The Horseman-Hunter is the personified reliance on the omnipotence of the old principal Orphic god, the Son of the Great Mother Goddess. When his worship was profaned and the mysterious nature of the holy marriage was violated, the Horseman began to ride all over Thrace as an open exponent of the key constituents of faith: 1. the solar animal whose galloping incarnated the life giving movement of Helios-Apollo and which raced between the Worlds; 2. hunting as a value characteristic of the king-priest but also as a code of the chthonic /earthly/ life-giving force of the Great Mother Goddess, the mistress of Nature; 3. the snake being the magic wand to control the living and the dead with it. In the outgoing oral Orphism the Horseman was treated as an incarnation of the Son-Fire, i.e. of Dionysus.
These reliefs and other similar monuments with anonymous but explicitly sculpted figures of the Great Mother Goddess, of her Son who has taken shape of a bull or a wolf, and of priests/priestesses of the mystery cults provide, together with the funeral rites that were preserved between the 1st and 3rd century, abundant documentation of stead paganism. Its vitality is supported by written information about the reluctance of the savage Thracians to adopt the new religion. Yet they adopted it quite early, were lavishly praised for their humility and even became famous for two translations of the Bible. One was made in their lands by bishop Wulfila /311-383?/ in Gothic when he was a missionary among the Eastern Goths who for some time lived in Moesia /at Nikopolis ad Istrum which is today's village of Nikyup, near Veliko Turnovo/. The other was called Biblia Bessica, named after the most devout followers of Dionysus in the Rhodopes in order to emphasize how the Thracian "barbarian" tongue preached the Word of God.
Indeed the Thracians were a fertile soil for literate Christianity because their old oral Orphism tended strongly towards monotheism which was personified in the Son of the Great Mother Goddess. Pagan monotheism was even supported by arguments by some neoPlatonic writers till the 5th century who gave as an example the Sun which they considered substantial and indivisible because in its two hypostases, that of Apollo and Dionysus, it embraced the whole Cosmos. Early Empire depictions present Orpheus not just in his familiar Christian metamorphosis of "God's shepherd", put by men of letters, sculptors and painters on a par with those of Abraham and Moses, but also feature him on the cross † . The crucified Orpheos-Bacchicos in the posture of suffering Christ is the closest approximation between the Orphic faith and early Christianity which seems to have started in the days of St. Peter and Paul, the Apostles. The men who made Judeo-Christianity a world religion comprehensible to all preached along the Aegean coast /Thessalonica, Philippi, etc./ and their sermons penetrated Thrace to the north, even in the early years after it became a Roman province.
That is why the Horseman, the image of millennial faith hidden under a conventional Hellenistic and Roman iconography, adapted to Christianity in a most natural way. He was called St. George by worshippers whose oral tradition folklorically transformed the martyr of the church from Asia Minor into an immortal spiritual leader. In the Thracian lands even the icon of St. George transfixing the dragon and the tablet with the relief of the Horseman-Hunter were and are interchangeable in the cult, something which persists to this very day.