Epona, Celtic Horse Goddess was worshipped by the Gauls (the Celtic French). Her worship spread to Britain and Rome from Western Europe. Hundreds of statues and shrines dating from between the first and third centuries CE have been found in France alone.
Today we can understand Epona mainly from her images, as few stories of her have survived. She is often shown either riding a white horse side saddle or standing or sitting between two horses. Many images show her feeding mares and foals from a cornucopia or a basket of fruit.
The mare being an ancient symbol of fertility coupled with Epona’s cornucopia and fruit basket are evidence of her role as a fertility Goddess. Epona means “Divine mare” in Gaulish. In her role as “Divine Mare” she can be seen as a parallel to Rhiannon, the Welsh Horse Goddess of the Mabinogion.
Epona is also depicted with keys, which together with Her horses as messengers, link Her to the Underworld and the dream world.
In addition to horses (particularly mares and foals), dogs, birds, ravens, and geese are sacred to Epona and are given Her protection. Other things sacred to Epona are roses, apples, carrots and oats. Her shrines were often decorated with garlands of roses. A Roman festival was held on December 18 to honor Epona.
Macha, from the medieval Irish legend, is seen by many to be a manifestation of Epona. Macha appeared to the widower Cruinniuc, an Ulster farmer, and without speaking began acting as his wife. After his joining with her, his wealth increased and continued to increase. Macha/Epona warned him that he must not speak of her to anyone.
But alas his pride got the better of him. During a chariot race organized by the king, Cruinniuc boasted that his wife could run faster than the king’s horses. Hearing this, the king demanded that she prove her husband’s boast. Macha/Epona begged for a postponement as she was heavily pregnant. The king refused and the race was held. Macha/Epona won the race and gave birth to twins at the finish line, only to die shortly thereafter.
With her dying words, she cursed the men of Ulster, saying that in the hour of their greatest need, they would suffer pains like hers, rendering them as incapacitated as a woman in labor. The people, in an effort to alleviate the curse and appease Macha’s spirit, named the site Emain Macha (“twins of Macha”).
This story illustrates the changing status of women during this period of Celtic history. The Goddess was still important but Her power was diminished. Macha/Epona was powerful but the fact that a king could force her to race shows that her position in society (and that of women) was becoming weaker..
Call on Epona for protection (especially for animals), for fertility of body, mind, and spirit, and for dreams to guide you on your life path. Epona also teaches women of their strength and sovereignty, helping women discover their wholeness within themselves.
Judith’s deck of Celtic Goddess Oracle Cards is available now. You can order your deck on Judith’s website. Experience the wisdom of the Celtic Goddesses!
Judith Shaw, a graduate of the San Francisco Art Institute, has been interested in myth, culture and mystical studies all her life. Judith makes art, dances with abandon and experiences the world through travel and study. Her work, which expresses her belief in the interconnectedness of all life, can be seen on her website at http://judithshawart.com