This week I bought a pendant that caught my attention. It is Celtic knot work of horses, meant to represent Epona. This triggered my interest in Epona and off I went to learn more.
Epona is a goddess from Gaul. Sadly, any information about her from those early days of worship are lost to us. This is the case of the most ancient deities from that region and time in history. It is thought that she was picked up in Gaul by the conscripted soldiers of the Roman Army who saw a depiction of her upon her horse and they adopted her. Since this army rode across the land on horseback, she was the perfect deity to pay homage to and so, she traveled with them. She soon made it to Rome and is one of only a few deities, not originally Roman, to be worshiped in the Roman Empire.
But who is she? Horses were revered by the Celts for their speed and beauty, as well as their bravery. The horse eventually came to symbolize the warrior who, in Celtic society, was part of the elite, the aristocracy. Horses were not owned by everyone. To own a horse meant that you were prosperous. If this goddess looked after horses, then she had to also be a symbol of prosperity. Because horses were so intimately connected to the land, because of their use by farmers, she also has to be a goddess of the land. The land that provides for us in abundance.
In another image of her she is seen with a cornucopia. I am not sure it is actually a cornucopia but it is at least a full basket of something! In one image it looks like some sort of bread. To be perfectly honest, it looks to me like this basket of grain is meant for her beloved horses. That tells me she cared for them and took care of all of their needs. It just sounds like what a Mother Goddess would do.
I think this image is the most telling of all. She is still seen with her horses but look at where she is – Above All Else! There are some winged beings resting on the clouds below her – perhaps angels and then below them the people she protects and provides for.
As I said earlier, there is very little to find about Epona through Celtic or Gaulish sources. What we have comes from the Romans who adopted her! We do know that almost every stable had a shrine to her.
Miranda Green, an expert on Celtic religion and mythology, tells us that Epona may have been one of the most popular deities of the Celtic pantheon. Her name comes from the Gaulish word ‘epos’ meaning ‘horse’. Archaeological evidence shows that she was venerated not only in what was once Gaul but in areas as far away as Bulgaria and North Africa.
Patricia Monaghan wrote, “Epona could take the tangible forms of both parents. Sometimes, too, She appeared as a rushing river, which suggests that Epona was a fertility Goddess, often seen in Celtic culture as a water spirit. Similarly, the connection among Celtic peoples of the horse and the sun suggests a solar nature to Epona, supported as well by the patera or round sunlike plate that She carries in many sculptures.”
Epona was the bestower of sovereignty in the ancient Celtic rituals of kingship in which the future king is “wedded”to the Land. There could be no more powerful ally to have than Epona. The idea that a king must have union with the Land – this same Land that he will now rule. It is through Epona that he receives this responsibility and sovereignty. A goddess who started out in Gaul and traveled with the conscripted soldiers, beloved of the Roman people whose rule spread across many lands.
Look at the White Horse at Uffington, it has long been a mystery. It is now being considered as representative of Epona, the Celtic Horse Goddess.
The horse – how many young girls had their love affairs with the horse? So regal, so powerful. To ride on a back of a horse, to become one with that horse, we become a spirit soaring free. That is Epona – we are Epona when our spirits find freedom to ride with the wind.
In this season of plenty, having just passed the Summer Solstice, all we have to do is look around and we see the bounty of the Land before us. Epona is providing for our needs. She is a benevolent Mother Goddess and a generous Goddess of the Land. With Epona life is rich and good and we are well cared for.
Now that I know her, I will wear my new necklace with pride and gratitude and feel the wind in my face as I soar with her.
Deanne Quarrie. D. Min. is a Priestess of the Goddess. She is the author of five books. She is the founder of the Apple Branch where she teaches courses in Feminist Dianic Witchcraft, Northern European Witchcraft and Druidic Studies. She mentors priestesses who wish to serve others in their communities. She is also an Adjunct Professor at Ocean Seminary College and is the founder of Global Goddess, a worldwide organization open to all women who honor some form of the divine feminine, and publishes the Global Goddess Oracle at each Sabbat.