Epona, Star Baby, and Me: Epona, the Celtic goddess of horses and riders, is always depicted in the presence of one or more horses.
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Tuesday, 23 July 2019

Epona

Epona, Star Baby, and Me

Epona

Epona, the Celtic goddess of horses and riders, is always depicted in the presence of one or more horses; if she is mounted; her mount is invariably a mare.  Her choice of a mare has various significances but I admire it for plain old horsewoman reasons.  There is an old saying that one tells a gelding what to do, one asks a stallion to do something, and one discusses the matter with a mare.

In June of 2009,  Epona sent me the horse I'd wanted for fifty years, a sorrel mare with a single star in the center of her forehead.  Just like the little girl who had a single curl right in the center of her forehead, BR Star Baby was capable of being horrid.  She came to me aloof, footsore, stiff in the back legs, and according to the farrier, "hostile to humans." A highly trained American Quarter Horse who was past her best roping days, Star spent her time at the stable with little human contact beyond feeding and other basic care. The couple who gave her to me suggested there had been some abuse in Star's distant past as evidenced by extreme head-shyness which no amount of effort on their parts had alleviated.  The first time I put a halter on my beautiful girl, she panicked when my fingers brushed her ears.  The second time this happened; I took a deep breath and used that breath to whisper a sincere prayer to Epona for guidance.  Then I spoke long and sincerely to Star about my devotion to her, promising that no one would ever hurt her as long as I was there to prevent it.  Whether she understood tone of voice or actual words, she never flinched from being haltered again.
 
The challenges of haltering, hoof cleaning, and saddle cinching were all successfully met within a fortnight but she continued to resist having her face and ears touched by anyone.  My family and I worked with her patiently each day, wondering if she'd ever overcome the old demons that arose each time someone put a hand too close to her head.

In images scattered throughout the old Romano-Celtic world, Epona has been depicted holding a ceremonial flag used to start horse races.  This flag, called a mappa, symbolizes her presence at a person's birth.   Related images show her feeding a foal or standing protectively alongside a mare that is suckling a foal.     In yet other images, she is mounted on her mare, holding in one hand a key to unlock the gates between Earth and the Otherworld.   Some images actually show her leading a human soul into the land beyond death.  All of these images are fitting tribute to a triple goddess who guides her children, human and equine, from birth, throughout life, and into the world beyond death.

Academically, arguments abound regarding whether Epona first emerged as a Celtic or Roman goddess.  Proponents for Roman origin like to point out that objects related to Epona's worship have only been found in lands once occupied by Rome and that with the exception of a fistful of Greek texts, inscriptions on these items are written in Latin. Furthermore, Rome recognized Epona as a primary protector of Roman cavalry who erected her image in their stables.  Once Christianity took hold within the Roman Empire, worship of Epona decreased throughout Europe.
 
Since the Celts had no written language, the lack of Celtic inscriptions to Epona isn't remarkable.  Equine imagery, however, is common in Celtic art and Dr. Miranda Green of the University of Wales states that the name Epona comes from a Celtic word meaning horse.  Epona is associated with other Celtic horse goddesses in lands never occupied by Rome, including Irish Macha and Welsh Rhiannon, and horses were integral parts of ritual burials in Iron Age Britain long before Rome set forth to inflict the Pax Romano on the world.
 
According to Robert Graves, "The horse or pony has been a sacred animal in Britain from prehistoric times, not merely since the introduction of the stronger Asiatic breed. The only human figure in what survives of British Old Stone Age art is a man wearing a horse-mask, carved in bone, found in the Derbyshire Pin-hole Cave..." The presence in Europe of the Asiatic breed Graves mentions may stem from the Darius invasions of Greece in the 8th century BCE; there is also evidence that these horses were introduced to the Danube area by riders from the Russian steppes.  Wherever riding horses originated, the activity had a profound effect on how the Celts traveled and conducted business and warfare.  Riders and charioteers had high standing in Celtic society and horse-related honors were not limited to men: Iron Age coins depict horsewomen and female charioteers.
 
Epona's Roman veneration may have originated with conquered Gauls who were recruited or forced to serve in the Roman army as cavalrymen.   Gaulish followers of Epona would have introduced their fellow horse warriors to Epona and expanded her influence as a Romano-Celtic protector of cavalry.  "Interpretatio celtica" is a hybridization of Celtic and Roman religious cultures that is attested to by Romano-Celtic inscriptions that refer to gods by fused Roman and Celtic titles, such as Jupiter Taranis or Maponos Apollo.  Epona alone had the distinction of being venerated in Rome under her Gaulish name only.  Her Roman feast day is December 18; in other cultures she is honored on June 13th.

Living with a horse is to honor Epona every day, from the first fresh hay each morning until the final good night caress at night.  Before I go for a ride on either one of our two horses or on my motorcycle (sometimes known in America as an iron horse), I ask Epona to watch over us and to please keep me from doing anything too stupid while I am mounted.

Two and a half years after she arrived in my life, I left Star in my husband's care while I traveled south to visit family and friends for several weeks.  I'd not left her for that long before and when I returned, I was a little concerned about her reaction to being temporarily abandoned.  Previous absences of only a few days had resulted in my being royally snubbed by my beautiful redhead until I coaxed my way back into her good graces with brushing and offerings of carrots and horse cookies.
 
Star was standing in a group of tail swishing horses at the bottom of the pasture the day I returned.  She looked up when I called her name and waited a moment before moving slowly in my direction.  When we met halfway across the pasture, I reached out to pat her neck.  To my surprise and delight, she walked up, pressed her face against my shoulder, and allowed me to put my arms around her head in a big hug.

Star has been with me now for five years and at nineteen is roughly my own age in horse years.  We both have arthritis, tend to be a little reluctant to indulge in vigorous exercise, and if anyone wishes either of us to do something, it is best to discuss the matter with us first.  We are admirably suited to each other. Epona, the Celtic Lady of Horses, has been good to us both.

By BriarRose

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Comments

My wife loved horses and introduced me to our black Morgan rescue horse named Jolt, who also had a white star on his forehead. I really enjoyed your article, very informative, very touching and personal. Thank you so much.
Bran th' Blessed

Posted by: Bran Blessed on 21/12/2014 07:44:00

 

Thanks, a lovely informative and personal article.

Posted by: Ryewolf on 21/12/2014 11:12:00

 

A gorgeous read. Reminded me of happy memories with my old horse :)

Posted by: Amber on 22/12/2014 08:58:00

 

What a beautiful story. Thanks for sharing. I also had 2 horses but lost them both about 3 years ago. They both lived to a little over 30 years.

Posted by: Peeb on 22/12/2014 12:43:00

 

a lovely read. I hope Star is with you for many more happy years.

Posted by: wychiewoman on 22/12/2014 14:10:00

 

What a fab article! Thank you for writing it BriarRose Love the mix of your own equine experiences and information about Epona. I too am a big horse lover although I only own china ones at present, but you never know :-)

Posted by: blackcat on 29/12/2014 11:05:00

 

Thank you all for such encouraging comments.
Never give up, blackcat. I was 55 when I finally got a horse of my very own.

Posted by: BriarRose on 02/01/2015 06:09:00

 

that is such a beautiful story Briar, thank you :-)

Posted by: taranova on 17/01/2015 19:49:00

 

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