She is a horse goddess with fertility connotations. A popular equestrian goddess closely allied with the Celtic trade in, and domestic use of, horses. Concerned with healing, and with the fertility of domestic animals. She is arguably the only Celtic goddess to have been worshipped in Rome itself and her popularity was spread throughout the regions of Roman occupation.
Epona is typically with mares and foals, usually riding sidesaddle or merely in association with horses. She also holds cornucopiae sheaves of grain and other fruits suggesting an ancillary role as a vegetation goddess. Epona is also, on occasion, linked with dogs and birds.
Last night, I went line dancing for the first time in eight years. I have to admit, it stirred some wonderful memories. As I shuffled and glided across the dancefloor, I was taken back to a time in my life when cares were few and far between.
Growing up on a farm, you often helped other farmers during the spring and summer. I have worked pig farms, chicken farms, dairies….but one of my favorite was spent helping a neighboring horse farm. It was one of the first times I ever got a glimpse of the true magick and power inside of an animal.
I have to confess before I get too far in that I had never really heard of the Goddess Epona until I was introduced to her by a friend this past year. This friend embodies everything that a goddess to the equine population should….she is beautiful, strong, graceful, and quite a bit of a spitfire. Her passion for Epona started something ruminating in me. I had to find out more about her. I had to know this Goddess who showed herself so evidently in my friends love and passion for horses.
As I studied and meditated, I was often drawn backward in time to my own contact and work with some beautiful animals. My first contact was with a horse named Coal. Coal was, of course, jet black. He was the horse I learned to ride on. My friend, Nancy, lived on a farm in South Carolina. I was very young and she was very persistent that I should learn to ride a horse. Coal seemed to me to be the biggest horse I had ever seen. She also had a Belgian Shepherd name Beatrice. For some reason, Beatrice did not like anything about me. It was her goal to make sure I didn’t make it off that farm alive.
I had finally given in to learning to ride Coal on an overcast Sunday afternoon. Beatrice was put into the house to keep her away from me. I was taught the correct posture for riding and how to ‘steer’ Coal. He was so gentle. It was like he knew what I wanted and needed before I did. As we rode, I could hear Beatrice barking wildly in the background. I was fine as long as that barking stayed in the distance.
We had been riding for about 45 minutes and were working our way around the horse ring when suddenly Coal came to a dead halt. I had a weird feeling in my gut when I heard Beatrice barking five feet in front of us. She snarled and growled and I saw my friend’s sister running toward us. Beatrice had broken a window to get to us. As scared shitless as I was, I remember hoping that she hadn’t hurt herself leaping through the window.
Coal never reacted to Beatrice at all. If she started toward us, he would turn as if to initiate a body block. He never bothered to try to kick her. He never got spooked. I look back and think that I could not have had a better teacher in that first riding session. It is because of him that I continued to learn. He became a trusted friend over the years, and as I think back, I can still feel the sadness that I felt the day I watched him ride into the summerlands with Epona guiding him.
I also remember the summers of rodeos and time with the horses. I know that many people do not like rodeos. I absolutely love them. It was on the rodeo circuit that I got to see the true human/equine bond. Some of those men and women treat their horses better than they treat most other humans. It was not unusual to walk around and see a cowboy or cowgirl conversing with their horse…and to watch the communication of the horse with the rider. You haven’t experienced the power of the Goddess until you have looked into the eyes of a horse. You can see fire and passion, but you can also see strength and peace. You look at him and you know that he honestly had the strength and power to crush you, but the control to keep himself from doing that.
This one thought came in an epiphany…..it is in my time with horses that I did learn control…it was in the teaching I received while learning to ride….it wasn’t so much about learning to control the horse…it was about learning to control myself. Isn’t that the way it is about most things in life. It isn’t about the situation, but it is about how you handle it. It is in reigning in a horse that we learn to reign ourself in. Horses mirror us in so many ways. That wild part of us longs to go at full tilt. We push and we push until we are forced by our own body to relax. The reigns of everyday life move us left and right into decisions and circumstances, but that wild part still lies underneath….that fire.
I have heard the phrase used regarding “breaking a horse.” Most horse trainers that I know would disagree with this terminology. It once referred to breaking the horses spirit. Putting that horse under your control. It is not about “breaking the spirit” at all, but learning to work with that spirit. It is that same spirit in the animal that excites us. It is that spirit we long for when we climb on and feel the motion of that magnificent being beneath us.
For Christmas this year, I gave my partner a romantic horseback riding afternoon ending in wine in a pastoral setting. Just me, him and the horses. I have longed for and needed that contact with these magnificent creatures. I can feel Lady Epona stirring that wildness and calm all at the same time.
When stress seems to take over, I go back to a vacation 10 years ago in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. I was allowed a very special gift. I got to watch the wild horses on the island run. There is nothing quite so spectacular as seeing a creature unburdened by the cares of the world run at full tilt racing the wind.
Lady Epona, help me to leave the cares and stresses of day to day living behind and feel the wind caressing my cheek as I call on your strength.