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From Christian to Pagan (Part III)
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Honoring Epona In Ritual
Article ID: 11940
Age Group: Adult
Days Up: 3,157
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Author: Devon, The Maid Of Epona
Posted: September 9th. 2007
Times Viewed: 9,000
I've been giving a lot of thought as to how Epona should be honored in ritual. The ideas are numerous. They come from my twenty years of experience working with horses as a groom. They also come from the faint glimpses about her worship that have graced us throughout history and throughout the ancient cultures associated with Her.
To some people, deity has taken the face of a White Mare or of a woman with emerald green eyes, riding a mare aside, long before side saddles were invented. These images of spirit occurred long ago in pre-Christian times. They sometimes occur today as contemporary Neo-pagans rediscover Her.
The Lady on the Horse was indeed a distinct image. Foals followed Her closely, followed in turn by lean, hunting hounds. Birds showered Her with the petals of roses. She stepped quietly into the barns of horsemen and dwelt there in stables filled with small shrines, placed in the rafters for her worship.
Her hands protected all those who had horse professions, from the lowly grooms, never allowed to ride, to the wealthy landowner, breeding his prized stallions to his favorite mare, yearning for that perfect combination, in order to produce the foal of which human dreams are made.
Her hand held the farrier's tongs that safely grasped the heated metal, as Brigid's arm hammered the white, hot alloy into its lunar shape. When a rider's face was whipped by a galloping horse's mane, a glimpse of Her long tresses, stroking and blessing his face is faintly felt. She rode with them and guarded the flying footsteps of the horse's madly churning hooves.
She knelt in the straw, or mud, or grass, which graced wherever the foal was born. She breathed life into the little one as the mare strained to push the horse child out into the big world beyond the womb.
And at each horse's death, She would catch its soul and gallop alongside it, guarding the way into the Summerlands, thick with long grass and clear water and spreading branches of shade, and She would give them back the strength and vigor of youth.
So how do we best honor this incredibly beautiful form of deity?
First of all, do you not wonder that there was an ancient religion associated with the worship of the feminine force of horses, a MARE? Why not a stallion? You may thank Hollywood for that mistake!
Most of any movies that were made were produced by egotistical men far removed from the natural world, surrounded in their great houses of concrete and steel. Hollywood always seems to have smeared the details when referring to animals, wild or domestic. They fudged on the truth in the name of dramatic license, motivated by the desire to make the story "better".
Although, when it comes to horses, lately they HAVE been getting somewhat better. I was pleased to see in "Seabiscuit" that the producers showed the horse lying down to sleep where so often the cinema depicts prone horses only as giving birth, becoming sick or dying!
But getting back to the point of 'why a mare?' When referring to horses in their natural state of being, in a wild herd, it is the mare, and especially the LEAD mare, who makes and enforces all the rules.
What? You say, NOT the stallion?
No, the stallion only serves three purposes: protecting the herd from outside danger and other stallions that would steal his mares, the siring of the foals, and keeping any mares from running off. That's it. The lead mare decides when to move the herd, how far they will go, where and when they will stop to rest.
Her foals also have best pick of any fresh grazing found and clear water they come across. The lead mare also has the right to be the bitchiest and most evil mare in the herd to any that are beneath her and so defends her position as lead mare. Every other mare in the herd ranks below her in descending order.
Should anything bad happen to remove the lead mare from her status in the herd, the next boldest mare assumes her place. There have been behavior studies done on wild herds where the stallion has been observed to harass and bite the other mares, in an attempt to drive them into a new grazing area, but if the lead mare does not wish it, they just mill around her in an upset circle. Then several hours later the lead mare decides that NOW she wants to move off. The herd then follows her--stallion included.
There have also been reports of a certain mare waking a stallion up from his morning nap in the grass because she was "in the mood" for a little hanky panky. The stallion yawns, gets up, covers her and then resumes his nap. Also if she does NOT want to be bred, then the stallion better respect her wishes before he gets her hooves planted in a rather personal region!
The mare is most definitely is in charge of quite a lot in the herd.
Our primitive ancestors, who lived closer to the land than most of us do nowadays, must have observed this behavior for themselves and so they revered the mare, not the stallion, as the seat of power in the herd.
What other things are associated with horses and so can be related to Epona?
How about the craft of blacksmithing, especially the farrier's art of making horseshoes? Europe has had a long history of shaping bits of metal and then affixing them to a horse's hooves. They found out that by doing this, they could improve a horse's way of moving, smooth out his gaits, provide stability and strength to a hoof that was brittle or had problems, and basically improve a horse's health overall, just by attaching a bit of metal to the hoof.
The nails too were of importance. Most horseshoes are shown to have six to eight holes for nails on the sides of the shoes (NOT as in the Dallas Cowboy's symbol where they show nail holes completely encircling the hoof! No farrier in his right mind would put nails on the front or "toe" of a hoof!)
Nails are always placed on the side usually three or four on one side and then the same number on the other. Few people not associated with horses may know this information but horseshoes can be a really beneficial thing to a horse.
What about all the symbols associated with the horseshoe? First, the horseshoe is basically a lunar symbol and thus female but produced by the strength and sweat of usually a male. Therefore it has the energies of both male and female. It is made from metal, nowadays mostly alloys, steel and aluminum.
Once upon a time it was only made from iron. The metal is shaped in the fire until the correct form is reached and then cooled in a bucket of water. Hot shoeing is also an art where the farrier heats the shoe until it is red hot, shapes it, and then holds it, still hot to the horn of a horse's foot to sear its shape onto the hoof, thereby sealing the newly trimmed hoof.
From earth, heated in fire, baptized in water, to flesh and shaped by human will. These are very powerful elements we're talking of here! It is also looked upon as a symbol of good luck when hung above a doorway with the horns upward.
Yes, the horseshoe is a powerful symbol when given due attention!
What else is associated with horses?
Well, how about their feed? In modern times, the feeding of horses has become an extremely scientific practice. What blends should be used for which horse and for which stage of life or type of work. But primitive man wouldn't have done that. As far as haymaking went, that depended on the culture and the country. Nomadic peoples were used to moving their herds from place to place, depending on the availability of grazing for their herds and food for them. If we were talking about cultures that would have followed Epona, we would have to focus on the ancient Gauls.
As long as sickles have been around, then the practice of haymaking has been around. Ancient man learned to cut grass and dry it, bundle it into sheaves, which are a far cry from the machine-made hay bales of today! They would store it someplace dry for winter-feeding of livestock. Horses have also been fed grain for several centuries. So that means oats.
Apples have probably been cultivated and fed as treats to horses for at least that long. This dietary care improved the lot of the ancient horses and their ability to exist in a mutually beneficial manner with man.
What about housing? No, horses really don't NEED buildings to live in but keeping them in some sort of structure when the weather was severe did much to improve the welfare and lifespan of horses when kept by humans. Foals born early in the year did not die so much from being born in the snow and stabling probably also prevented sickness brought on by severe weather. But stabling a horse also meant that bedding had to be provided, and it had to be cleaned up after. Enter the pitchfork and wheelbarrow, a groom's best tools! Then of course mud had to be brushed out of its coat and tangles gotten out of its mane and tail. So you need combs and brushes.
What about the act of riding itself? Well, then you need a bridle made of leather with a bit of metal for the mouth to control the speed and direction of the horse. And yes, saddles are not needed but make a rider sticking to a horse so much easier. The bare back of a horse can be rather slippery! Some ease was also brought to long travels on horseback by the invention of the stirrup.
If YOU want to ride for five hours without stirrups, be my guest but don't be surprised when your legs fall asleep from the knees on down from dangling all that time!
So you need a leather maker and again a blacksmith to make the bit for the horse's mouth and the buckles for the saddle and bridle. Blacksmiths are very important. Not only did they hammer shoes to a horse's feet but many times they also served as veterinarian and sometimes the town doctor because of this.
I've almost forgotten one of the most important and magical of things between horses and humans: the bond. If you do not care about animals in any way then it's pointless for me to explain. But for those who have cared for and ridden the same horse, day after day, year after year, those people know volumes on the bond. It can be something indescribable and yet at the same time, something almost tangible.
When you ride a horse, you become open to the horse's mind. You do feel a little of what the horse himself feels and the same is also true for the horse. We have all heard stories of horses that do not want to be ridden! But there are also horses who crave the contact of riding from their respective humans.
The pressure of a rider's weight on the horse's back immediately informs the animal of minute signals that the horse can react to. They can tell if the rider knows a lot or a little about riding. (And sometimes take negative advantage of that!) They can read if the rider is confident or fearful and also react to that.
Horses can easily tell the difference between children or handicapped individuals that are set astride their backs and a valuable horse is one that can safely and carefully carry a child or a person with a disability. Riding a horse can make a shy person open up or a tense person relax, or give confidence to a person who sorely needs it. The act of riding can even heal the body and the soul.
Riding is an incredibly personal and intimate way to connect with a horse. There are also the personalities of the individual horse to contend with. There are horses who love to race and will fight any attempt to slow them down, horses who love to jump, and horses who love competition in any way just as some humans do.
When a human is matched with a horse of like mind, the two can do incredible things. There are also horses who are difficult to do anything with, but put a child on their backs and they will slowly and carefully plod about at a walk and take such good care of that child.
To ride a horse means to trust an animal with your body's safety, to trust a creature you cannot speak to, to keep you safe and get you from point A to point B alive and well. It means taking a leap of faith for the human, to risk the act of trusting something not at all human that communicates on a level we have difficulty reaching or relating to. The risk of trusting creates the bond. The act of riding on a regular basis cements it to the soul of both.
Ancient man must have yearned for a religious power that could relate to such a connection. I know I do! But how do we honor a power that speaks to this connection? Epona's disposition can take many forms depending on the situation and the individual person relating to Her. But I can relate a few of the things that I have done that I believe bring me closer to Her sacred heart.
Epona is usually depicted as a fertility Goddess with foals following her. Therefore, milk is a good offering, especially mare's milk if you can get it. Colostrum, the all-important first milk of mothers, works even better in these situations but I know that not all people have access to such a precious commodity.
Another thing that may be used in ritual, especially fertility and creation rituals but is also extremely hard to come by, is a foal's hippomane. It requires a person to be there at the exact moment of the birth of a foal to acquire it. I do not recommend destroying the hippomane as all the spiritual research I have done leads me to believe that it is the foal's "soul-print" but hippomanes work nicely as objects of protection and attraction.
More easily acquired things are horseshoes. I know this may seem difficult to get to some suburbanites but let me explain. Horseshoes can be re-used but there also comes a time when they must be discarded. If you have a friend with a horse that wears shoes, (and not all horses NEED shoes!) the problem is easily solved. Ask their farrier to save you some old horseshoes.
Some farriers take the spent shoes to a local dump or recycling areas. Most simply throw them out! If you do not have such a friend, visit a local racetrack and if its "farrier day", ask him when he'll be back and if he would mind saving you a few old shoes. It might be nice if they pull the old nails out too as they have the tools that make such a chore much easier. Most farriers are happy to be rid of them.
If you can forge or weld, there is also a small cottage industry of people making crafts out of horseshoes. I've seen things from toilet paper rolls and coat hooks to a man who welded the railing of his porch entirely from horseshoes! I guess he had plenty of luck!
If you get shoes from the racetrack, chances are they will be lightweight, aluminum "racing plates" and will stay bright and shiny no matter what. If they are made from anything else, it would be a good idea to clean them with a stiff brush to get all the gunk out of the crevices and then spray them with rust inhibitor or they will rust nearly overnight! Aluminum horseshoes also make good chimes if you are crafty that way and have a good tone to them. I found that out spur of the moment before one ritual! It worked out quite nicely!
Grain, especially oats, may be used as an offering along with apples and carrots. Roses are sacred to Epona. Why do you think Kentucky Derby winners are crowned with a horseshoe of roses?? It is not the state flower! (But I think the track officials have no idea where the rose thing came from but superstitions are also rampant in the horse business even if no one remembers their true origin!)
Another thing that has a huge amount of superstition associated with it are harness brasses. (Yes, Epona protects horses who pull as well as horses who carry.) A harness brass is a small, hand sized, disc of metal, usually of brass but they also can be found in nickel. They are meant to be worn with a round bit of leather underneath them and are for harness decoration. They come singly or in strings, usually called a martingale, for adorning the harness. They were originally devised by the Romany peoples of Europe to protect their carriage horses against the evil eye. But then the local carters caught onto the idea.
Families who had a long tradition of raising harness horses came up with their own designs and brasses were made for prizes at local fairs and to commemorate British coronations. There are pictures from the turn of the century of harness horses nearly covered in flashing brasses. They were also a way for showing off the owner's wealth.
Brasses are still made to this day. But they are also collected both for decoration and for use.
The designs for harness brasses are vast! The original pieces had rather medieval themes and may have been actually decorative pieces originally made for warhorses but the idea was adapted for the carriage trade. Then there are family pieces, profession pieces, like for the farrier's guild or the brewery. Anheuser Busch has their own uniquely designed harness brass, an eagle through a large letter A. Then there are just symbolic pieces such as hearts, stars and moons to protect the horse with. I believe Epona would quite approve of harness brasses being used in ritual to Her.
What else can we associate with Epona's worship?
Well, do you normally use some sort of drink for libations in your rituals? What sort of drink would Epona like?
Water of course! Water is necessary to the continuation of life. Few animals can survive without it.
But the Celtic peoples who worshipped Epona also like a drop of alcohol from time to time and I'm sure they would have incorporated that into their rituals. Lord and Lady knows that there are other deities out there praised with alcoholic beverages; the Norse with their mead, the Greeks with their wine, the Mongols with their fermented mare's milk called kumiss, Pele with her hard liquor.
So what would Epona like?
Beer of course!
And how do I know this? Hah! I DON'T! I just know that Irish racehorse stables are in the habit of mixing a pint of Guiness Stout into certain prized broodmares' feed for better milk production! That's where I got the idea!
I have used beer in grain to bolster and fatten my old horse in the winter when he was having trouble keeping weight on. I used Guiness when I could afford it and any other NON-LITE beer brands at other times. (Although I did have to keep this a secret from my husband to avoid having my barn stash raided!)
Good ole Sonny always polished the bowl for this! I really don't think he minded much.
So I see no reason why Epona would mind beer being offered to her in ritual.
For those wishing to petition Epona to grant a request, my advice to you is to think long and hard on what you want. Please don't make it trivial. It must be important and you must be willing to work, sweat and bleed to get what you want. Don't just expect Epona to do it all for you. When you are ready and meditated thoroughly on your intent, approach Her, and make your petition. If you would like to give it an added umph, cutting a lock of your hair, or a large hunk of it and giving it to the fire with a prayer usually results in getting the White Mare's full and undivided attention! Be ready for it! The consequences may be more than you bargain for!
That is why I recommend THOROUGH MEDITATION on your intent! Also, when all is said and done, don't forget to thank Her. Epona is a mother after all. You MUST say please and thank you to your Mother.
With Epona, you may want to double and triple the thanks! She really appreciates being thanked even for little things, like the car that has issues but still runs, the partner you just got in a fight with, the bad day you had at work that taught you something. NEVER forget to thank her! This is very important! You may end up thanking ME for telling you this!
These are just a few ideas for worshipping Epona that I could come up with. I'm sure if a group of pagan equestrians got together, they could dream up some more. None of these ideas are ground in stone but they are some of the things that I use. Experimentation with different offerings may yield more ideas and more insight of how to better relate to the White Mare.
Epona wants you to talk to Her. If you decide to work with Her, She can bring such beauty into your life. She is a very empowering goddess and She relates well to both men and women. She can give you strength and peace, laughter and healing. With Her you can accomplish amazing things if She is the right deity for you.
When the White Mare gallops into your life, pay attention! Listen! Follow, even if you cannot catch up.
Her hoofprints will lead you onward.
Ballad of the Irish Horse: Video: c. 1988., National Geographic Society
Chadwich, Nora. The Celts., c. 1971., Penguin Books, NY 1991
Jones, Prudence and Pennick, Nigel., A history of Pagan Europe., c. 1995 Barnes and Noble Inc., NY, 1999.
Gibson, Clare., Goddess Symbols. Universal Signs of the Divine Female., c. 1998, Barnes and Noble Inc., NY, 1998.
Hartfield, George., Horse Brasses, Abelard-Schuman Ltd., New York, London. c. 1965
Keegan, Terry., The Heavy Horse, Its Harness and Harness Decoration,
Pelham Books Ltd., London. c. 1973, third ed. 1975 ISBN 0-7207-0560-6
Markale, Jean., Women of the Celts., c. 1972, trans. A. Mygind, C. Haugh, P. Henry., 1975., Inner Traditions International Ltd., Rochester, VT, 1986
Monaghan, Patricia., The New Book of Goddesses and Heroines., c. 1981, St. Paul, Minnesota, Llewellyn Pub., 3rd printing 2000.
Nantos, Ceffyl., Epona Net: A scholarly resource., Introduction et. al., c. 2004-2005., accessed July 13, 2006., http://epona.net
Radford, E. and M. A., The Encyclopedia of Superstitions., edited and revised by Chritina Hole., c. 1948, 1961 rev. ed. 1996., NY, Barnes and Noble Books.
Weaver, Sue., Hippomanes- A mystery through the ages., Chronicle of the Horse. February 2000.
Devon, The Maid Of Epona
Location: New Park, Pennsylvania
Author's Profile: To learn more about Devon, The Maid Of Epona - Click HERE
Bio: I am a solitary Wiccan with one foot in the other out of the broom closet. The cycle of horses runs my life and my mood ebbs and flows with their moods. Right now, the boys are happy as long as the lightning stays out of their paddock while they're in it! So am I!
I am immensely grateful to the readers of this site who so loved my last Epona based article. I had no idea there were so many of us out there!
Epona's blessings are many!
Ride on Sons and Daughters of Epona!
Devon, the Maid of Epona
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