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Article ID: 12274

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Reflections On Epona

Author: Devon, The Maid Of Epona
Posted: February 11th. 2008
Times Viewed: 6,503

Epona has been a strong influence in my life long before I ever knew who or what an Epona was. I became fascinated with horses at an early age, about seven or eight to hazard a rough guess.

My parents never supported my passion. I was always told that my sister was the real horse expert. It was typical for little girls to like horses. Don't worry; I'd grow out of it. Besides, horse people were always rich and it was plain that I would never be rich in my mother's eyes as I was so resistant to every bit of guidance she attempted to give me.

I guess that was the spirit of the horse in me, reluctant to ever be haltered, totally incompliant to any expected future that others tried to force onto me. I was an individual through and through and a complete enigma to my well-meaning parents.

My sister the "horse expert" in childhood, left horses far behind as an adult. Whereas the minute I was free of home, I immediately got a job grooming Standardbred racehorses. I didn't know the difference between hay and straw but I was determined to learn about the passion that was always held just out of reach until then.

In doing so, I stepped into a trade nearly as old as man's history with the horse. I discovered that much of what my parents had told me was not true. There were and are many, many poor people working in the horse business. Throughout history many trainers, breeders, farriers, riders and grooms have been poor laborers, bending their backs in a profession that requires long hours, in all kinds of weather, for miniscule wages, during extremely unsafe conditions.

Many of the people associated with horses have their own personal problems that have led them to drug abuse and drinking, which further ostracizes them from the rest of human society. Horses are powerful animals and can be not only dangerous if not handled properly, but downright deadly.

So it has been throughout man's history with the horse. So it still is to this day. People who choose this industry must also choose a measure of sacrifice and danger that goes with it.

I have worked as a groom for more than fifteen years, doing those long hours, getting paid pathetic sums of money, learning that the way to success as a groom is to keep your eyes and ears open and never open your mouth to the employer or the trainer as to the injustices you witness for grooms; no matter how good, are so easily replaced.

I was a good groom. I proved time and again that I could keep on top of things. I could catch colic easily and although horses can die of it, no horse that colicked on my watch has ever died.

Epona blessed me even then, in my ignorance of her.

I have had two employers through the years that treated me right. Only two. And I have worked for many stables.

When I turned twenty-five, I bought myself my first horse. Three years later, my husband at the time asked me to choose between the horses and him. The choice was oh so easy.

I chose horses.

Again Epona blessed me.

Times were hard then, trying to support myself and not to loose my horse, my reason for being. Luckily by that time, I was working for the good employers who were very happy to see me striking out on my own and rediscovering the individual that I had forgotten I was all those years during the bad marriage.

I got involved in historical re-enactment.

Epona drew closer to me.

I attended a medieval event where there were equestrian related sports. There I met a tall man, dressed like Robin Hood, longeing his Crabbet Arabian gelding. This man was to become my husband and my soulmate. I should have suspected it when our horses became immediate best friends when first introduced to each other.

Again Epona blessed me and drew closer to me.

We were married in a private, pagan handfasting ceremony. We both rode horses. My husband had to borrow an enormous black Friesian to ride for the day since his Arab had decided to be a butthead about getting on the trailer! (Something borrowed?) I rode my dear old quarter horse sidesaddle to the ceremony, all dressed in a pale blue, silken gown that rippled in the slightest breeze. (Something blue?) My mother cried at first sight of me.

Again Epona blessed me. And now I knew of Her. I was drawing closer to Her in my spiritual heart.

Life for me was steadily improving all the while. My husband and I boarded our horses at different stables for many years. My old quarter horse was diagnosed with a chronic and eventually terminal disease several years ago. I thought his death was imminent. But ever since we bought our own small farm, his condition seems to have magically cleared up. That is good. I have always worried what I would do if we were still boarding when he died. I need not worry anymore about that.

Again Epona blessed me.

Two years before we found our own place, I bought my next horse, a tall Haflinger pony gelding. He has been my faithful, and steady mount for three years.

After we moved, my husband bought his next horse, a Haflinger gelding as well and cousin to my guy. Argo was an ugly duckling, the Seabiscuit of his race. His conformation was not good: his neck was short, his butt weak and he paddled in front when he trotted. But his personality was everything my husband needed and Argo never dropped him.

We felt truly blest by Epona to have such wonderful horses and so beautiful and private a farm that was so close to so many scenic trails. We ring jousted together all that summer and trail rode our glorious golden boys and thought life could get no better than this.

Then tragedy struck.

Argo ate maple leaves and became gravely ill. His urine turned the color of burgundy as his kidneys fought the poison that was killing him. When our equine vet drew blood from his jugular, it was the color of chocolate milk: classic signs of maple poisoning. The vet's prognosis was not good.

We tried our best to save him, staying up round the clock, sleeping in the barn so that we could flush his system with water and mineral oil every hour and a half to keep his kidneys hydrated and working.
We impressed the vet at our diligence in this.

But after three days of this, I saw the fire of life in Argo's eyes go out and he stopped fighting. We called the vet and late at night, in a dark paddock, lit by the vet-on-call's truck headlights, we helped Argo enter the Summerlands.

We called a neighbor with a backhoe the next day and he came over and dug a hole. I saved Argo's mane and tail and cut off a lock of my own hair and tied it to the lock on his forehead. The man working the backhoe commented on how beautiful a horse he had been. I could only nod.

I have cared for horses that died suddenly in my profession as a groom but I had never faced the death of an equine in all those years. They weren't mine. I had always turned away.

I faced Argo's death with open eyes. I watched him push Argo's body into the hole in our paddock and cover him.

Epona is a Death Goddess. She is also a goddess of Healing. Death can be the ultimate healer. That doesn't mean I had to like it.

The next day the drought broke and it rained like it hadn't rained in two months, a hard, violent, pounding rain that eroded the hillsides in the paddock and tore leaves off of the trees.

My husband and I erected a cairn of stones over Argo's grave. From time to time, we still add to it. There are many rocks in Pennsylvania.

My husband and I lived in tears for the next few days. I could not understand why Epona chose to take our dear Argo away. He and my husband were so perfect for each other. It was enough to nearly make me turn my back on Her and go back to being Christian. Or, even worse, be an atheist!

Two weeks later, my husband’s father died of lung cancer. The smiles and the laughter were chased from his life.

October 2005 was a very bad month for us.

I questioned my faith so much during this dark time in our lives. I didn't know where I stood spiritually or why this had happened. Our horses are like our children. We give them everything we can afford. I often spend my entire paycheck on them time after time and feel guilty when I spend money on myself.

I was at a loss of where to go now.

Then one day I was at a local feed store that also sold used tack. I found myself putting a down payment on a used saddle for my husband for Christmas.

Epona had planted the seed of survival in me long ago. Hubby would have another horse. And I promised myself that I would find that horse for him and return the smile to his face and the laughter to our home.

Two weeks later, the Amishman I bought my horse from, returned my call. He told me that he did not have a gelding that fit my description of what I would need for my husband's next mount. But he believed his breeding stallion would fit the bill nicely.

Were we interested?

The smile returned to my husband's face. He went over the next day to look at said stallion. I saw his eyes shine when he told me how beautiful he was.

"He's got the longest, thickest, most gorgeous mane you've ever seen!" he told me.

"Honey, you can't ride manes!" I replied but I smiled, just glad to see him happy again.

The test ride went wonderfully. The prospective stallion, Alexander, was a perfect gentleman with this strange person on his back. Yes, he talked to the ladies but he also did his job without a complaint.

In Greek the name Alexander means “protector of men”. A good name for a warrior’s horse.

I think now that Argo had to leave because he knew Alexander was coming.

My faith is restored in the White Mare. I may still not understand why She did what She did. We may both love Alex but still want Argo back. But my heart is greatly comforted by this golden gentleman of a stallion.

And I have been assured that Argo is returning. Maybe that is why we just happened to purchase a breeding stallion.

Epona still has some plan for me. And although my heart is wounded, I am eager to see what the future reveals.

It seems that She believes I have seen enough of death. She has now led me to a job helping young foals to be born. I was hesitant to accept this at first but I know now that She is preparing me for my own mare someday and I need to know these lessons.

So I am paying attention and learning as much as I can. Watching a foal being born is the most magical of moments and I feel blest to be paid to witness and stand guard over the moment.

I have cast off the written down prayers to Epona that I used to do. Never has She taught me more than when I separated myself from the magical community and turned my attention inward.

In spiritual solitude from others of my kind and silent communion with my own horses has Epona taught me the most about Her Divine Heart.

I stopped journaling, I stopped doing rituals, and I stopped meditating. I pared down my spiritual expressions to the most basic things in my devotion to Her.

I simply talk to Her.

I talk to Her when I muck stalls or drive to work. No daily repeated prayer of grandiose words. Not at the same time every day, nor even every day. I just talk to Her. I tell Her about my worries, my fears. I ask for good weather on the days we have horse related events.

And I thank Her A LOT! She IS a mother after all! She appreciates when you say please. She likes being consulted and included. But what She appreciates the most is GRATEFULNESS!

I thank Her for everything, my life, my horses, my home, my husband, the very breath I breathe. I thank Her for the many blessings She has brought into my life and hope that I continue to be worthy of such blessings.

I thank Her for the good times and I also thank Her for the bad for it is in times of trial that we learn the most about ourselves.

Epona likes to be asked for help, but She likes better when the petitioner takes steps to help themselves with the problem, not just to rely solely on aide from the Divine. For in the end we really DO know what must be done. Just most of the time, we are afraid to do it.

She appreciates hard work from those who don't complain especially when it comes to physical labor. Those who work with horses must sweat some.

And She is a talented Healer. Most of the best healing She does is to the heart. Brushing or riding a horse can give one such different perspective of life. It’s like seeing the world from the mountaintop instead of the valley.

I feel her presence daily in my life usually first thing in the morning when I am feeding my horses and our place is covered in dew and steam. I look east as the horses are munching their grain and see the orange sun rising through the trees of our paddock's woods. Mist is rising from Argo's cairn and our wolfhound is chasing the barn cat and the barn cat is letting her.

I see a white ghost-like shadow in the woods. Some would say it’s just the morning fog. But I see the dim presence of a white mare standing there with emerald green eyes. It’s by the eyes that I know Her for no horse has ever been born with green eyes.

She is here. She has always been here. She is attracted to the bubbling brook on our property, the shady trees, the flower petals scattering in the breeze from the weeping cherry tree and the lilac bushes covered in busy bees.

She guards Argos cairn. She watches over our horses and our lives. She has sent us many gifts. I am in awe of the stallion She has brought into our lives who is more gentle and kind than any stallion I have ever known.

She has plans for us.

I am patient enough in my life to await and enjoy the lessons. I look into a newborn foal's eyes as I do foal watch and I see her magic in my life. She drew me to the Standardbreds first. I am now witnessing Standardbreds being born.

I watch our two golden horses cavort and play and catch a glimpse of Her human aspect smiling at me from through their flying white manes. I watch my old, wise gelding plod along through the field, looking for more multiflora rose to prune and I thank Her for his patient presence in my life.

For the most important horse in any horse lover's life is their first.

And I mistake my husband's gray Arab gelding for Her all the time until he turns about and I see the broomtail and the bloody shoulder marking along his belly. (The markings of a true warrior's horse!)

She is here. Epona is a very real presence in my life. And I am grateful to Her for Her loving presence.

May She never leave me and may I never forget Her.

Epona was the goddess of horses of the ancient people known as the Celts. Although Epona was a popular goddess in ancient times, very little information on her worship survived.

Most people assume erroneously that since She was a Celtic goddess, this makes Her Irish. The greatest concentrations of followers of Epona were actually from Gaul or the country we now call France. The French were a Celtic people too.

A great deal is also made that Epona was one of the major deities of the Roman cavalry. This came about from the Roman conquest of much of Europe. As Rome’s influence spread, more and more non-Roman peoples were recruited into the army and their cavalry.

These people brought their own native customs and faiths along with them and spread the worship throughout the Empire. Many peoples with a strong equestrian tradition from different regions of the Empire took to Her worship under Rome. The Romans, being polytheistic in nature to begin with, did nothing to dissuade the worship of the Goddess since it did not threaten their rulership, and in fact Romanized Her appearance in shrines and votive images.

Epona is depicted in several guises. To some she appears as a woman, to others a sacred white mare. She is many times depicted as riding a mare “aside” although Her worship was much earlier than the invention of sidesaddles. She is the guardian and protectress of grooms, farriers, trainers, riders and horse breeders.

Appearing as a mare many times with a foal at Her side or in the company of foals, She is a fertility goddess. She is also a warrior goddess as many nations were birthed in the heat of battle, a great many involving cavalry.

And as we all know, no battle can be fought without some loss of life so She is a death goddess as well, carrying the spirits of those who have died safely into the afterlife.

Her symbols are the cornucopia usually filled with grain and apples. Roses are also associated with Epona’s worship. Is it any surprise that we traditionally today crown our winning racehorses with a horseshoe of roses? She is also depicted with hounds and birds surrounding her.

To those who love them, horses bring out devotion in their people that spans many millennia. Epona has come back from the shadows where she resided for so long, never forgotten... only waiting for her name to be called once more.

Ride on sons and daughters of Epona.

Devon, the Maid of Epona






Footnotes:
Bibliography:

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.

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

Devon, the Maid of Epona
Pocket Pony Farm


Copyright: This article was written by me June 2006 and was my first piece of spiritual writing. I submitted it to the newWitch magazine where it was printed in issue 15 in an edited down to 1 page format. It appears here on Witchvox in its complete version.



ABOUT...

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 live in southeastern Pa. with my 4 horses, 2 barn cats, and 3 house cats and an ancient, ( 14 yrs! ) Russian wolfhound. From time to time a mare is brought onto the property for romantic interludes with Alex and life gets a little exciting and noisy. Then it calms down again when she leaves. ( Thank the Goddess! ) We have enough space to host small events and even smaller rituals from time to time. The horses run my day to day life. My ebb and flow follows theirs. If they're happy, so am I. Right now they're filthy, dirty and loving it just as long as the round bales of hay keep coming! And I can't wait to see that Halfinger/Paint foal coming sometime next July/August!
May Epona bless you all with sweet water, a warm dry bed and plenty to eat!




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