It’s Eponalia today: the festival of the Gaulish horse goddess Epona. The blackbirds are singing the dawn chorus. I’m thinking of her watching over a hundred hundred stable yards as the horses are fed, morning nets tied up, muck thrown out, fresh straw laid and banked up.
In some senses she’s with us now as she was in the stable-barracks of the Roman cavalry many centuries ago. In others she is absent as the life-force of fields of grain. Oats, barley, maize, corn, all the crops that go into the complex mixes we now feed our horses on.
Epona isn’t solely a goddess of horses and fertility. She’s a psychopomp too. This is evidenced by her portrayal on a fascinating funeral stone from Gaul. She’s riding side saddle with loose reins. Above her are what look like spinning wheels or shields and beneath fantastic animals. I recognise a bull and a fish but the others are far more surreal and obscure.
In his ‘Observance for the Winter Season‘ Heron writes: ‘For now, Epona traverses the paths of the dead, riding through the dark, through earth and sea, each life that has passed moving with her, finding the way that she opens for them, losing the memories she closes behind them. The Sun will return and a new year begin, but now is the time of repose.’
This will be the first year I have celebrated Eponalia. In spite of spending a large part of my childhood and early teens helping at a local riding school in return for free rides and working with horses for several years in my mid-twenties it’s only after the past year I have started getting to know Epona-Rigantona as a person.
This has mainly been through my connection with the Dun Brython group. Even though a white fairy-mare is my closest spirit companion I struggled to connect with the stories of Rhiannon in The Mabinogion, perhaps because of their taming of her wild equine nature.
However when I came across the powerful hymns and other devotional material for Epona-Rigantona on the Dun Brython website written from the direct experience of her devotees unmuted by Christian clergy I began to ‘see’ her passing through the veil into the otherworld and galloping back out of the bones of the land.
Earlier in the year I took up an invitation from Lee Davies to contribute a piece of writing to a new devotional for the Mare Goddess called The Grey Mare on the Hill. Afterward I panicked. I knew horses but not the Mare Goddess herself. What if I attempted to write something, failed, and hence broke my promise not only to Lee but to a goddess?
Fortunately my inspiration arrived through the post in the form of a pink rose knitted as a devotional activity for Rigantona by Potia, a member of the Brython group. Its woollen threads helped me to weave all the horse-strands in my life together. When I finished writing for the first time the Mare Goddess spoke to me. Along with my experiences of foaling at a local dressage stud, this is recorded in the anthology in my contribution: ‘A Rose for Rigantona’.
When Lee began this project he announced his intention to complete it by Eponalia and said he would offer the first copy to Epona-Rigantona on a pyre. All the contributors have been invited to join him in spirit by reading a hymn by Potia from the book. Later I intend to read the hymn along with words from Heron’s seasonal observance and my own offering in a local field once known as Stable Meadow in my first small ritual to the Mare Goddess.