Epona was a goddess venerated by the Celtic peoples, by Gauls and by the Romans; she is the only “Celtic” goddess adopted and worshipped by middle class Romans and the Roman calvary (Green qtd. in Davies and Jones, 1997, p.12). She is always pictured as a woman with a mare; sometimes the woman is seated sidesaddle on the horse; sometimes the woman holds a cornucopia signifying the natural cycles of life, death, and regeneration; sometimes there is a foal present, showing new birth. She can also be shown with a key or a set of keys, assumed to be the keys to the stable; symbolically the keys can mean the keys to the doors of life and death (interestingly, the key image resonates with the astrological glyph for the planet Chiron, symbol of healing and a centaur planet). Epona is also viewed as a goddess of healing, as her image points to new life, growth, nurturing, food, and in the images of riding, movement. My favorite image of Epona shows a young girl astride a horse in flight.
The Wikipedia article on Epona is a good place to start if you want to explore the sources; also recommended are the work of scholar Miranda Green (such as Animals in Celtic Life and Myth and her Epona entry in the Dictionary of Celtic Myths and Symbols), the website Epona.net (scroll down to Links on the right) and the book The Horse in Celtic Culture by Davies and Jones (1997). My above summary is based on these as well as the research shown in my Bibliography (see page above). Green also has a useful and pragmatic take on the scholarly controversy over the term “Celtic” on page 1 in Davies & Jones (1997).
As with many mythical images, Epona has been used in many ways, from selling equestrian pursuits and merchandise to the name of a popular game character. For me, Epona is a personal symbol from my own Celtic ancestry of change, of death and regeneration and rebirth, of rising from the ashes, of growth. She is about understanding and accepting the transitory nature of life, what the Buddhists call, “impermanence.” She is about riding with fear rather than trying to deny it or control it or triumph over it. She is about acknowledging the gift and the sublimity of life. She is about finding a balanced and peaceful relationship with my own body. She is about grief, love, life, joy, and equanimity. She can also represent mystery, the numinous.
Ultimately, like all myths and images, Epona evokes dimensions of life that are beyond words, that can be a mirror of human nature, and yet exist wholly independent of it. This blog will explore this relationship, both deeply personal and universally mythic; according to Green, horses may have linked the “wild and settled” worlds for the early Celts (qtd. in Davies and Jones, 1997, p.6). Certainly they do for me and for others and this connection forms the heart of my current book in progress, Epona’s Child.
(Note: all photos on this blog are protected by my copyright and should not be reprinted or used without my express permission.)