What little girl doesn’t love horses and dream of riding them? I know I did. I was never much of an artist, but from age 7 or so up through my teen years, I would doodle them. I played with toy ponies, and most of my action figure heroines rode horses, whether or not they came with them.
Epona came to me through my love of horses and she stayed with me ever afterward.
Epona the goddess comes to us through several forms and through different lines. Her roots ran deep and her branches stretched wide. She was initially known of and worshiped in central and western Europe, the home of the Gauls. When Caesar conquered the Celts of Gaul, many of the cavalry soldiers there adopted her worship and spread her throughout the Empire on other missions. Horses were already considered sacred animals to the Celts and other tribal groups of ancient Europe, but she was also a goddess of the land and its fertility. No matter where you go, the land is with you, and thus was she.
“A Rose For Epona” by Eluveitie
Ancient Pagans saw the horse as not only sacred, but as a means to connect with the divine and other worlds. This shows that it’s an acceptable inference that because Epona was recognized as a goddess associated with horses, and ancient rituals involving the coronation of Celtic kings included horses to bestow the right of kingship, that Epona also has connections with sovereignty. We rely on these things because the Gauls didn’t pass on much story or myth of the gods to us. But there are plenty of inscriptions, statues, and engravings all across Europe that attest to both the sacredness of the horse and the goddess Epona.
The White Horse of Uffington has been dated as far as 1000 BCE, making it roughly 3000 years old. It’s one of the oldest horse icons that exists.
White horses in particular were sacred to ancient Pagans because they were seen as pure and because unless they are specifically bred for, white horses are uncommon.
I don’t tend to connect various deities to one another, not without good reason. I’m not someone who believes that all goddesses are interchangeable faces of a single Great Goddess. Nor do I believe that invoking Freya is the same thing as calling upon Bast, despite them both having associations with magic and cats. Generally, I think more along the lines of historical accuracy and the integration of people. If the people of one culture intermingled with the people of another regional culture, then their understanding of deities was likely to have blended as well. So, sometimes but not always, gods and goddesses can have different names. I believe such is the case for Epona and Rhiannon — and we DO have stories of Rhiannon and other horse/sovereignty-focused goddesses in the British Isles. So, in my personal work with this goddess, I rely on the Irish and Welsh myths to inform my understanding of Epona, combined with personal reflection and a lot of study.
As for what I get out of this relationship, that’s difficult to put into words. I am by nature a very assertive person with a strong will and a lot of stubbornness. It’s not easy for me to embrace a more nurturing and supportive tone, and that’s something I strive to have as both a person and an educator, and especially as a priestess. Epona, as a goddess of fertility and the earth comes across to me with that sort of power and energy.
I think it’s through her aspect as Rhiannon, a lady of power, a queen in her own right, who chose to leave her realm and live among mortals and was outcast and feared, suffering horribly at their hands and all the while enduring it with nobility that helps me when I am faced with challenges, especially unfair or unjust ones. I remember that I am a priestess of Rhiannon, and that helps me to stand tall and in my own power.