Epona – Lady of the Stables
Epona is a great and important goddess, guardian spirit of horses and their riders. Her name derives from Epos, a Celtic word indicating “horse.” She is never portrayed without one, but Epona is more than just a spirit who oversees horses. She is an extremely complex deity who was once widely venerated throughout Europe.
Epona is a spirit of abundance and plenty, healing, and death. She is a goddess of peace and the matron of soldiers. Her shrines incorporated therapeutic healing springs.
Her carved image appears several times within an ancient Pagan cemetery near what is now Metz, France. Epona may be a psychopomp. One cemetery carving depicts Epona riding her mare, followed by a man whom she may be leading to the Afterlife.
The ancient Celts perceived horses as oracular animals, more closely attuned to the will and desires of spirits than human beings, even shamans and priests. Various rituals involving horses were intended to reveal the desires of the deities. Epona is likely to have been an oracular spirit. She may or may not be the same spirit as Rhiannon.
As with virtually all Celtic goddesses, little documentation regarding Epona exists. Attempts are made to piece together her myth and history using archaeological evidence. She was popular throughout virtually the entire ancient Celtic world. Roman soldiers encountered her in Gaul and adored her, literally. Uniquely for a Celtic deity, Epona was brought to Rome, enshrined, and assigned her own official feast day, indicating her official recognition as part of the Roman state religion.
Epona was especially popular during the first through the fourth centuries CE. She was venerated by a wide spectrum of Romano-Celtic society. Epona was beloved by Roman cavalry officers who adopted her as their own guardian goddess. The Roman legions carried veneration of Epona throughout the Roman Empire. Epona was venerated in Britain, Gaul, the Rhineland, North Africa, Rome, and as far away as Bulgaria. Her major Celtic shrine was in Burgundy, renowned as a center of horse breeding.
Epona was not identified with any Roman goddesses but incorporated into the Roman pantheon in her own right.
Epona is the matron of soldiers. She has dominion over horses, donkeys, and mules. Those who care for them may consider themselves under Epona’s dominion, too. Those who abuse them should probably avoid attracting Epona’s attention.
Horse breeders, horse traders, horse whisperers, horse doctors, equestrians, cavalry
Epona is never represented without a horse. A typical image portrays Epona riding side-saddle on a mare. A foal sleeps beneath its mother, suckles from its mother, or eats from a plate that Epona offers. Alternatively Epona is portrayed sitting between several horses that approach her in homage, or she sits between male and female ponies and feeds them. She is occasionally portrayed as a mermaid on horseback.
A key, cornucopia, basket of fruit, the cloth once traditionally used to start horse races
The Mothers are Epona’s sometime companions.
Horses, but also dogs and ravens
Sacred day: 18 December, her Roman feast
Cakes, fruit, and something for her horses
Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses – Written by Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.