Thursday, March 2, 2017

Epona, the Goddess of the Horse




The Trundholm Artefact - The cosmic horse pulls the sun through the heavens

Horses were introduced into central Europe in the 8th century B.C, possibly arriving with migrations of Indo-European settlers*. What the horse truly symbolised to those people we can only guess. We know that later the horse was of vital importance to the Celts. Not only was it associated with the sun (check the picture above of the artefact from Trundholm, Denmark**) but it signified power and might - for those who could harness the horse could create empires. 


A carving from Agassac, South-West Gaul.  Epona is surrounded by cosmological symbols: mythological creatures, sun-symbols and flowers.
A carving from Agassac, South-West Gaul.
Epona is surrounded by cosmological symbols: mythological creatures, sun-symbols and flowers.
 


Epona was a Celtic deity whose name means horse. She was worshipped across the Celtic kingdoms as far away as Bulgaria, and Northern Africa. Her cult also maintained a presence in Britain too. Among such tribes as the Treveri and Mediomatrici she was a popular and powerful goddess.  Usually she is portrayed sitting side-saddle, sometimes between a pair of horses or with groups of horses that appear to pay homage to her. Epona never appears without the animal. 

She is linked with symbols both life-giving and those of death. Sometimes she bears a cornucopia, or  baskets of food for her beasts; obvious symbols of fertility (an aspect of vital importance in areas where horses were bred). Other times she appears in the company of ravens, keys, rosettes and dogs (all associated with the underworld/afterlife of which she was sometimes a guardian).  Many shrines are found near springs and this association with water also points to the equestrian goddess’ healing powers. 

She was so widely worshipped even the Romans held a festival in her honour on the 18th of December (the only Gaulish goddess taken up by the Romans). But it has been suggested that in the far distant past she was represented by a horse, only later taking human form. Animals were revered for particular qualities, be it vitality, ferociousness (as we’ve seen in the WOLF post), agility etc. The horse was especially revered for its beauty, strength, speed and sexual vigour. Sometimes the horse appears with horns in ancient Northern European imagery - reflecting its ‘otherworldliness’ and supernatural properties. In Norse myth the god Odin rides his eight-legged horse Slepnir. This magical horse  can travel to the underworld (sacred horses were used for divination by the Germanic  Wends at Ancona - they also possessed a white horse that none were allowed ride). 

On the subject of white horses this image is a powerful one and reoccurs throughout northern Europe. For example the famous Uffington horse, an image carved into the chalk hillside which dates from 1000-600BC. 


The Uffington horse, Southern England


Notes;

* Although this view has come under fire in recent decades, with the onset of DNA testing the theory apparently holds - there were successive migrations of peoples from the central Eurasian steppes at various periods in the mid and late Bronze-age. 

** The sun is a topic I explored HERE


Resources:

Symbol And Image In Celtic Art - Miranda Green
The Lost Beliefs of Northern Europe - HR Ellis Davidson



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