Epona is the powerful patroness of horses

The official holiday devoted to Epona, the Celtic goddess mare was celebrated on 18th December in the Roman Empire. This unique honor from...

The official holiday devoted to Epona, the Celtic goddess mare was celebrated on 18th December in the Roman Empire. This unique honor from all Celtic gods only Epona has been awarded. Her name comes from the Gaelic word "epos" which meant "horse", but can be also translated as "a magic mare" or "Goddess mare". From the Iron Age she was known as the patroness of horses protecting not only them, but also their owners. The daughter of a mare and human, she could be in an appearance of woman or horse. The place where Epona's cult has arisen were Gallia and lands along Rhein. At government of Romans Epona's cult was widely adopted, she was worshipped even in such far lands as Bulgaria and North Africa.

Most of all information on Epona's cult has reached us from the Roman times. Archeologists have found only one temple of the goddess in the territory of modern France in Entrains-sur-Nohain, near the river of Loire. Also she was popular in small sanctuaries in Burgundy.
Epona's sanctuaries were usual in the Roman stables: Luzius Apuleius (123-180), the author of the Gold donkey, so describes one of such places: "I have seen the small altar of the goddess Epona standing in a niche of the column supporting a stable ceiling. The altar has been ornated by fresh-cut roses..." Epona was rather "national" goddess to whom the simple people worshipped though among cavalrymen her more aggressive images went.
White mares were special are loved by Epona, most likely because white color designates purity and has deep spiritual value, besides white horses are very rare in the nature if not to breed them specially.
Later Epona became the patroness of everything that is connected with horses and a cavalry. Epona was very popular in Britain which was also one of northern Roman provinces, the cult had her more magic aspects. The 360-ft image "White Horse from Uffingham" which is cut out in the cretaceous soil of the Oxfordshire plain is widely known. It is dated between 1400 and 600 years B.C., and there is a hypothesis that this figure has been built by Celts for designation of borders of their territory. On other hypothesis, a figure of a horse were Epona is devote and religious ceremonies were carried out there. The image of the White Horse reminds drawings of a horse on the Celtic coins dated 150 B.C. "The forms of the White Horse flying" from Uffingham combine lines of a bird and a dragon. In "The treatise about miracles" of Ralf De Deceto (1180) it is noted about image which is called a white mare with a foal. Unfortunately, during excavation no images reminding a foal have been found near. But it is possible that he just hasn't remained up to now.

Sculptural Epona's images reflect her communication with fertility: usually it is the woman with pony, mare or foal. The goddess was also often represented sitting in a saddle, her horse surely goes a quiet pace, but not gallop.

After fall of the Roman Empire worship of the magician who can take the form of a horse was actively pursued and eradicated by bishops and priests. However, the symbol of purity has been postponed for some Christian Saints who were imaged in the form of riders on a white horse (for example, Saint George).

Epona has also been closely connected with the underworld therefore her images often meet on cemeteries. In the Celtic mythology, she is often identified by two other goddesses: Rhiannon (in Wales) and Macha (in Ireland). She appears in many legends: in spite of the fact that the maiden on a white horse goes very slowly, the fastest horses can't catch her up if  there is no her will on that (the epos Mabinogion, the second part of Pwyll, the king of Dyfed is most known).
It is still possible to find echoes of a cult of Epona in the modern world. On one of the biggest Celtic holidays Beltane, which is celebrated at the beginning of May the figure of a big black horse in which the person hides passes on streets of the small town of Padstow in Cornwall. He tries to catch young (and sometimes old) women. If he succeedes it, then his "victim" will have a successful marriage or the child's birth next year.

Researchers of the Celtic mythology have many hypotheses of the goddess Epona, but all meet in one - her beauty and weird force connected with fertility, and communication with the world of the dead make her one of the most powerful goddesses of the Celtic pantheon.

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