Monday, 17 December 2012

From the Horse's Mouth: Blessed Eponalia

A guest post by Miss Boo aka Queen Boudicca

The ancient Romans and Gauls knew something that many modern day humans have forgotten. Mares are divine.

The worship of Epona was popular throughout the Roman Empire. Epona was a Gaulish deity whose name means "divine mare" or "she who is like a mare." Epona was the the only Celtic divinity to receive her own official feast day in the Roman Calendar: Eponalia, December 18, was celebrated on the second day of Saturnalia, the Roman midwinter celebration (December 17 to December 23).

The patron deity of horses, ponies, donkeys, and mules, Epona also protected those who looked after equines or worked with them. Thus she was beloved of the Roman cavalry.  Epona's worship stretched from Roman Britain, across Gaul and Germania to Spain, Rome, and Eastern Europe.

Not only did she have a temple in Rome and her own holiday, but there were shrines to her in almost every stable. Her altars were adorned with fresh roses. Horses and donkeys were adorned with roses for her processions.

Some modern humans are inspired by these ancient traditions. At midsummer, my human ties roses in my beautiful mane when we ride out together.

In her iconography, Epona is often depicted as a majestic woman riding side saddle, always travelling from left to right. In the image at the top of the page, "Epona from Kastel," she is riding and carrying a round fruit or loaf. Epona is associated with abundance, fertility, and sovereignty.

A votive image from Budapest shows Epona as a great sovereign lady seated between two horses who feed from her lap.

In the Middle Ages, Epona's archetype lived on in literary figures such as Rhiannon in the Mabinogian.

Epona was a nurturing mother figure, a giver of abundance and plenty. But what does this mean for us today?

Anyone who has spent any time around us horses knows that we are capable of great empathy. Any person who is sad or depressed should spend some time just quietly grooming horses and being with them, and the healing will unfold. When my human is upset, I know right away and I'm especially gentle with her and give her lots of tender snuffles. I also love children and am extra careful around them.

People have reported great success using horses to treat autistic children and adults. Even people suffering from eating disorders can heal if they spend time with equines. Horses have huge hearts. Especially mares! We're hard-wired to nurture.

The Romans celebrated Eponalia by giving every horse, donkey, and mule a day of rest. Modern humans who keep horses can observe this by not working their horses on December 18 and by giving them extra apples, which are sacred to Epona. I hope my human spends a long time pampering and grooming me tomorrow. And she better not forget my treats, lol!

Midwinter can be a very hard time for equines. All the goodness has gone out of the grass. Hay and haylage, even straw, have become more expensive. Make sure your equines have enough nutritious food to eat. In the British Isles horses and ponies are particularly prone to mud fever from standing around in the cold and damp. Particularly if your horse or pony has feathers, make sure they don't have any untreated scabs. Some livery yards don't allow any winter turn out. Pity the poor horses that are locked in their stables 24/7. If you have a stabled  horse and no turn out, at least let them have a stretch and a role in the arena.

December 18 is an ideal day to donate to equine charities. Due to the economic crisis, countless horses have been abandoned or neglected. Donate to your local horse rescue centre.

What would human civilization look like had there not been a millennia-long partnership between humans and equines? Have a heart for the horses who have carried their humans so far and so faithfully.

          Epona's Day: The Gifts of Midwinter by Caitlin Matthews
          Only Foals and Horses Sanctuary

Miss Boo aka Queen Boudicca is a Welsh mare who lives in the Pendle region of Lancashire. A hereditary Welsh trad witch in the most archetypal sense of the word, Miss Boo lives in deep communion with the Earth and is a keeper of ancestral wisdom. She and her herd preserve an ancient matriarchal social structure unchanged since the dawn of their species. Don't mess with chestnut mares!  


  1. As Miss Boo's human secretary, I wish to convey Her Ladyship's thanks. She is very happy you enjoyed her post! :D

  2. Lovely post, Miss Boo! I'm glad you're human shared a link.