Doubt is so much more common in people of faith than some like to accept. It’s a normal part of your journey to question and evaluate experiences. Sometimes the doubt gets so strong that you feel you have lost something. You begin to wonder if that being that you thought was so important is really there for you. Perhaps you haven’t seen any signs of them recently, not felt their presence. Perhaps you feel you have lost something, done something wrong or just simply been left. In some cases a relationship that was once incredibly important fades and comes to a natural end. Doubt is natural. Questioning your faith is a part of your growth. The beings I honour don’t want blind faith, they want you to actively choose them. However, sometimes they will take a back seat for a reason of their own, fade from your awareness and let the doubts creep in.
For months doubt had been creeping into my feelings about Epona and the Herd Mothers. I hadn’t really noticed any of Her subtle touches in my life. I wondered if in taking time to get to know other deities our relationship was fading and I wasn’t sure if that was my fault or just a natural change. I kept my devotions going even though at times they felt a bit empty. I also planned a trip that would be something of a pilgrimage for me, a trip to see the Uffington White Horse, a place I had been wanting to visit for many years.
In early March, during my weekly devotions for the Herd Mothers, while I was praying and in particular asking for healing support for a friend’s horse, my prayer beads broke.
These were my first prayer beads made for me by my mum, restrung once before by her when they had broken through use. But I can’t get mum to restring them this time. I knew at some stage they might break again as I used them so much but for them to break at that moment was a painful shock. That connection to my mum has gone. I have other prayer beads, other sets that she made, other jewellery that she made for me too but these were special.
In that moment I didn’t know if they were broken as a consequence of my doubts or taken as a price for healing support.
I decided to draw three runes and the runes seemed to confirm to me that this was a price and not a kick in the teeth for having doubts. A forth rune fell down from the plate I keep them on to where I had placed the others and this strengthened my interpretation of this being a price. While this still hurts I have now accepted that this was a sacrifice taken in return for Her aid. The beads, none lost in spite of scattering on the floor, are in a bag on my altar waiting for me to know what to do with them now.
A few weeks later finally the time came for our trip down to Uffington. This was a family trip with my eldest choosing to stay at home for a first experience of being home alone while three of us went South. We had chosen Cirencester as our base for this trip which was more than visiting Uffington and it took us about eight hours to get there. We travelled down on Monday 4th April and returned home on Friday 8th April so we had three full days for more local trips.
The first was Uffington on Tuesday. You can’t see the whole figure from close up. Even from the car park area the top of the next disappears of the hill but still when I got to see my first glimpse standing on that landscape my heart swelled with emotion and I had tears in my eyes. I had made it!
We walked across the fields and up towards the horse itself. As we walked I spotted hoofprints on the path and felt the presence of the Herd Mothers in the land. There’s a rope boundary protecting the horse due to increased erosion but you can still get pretty close. We walked to the nearby Dragon Hill to see if the view was any better. It wasn’t but the winds were wild and cleansing. As we walked down Dragon Hill to climb the other side of Whitehorse hill I noticed a fresh twig of blossoming blackthorn on the ground. I’m sure it hadn’t been there when we went up the path to the top of Dragon Hill. It was freshly broken off from the blackthorn it came from and dropped there like a gift. I carried it away with me. And on Whitehorse hill I made an offering to the spirits of that landscape thanking them for the gift.
From there we walked to the structure known as Uffington Castle. It’s a large hill fort probably originally built in the bronze age and inhabited into and throughout the iron age. It’s one of the largest hillforts I’ve experienced so far and a very impressive location. I was pulled towards the centre of the hillfort area and felt the need to sing out wordlessly for a time. I made another offering before leaving.
After that we returned to the car to get our packed lunch before walking to Wayland’s Smithy. Wayland’s Smithy is a restored Neolithic long barrow about a mile and half away from Whitehorse Hill. It’s surrounded by some beautiful beech trees. I found the presence there to be quiet and gently welcoming. And although it had nothing to do with Wayland or was ever a smithy the links have encouraged someone to add a horseshoe to a fallen beech log near the front of the tomb.
Needless to say it felt appropriate to make an offering there too and I poured a little wine from my hip flask over the horseshoe.
It was a good day and by the end of it I felt a sense of renewal in my relationship with Epona and the Herd Mothers which has stayed with me. I feel stronger for this period of doubt and renewal and more trusting in my relationship with Epona.
Hail Epona! Hail the Herd Mothers!