Eponalia

Eponalia is the feast day of Gaulish Goddess Epona, the Divine Mare and in the time of the Roman Empire it was celebrated on ‘XV Kalendas Ianuarius Eponae’ (from http://epona.net/inscriptions.html). This date translates in the modern calendar to 18 December.

Epona is one of the few, if not only, Gaulish deities adopted into the Roman calendar of celebrations in Her own right and that honour is due in a large part to the importance of the Roman cavalry. For me, and some Brythonic polytheists, Eponalia marks the first of the winter festivals. The others being the winter solstice (usually 20/21 December) followed by Midwinter, Yule or Christmas on 25 December and then the New Year festivities. Some of these festivals are more spiritual than others depending on personal inclinations and family commitments.

Eponalia for me is a quiet time. It is a pause between attending school Christmas activities, preparing for family gatherings and the festivities of winter solstice and midwinter, Yule or Christmas. Eponalia is a time to reflect, to remember, to acknowledge and honour the darkness and to honour Epona Herself, whom I love deeply.

In past years, when I was working, I have made donations to horse related charities for Eponalia. Two years ago I had my first Eponalia where I could spend some time among horses and ponies. I’ve loved horses and ponies for as long as I can remember but for various reasons have not been able to spend much time around them or learn how to ride them until relatively recently. To be able to spend time at a stable yard among the horses and ponies there helping out with the range of the usual activities that take place in a stable yard was a wonderful gift and not one I will forget in a hurry. That occasion was also the first time I have had a horse stand on my foot with enough weight to leave a bruise. He really didn’t want me to clean that particular hoof out!

Regardless of anything else part of my Eponalia celebrations include my devotional activities at my home shrine. These usually take place in the evening when the day has quietened. Before I start I decide on what I will offer as a libation to Epona and bring that over to the shrine. I also get out an old flat pillow that I use to kneel and sit on when I am at my shrine and put it into place. I light a rose scented incense stick and as I waft the smoke around my shrine and around myself I begin to sing:

“Epona, Eponina, Ipotia,
Epona, Eponina Ipotia,
Atanta,
Dibonia,
Vovesia,
Catona”

I then kneel before the shrine and sing my Hymn to Epona.

Once I am finished singing I pour out my libation saying something like “ I offer this wine/mead/juice to you Epona, to you I make this offering.”

Then I move into a cross legged seated position and with my prayer beads say the following prayer:

“Hail Epona Rigantona! Rhiannon, Epona Hail! Herd Mothers Hail!

Epona of Horses, I praise you!
Rhiannon of the Land, I praise you!
Epona of Sovereignty, I praise you!
Rhiannon of Journeys, I praise you!
Epona of Stables, I praise you!
Rhiannon of the Otherworld, I praise you!
Epona, Great Mother, I praise you!
Rhiannon of the Singing Birds, I praise you!
Epona Rigantona, Rhiannon, Epona, Herd Mothers, guides, guardians and teachers, I praise you!

Epona of Horses, I honour you!
Rhiannon of the Land, I honour you!
Epona of Sovereignty, I honour you!
Rhiannon of Journeys, I honour you!
Epona of Stables, I honour you!
Rhiannon of the Otherworld, I honour you!
Epona, Great Mother, I honour you!
Rhiannon of the Singing Birds, I honour you!
Epona Rigantona, Rhiannon, Epona, Herd Mothers, guides, guardians and teachers, I honour you!

Epona of Horses, I thank you for your presence in my life.
Rhiannon of the Land, I thank you for the stability in my life.
Epona of Sovereignty, I thank you for the choices you bring to my life.
Rhiannon of Journeys, I thank you for your guidance through my life.
Epona of Stables, I thank you for the security in my life.
Rhiannon of the Otherworld, I thank you for the mysteries in my life.
Epona, Great Mother, I thank you for your nurturing presence in my life.
Rhiannon of the Singing Birds, I thank you for the beauty you bring to my life.
Epona Rigantona, Rhiannon, Epona, Herd Mothers, guides, guardians and teachers, I thank you for being with me through my life.

Hail Epona Rigantona! Rhiannon, Epona, Herd Mothers Hail!”

Then I sit for a while in silence and think about Epona and what She means to me. I also spend some silent time keeping my mind as calm and clear as I can to see if anything comes forward.

This simple ritual is one I have gradually developed over a few years and I use it every week in my devotions to Epona as well as on Eponalia itself. It’s adaptable to group ritual as well and I have led a group version of it in the past.

These typed words are not really able to convey the feelings I have as do my Eponalia rite. On this day I know that many others across the world also honour Epona. Some of them are people I have met, many more are those I only know online but there is a special sense of connection in the knowledge that others are also honouring Epona on this day.

A declaration

Today I ask you who read this post to bear witness to my words.

I am known as Potia, a name given to me on a journey many years ago and linking me to my beloved Epona, She who is my guide, my guardian and my teacher. I am a daughter of the Great Mare and of the Herd Mothers. To the Herd Mothers, Epona and Rhiannon, I swear to do my best to follow their guidance and to trust them. I have sworn to do my best to serve Epona and I renew that oath.

Last month I was claimed again. To the name I have used for many years I now add another.

I add to my name Nighean a’ Chailliche, daughter of the Cailleach. I have sworn that I will serve An Cailleach to the best of my ability within the boundaries agreed between us. In honour of this oath I will now cover my hair with a scarf or hood when I am praying before Her or serving as Her priest.

I am Potia Nighean a’ Chailliche, sworn priest of the Herd Mothers and An Cailleach.

This is my truth.

A death, a rebirth, a claiming

A Death

Recently I chose to support a particular kickstarter project for “Tales of Hopeless, Maine” and I chose a level of support that included as a reward a Hopeless, Maine obituary by author Nimue Brown. When I first chose this I did so because I thought it would be unusual and fun (which it is) but not long before mine was written Nimue asked me what name I wanted to die under.  That’s not a question I expected and it got me thinking about my various names. My birth name is Pauline and many people use that name for me including my husband. My parents call me Polly, my brother sometimes calls me Pic (short for pickle), my children usually call me mum. And among many Pagans, particularly Druids, I have been known as Potia. I have also had several surnames in my life, Pitchford is my fifth. So I had a lot of options to choose from for my “death”. After some thought I felt that it was time “Potia” died.  Potia was a name I took up towards the beginning of my journey into druidry. I have changed a lot since then.  It’s also a name linked to Epona via a particular inscription. My love for Epona hasn’t changed but I am not dedicated to Her alone.

I had no idea how I might die on Hopeless, Maine. It’s an unusual place where death is not always certain, where bodies are not always available to be identified and buried. Perhaps I would be stabbed by knitting needles or poisoned via a pot of tea. I never imagined the death I got or the headline: “Potia Pitchford defies explanation“.  To be taken by surf horses was a beautifully significant way for Potia to die, to be taken into the depths by the very image of one of my most loved deities. And yet for my death to be uncertain too. No body to identify or bury, just gone. This death has a strong spiritual significance to me that I didn’t anticipate. It was also published on Friday 13th and Friday is the day I do my weekly devotions to the Herd Mothers, to Epona and Rhiannon.  It was also a full moon and I now do devotions on full and dark moons for beings of ocean, seas and rivers.

A Rebirth

The druid I was, Potia, has changed. What I am now has grown out of the druid that I was. I am a priest, a tender of a shrine, a servant of a group of deities and sworn to two deities in particular. I have written of some of this in a previous post “On being a priest“. I have felt since writing that post that I needed to take on a new name, one that to some extent reflects the changes in my life.  Until this evening what that name would be escaped me. This evening as I sat communing with An Cailleach I received some guidance.  I need to check my understanding and make sure I can write it correctly. I’ve also been led to believe I don’t need to stop using Potia, this new name will be more of a descriptive surname if I understand it correctly.

A Claiming

“You are mine” She said to me this evening. I acknowledge that claim with the understanding that I am also sworn to the Herd Mothers and that any tasks She and They would have of me need to be balanced against the needs of my children.

 

On being a priest

This evening I feel twitchy in a non-physical way.  I feel as if I have forgotten something or I’m supposed to be doing something but I can’t think of anything it could be. This non-physical twitchiness is something that I am starting recognise more easily as promptings from those I serve to do something in particular.  This time I believe this twitchy feeling means that I need to write and, in particular, to write about being a priest.

This isn’t the first time I have written about priesthood but the last time was ten years ago so it’s probably about time I revisited this topic here.

Others have written clearly and in depth on a range of questions around being a priest. Most notably John Beckett has written several posts on priesthood the most recent one being “15 Roles of a Pagan Priest – How Many Is Too Many?“.  Also of fairly recent note is a series of three posts by Morgan Daimler starting with “Priesthood in Service to the Other – Part 1: The wide view“. If you haven’t read these posts I recommend you do so if this is a topic that interests you.

My thoughts on priesthood are coloured to some extent by these authors and to some extent by my own experiences and observations. There are a few public individuals in the UK that I feel embody something of what it is to be a priest. Each of them do this in different ways and some may use other titles.  I’m going to name a few of them and try and give some reasons why I consider them to be priests.

The first is Cat Treadwell and you can find her online at The Catbox.  She is self employed as a Druid and Priest.  Much of her work involves celebrancy but she also runs workshops, presents talks, offers divination readings, writes books and blogs and supports people on a personal basis too. Cat serves her community in many ways and is a public voice for druidry and paganism generally.  She does all this from a place of personal challenges and struggles with depression which she speaks about openly. I have still not met her face to face but hers is a voice that speaks from the darkness.

The next is Nimue Brown who writes at Druid Life. Nimue is also an author of books and blogs and she has also been presenting more talks, I’m not sure of she’s been doing any workshops.  My perspective of Nimue is of a woman with a whimsical sense of humour that has worked to overcome a number of personal challenges to get where she is today. She’s a mother, a folk musician and a keen observer of her local environment.  She is a different sort of Druid to Cat and I’m not even sure that she would claim the title Priest for herself but in my mind she is both Druid and Priest.

What these women have in common is that they are both Druids and both pretty public figures. They also both speak from a place of deep experience with extremely difficult personal challenges.

My next example is Dr Jenny Blain. Jenny is a retired academic and a Heathen.  She is a polytheist and animist with strong ties to her local land spirits or landvættir. It is harder to put into words why I consider her a Priest or in Heathen terms a Gythia. One aspect is her ability to lead ritual, another is her ability to share her knowledge with others both through her books and via more direct teaching but there is more to it than that. She is a Seidr worker, that in itself is not a simple thing to put into words as there are many forms of seidr. A basic and probably incomplete description is that seidr is a method of entering an altered state of consciousness which can be used to work magic or journey for various purposes.

My final example is Lorna Smithers. Lorna is a an author, poet and mystic. She has a deep and personal connection to her patron deity, Gwyn ap Nudd. Her priesthood is one of personal dedication and part of her dedication is a call to communicate some of what she learns and experiences through her writing and talks. She is, in my opinion, a priest due to her very direct service to her patron.

I could go on. I have deliberately chosen to highlight a few female examples of priests here but there are a number of men I also consider to be priests such as Damh the Bard, Adam Sargant, Phillip Shallcrass, Geoff Boswell, Robin Herne, Mike Stygal and Rich Blackett. Most of these are Druid types as this is the community I have been part of the longest. I’m still getting to know individuals within the Heathen community.  The main things they have in common are that I know them either personally face to face or online and I respect their opinions.

All of this serves to give a few examples of the complexity of what it is to be a priest. More recently I have started to think of myself as priest as well as druid.  I am not an author beyond this blog as yet (who knows what they future might hold). Currently I don’t give talks or presentations although I have in the past.  I can write and lead group ritual although I don’t do a great deal of this now. I have acted as a celebrant in the past too. None of these things are why I am using the term priest more lately.  I am a priest because I serve a number of deities and because I am a shrine keeper.

I am sworn firstly to the Herd Mothers and to the Ancient Mother I know as An Cailleach. I feel they are still training me and gradually making me ready for further service.  I also serve within my limited abilities Maponnos, Gofannon, Mannanan, Brigantia, Loki, Ran, Aegir and the daughters of the oceans. Some of these I have served longer than others, some I am still learning about but I honour them and give them offerings. This is why I call myself a Priest and Druid.

 

 

Herd Mothers

For a long time I have thought of Epona and Rhiannon as the same being. I have in the past preferred to use the reconstructed rhythmic title of Rigantona in stress of Rhiannon and have combined the names as “Epona Rigantona”. A bit of a linguistic mess I know as Epona is Gaulish and Rigantona reconstructed Brythonic but that’s what I have done for a few years now.

For those less familiar with these names Epona translates to “divine mare”and Rigantona means “great or divine queen”. Rigantona is a reconstructed form of the Welsh name Rhiannon so that name also means great or divine queen. It is the stories of Rhiannon in the “Tales of the Mabinogion” that link that Goddess to horses.

As an aside if you are interested in reading more about Rhiannon I can strongly recommend the Pagan Portals book “Rhiannon” by Jhenah Telyndru.

Epona has links to being a queen via some of the inscriptions left during Roman times where she is referred to as “Epona Regina”.

For a long time when I prayed to Epona or Epona Rigantona I only ever received the impression of a single being so I thought of them as one horse goddess with different titles in different lands.

Now I’m not so sure.

I’ve always known of others that saw Epona as a separate being to Rhiannon or Rigantona. I’ve tried to keep an open mind on this by recognising and respecting that my experience is not the same as the experiences of others. Lately my feelings have changed prompted by something Kris Hughes wrote and I can’t remember whether that was in a personal exchange or on one of her blog posts so I can’t quote directly here. Essentially though she said something about the horse goddesses working together as horses do.

Horses are herd animals, they don’t like being alone. Why then would a horse goddess be on her own if she could choose otherwise? Epona is often depicted in human form riding a horse BUT her name means divine MARE, not human who takes care of horses or other equines. Yes, as Epona Regina as human guise makes sense but even so she is still mare and queen.

Deities are not fixed in physical forms, this was a lesson Epona taught me years ago and I felt her laughter back then when I finally understood. I felt her amusement again when I suddenly realised that I had been thinking it was either one thing or the other and deities do not have to be one thing or another they can be both.

Just as Epona can be both mare and human in form so I have come to understand that Epona and Rhiannon can be both a single being and two separate beings. Not either/or but both/and. They can choose to act as one or split into different and independent aspects. It maybe that they do this with other horse deities too and if they choose.

For me Epona and Rhiannon or Rigantona have now taken on a collective identity as the “Herd Mothers”. The “Herd Mothers” may also include Macha from Ireland but don’t haven’t had any direct experience of this as yet.
The Herd Mothers can act as a collective or as individuals, the presence felt can be both singular and plural now that I am aware of this possibility. It’s not easy to move beyond initial ideas of deity into deeper connections and possibilities, it takes time, sometimes a lot of time and it will be different for each person. It should be different because this is a relationship and deity is only one side of that relationship. We, as individuals, are the other side of that relationship.

Hail to the Herd Mothers!

My gods are calling…

First it was Epona nudging to write a blog post and I did. Since Then I’ve felt Her more strongly and been thinking about Her a lot as Eponalia (18 December) approaches.

Then it was the Divine Smith with a mention of Sucellus as a possible Smith for followed a few days later by a blog post on Sucellos that got me thinking and then this one on Sucellus and Smith gods which resonated strongly.

Around the same time there was a surge of activity online about Loki triggered by a Wild Hunt column (this one). There’s so many options I could link to for blog posts and articles that followed this original article but the Wild Hunt have published this one about the Lokean Community and this one so-called Loki and the Resistance.

I often see posts about Brigid because I’m in Facebook groups about Her and there’s not been any unusual activity there or elsewhere about Brigantia that I’ve seen but today an Cailleach made Her presence felt via an unexpected post about Her. Maponos has remained fairly quiet so far too.

It doesn’t surprise me that Loki should use technology to make His presence felt more strongly. That’s how He first pushed into my life. It doesn’t surprise me that Epona should provide judges through contacts with other people, She has always been subtle with me. The Divine Smith though, using both personal connections and technology, that did surprise me. I don’t do any form of smithcraft. My only attempt at regular craftwork is knitting. I’m not the fastest or best knitter by any means although I am confident enough to knit things for others. So I still find it a little surprising that Gofannon  has remained a presence in my life. Perhaps He wishes to remind me to keep persevering with various things in my life, perhaps He likes my respect for the craftspeople I know. g

Three of the gods I regularly make devotions to are making their presence felt more strongly. They are each calling to me, not with a specific message but to be more aware. They are challenging me to take up those tasks that I feel I struggle with and move onwards. And I believe they are each letting me know in their own ways that I am heard and that I am not alone.

Patterns of Devotion

I have written in the past about my deepening devotional practices. Today I wish to share with you how my devotions have changed.

I used to honour my ancestors at the dark moon, Maponos on Sundays and, Brigantia, Epona Rigantona and An Cailleach around the full moon.

Then I joined a flame tending cill with Clann Bhride and began flame tending in honour of Brigantia every twenty days.

I can’t even remember exactly when after that point that other things began to change but at some stage I began to honour Epona Rigantona each week on a Friday. I chose a Friday because Epona is my beloved and Fridays in the past have been linked to deities of love (see Wikipedia Names of the days of the week if you are interested).

It felt good to be honouring Epona each Friday so I decided to start honoring An Cailleach on a Saturday. I was now honouring different deities on Friday, Saturday and Sunday plus every twenty days flame tending in honour of Brigantia.

Then Loki came into my life.

I used to consider myself to be solely a Brythonic Polytheist.

Then Loki came into my life!

That bit bears repeating.  Loki brought change with Him.  I wasn’t looking for Sleipnir’s Dam and I didn’t expect or invite Her (at least not to start with) but for some reason best known to the Bound One, He decided to bring Her changes to me.

One of those changes was that I started to include Loki in my weekly devotions.  At first I tried slotting Him in on Thursdays but that didn’t feel right. So I switched to Saturdays, prompted in part by something I had read that suggested Saturdays had been linked to Loki in the past.  I can’t remember exactly what that was now but I switched days and it felt much better.

But it didn’t feel right honouring An Cailleach on the same day so after a bit of thought I decided to move honouring Her to Mondays.  There are aspects in some of the lore which I believe indicate ties to the moon for An Cailleach so this seemed to fit well.

For a couple of moons I tried to keep the lunar links I had made as well but that became a bit confusing as I ended up trying to honour two different deities on one day.  For me that became confusing and I felt I wasn’t doing justice to my devotions to either deity when the days linked into full moon cycles.  I decided drop the full moon devotions in favour of the weekly ones for a moon or two to see how it felt and I’ve kept that change.

So now I honour different deities on four days of the week and another every twenty days. I’m also no longer solely honouring Brythonic deities.  At first I thought maybe Loki would be in my life for a set purpose and then maybe wander off but at the moment it feel much more like the Sky-treader is here to stay.  The current pattern feels good with one exception and that’s the ancestors.

In dropping the full moon devotions I found I began to lose touch with the lunar cycle and the pattern of honouring my ancestors at the dark moon began to slip as well.  I still have my ancestral shrine area and still think of varying ancestors at different times but the more ritualised devotions have fallen away.  I’m still not sure if I need to start on a weekly basis for honouring my ancestors or try and restore the dark moon practice.  I think maybe moving to a weekly based practice would work out best, if so I have my choice of Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday currently free of other devotions. Maybe Wednesday as that day has links to deities of communication.

My journey with devotional practices has not been a swift one but one that has gradually altered to a more frequent family of devotional practices.  And I know that I am still changing and that my practices will also continue to change.