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.

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!

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.

Honouring Epona Ritual

Last month I wrote about plans I had to host a ritual Honouring Epona on Saturday 3rd October in Glasgow. I had made a Facebook event for this and circulated it in a number of Facebook groups. I was also moved to try emailing Galina Krasskova about my plans and she was kind enough to add a post on her own blog Gangleri’s Grove about this. Somewhere Sable Aradia also saw this and she added it to her blog Sable Aradia, Priestess & Witch. I received a number of requests from people in various parts of the world interested in a copy of the words I had developed for this rite and hopefully all of them received emails from me.

I feel deeply privileged to have begun something that so many others in so many places have been interested in.

Here in Glasgow seven of us gathered at a venue called The Old Barn at four in the afternoon. The Old Barn is just next to riding stables so it seemed like the perfect venue for a rite for Epona. Indeed during the rite we heard the voices of the horses in nearby fields as well as bird song and at moments that fit beautifully with what we were doing. To me it felt as if the horses and birds were joining us to honour Epona.

One of those gathered had travelled from Preston to join us, another had become lost in the park next to the venue trying to get to us but reached us in the end around 4.30 pm full of apologies for being delayed. It wasn’t a problem, we knew he was on the way and we had plenty of time so waited for him to arrive before we began the rite.  Each of us had journeys of some kind to be where we were.

As is my habit I had a script prepared for the rite. It was slightly tweaked from the version I had sent out to those who had asked for a copy. However, as is also something of a habit for me, once we began I put the script down and spoke from my heart and my memory as the guide for this rite.

The rite was begun and completed with the sound of a Bullroarer. This is an ancient instrument that has been found in many areas across the world with a very distinctive and evocative sound. This was the first time we had used this in a more public ritual although my fiance (whose bullroarer we used) has used it privately a couple of times. Following that libations of spring water from the Campsie Fells were poured out for the spirits of the place we were in. I’ve been to the site before and had communed with the spirits then and been given the strong impression that they liked water which is why I had chosen local spring water for their libations. The area we used was a roughly square grassed area at the back of the Old Barn. I was moved to pour some of the water at each corner and the last bit into the fire pit that sits in the centre of the area.

A libation was also offered to Epona as part of the rite and initially I had thought I would use spring water for that too but a couple of days before I had the inspiration to use some of our home made plum wine instead.  This was our first time of making plum wine.  It was begun in September last year using Victoria plums from the tree in our garden and we had not yet bottled any of it.  The libation was made from the first bottle of this golden coloured liqued. After the rite we all had a taste of the wine, not from the portion offered to Epona I hasten to add, and it was rather good.

During the rite a cup of spring water was passed round three times. The first and third times the cup was passed round in silence.  The second time each person had the opportunity to say something while they were holding the cup.

At the end of the rite I asked everyone to connect by touching hands palm to palm with the people closest to the altar I had set up placing a hand on the altar and holding their other hand up palm out to connect with the person next to them.  I had deliberately chosen this form of connection as more regular local seasonal rituals often involve group hugs at the end and I am aware not everyone likes hugging.  Some are uncomfortable holding hands too so I hoped this form of not holding but simply touching palm to palm would be easier for anyone present who might not be comfortable with more intimate physical contact and different enough to help us feel spiritually connected for that moment at least. I think it worked well.

After the rite we moved inside the Old Barn and had tea or coffee with biscuits and homemade gluten free apple flapjacks.

I have pledged to do this again.  I am not certain when but I will do this again.  I always do something at Eponalia on December 18th and maybe this year I will use these words although probably not as a physical group rite as there are so many other things going on at that time of year.

After I returned home I read posts on Facebook and other places from a few others who had used the words with their own rites and at approximately the same time as we had gathered at the Old Barn.

Finally I offer below the wording I prepared for Saturday’s rite to Honour Epona. This was based on a prayer which I have submitted for publication in a book devoted to the Gray Mare. That prayer was in turn was inspired by another prayer published in the Clann Bhride Book of Hours.

If anyone reading this wishes to use or adapt the wording of this rite for their own use in honouring Epona please do.


Ritual in honour of Epona Rigantona

Set up altar area in north west with statue of Epona, quaich, chalice and roses. Possibly include candle and incense. Gather people into a horseshoe shape with altar area in gap. Invite others attending to add anything they have brought to the altar area.

Guide:

Today we gather to honour Epona, by some also known as Rigantona or Rhiannon and simply as the Grey Mare. For those who are unfamiliar with Epona her name means Divine Mare. Rhiannon means Great Queen and Rigantona is simply the earlier Brythonic version of this. She is known from inscriptions and statuary from Roman times mainly found across what was once Gaul but She was also venerated in other places including at the Antonine Wall in Scotland as evidenced by a altar found at Auchendavy and on display at the Hunterian museum dedicated to a number of beings including Epona.

Epona has very strong links to horses and ponies, those who work with them and stables. The imagery on statues of Her that have been found also link Her to fertility, sovereignty and the passage from this life to the next. Some inscriptions refer to Her as Epona Regina (Queen Epona).

To me She is a guide for all types of journeys from physical ones to emotional and spiritual ones. The Mabinogion stories include a character named as Rhiannon who has links to the Otherworld and has singing birds that can put people to sleep. It is possible these tales carry fragments of lore connected to Epona.

There is some evidence for an Eponalia festival on 18 December in Epona’s honour and I usually try and do something personal at that time at least. This is different though, this is something I felt I needed to do. Maybe it will start something larger, maybe it won’t but today we honour Epona.

Using a bull roarer we will now focus on attracting the attention of the local spirits and begin this rite.

Libation offered to spirits of place following previous personal consultation with them after bullroarer sounds.

Guide:

Together let us call to Epona and invite Her presence among us.

All:

Hail Epona Rigantona!  Rigantona Epona Hail!

Guide: Epona of Horses,

All: We praise you!

Guide: Rigantona of the Land,

All: We praise you!

Guide: Epona of Sovereignty,

All: We praise you!

Guide: Rigantona of Journeys,

All: We praise you!

Guide: Epona of Stables,

All: We praise you!

Guide: Rigantona of the Otherworld,

All: We praise you!

Guide: Epona, Great Mother,

All: We praise you!

Guide: Rigantona of the Singing Birds,

All: We praise you!

Guide: Epona Rigantona, friend, guardian, guide and teacher,

All: We praise you!

Guide: May our words of praise ripple out across the Land

Libation is poured out for Epona into the quaich and the cup is passed round for each person to sip from.

Guide: Epona of Horses,

All: We honour you!

Guide: Rigantona of the Land,

All: We honour you!

Guide: Epona of Sovereignty,

All: We honour you!

Guide: Rigantona of Journeys,

All: We honour you!

Guide: Epona of Stables,

All: We honour you!

Guide: Rigantona of the Otherworld,

All: We honour you!

Guide: Epona, Great Mother,

All: We honour you!

Guide: Rigantona of the Singing Birds,

All: We honour you!

Guide: Epona Rigantona, friend, guardian, guide and teacher,

All: We honour you!

Guide: May our words resound across the worlds.

At this point as the cup is passed round if you wish to offer anything to Epona or request anything from Her (bearing in mind that if you are asking for a gift you should return something at some stage) this is the time to do so either silently or aloud for all to witness.

Cup is passed round a second time for each person to sip from and speak if they wish to.

Guide: Epona of Horses,

All: We thank you for your gifts and your presence here today.

Guide: Rigantona of the Land,

All: We thank you for your gifts and your presence here today.

Guide: Epona of Sovereignty

All: We thank you for your gifts and your presence here today.

Guide: Rigantona of Journeys,

All: We thank you for your gifts and your presence here today.

Guide: Epona of Stables,

All: We thank you for your gifts and your presence here today.

Guide: Rigantona of the Otherworld,

All: We thank you for your gifts and your presence here today.

Guide: Epona, Great Mother,

All: We thank you for your gifts and your presence here today.

Guide: Rigantona of the Singing Birds,

All: We thank you for your gifts and your presence here today.

Guide: Epona Rigantona, friend, guardian, guide and teacher,

All: We thank you for your gifts and your presence here today.

Cup is passed round a third and final time in silence.

All: Hail  Epona Rigantona!  Rigantona Epona Hail!

Guide: Before we part can we take a moment to connect with each other? Please lift your hands and join palm to palm with the person next to you, not holding, just lightly touching and can the people next to the altar place their other hands on the edge of the altar.

Epona we thank you for your presence here today and bid you farewell for now knowing that should we seek, we can find you again.

We thank the spirits of this place for hosting us this day and bid them farewell as soon we shall depart.

Drop hands. Bullroarer sounds to close the ceremony.

Guide: This rite is now complete, I’d like to thank each and everyone of you for joining me here today to Honour Epona.

Food and tea/coffee to be shared.

Honouring Epona

Most who know me will also know that Epona Rigantona is dear to me.  She is the quiet voice that whispers to my mind and heart, gently offering guidance.  She is strength I can lean on, a fierce guardian standing over me when I fall. She is wisdom and humour, a voice in the breeze, a presence in the stillness.

And She has been whispering to me.

As a result I am hosting a ritual in honour of Epona Rigantona on Saturday 3rd October in Glasgow.  I’ve advertised this pretty widely as a Facebook event and in a couple of other places.

I’ve also said that I know there are those that honour Epona that will not possible be able to make this rite face to face.  To those I make this offer, contact me and I will happily share the rite I have developed so that you can either join with me spiritually or adapt it for your own use in their own time.

Deepening devotions

Today (Thursday 30 July) is the day before a full moon and as is my custom I have set out my offerings to Brigantia for this moon.  I am blessed in that my daughter has taken an interest in joining me for these devotions and the ones I do for Maponos in particular and this evening as I finished off some washing up she began to get things ready for us.

Since I began flame tending earlier this year my lunar rites for Brigantia have also developed. In addition to lighting three tea lights and offering a bowl of oatmeal and a bowl of warmed honeyed milk I now include a small bowl of water which I dedicate to Brigantia and use during flame tending to anoint myself with.  I’ve also started to put slips of paper with names of those I know that are in need of healing into a small bronze cauldron I have and requesting healing for them both as part of my flame tending devotions and now part of my lunar devotions as well.

I light the tea lights and my daughter and I offer our praises to Brigantia together.  We make the offerings together and then I sing while my daughter dances round me.  I am enjoying the increased depth of connection I feel with these devotions.

Tomorrow evening (Friday 31st) I will make my devotions to my lady Epona Rigantona. These devotions have also changed slightly since I began flame tending as I felt strongly that in addition to the flame tending I needed to do more for Epona.  I began knitting some roses dedicated to Her.  Some have been kept here on the shire I have for Her while others have been sent out to individuals I felt should get one.  Now when I light my single candle for Epona at the full moon I place a beautiful stone carved with a Pictish style horse in front of it with the wooden quaich I had made for libations sat with an offering in it behind the candle and arrange the roses I have kept for Her around them all.  I now have an additional prayer I use with my prayer beads during these devotions which I usually do alone.

I have recently made contact with others who are devoted to Epona and I hope that my communications with them will inspire me further.  Already I feel I have been led to them.

On Saturday 1st August and the day after the full moon I will make my usual offerings to the one I know as Cailleach.  These alone out of the devotions I do have not really changed.  Perhaps they will at another time but for now I don’t feel I need to do more than I currently do for Her the main aspect of which is a libation offered in a particular goblet.

All the food and drink offerings I make are left out overnight and ritually poured out into the back garden the next morning.

On Sunday 2nd August I will be making my usual weekly devotions to Maponos.  This is another area of devotion that my daughter usually joins me in.  For Maponos we prepare a special oil burner, adding drops of one of three oils I brought for this purpose alone. Again for this one I sing and my daughter dances.  I also have a prayer we have begun saying together which includes praying for healing for those names in His sister Brigantia’s cauldron. (Their relationship is more my UPG than anything bu some tales do have Angus Og and Brighid as siblings so I don’t think it’s an unreasonable link).

This weekend I am also aware that many will be celebrating Lughnasadh.  Of all the festivals this is the one I feel least connected to and as it happens I will be unable to join with others to celebrate this time.  I think this year that instead I will be thinking of all those celebrating but for myself focusing more on my devotions to those deities I have been gradually developing deeper connections with.

Hail the Gods!

(and by using that wording I mean to give honour to deities of any and all gender types)