The Horses of Epona

On the way to my buddy’s house near Rainier last week, I followed a long road through some country fields that were surrounded by fencing. Not caring of how long of a drive it was, I took advantage of the beautiful summer day and rolled down my windows. From there, I noticed two strong horses galloping together with their manes dancing up like fire, running parallel to me. The sun lit up their golden coats with sweat glistening, as their hooves moved in perfect unison with each other. I could see their sheer delight and contentment running in this green field shadowed by rugged foothills and dense trees. As I slowed my speed and innocently watched them through my open window, a broad smile stretched across my face. Every time I see these powerful and beautiful creatures, I am reminded of my childhood. My earliest nostalgic memories of my grandfather were on his Quarter Horse ranches in Oklahoma. My grandfather is one of the few remaining “original cowboys” left, and he never leaves the house without wearing his cowboy hat and boots. After growing up a cotton farmer, my grandfather decided to enlist in the military and go to war as many American men did at that age. After the horrors of battle, he came home and worked on the oil rigs and married his first wife; my late grandmother. He made enough from his job, and a strange pattern of luck from betting at the horse races, that he was able to buy some ranch property to raise Quarter Horses on. I was taught how to ride horses before my feet could even reach the stirrups. I fell in love with these beasts; they were large and powerful, yet gentle. They could also speak so many emotions through the pools of their eyes and can express more humanity than their riders. I dream of a day I can own some property of my own with a horse or two. I think if and when I do, I will build a small wooden stable and carve a prayer to Epona over its doorway.

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(This photo, called ‘Black Stallion’, I have printed on metal with a satin finish, hanging in my bedroom. The photographer is J.R. Robinson)

 
Epona is a Gallic deity that was worshiped to and revered so much that she continued throughout the Roman Empire between the first and third centuries CE. She’s a goddess of horses, wheat and, in some depictions, the sun. A birth-and-death mother goddess, she’s believed to aid in fertility and carry the souls of the dead on the backs of her horses. And she is the patron deity and guardian of horsemen. With my interest in the myth of Lancelot of the Lake, I also like to imagine that because he was raised by the Lady of the Lake in Avalon and was well known for his horse whispering abilities, that Lancelot probably paid homage to Epona in his life or at least prayed to her in times of need. On a musical side of it, the Swiss folk metal band, Eluveitie, just released their first song and music video from their upcoming album, ‘Evocation II – Pantheon’ (said to be released August 18th), called Epona.

I love this song! Not only is it lyrically about the great goddess, Epona, sung in a modernized version of Gaulish, but the music itself is designed to simulate a horse running; dashing ahead with speed and power and slowing to a light gallop. “Benoulati epon ueidonti marcacon, gutus nertomaros tuos radit” (from the song, Epona, by Eluveitie). Or in English: “Mistress of horses, leader of horsemen, your strong voice speaks.” The video shows a battle in the woods, and when one of the men die, he sees Epona with her horses, ready to take his spirit home. It was filmed in the city of Avenches, Switzerland home to the Gallic king, Divico who once led his people back to Gaul, but whose passage was denied by Caesar because of the Roman relative of Caesar’s that Divico killed 49 years prior. Anyway, if you have the chance, check out that music video! I am also intrigued by this upcoming album of theirs, branching away from horses for a minute, its album cover has the Celtic pantheon’s initials on it, surrounding an indigenous-looking illustration of the Irish god, Lugh. Given the title of it as well, I’m lead to assume this album could be entirely about the Celtic gods or the belief of the Celtic gods. Kinda rad! Kinda intrigued.

 
Anyway, it’s probably my love for horses that favor the people of Rohan in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings over all the other groups of men or otherwise. Or my love for the song, ‘Two White Horses’ by Beck or ‘Four Rusted Horses’ by Marilyn Manson (huh. Never realized how similar those song titles are…weird). I think the last time I rode a horse was in the small mountain town of Ruidoso, New Mexico about five years ago with my brothers. Long ass time ago- I definitely need to change that! I always feel so sad for people when I hear they have a fear of horses. Riding a horse is so much of an experience all on its own, and so much so, they even use horse riding as a form of rehabilitation therapy and animal therapy for children with disabilities. Think about it; you’re on this large and powerful animal that doesn’t speak English (except Mr. Ed). It’s a state of vulnerability of having to trust that it won’t kick you off and hurt you, or even kill you. The animal, sensing your fear and agitation, has to trust you won’t hurt it or lead it into harm’s way. It’s a bond of faith and overcoming your fears of the unknown. Other than with environmental degradation, I think we lost so much opportunity to develop and learn as humans when we chose the car over the animal.

 
“I frequently dream of being on these horses’ backs and running across a field. And the horse and I are one”. -William Shatner

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