Welcome Wednesday discusses Epona... sometimes known as Etain Echraidhe
I’m taking a break today from my Victorian researches having remembered something I had forgotten to finish writing about.
While I was doing a piece on the Celtic goddess Epona/Etain Echraidhe during the April A to Z challenge, I remembered reading a simple version of the story of Epona to my class of 11-12 year olds during our Celtic studies many years ago. The story came from a very well illustrated book which I no longer have, since the book was so well used in class, probably around 2002, that it literally fell to pieces. I can’t remember who wrote/edited the traditional tales, and neither do I remember who the excellent illustrator was but the gist of the story about Epona as the protector of horses has stuck in my mind.
The Celtic peoples were horsemen who valued their beasts very highly, some even considering them their most valued possessions. They used their horses for riding themselves, for pulling their chariots and sometimes other vehicles. Though the typical Celtic horse tended to be of the smaller breeds, they were strong and well trained to their tasks. The Celts made beautiful leather bridles, some with metal decorations to make their horses look even more impressive- some of those decorations depicting Epona, the horse goddess. Other bronze battle protection for their horses was very fine, possibly some of it with Epona images, though I haven't sourced any of them, as yet.
Wikimedia- object in The Royal Scottish Museum photo attr Kim Traynor (CC att.)
Epona, the Celtic horse goddess, was immortalised in stone as well as metal. She was sometimes shown riding side-saddle accompanied by a pair of fine mares. In other images, she was accompanied by a mare and a foal- revered as a fertility goddess and provider of care. She was given the reputation of being a protector goddess to all who had dealings with horses, those who rode, groomed or bred them.
Those Celts who caught and tamed wild foals from the forest areas were also under the protection of Epona. That story, the gist of which stuck in my mind, was about horse-handlers who only removed young foals from the forests, allowing the adult horses to continue to breed. Those who trained those young colts and fillies were devotees of Epona, and protected by her when the Roman army arrives at their stronghold.
The story had details of the breaking in of foals which demanded much patience from the horse handlers, the young animals needing gentle reassurance. In the story, the young boy in training had to learn the hard way, gaining more than an occasional annoyed nibble from sharp teeth. Getting a young horse used to the bridle and reins, and bearing a rider took great expertise, the Celtic horse handlers very accomplished. Their skill and expertise gained them a good position in the hierarchy of the tribe. A horse shying away, panicking or not responding to commands, while pulling a chariot or bearing a warrior during a battle, would have been of little use to any Celt.
The Celts’ special horse goddess, Epona, appeared to ensure such success that when the Roman Army infiltrated Celtic Europe they took on the goddess as their own. Epona became the revered goddess of many of the mounted Roman cavalry.
This image of Epona at left is one that I find very cute, something about it that's quite sweet and grandmotherly. I find it hard to believe that such an image would have appealed to the younger Roman Ala soldier, yet most of the images I've seen tend towards the older motherly woman.
In my recently completed historical manuscripts (out awaiting acceptance by my publisher at the moment), I have a Roman Tribune who is one of my main characters. Gaius Livanus Valerius has a favourite goddess – Etain.
Etain Echraidhe is the name used for Epona in some Celtic areas. I chose to have my character worship Etain, when he visits the Aedes in the Roman fortress of Viroconium Cornoviorum. This seemed a reasonable decision to me since he had already spent some time as the commander of an Ala- a troop of Roman mounted cavalry.
I can only guess at which of these figures of Epona/Etain he would have liked best.
I know which of these images is my favourite? Which is yours?
ps Maybe I'll rewrite my own version of that children's Epona story someday, though I think I'll use the Etain vesion of the name.