Goddess Epona and the Horse, the goddess of equines in general and horses in particular, derives its name from the Gallic term “ekwos”, later adopted by the Celtic culture and language in which it had the meaning of “equus”, horse. The only Celtic deity to be worshipped throughout the Roman Empire between the first and the third century BC, she became a tutelary deity of the Romans attracting a large group of worshippers among the Celtic-Roman society. Divinatory inscriptions dedicated to Epona in Greek, Latin and German were found in all the territories of the empire, where she was often referred to as Epona Augusta: the Romans dedicated a her day, December 18th, in which rituals and festivals celebrated her greatness.
The sculptures dedicated to Epona always depict her accompanied by one or more horses, sitting on one of them or surrounded by mares and foals, often with a basket of corn in her lap: therefore, as well as the protector of these animals, Epona personified the goddess of harvest, fertility and abundance. These statues were usually placed next to stables, farms and areas dedicated to horse training.
Her importance in the Roman-Celtic culture increased when she was recognized as the patron of the knights who guarded the Empire; moreover, it was her duty to accompany the souls of the dead through the afterlife, carrying them on horseback over the abyss of the ocean, throwing open the doors of the Great Beyond. Thanks to this representation of the goddess, Epona was worshipped both by the living and the dead, as the guardian of the beginning and the end of the earthly life.
In Celtic society Epona merged in herself the virility and power of the horse together with the generative and spiritual powers of the Mother Deities of fertility.
Moreover, the horse had already a dual aspect: a noble, intelligent and charming being, but also a symbol of pure and therefore uncontrollable instinct. The horse is connected to Epona in all her manifestations, both in her positive aspect, linked to the light, and in her dark and underground side; he accompanies the goddess in the afterlife in his quality of animal belonging to the underworld, an heritage derived from Greek mythology: emerging from the darkness, he carried the death, ending his run as a winged horse once reached the gates of the Afterlife.
He is often associated with fire and water – the two doors on the worlds of the afterlife – with life and death; an incarnation of the spirit of the grain, as his guardian Epona, he beholds the powers of the earth’s fertility and sexuality, of vegetation and its periodic renewal, of life through death, of life cycles associated with the moon and water; he possess the powers of dreams, divination, but also the luminous characteristics of heroism and nobility.
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