The Festival of Epona: This week on the Storyteller's Night Sky

Dec 11, 2017

If you live in Michigan, then most likely you’re aware that on Mackinac Island, the main transportation asset is the horse, and every year in June, during the island’s lilac festival, there’s a blessing of the horses that takes place. This blessing is rooted in the 3rd century Gallo-Roman feast of Epona, goddess protector of horses and fertility. What’s interesting to me is that in addition to her feast day in June, Epona also enjoys a festival every year in December, on the 18th. That’s this week, so let’s dig in and see if we can find corroboration for this festival among the stars.


Horses are often used in funerary rites, and Epona and her horses were sometimes depicted leading souls into the afterlife. Mark Twain once said that he never mounted a horse without experiencing, “…a sort of dread that I may be setting out on that last mysterious journey which all of us must take sooner or later.”


In the earliest prose stories of Britain, Epona was related to Rhiannon, the strong-minded otherworld woman who, together with her son, was often depicted as a mare and her foal.


Now if you go out to look overhead in this season, you can see the mare and her foal galloping by high in the west. We know them more commonly as Pegasus, the winged white horse, and Equuleus, the “little horse” or the foal.  


And what makes their patch of sky so interesting, is that they’re galloping by as though they’re emerging from the watery region of the stars, a region that’s populated with creatures like the fishes, the whale, the dolphin, even Aquarius the waterman is here. 


For the Ancient Greeks, Poseidon, the god of earth’s waters, was the first one to tame horses. So here’s this dynamic relationship between galloping horses and mightiness in waters, both in myth, and in the sky, which makes me recommend that if you go out to look for the horses where they race by overhead, do it at the shore. I’ve been told that the mighty waves as they crest and come crashing toward us are actually these great guardian horses, watching over those who stargaze at the edge of the inland seas.