Epona is a Goddess of Equines and fertility. She serves as a protector to various Equidae; horses, ponies, donkeys, and mules. Although Her worship ultimately originates in Gaul, She was worshiped all across the Roman Empire, from Britain all the way to Italy and Dacia.
She is widely worshipped by people whose job or livelihood that mostly depends on horses. Examples include military calvary (naturally), scouts, dispatch riders, mule drivers, carters, stable hands, and grooms.
She is worshipped in much of the same manner as other Gods – praying by making vows, dedicating altars in fulfillment of a vow, erecting temples, sacrificing animals, incense, or wine. Her festival is December 18.
Temples were set up as fanum in Gaul (although outside of Gaul, Epona temples would be more classical). A fanum has a taller central cella, an inner chamber, surrounded on all four sides by a covered walkway.
The sacrifice of animals, incense, and libations of wine is made to Her in the customary Roman manner. Libations were frequent.
Sacrifices to Epona are mentioned in a few sources:
- In the Apotheosis of Aurelius Clemens Prudentius:
- A sacrifice of incense (kept in the acerra, a box of oiled wood) on an altar fire.
- Further, divination by haruspicy would be done. A large stone relief of Epona from Beihingen (Baden-Württemberg, Germany) shows the sacrifice of a pig.
- There is also a reference to “grains of spelt,” which is presumably mola salsa, a mixture of salt and flour used for purification rituals.
- Juvenal in the eighth satire mentions the sacrifice of a bull and a sheep at an altar of Zeus, in conection with an oath to Epona.
Epona in the home
Many depictions of the Goddess are small, portable pipeclay or bronze figurines. The pipeclay figurines were cheap to create and widespread, while the bronze figures were used by the wealthier. These figures were likely employed in a domestic shrine like the lararium or a workplace shrine.
Epona in stables
The Golden Ass, or Metamorphoses, by Lucius Apuleius, tells us that small shrines can be made to Epona in stables to protect the horses and asses in them. Archaeology has furthered this, with Epona artifacts having been found in Roman stables. Things like inscriptions and worn saddles have all been found.
Apuleius tells us that carved depiction is enclosed in a small shrine and fixed to the main pillar that supports the roof of the stable. Often images of the Goddess would be painted on the walls of the stable. The Golden Ass also tells us that it was customary to decorate these depictions with flowers, often fresh roses. Despite these areas not being temples, these small shrines are still considered sacred – taking the flowers or other offerings is sacrilegious.
“Depictions of Epona.” EPONA.net – A Scholarly Resource. Accessed September 16, 2017. http://epona.net/depictions.html.
“The Worship of Epona.” EPONA.net – A Scholarly Resource. Accessed September 16, 2017. http://epona.net/worship.html.
Apuleius. The Golden Ass. Translated by Sarah Ruden. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2013.