Rectifying a shocking omission

Screengrab of the new Epona page!

So I was up to my elbows working on another project concerning Epona, which I will blog about here in due course (probably on March 18), when I realized that on my own website,, the page on Epona remained unwritten. Now, I’m keenly aware that, all these years after I started the site, there are still significant gaps (particularly on the English side of the site—I’ve done a bit more on the French side). However, there really couldn’t be any justification in my not having a page for Epona, surely. Then I started to think about it, and I realized that I had said to myself early on, Epona is the deity for whom there’s the least urgency for me to create a page, because elsewhere on the interwebs, there is, and is fantastic.

Now, if you’ve never visited, giddy up and go do so, because the site’s creators—Nantonos Aedui and Ceffyl—did a thorough, visually appealing, and amply referenced job of it there. In fact, looking back, the major inspiration for me to create was how impressed I was with what Nantonos and Ceffyl achieved with This being the case, my 2009 self pretty much said, “What’s the point of having an Epona page on It would just say, ‘Go check out’.”

And thus began my reticence to work on a page that, eight and a half years later, remained conspicuous by its absence. At some time or other, I did start a skeleton page with a brief outline for eponae.html on my site (as I have for many of the others I haven’t gotten around to finishing yet). And this last week I finally decided I would get to work and flesh it all out and see if it amounted to anything.

I therefore unveil to the world the English version and the French version of my Epona pages. Some 25,000 4,500 words later, it turns out I had things to say. This is actually the longest page I’ve yet written for (apart from the imperial cult page which I ended up splitting into three)—but part of the reason is that, unusually, I dwell at some length on Irish and Welsh mythology because in Epona’s case, just as unusually, there are legit parallels with Macha and Rhiannon, respectively, that I think are worth exploring. In addition, there are more literary references to Epona than I at first knew about (Minucius Felix not being my bedside reading!), and I tried to say something about each such reference. By contrast, when putting together the page on Mercury or Juno, I would just highlight a small sample of literary or mythological incidents out of the many possible; for Rosmerta or the Suleviæ, there were simply no such literary references at all. To my surprise, I even found myself making some hay with the Fulvius Stellus fatherhood story that, in the form in which it has come down to us, is frankly absurd. I also rather enjoyed the opportunity, however gently, to satirize the satirist Juvenal.

Please let me know if you spot any glaring mistakes on the page, or mystifying gaps or whatever. I was going to draw in some of the toponomic evidence from Lacroix’s book, but it turns out I must have returned it to the library (grrr!) so I didn’t have it to hand. However, I don’t think there are a ton of place-names referring to Epona out there (though I suppose I won’t know until I check it out of the library again!).

PS: Might I just mention in passing how much I wish there were a good English equivalent of complémentarité? I had the use the most elaborate circumlocution to convey the idea.

PPS: No relevance to the above post at all, but fly, Eagles, fly! Seriously, flea-flicker to Foles for the touchdown? Brilliant stuff.

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A hymn to Lenus Mars

Dark boughs in raging flurries are tossed
in the holy grove of Lenus Ares.
Stout, strong, their lofty limbs do not break
but, undaunted, battle on for life and glory.
Quick-flowing water rushes from the spring
and its music sounds a joyful reveille.
Woodpeckers beat out marches and alarms
that do echo from the temple porticoes.
Hounds prowl about at perimeter posts
while their pups amuse the invalids.
You, Lenus, I invoke in the hour
when, beset by foes, my courage wavers:
you, Lenus Mars, excite and restore
my élan for combat. Yours is the sword
that, unfailing, strikes out to guard the weak;
no foe can stand against the barrage
of your dazzling spear, O stout defender.
Just god, I thank you humbly for your care.
Now I proffer wine and incense gladly;
these gifts cannot requite all I owe,
but I offer them up with heartfelt praise.

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A hymn to Hibernia

The fumigation from turf.

Dea Hibernia

A 19th-century personification of Ireland, to which I have made some modifications of presentation.

I speak to thee, Hibernia,
irrepressible and unbowed,
goddess eternal,
invincible guardian:
nought but thy sacred vigil
could preserve thy people
through centuries of turmoil,
hunger, and loss.
Thy fingers pluck the strings
of thy sacred harp, moving thy listeners
to tears or to joy,
haply to rise up
and march ’gainst the foe.
Deep the tones of thy hound
echo through the vales,
a warning to the enemy,
a cry of defiance for those
who would heed the call.
A call on the wind,
wind at the sunrise,
rising of salmon,
a salmon in the stream,
streams swift from the hillside,
hills topped by cairns.
Hibernia, be happy, I pray you;
keep watch over your island’s children,
be they Gaels or newcomers,
denizens of the old land
or their descendants abroad.
For all may you remain
a bulwark against injustice
and to all may you yet
against any oppressor
bid resistance, joyful and true.

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A hymn to Epona

Following up on my theme from yesterday of experimenting with different metres for hymns for particular deities, below is a hymn to Epona.

Epona (polychrome)

Epona: polychrome version of my photo of a relief from Dalheim in Luxembourg, gussied up with woods and roses.

Hear me, majestic Epona my queen,
you who delight in the flying of hoofs
pounding the earth as the whinnies resound.
Those who adore you are blessed with your love,
just as the foal is held dear by the mare.
Springing in plenty from orchard and lea,
bountiful gifts we obtain through your grace.
Noble Epona, no care is beneath you:
lowly or lost, we thrive in your favour.
Kindly keep watch over me on the roadways,
twist though they may, unfamiliar or wild.
Roses I give you and offerings of mead,
apples presented at your sacred shrine:
tokens sincere from my grateful soul.

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A hymn to Mercury

So I’ve been playing around with metres lately, and it occurred to me that it might be fitting to fashion the metre of a particular hymn so that its cadence would be particularly evocative of the genius of the deity to whom it is offered. Below I have tried this in a hymn to Mercury. I make absolutely no claims that this is great poetry, but try reading the below aloud—I think the syncopation of the metrical scheme I came up with works rather well for Mercury. And see if you can do a stanza or two better than me!


Mercury and a goddess (Pax? Salus? Rosmerta?) from the Jupiter column at Mainz.

O god on whom the lofty firmament smiles
and who, in travellers’ garb, adventure seeks
on paths that, profaned by no mortal’s meandering,
welcome the certain and swift tread of a god.

Quick-witted, keen of eye, appraising the road,
you flit, alight, and again resume your course.
Encountering vistas and monuments thrills you
just like the savour of new words on the tongue.

Each twist and turn of every road is your haunt
no less than lofty Cyllene nor the Dôme—
wherever the voyager roams, you are true lord.
Mercury, fleet as the wind, wanderer, hail!

I praise you, noble traveller, purpose in your step,
undaunted herald of deathless gods’ decrees.
Receive now with favour the gifts that I make you:
happy am I to fulfil duly my vow.

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An Hibernian excursus


Nowhere a stranger: a bust of Mercury from Emo Court House, Co. Laois. (I am a sucker for neo-classical architecture.)

As attentive readers of this blog may be aware, I travelled to Ireland last May for a variety of causes. The immediate impulse for the trip was last year’s Brexit vote, which made me think that it might not be so easy or convenient to cross the Anglo-Irish border (or should I say intra-Irish border?) once Brexit takes effect. The breezy wilful blindness of Theresa May’s government, and its all too evident indifference to the Irish dimension of Brexit’s aftermath, have only confirmed me in my darkest apprehensions of what the outcome might portend for the future of Ireland. I do sincerely hope, however, that from one cause and another, May (or her successor) may be made to take Ireland seriously. The fact that her government now depends upon the goodwill of the DUP—the type specimen of partisans of ‘soft Brexit’—ought to give some urgency to such considerations.

This is a trip that I’ve had in mind for a long time, however. Like many Irish Americans, I feel a deep and sincere attachment to the island and to its people(s). I had visited Ireland once before—in 1998! how time flies—and learned from that encounter to value highly both Irish hospitality and the natural and cultural beauties of the island. The mythology of the land adds an additional attraction, and I had long wished to see Ulster, my ancestral province, and in particular the region of South Armagh and the Cooley Peninsula, so rich in associations with Cú Chulainn and the Táin, which my great-great-grandmother left, and to visit ancestral places of memory so pregnant with associations both heroic and divine.

I’m no longer an assiduous or systematic worshipper of the gods of Ireland, and indeed many of the rhetorical positions I’ve taken with respect to Gaulish and Gallo-Roman religion have been to warn against too eager and naïve a Hibernicizing tendency. (I defy anyone to read Arbois de Jublainville’s paper identifying Cernunnos with Conall Cernach, for example, and not agree with me that this has at times been taken too far.) My primary religious focus in Ireland was, therefore, geared more to ancestor veneration than to worship of the gods—although I did pray daily to Éire, Banbha, and Fóla, offer gifts to themselves and to Lugh Lámhfhada and to the spirits of the land, etc. My journey took me through quite a number of places associated with Lugh: Naas, the northern Moytura in Co. Sligo, Dunlewey (in the Poisoned Glen of Co. Donegal, where Lugh is said to have slain Balor), Slieve Gullion, etc. I sincerely regret not having made it to the Hill of Tara; but driving rain and road closures on the day in question kept us from the site where Lugh assumed the high kingship after demonstrating his excellence in all the arts—but this just gives me a further spur to return to Ireland at no very distant date.


The Poisoned Glen at Dunlewey, Co. Donegal.

In other respects, Ireland proved itself again one of the most all-around congenial destinations I’ve ever been to. I found local people remarkably friendly, unaffected, and good-natured almost without exception. It’s easier in Ireland to forget that one is a foreigner than in nearly any other country I’ve been (the other strong contender being Luxembourg). I’ve often wondered to what extent I’m favoured in this respect by a North American accent and an appearance plausibly betokening some Irish descent—but whatever the reason, I feel less out of place there than I often do in my own native land (thanks, GOP voters!).


Atop Slieve Gullion. The Cailleach Bhéirre’s lake is to be seen in the top left.

The emotional (and altitudinal) high point of my visit was climbing Slieve Gullion. There is an intersection here of the natural and the supernatural, the legendary and the historical, that is extraordinarily rich and satisfying. You climb up this winding and at times rather tortuous path till you finally get to the summit of the mountain—at which point you are immediately at the southern cairn/passage tomb complex. There are also dramatic views of the Mourne Mountains, the Cooley Mountains, South Armagh, etc. Then, if you shlep northwards on the summit, the ground becomes gradually boggier, until you’re squelching through mud that can suck you right in up to your knee (or at least it can if you’re me!). Having braved these perils and twisted and turned a fair distance down the path, you reach the sacred lake of the Cailleach Bhéirre. Maybe there’s some innocent hydrological explanation for what this lake is doing at the top of a mountain, but to my eye it looks flatly otherworldly. The deep blue of the lake looks both dazzling and totally out of place on the summit of County Armagh’s highest mountain—and legend gives an account of how it was enchanted by an otherworldly lady called, in one version, Milucra. (Fionn Mac Cumhaill’s hair was turned white after he was tricked into taking a swim in it.) Then on the far side of the lake is the northern cairn, which also has a passage tomb.


A view of Derry (looking towards the Bogside from the city walls). One of the more exciting cities I visited, Derry exudes youthful vitality and optimism as well as forthright resistance.

In other news, I confess to feeling a good deal of contentment with the outcome of the French elections this year. Marine Le Pen was kept out of power—and thus the lie was given to the notion that far-right ethnic nationalism is now universally unstoppable. In default of Le Pen, the presidency did not end up falling to another right-winger, François Fillon, himself tainted with scandal and avowedly sympathetic to Thatcherism. Instead, we have a centrist (even centre-left?), pro-European president in Emmanuel Macron who has only succeeded in completely reshaping the party political landscape—with which absolutely everybody was profoundly fed up—and giving a new élan to internationalism and progressivism of a certain (social-liberal) stripe. Macron’s politics are not mine, but they are at least compatible with the integrity of the rule of law in the French Republic. Meanwhile, my man, Benoît Hamon, has founded his own movement (M1717), so we can hope that the one candidate in this last election who had any fresh ideas is not going away.

Oh, and Daesh has been struck dead. Why does this get so much less press than than the very occasional (if admittedly horrifying) terrorist attack in the West? In the past few weeks, Mosul has basically been liberated (some isolated Daesh pockets notwithstanding), while Raqqa has been fully encircled and is already being liberated by the Syrian Democratic Forces. This can only be cheering news for those who care about religious liberty, human rights, and cultural heritage. Lest anyone feel too sanguine, however, Turkey—even more nakedly authoritarian than when I used to live there—has broadened its military activities in both Iraq and Syria, attacking Daesh’s enemies on a variety of fronts, including on sacred Mount Shingal. A valued NATO ally if ever there was one.

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Ode to Maia

Seven are the daughters of Pleione,
whose stars bedazzle the winter sky—
      most beautiful of all the seven
      is Maia, daughter of Atlas.
She it is who rejoices in May flowers’ bloom,
the lengthening days, and the growing warmth.
      She makes the heart to quicken
      as desire swells in mortals’ souls—
and not in mortals’ alone, but you too,
thundering father Jove, could not resist her.

How did Jove effect his tryst with modest Maia,
dwelling in her cave in wind-swept Arcady?
      Let none divulge what passed therein;
      let none undo her wise discretion.
But all may know and celebrate her offspring,
glorious child of Maia, swift-footed messenger,
      clever in his charming words,
      subtle in his wily deeds—
for you, august Mercury, were born on Mount Cyllene,
born to gentle Maia, bedecked with flowers.

She it was first took you in her arms and nursed you:
nourishment from the most nurturing of goddesses.
      From her the mischievous babe
      learned wisdom as well as wit,
for on your first day, O Mercury, you stole the cattle
of your proud brother, brilliant Apollo of the fearsome darts.
      Maia drew you back;
      gently she rebuked you,
teaching you justice and reconciliation: and the lyre,
seven-stringed, you made a peace offering to Apollo.

The nurturing mother of that godly nuncio
took Arcas in to foster—glory of Arcadia,
      resistless huntsman
      now translated to the stars.
A grandson of blessèd Maia, the wandering Evander,
first planted her worship in the western lands
      upon the sainted hill
      above the rolling Tiber.
More grandsons of yours, O Maia, the twin Lares
were rightly honoured at every Roman hearth.

Glory of spring, fosterer of growing things,
most exalted of the sister Pleiades,
      you I praise:
      to you I offer this hymn.
Mountain-dwelling Maia whom Jove adored,
daughter of the strong-shouldered titan,
      hail to you in Arcady
      and in every land.
Let all who love the god of travellers, Argus’ bane,
rejoice in you and offer pleasing gifts.

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