By popular demand, part 2: Ðirona

Ðirona, also known as Sirona (and even Sirona and Θirona: tau gallicum for the win!), is a Gaulish deity who should probably get more press than she currently does. Healing! Starlight! Regeneration! Sacred waters! In fact, have I devoted a blog post to the cultus of Ðirona yet? If not I really should…

In the meantime, however: perhaps the most appealing image of Ðirona comes from Hochscheid, which is in Treveran country on the right bank of the Moselle not far from Bernkastel-Kues. Here in a sanctuary were found two rather charming naïve statues of Sirona (so spelled in the local inscription) and Apollo (shown playing the lyre). On a visit to the Rheinisches Landesmuseum Trier around 2008 or so, I obtained a museum replica of the Ðirona statue (scaled down and executed in what appears to be clay—though how it didn’t explode in the kiln is beyond me):

Ðirona of Hochscheid (uncoloured)

Ðirona of Hochscheid (uncoloured museum replica).

I thought she might look nice in turquoise, with the snake brown as a nod to the Æsculapian snake (Zamenis longissimus):

Ðirona of Hochscheid (unfinished)

Ðirona of Hochscheid: colourizing underway…

…and then discovered something I had never consciously realized, namely that she’s got a kind of shawl that’s separate from her gown. These were all the rage in Roman Gaul, at least in the Rhineland area, so it’s no surprise—but it shows how much attention I pay to clothes! I made her shawl purple-ish. (Nighttime starlight…?) Anyway, voilà:

Ðirona of Hochscheid (coloured)

Ðirona of Hochscheid. Museum replica, now in colour.
(Photo by Viducus Brigantici filius, CC-BY-SA 4.0)

This feels a wee bit clumsier than my previous efforts, for whatever reason—but hopefully reasonably acceptable? I gave her just a touch of blue eye shadow since I thought her face looked a little colourless otherwise; the eye shadow also hints at the nocturnal setting appropriate to her stellar theme (hopefully?). And of course the turquoise is meant to hint at calm soothing waters (and not coincidentally medical scrubs).

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By popular demand, part 1: Mercury

As I mentioned in my post about painting and decorating my new Epona statuette, I’ve had a (monochrome) statuette of Mercury in my domestic shrine area since probably 2005-ish. He’s gone with me from Chicago to Istanbul, and from Niagara Falls back to Illinois. For whatever reason, I had been hesitant about applying paint to the statue, until the highly satisfactory results of the Epona experiment made it clear that I simply had no excuse.

I might also mention that I have a very extensive set of photos printed (in glorious technicolour) of religious artwork, each of which make their way over the course of the year to the said shrine area, where they are mounted on mini-easels for the duration of their holy days. Currently, for example, I have colour images of Magna Mater (for Hilaria Matris Deum) and Rosmerta (for a. d. VIII Kal.)—which means that poor monochrome Mercury and Ðirona (on whom more in a subsequent post!) have been looking all the more washed out by comparison.

The Mercury statuette in question is one that North American purchasers of such products will likely recognize:

Monochrome statuette of Mercury

Monochrome statuette of Mercury. It is possible that there may be a Gallo-Roman fanum made out of Lego behind him.

(Can I mention how odd it is to be switching back and forth between speaking/thinking of the statuette as an object, a commodity, and as a vessel or conduit for the deity’s numinous energy? But such after all is the human condition as well: we too are flesh and bones, but happily also ensouled…)

Anyway, this is a wonderful image because of its motion, its dynamism, and also the calm and serenity that it paradoxically conveys. Mercury, unruffled, stands atop the clouds, beholding all about him, ready to bound off on his next swift adventure. Still, there are one or two oddities here. One looks in vain here for Mercury’s purse, and even his caduceus is replaced by a little wand lamentably deprived of snakes. To substitute for the missing symbol of prosperity, I decided it would be fun to clothe him in cloth of gold, as Raphael did:

Mercury (Raphael)

Mercury conducting Psyche to heaven. Fresco by Raphael in the Villa Farnesina in Rome.

Ancient depictions of Mercury/Hermes on frescoes don’t show much consistency in terms of colour schemes, unlike, for example, the Virgin Mary who always wears blue, or Mars who practically always wears red. In researching this project, I’ve seen frescoes with Mercury in teal, maroon, blue… so gold seems a reasonable variation. Plus I figure Raphael may have known a thing or two about painting. Anyway, behold the result:

Mercury (painted)

The Mercury statuette, now with paint. As in the Raphael fresco, his petasos is silvery grey, while his cloak is cloth of gold. On either side of him are a rooster and ram (still monochrome for now!).

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A vision of Epona

Epona, Gaulish goddess of horses and an august queen among deities, is one of the most famous divine figures from Gaul. After Cernunnos, she is probably the most widely known and widely worshipped today. And she has figured in my religious devotions for nearly as long as I can remember. I’ve written hymns in her honour, designed rituals for her, put together digital simulacra of her. Her image, along with a quotation from Apuleius about her, is on the keychain that I take with me every time I get behind the wheel of a car. And last December 18 (a date figuring on a local calendar from Guidizzolo, and since kept by many pagans and polytheists as Eponalia), I made a vow to Epona that I would finally get a statuette of her for my domestic shrine.

Epona indistinct

As yet indistinct… a vision of an Epona statuette for my domestic shrine.

I think when I made this vow, I had in mind an item that I had seen somewhere, thought it was a bit more expensive than I would like, and filed away in my mind as ‘purchase this in the fullness of time’. But where was the item in question? I thought it was from Sacred Source, which is where I’d ordered the lovely Cernunnos statuette that now adorns my domestic shrine. I looked there and I looked elsewhere, and the only comparable item I could find didn’t quite seem as I remembered:


“Epona of Denon”, from Sacred Source. (Either Sacred Source or the artist, or both, hold the copyright to this particular design.)

Now, there a lot of things I like about the statuette pictured above. It is avowedly inspired by an ancient model, namely that from Mellecey now in the Musée Denon in Châlons-sur-Saône. It belongs to the category of Epona images showing both a mare and a foal, which I find really delightful. (This motif is more typical of the Æduan region than of the Treveran, but one need not be over-precise about such things.) The horses are very well represented, as is the goddess herself (riding sidesaddle, as she typically does), whose face and expression seem beautiful and serene. (Is it just me, or do I detect a distant family resemblance to the divine Faustina the elder here?)

At the same time, there were one or two things about this image that didn’t quite satisfy me. First and foremost, the statuette’s angry orange-red hue seemed curiously at odds with the otherwise nurturing, calm quality of the composition. I also wondered at first why Epona is here apparently depicted as Shiva (!), complete with kaparda hairstyle and a hand gesture not too far off from an abhaya mudra, rather than her more usual attributes, such as a patera or basket of fruits. Admittedly, on a certain level, the idea of syncretism between Epona and Shiva seems rather awesome. On the other, why choose this arrangement for one of the very few models of Epona statuette on the market? And if I’m wrong to see this as a gesture towards Shiva syncretism (about which I am less than half serious), then what is that perched on top of her head? Is it the world’s smallest Isiac throne-headdress—and if so, why? Some of my confusion on these points was answered by seeing a photo of what was undoubtedly the original piece that inspired the Sacred Source sculpture. Here is the photo from Espérandieu (NB Miranda Green’s photo on p. 19 of Symbol & Image in Celtic Religious Art is clearer, but I’m loath to push the ‘fair use’ doctrine of copyright law too far in this blog post):

Espérandieu no. 2128

Stele of Epona from Mellecey in the Æduan country, now in the Musée Denon in Châlons-sur-Saône (Espérandieu no. 2128, in vol. III).

In the original, she really does seem to have something or other on her head (this is more visible in Miranda Green’s photo), though not as elaborate as the one in the modern statue. As her right hand is missing, our contemporary artist has replaced it with an open, upraised hand; however, my guess is that it would have held a patera from which the foal is eating. (Espérandieu thought there might have been a patera there as well.) An outstretched hand is more likely to break off, as the one in the original from Mellecey did, whereas the hand in the Sacred Source sculpture is articulated with the body.

Taking all in all, I decided that the best thing to do would be to buy the statuette from Sacred Source, paint it (as such images were typically painted in ancient times…), and embellish it with some additional items obtained from Etsy. For one thing, since I didn’t quite know what to make of the headdress or topknot, I figured she could wear a wreath of roses around her head. This would not only mask or distract from the topknot, but also serve as a nice offering to Epona rooted in our historical sources. (Apuleius at least mentions carefully arranged roses at a shrine of Epona. I’ve also seen a relief of Epona in Salonica with a wreath about her head, though admittedly not a wreath of flowers.) In addition, I thought it might be feasible to suspend a little basket of apples (and perhaps other fruits) from her hand.

With these considerations in mind, I devised a plan for how I wanted the image to look:

Epona plan

A plan!

Thankfully, the artist(s) who designed the statue have a clearer sense of anatomy, particularly equine anatomy, than I do. (Yes, my mare drawing does rather resemble a Seth animal!) The next step was to replenish my supplies of acrylic paint, slap the said paints on the statue…

Epona (intermediate paint job)

Epona’s brief phase as a deathly pale redhead…

…then do some fine-tuning, notably to add a bit of colour to Epona’s complexion and to transform the mare and foal into a (classic) dun and a blue dun (or grullo), respectively. This involves what’s called point coloration (darker legs, faces, and tails), dark manes, and dark dorsal stripes. I have no idea why I thought these horses should be dun, but somehow it felt right. While reading up on the subject of horse colouring, I found that dun is considered to be a primitive coloration—lost, as it were, in the atavistic reaches of our collective memory. Or some such.

Epona (painted)

Epona (and horses) with their paint job almost complete.

Meanwhile, I was in touch with an extremely helpful, friendly, and responsive Etsy artist in Hawai‘i (aren’t Etsy people the nicest you’ll ever deal with? PS: she donates her proceeds to children’s charities, so please do check out 4hala’s store) who gamely took on my commission to make a wreath for the statuette even though she typically does these sorts of things as decorations for dollhouses. It didn’t take her long before a lovely crown of roses was speeding Epona’s way across the Pacific. With this, a basket custom crochet’d by a woman in Wales (honestly, the craftsmanship of this blows me away!), some wee clay apples from Thailand, and a few finishing touches with the paintbrush, I arrived at the final product:

Epona finalized

The finished image: Epona with her basket of fruits and wreath of roses.

A by no means contemptible tribute to the great Celtic horse-goddess, wouldn’t you agree?

In addition to being a legit devotional exercise, this whole business of painting statuettes is, I have to say, a ton of fun. You don’t have to worry about counterfeiting light and shadow, the way you do in two-dimensional painting, because of course the sculpture takes care of that itself. Instead, you just need to think about the colours that things are supposed to be in themselves, and of course the order in which to put down the layers of paint. This last part was very familiar to me, since I’d been doing it digitally with photographs of ancient statues for years. And the outcome is a simulacrum far more vivid and charismatic than the monochrome statues one usually sees—and hence potentially more effective in meditation and devotional exercises.

In fact, for both of these reasons, I’m now thinking of painting the Mercury statuette who has been watching over me, in all his monochrome glory, since 2006 if not earlier. The Mercury image is resin, like the Epona statuette above, so I’m confident it would take to acrylic paint happily enough. However, I’d be a bit more worried about trying to paint my statuettes of Ðirona (apparently unglazed clay—would a layer of gesso do it?) and Aveta, or Treveran mother-goddess with lapdog (which is terra cotta).

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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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