New book about Epona

Deity, Personal practice 2 Comments »

Avalonia Press published Epone: Hidden Goddess of the Celts by P.D. Mackenzie Cook. I’ve received my copy and am looking forward to reading it. The initial flip through of the book is promising. The bibliography has many of the primary sources I’ve used in my own research.

The description of the book on the publisher’s site says, in part:

“Epona: Hidden Goddess of the Celts reflects the importance of gender in ancient religion, and the author explores the primacy of the Feminine through Epona’s sovereignty as Horse Goddess among the Celts; her identity as “Mistress of Animals” in her love affairs and working relationships, and the surprising role she apparently played in the ancient Greek and Roman Mysteries.

“P.D. Mackenzie Cook’s unique study of Epona positions her in a broad cross-cultural context. The story he presents is at the same time historical, speculative, and deeply personal – at once a scholarly survey, intriguing detective story, and spiritual message to be taken to heart. The author offers fresh and original perspectives on Epona’s historical origins and her “birth” in human form. He explores her early presence in southern Italy; investigates her probable identity as “Macha” in Ireland and “Rhiannon” in Wales as well as her indirect influences on the ideals of chivalry and courtly love in the Middle Ages. We are then introduced to Epona’s possible presence in a set of mysterious caves in the New World, and finally to her rediscovery by present-day equestrians, and in the personal lives and accounts of modern priestesses and men devoted to her.”

Riding and honoring Her

Deity, Horses, Personal practice No Comments »

Over the past few years, the way that I honor Epona has evolved from being in front of the altar to being in the saddle. I have focused on having a connection to Her through my connection with horses. Standing in front of my altar, I feel Her strength and calm at the core of my being. That same core has become central to riding and connecting with my horses.

There have been times when I’ve put my foot in the stirrup and known I shouldn’t ride. I’ve felt that nagging anger that rises and spills over for seeming no apparent reason. It means my inner self is in turmoil and I have no business being on a horse. It’s not always a dramatic feeling. Sometimes it’s a little thing, like getting irritated when the halter clip doesn’t come undone or my mare’s tail swats me in the face one too many times.

These are all things that should just roll off and be let go. They shouldn’t nag at me like some three-year-old kid asking for the eight time for some candy at a checkout line.

It’s more than just being centered and grounded. It’s about being fully in the present with my horse. Fully with her and aware. Letting go of what happened at work (or recognizing when I am too wound to let those things go) and enjoying the connection with my girl.

That’s what is at the core of it. Recognizing when the mood is there and we are good to work — both for me and for her. She has days when she’s had that same look in her eye that I get when I just had a crappy day. We do something else on those days. Sometimes we don’t ride. Other times we go on a trail ride, or set up obstacles in the ring and have fun playing with pool noodles.

When you commune with a deity, you don’t force the connection. You ground, center, and let go into the presence of your god(s). It’s like releasing into yourself to connect to the divine by traveling through your perceptions: a reaching in to reach out to Her.

It’s the same with riding. You have to listen to where you are emotionally and physically, and pay the same attention to your horse’s state as well. When you do, then it’s like magic because you work together, you connect and things that seemed more difficult because of poor communication are within reach.

This past year my mare and I have made more progress than we have in the past three years combined. We had a lesson a few weeks back and my girl suddenly started engaging her hindquarters so her impulsion increased. Her trot went from silky smooth to feeling like a bouncing ball.

And I laughed for the sheer joy of feeling her move and how we could work as a team. How we could be connected.

It was a ridden prayer to Her.

Finding names

Deity, Personal practice No Comments »

For a long time, I went by the nickname Sena, a Gaulish word I thought meant priestess. Actually, nope, sena means old. Once I realized that, I decided to look for a different name to use that would honor Her. Something with horses, I thought. You know, like the feminine form of machis, the modern Gaulish word for horseman or horse rider.

Instead, I found the name Épasias in a list of ancient Gaulish names that are attested to in historical writings. Épasias is a name for a female follower of Epona.

When I saw the name, I felt that tingling at the back of my neck. Yes, this was the right name.

New issue of Air n-Aithesc

Personal practice, Research, Writing No Comments »

Air n’Aithesc: Our Message has a new issue out! We have an excellent selection of essays, poetry, and reviews. Information on this issue from Facebook page for Air n-Aithesc lists three book reviews: The Names Upon The Harp: Irish Myths and Legends by Blackbird O’Connell; The Gaelic Finn Tradition by Maya St.Clair; and Celtic Chiefdom, Celtic State by Finnchuill.

And a quote from my article, Building a Personal Relationship with Deity:

Going before Her altar, I can sense Her presence behind me, around me, in me. Like the warmth of hands pressing on my shoulders: She is there with me both in Her temple and outside. She is the strength and anchor; the calm in the storm, the mare who guides the herd to safety.

To read more, please check out the second issue of Air n-Aithesc


Why not Wiccan?

Personal practice, Processing 4 Comments »

I’ve mentioned on other posts that even though I started on a pagan path as Wiccan, my personal path eventually diverged from Wicca. So what does that mean? According to Northwind’s About Wicca page here is a brief description of Wicca:

In summation, Wicca is a nature religion the adherents of which worship a deity who is divided into male and female aspects. The adherents of Wicca attempt to attune themselves with nature and to see themselves and all life as a part of nature. The Religion does not have as a component, a personification of evil, such as the devil but; believes in personal responsibility for one’s acts.

There are other components too, like the Rule of Return (whatever you do returns threefold) and the Wiccan Rede (And it harm none, do what you will). I mostly honor these.

NorthWind specifically honors Native American aspects. For example, the Cherokee were in the area of Tennessee where NorthWind originated. NorthWind uses the Cherokee names for spirits associated with each element. Using these names (with respect and understanding of the original context) is a way of honoring the people who know the land and have deep ties with them. Honoring their connection — not trying to claim any part of their culture. It’s an important difference to me. Something I always liked about the group rituals. I never used any of the Native American parts in my own practices.

In my personal practice, I do not believe in a deity who is divided in to male and female aspects. I honor one deity and acknowledge the existance of others, which is called henotheism. Wikipedia defines henotheism as “the belief and worship of a single god while accepting the existence or possible existence of other deities that may also be worshipped.”

Grey Cat said this about the view of deities within NorthWind:

Whether or not the God and Goddess are viewed as “real”, “the concept of the God or Goddess, that is personification of the gods, is the means to make contact with divine reality.” (Weinstein) And it is noteworthy that deity, as nature, is in all life, all of the world seen and unseen, including being manifest within each person. So to contact the deity, He/She must be awakened within oneself. This means that Goddess is always with and all around each being, Our Gods are very much a part of our everyday lives.

I still very much hold with this view. In order to have a strong connection with deity, you reach inside to connect to the Divine. I do believe that each person can connect with their deity(ies) if they do the work and listen. (That’s the big trick. Listening.)

So the big difference for me is that I am dedicated to one deity. One deity who isn’t part of or a manifestestation of a great godhead. She is who She is. Following that connection with Her is what lead me farther away from a Wiccan path. The more I learned about Her, the more the details about my personal practice changed.

I tend to do informal ritual. I do daily offerings each morning. My altar doesn’t have quarter candles or elements represented. No god candle. No goddess candle. There is a working reproduction of an oil lamp found in the ancient Roman empire. Other items on my altar include resin stick incense, wooden offering plate, vase with fresh roses, and my depictions of Her (statue, painting, sculpture).

As for the eight general sabbats, I may go to open rituals sponsored by local pagan communities, but I don’t generally do anything to mark the sabbats’ passing. Maybe a nice meal. My main holy day during the year is December 18, the one known feast date for Epona (even if the date only comes from a single inscription from Guidizollo, Italy).

Moving away from Wicca wasn’t something that happened over night. It was years a gradual evolution. I’m glad I had the training and the experience. It’s a good framework and background. It’s just not where I am now.

Evolving paths and Wiccan degrees

Personal practice, Processing No Comments »

When I first became Pagan, I was lucky to find NorthWind Tradition and to have the opportunity to train in an excellent program with some amazing people. NorthWind is a teaching tradition that provides a solid framework — a starting point. When NorthWind members are together, we use the NorthWind frame which doesn’t name a specific god or goddess. We all have different personal practices so I often thought that we use our own connections to our particular deities to invoke god and goddess. This freedom to both be part of the group together and have your own path was something I always liked. It seemed okay that I didn’t incorporate some aspects into my personal practices.

I knew from the initial First Degree class that I would continue through to Third Degree. Because it felt like something I needed to do. It would be important. It was, at the time.

People evolve and so do their spiritual paths. My focus changed from honoring a Wiccan view of the God and Goddess (Maiden, Mother, Crone) to one solely honoring Epona. The more I learned about Her, the more my understanding of Her changed. She wasn’t one aspect of a multifaceted Godhead. She is one deity of many. Over the years, I listened to my intuition (also inspired and informed by research). The Wiccan elements fell away and I slowly realized that a Wiccan wouldn’t recognize anything on my altar as Wiccan. An ancient Roman, however, would recognize most of the items.

For over a decade, I was one of the online First Degree class teachers for NorthWind. (We had an awesome group of people who met online once or twice a month for many years.) As my personal beliefs changed and I grew away from Wicca, teaching the tradition felt strange because I was teaching a path that wasn’t one I followed in my every day life. How can I be a good example when I wasn’t walking the path I taught? I worked around part of this by inviting guest speakers for topics where I didn’t know enough or personally follow. When I moved in 2007, it was a good opportunity to step away from teaching. Having an excuse like the move to stop teaching was a huge relief.

My participation in NorthWind was also minimal at the time I moved out of state. The tradition, like my online classes, had wound down its activities. The internal conflict I felt over teaching or belonging to a tradition that didn’t match my own personal practices was minimized and set aside for a while.

So long as I was participating as myself I didn’t feel the conflict. I was fine participating in local pagan activities and rituals. I was just another pagan helping organize events and meet other interesting people.

I’ve always felt that it is incredibly important to be true to yourself and to live a life so the spiritual and mundane parts are integrated. Sena at a pagan event is (mostly) the same Sena at work. Who I am at core stays the same, even if the topics I talk about are different depending upon the context.

I stayed as a member of NorthWind because it had been my home. Even if I felt like I didn’t fully belong because of how my personal beliefs had diverged from NorthWind’s core teachings, I still stayed a member. So long as I wasn’t asked to teach, the specific conflict of teaching that which isn’t my personal path didn’t come up. Since I moved in 2007, I’ve taught informally — call it mentoring — by helping people develop a personal relationship with their deities.

While mentoring is fun and helps improve my own understanding, it isn’t as challenging as having to understand something when learning something new. I wanted to be challenged. To be able to talk to peers (instead of people who were still learning the basics). I missed having people who were farther along in their paths.

And then last year I found out that Cat was sick and that I needed to drive out to see her. She was a wisp of who she had been. She was still there mentally, but physically she was half way to the other side. She had such dignity and grace in her transition. It was inspiring and amazing and so very sad to see the person who had been the cornerstone almost dissolving before my eyes. It was her time. (Some times it’s only when a person is gone that you realize how much they meant and how much of an impact they had on your life.)

NorthWind rallied around Cat and pulled together after she passed away. I was so elated to see so many old friends at her memorial last year. It was like a family reunion with people I hadn’t seen in years. So amazing.

It highlighted how much I missed having a community. Having that sense of belonging to something like NorthWind. I didn’t want to leave Cat’s memorial because I knew it was the last time my “extended family” would be together. Cat was the charismatic leader who brought all of these people together.

I wanted that connection. I wanted that sense of shared path and sense of community. So I tried really hard within the remaining NorthWind members to rebuild.

Last night, two of former my First Degree students asked me to continue their education for Second Degree. And I panicked. I felt conflicted because I’m not Wiccan any more and I also felt obligated because they have been my students. Second Degree is like getting a Master’s. It’s clergy and leadership training. Both of my initiates are amazing women and are very interested in the Native American elements for the areas where they live. These aspects of NorthWind are not an area I have ever used in my personal practice. Honored, yes; respected, yes; actively done? No. I feel like these students deserve to have the best teacher they can have. I’m not it because I can’t teach the class topics for Second Degree with conviction. It’s not my path any more. I’d be more of a guest speaker on deity relationships instead of the primary teacher.

How do you tell two very dear people that you can not be their teacher? Gently and with love, and hopefully help them find another person to be their teacher within the tradition.

Maybe it is time to consider truly stepping away and not just being inactive.

Evolving personal practice

Personal practice No Comments »

Here are two good resources I’ve been using for inspiration for my personal practice lately: Classical Living by Frances Bernstein and Daily Rituals from Nova Roma. Classical Living has recipes and suggestions for activities based upon ancient Roman traditions. Good stuff.

Lately I’ve also had the desire to use the morning and evening rites from the Daily Rituals page on Nova Roma’s web site. I love the rhythm and pattern of the Latin. It’s so simple and elegant.