The first rose of Summer dedicated at Rhiannon’s Shrine
EPONA : Horse Mother to the Gaulish tribes
And when their riders became Roman cavalry
It was she they worshipped in paddocks and stables.
RIGANTONA : the Brythons’ sovereign goddess
Leather-clad on horseback she came to bestow
Wealth to the tribe and strength to their leader.
RHIANNON rode in silks on a pale-white steed
From Annwfn to seek her chosen mate,
No-one but he could halt her pace.
A horse-woman came riding for True Thomas
From fair Elfland; he took her for the Queen of Heaven
But she denied it and rode away with him.
A ‘Belle Dame’ came to a poet who had invoked her
Wild-eyed she took him, enthralled he remained
Long after the enchanted summer had faded.
Remember her now in each of these guises
In enchanted May as the gates of Faery open
And she rides once again across our land.
Each of these can be found elsewhere on this site
from a funeral stone , Gaul.
Metamorphoses, transformations, transpositions
Identities lost and found as shapes shift
On the paths of the dead, finding
New ways to be alive as forms fuse
One to another : human to badger,
Bee to wolf, bear to otter; from one to many.
On these paths anything goes (or goes).
What might we become along these trails?
All is fluid, molecules of liquidity like
Hydrogen and oxygen in water sliding
From one identity to another in the dark,
Tripping over each other to find again
The way to the light which beckons
Far off yet, but welcoming whenever
And wherever she will guide you.
‘Quietly going about the business of keeping the Shrine area in order in such a way that it becomes an intense devotional activity in itself’ so I wrote in my notebook after beginning the re-arrangement of the garden Shrine at Imbolc or Gwyl Ffraid.
It is the simple performance of such tasks and spoken words that seem most to make the Shrine a substantial presence, rather than any ritual acts. Having described the simple regular devotions at the Shrine in past posts there seems little point to re-iterating them, hence this occasional ‘Diary’ rather than a more formal account.
It has always been my view that others cannot be directly taught how to engage in devotional activity; though they can be shown how others do it, only by a process of discovery can one become aware of what an individual needs to do alone or together with other like-minded individuals.
Institutional religion is often more of an institution than it is a religion.
Epona on a funeral stele from Gaul
The Sun sits low in the sky and dips even lower as his year draws to an end. The pale light of day soon passes to night. The tide ebbs. Each flower, each tree, each head of grass and grain, has shrunk back to kernel: to hard seed, to nut, to reserved essence, biding the time until the light grows again and roots find a way through nurturing soil.
For now, Epona traverses the paths of the dead, riding through the dark, through earth and sea, each life that has passed moving with her, finding the way that she opens for them, losing the memories she closes behind them. The Sun will return and a new year begin, but now is the time of repose.
Epona, we are with you in the time of waiting, we pause with you now in the dark of the year.
We mark the time until the longest night when you stir the deepest well of the darkness
like a river rising from the caverns of gloom.
A candle is placed on the altar unlit, marking this time of darkness. It is a dark candle and when lit it will be scented and burn low and slowly. Another candle is placed there beside it, a large red candle for the rebirth of the Sun. This will be lit at the Solstice and burn through the longest night. Some holly and some ivy are also there.
on the ivy leaf
on the holly bough
As red fire stirs
in the kindling.
We count three days
to the longest night
Three more till the glimmer
of a longer day
Then seven to the eve
of New Year Calends
These days we count
from the Feast of Epona
of the Year’s turning.
The candle for Epona is lit.
The candle for the Sun awaits the Solstice.
birds that sang
no more sing
no song of Rhiannon’s Birds
to charm the sweetness of the day
A ghostly horse-head haunts the night
Crow-black tatters on her back
At the Shrine the White Horse
wears a grey shroud
Owls call in the dark.
Returning home after a few days away, the Shrine looks lonely.
Fallen leaves lie across the stones in front of Rhiannon’s horse and on the pool of Mererid’s well.
It’s good to re-connect by clearing these and resuming regular visits, the loneliness banished by my presence.
Calan Mai or Beltane, is a festival for the beginning of May according to the calendar. But the calendar has changed so I’ve always adjusted my sense of when the festival should be celebrated to match the season as it actually is in Nature and also to celebrate it during the period of the month when the Moon is waxing. The key natural sign is the emergence of may blossom on the hawthorn trees. In the past this often led me to a date quite late in the month, but more recently the seasons are shifting to an earlier date as the climate warms.
This year the hawthorns have been in blossom in some places since the warm spell in April. But the flower buds remain closed on the hawthorn behind my shrine, being a little higher up than those along the valley which are in full bloom. I’ve been biding my time before the final act of transforming the shrine : the annual re-painting of the white horse for Rhiannon’s ride from Annwn. After the warm spell we had Storm Hannah. Flower petals were strewn across the garden, including some sprigs of not quite open may blossom, some of which I gathered around the shrine.
I have decided to do my rite of welcoming on 5th May, the day after the New Moon. But to paint the horse for Mayday itself, which I have now done. I’ve also celebrated the date with a walk in some bluebell woods and returned to light a green candle to mark the day. Now I will mark the time until New Moon after which I will celebrate the return of Rhiannon , bringing her Otherworld magic into our world once again.
John Koch, in The Historical Encyclopaedia of Celtic Culture, discusses the name Rhiannon deriving from Rigantona and also refers to the name Modron deriving from Matrona and suggests links with Epona and Rosmerta considering correspondences that suggest various goddesses with overlapping attributes or one goddess with several names or epithets which become names.
Scholarly speculations apart, my own sense of Rigantona, Epona, and Rosmerta as aspects of one goddess, but with distinct identities in each case, is reflected in my devotional practice.
Following my Imbolc resolution I filled the re-sealed lower half of the water feature – the ‘Vat’ into which water flows from the upper ‘Fountain’ where the Cup of Rosmerta is in Mererid’s keeping. I filled it with an invocation to ‘Brighid and the silver streams running deep in the earth’. The water sat there, clear and still, awaiting the pump which I would add at Spring Equinox when the Sun was strong enough to power the solar panel and the risk of ice had passed. All seemed fine.
The next day when I visited the Shrine I was initially dismayed to find that the Vat was not water-tight at all. I had removed the waterproof lining because it was sagging and ‘sealed’ the wood with yacht varnish instead. But overnight the water has slowly leaked through the joins in the barrel so the Vat was empty. The water had seeped back into Brighid’s silver streams in the earth. This was not her shrine, though I sought her blessing in filling it with fresh water at Imbolc. The water initially held there for the blessing, but would not remain there.
So I had to find another way of containing the water that flows into the lower Vat. Looking in the garden centre for something to put there I thought something ceramic would be best, but these all had drainage holes in them, nor could I find anything the right shape: wide enough to catch the falling water pouring from the spout of the smaller upper barrel, deep enough to make a substantial pool and to submerge the pump which returns water to the top. Then I saw just what was needed : a planter in the form of a cauldron! It looked just about the right size too and I took it home hoping it would be a good fit. It is; sitting perfectly in the space beneath the half-shelf supporting the upper barrel and nicely filling the space too with its top rim just below the top of the lower barrel.
At this part of the Shrine Mererid keeps Rosmerta’s cup. In her ancient iconography, Rosmerta pours from her cup into a Vat or Bucket and the water feature was chosen to replicate this imagery. Now it has a Cauldron too from which water poured into it is re-born, rising to the upper barrel to fall back into the lower barrel, the Vat, and so also now the Cauldron again. Miranda Aldhouse Green thinks Rosmerta’s bucket can be seen as a cauldron of re-birth. One of the most resonant images of Epona for me is the one where she leads the way to the paths of the dead in a transformative journey of changing forms.
So a cauldron in my water feature seems not just a fortuitous addition and solution to my original problem, but also a revelation and one which raises – even clarifies – a question I have often pondered as to the relation between the different parts of the Shrine. It has always seemed right to me to have Rosmerta’s cup in the water feature and to put this in the keeping of Mererid whose role in this respect I have discussed elsewhere ~>. Just as it has seemed right to assign to Mererid the Guardianship of the whole Shrine which was created for Rhiannon. I have never been able to fully rationalise this and though I still can’t, and the addition of the Cauldron seems to add a further degree of complexity – as if Ceridwen is also present; nevertheless it does seem to draw the different parts of the Shrine together.
So if John Koch is right to see Rigantona, Epona, Matrona, Rosmerta as different names, aspects, or personalities of one Goddess, and if these nevertheless remain separate in devotional practice, this does give a sense of unity to the way the Shrine is organised. They may intersect across the whole Shrine, but each is unique when addressed and represented on the Shrine. If another goddess like Brighid is addressed and is present for a while, it is nevertheless not her shrine.
This Devotional Diary is not quite an open blog, but nor is it a private Book of Shadows. For anyone who may come across it, these are not arguments designed to convince or define a form a worship beyond my own devotional practice. But they are put here as public witness to that practice which is informed by historical research, shared insights and such revelations as are provided for me. If you have found your way here perhaps it might be a revelation for you too?