As I write this, in a quiet, old farmhouse in the west of Ireland, I can almost hear the echo of voices from the family who used to live here long ago.  Behind my house is a large barn, and other buildings from the old dairy farm.  Once upon a time, this was a busy, bustling home, even in the dead of winter.  Now, all the cows are gone and, in the winter silence beyond the barn, I feed the wild creatures (foxes, rabbits, birds) that dairy farmer would have shot. 

Beyond lies the quiet lake and, further in the distance, the Connamara mountains loom big and blue with a sprinkling of snow on top.  The weather here is not (usually) as cold as in many parts of the U.S., but the sun does slide across the sky, almost horizontally, at this time of year, keeping the days very short indeed.  By 4 p.m., the early twilight is settling over this old place like a blanket, and it’s time to put on the kettle and add more turf to the fire. 

It’s the dark of the year, and it can be a really depressing time of year.  I have found that it helps to look at the season through the eyes of ancient peoples.  Long ago, I suspect people had little time for depression.  There was just too much to get done in too few hours of daylight!  For Druids, in particular, this dark quiet of the year symbolized the darkness of the womb, where the personality/the self began to take form.  It was a most important time – the ‘fallow’ period – a time to rest and nurture the ‘seeds’ of creative thought.
Winter Solstice, birth of the Sun, at Newgrange
At the winter solstice (this year on the 22nd of December), tightly closed seeds sleep inside all of us.  But when the sun rises on the 22nd, the time of awakening will begin.  Each day will grow longer, with one additional minute of light, then two minutes, then three, and so on.  The seed within us unfurls and blossoms to a full flower by the summer solstice. 
Now is the time, amid all the busy Christmas preparations, to follow nature and take some time to tune into the deep, dark womb of the year’s midnight – to really feel and enjoy this quiet interval.  Failure to do so usually results in colds and flu and illnesses that force us to take a quiet interval.  It’s the best time to look back over whatever we’ve accomplished and learned in the past year and evaluate how we wish to proceed.  It’s also the absolute best time to fertilize that little seed that waits in the darkness, with plans and goals that will blossom in the coming year. 
This time of year brings to mind another custom inherited from the Druids.  Mistletoe was considered very sacred, as it was used to heal many things, especially heart conditions.  When you think of it that way, the kissing-under-the-mistletoe custom, has much greater meaning.  If your heart is involved, a kiss always means more! 

As the sun sets on another winter’s day, I wish you all a nurturing Solstice (with plenty of mistletoe kisses!) and a Nollaig Shona (Happy Christmas)! 


The ancient Celts and their Druids worshipped over 300 deities.  (Like Carrie Bradshaw and her shoes, they could never have too many.)  Epona is the Horse Goddess, from whom the word ‘pony’ is derived.  She became the only Celtic deity to be worshipped in Rome, and her feast day, Eponalia, is next Sunday, the 18th of December. 
Ancient peoples from the west of Ireland, to as far east as Anatolia (Turkey), from the Danube River to Yugoslavia, down to Rome and even North Africa, worshipped the Horse Goddess.  Her Facebook fan page would have broken world records. 
Recently, I read a book on Celtic Myth written by a woman who lives in Texas.  She wrote that the Irish version of the Goddess Epona was named ‘Mare’ and that she was the bringer of bad dreams (night-mares). 

I love the books written about Celtic Mythology by people who’ve only visited Ireland or Scotland or Wales once or twice in their lives.  They frequently says things like, ‘Up until the beginning of the 20th Century, Irish people used to [do some wacky thing or other], carrying out this age-old custom.’  Frequently, nobody – including historians who have lived in and researched this Celtic country all their lives – has ever heard or read of said ‘age-old custom’.  The Texas woman who wrote that book was probably the victim of some old geezer who enjoyed dousing her with a large bucket of blarney. 

There is no Irish Goddess named ‘Mare.’  But there is a very famous one named Macha and she was associated with war, HORSES, sovereignty, and the site of the prehistoric fort of Emain Macha (which was named after her), near present-day Armagh in Northern Ireland.   And, because one can never have too many, the Irish mythological figure of Ếtain, also associated with Emain Macha, was considered a horse goddess, in a later historical period. 
 Epona was worshiped in England as well, where Bronze Age people painstakingly created the Uffington Horse.  The horse goddess was also known as “Rigantona” or “Rig Antonia,” which means “Great Queen.”  Some historians believe that the legend of Lady Godiva is directly related to Epona and other ancient fertility rituals, such as the mating of the High King with the white mare (but that’s another post in itself).  In Wales, the goddess Rhiannon, whose worship occurred at a much later point in time, was strongly associated with Epona. 
Epona was known by a variety of other names, which changed according to the language and myth of each particular region.  But no matter what she was called, her image remained similar.  She appeared as a woman with very long hair who was riding sidesaddle upon a white mare, or as a long-haired woman, lying naked on a white mare. 

Celtic Druids had totem animals, much like Native Americans.  The horse, and the white horse in particular, was a powerful totem, symbolising the Goddess herself, the land and journeying (both physical and spiritual).  The horse goddess was associated with the life cycle of birth-death-afterlife-rebirth, and hence, sexuality and the fertility of humans and the earth itself.  In this way, the horse and the Horse Goddess, could help humans transcend the limitations of mortality. 

With all this in mind, I plan to go visit my neighbour horses (Connemara ponies) at the lakeside and offer them a bucketful of carrots and apples so we can celebrate this feast day in style. 

Best wishes for a safe and happy Eponalia to you and yours!


True Confessions:  I did not reach my Nano goal last month, although I did write about two-thirds of my novel, and I believe it’s a useable draft (not just words for words’ sake).  You know how you can get in that ‘groove’ and the words come like water from a faucet, too fast to get them all down?  Yeah, I love that place.  And I haven’t been there in weeks.  I am writing each day, but it’s a wimpy word count. 

My writing partners (bless them) tell me the well has run dry and I must go out and replenish the muse.  Mary and Tammy both said they sort of make up stories in their heads to put themselves to sleep, and this helps when their muse is sluggish. 

So, I’m remembering a true story of a place just south of here that I visited not long ago.  Here’s hoping it will help me get back in the ‘groove,’ and in case any of the rest of you are in a post-Nano slump, I hope this story will inspire you too.  If you have Loreena McKennett’s cd, ‘The Book of Secrets,’ you might want to play track 3, ‘Skellig’ for atmospheric background while you read this.

Way out in the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of County Kerry, lie two lonely rock islands, shaped like pyramids.  The larger of the two, Skellig Michael, was a hermitage site founded by monks in the 7th Century.  Imagine, if you will, a small group of men wearing long dresses (monks), rowing tiny animal-skin-covered boats nine miles out into the ever-tempestuous sea and somehow climbing a jagged, vertical rock 250 meters to the top.  Then, they would have had to hollow out stones to collect drinking water (those stones are still there today), climb down the 250 meters to catch fish to eat, chisel away rocks and stack them to create their small clochans (dwelling huts). 

Today, there are only a handful of motorized passenger skiffs that will risk the trip out to Skellig Michael and ONLY if the sea is fine and quiet.  It’s a harrowing journey at the best of times.  On the sunny summer day when I made the journey, our boat was tossed about by near 20-foot-waves for nearly an hour.  I was certain it was going to capsize.  Luckily, it didn’t.  When our boat was finally close enough so that I could really see the island, it was actually glowing in the sunlight.  An overwhelming feeling of . . . something – I’m still not sure what – came over me and I began to cry. 

Some say this rock is part of a layline that connects with sacred energy sites in England and France.  After visiting the site in 1910, George Bernard Shaw wrote, ‘An incredible, impossible, mad place. I tell you the thing does not belong to any world that you and I have lived and worked in; it is part of our dream world.’ 

When our boat landed, I climbed the near-vertical slope, huffing and puffing, to the top of the rock.  A man climbing near me stopped to catch his breath.  He shook his head and said, ‘Oh, these lads were not the full shilling.’  I panted back, ‘Truer words were never spoken.’  In fact, in recent years, several tourists have died trying to make this climb.  It does leave one scratching one’s head, wondering why the monks would want to do this. 

On the way to the top, the rock was carpeted with the usual florescent green associated with Ireland, and scattered with a beautiful array of tiny wildflowers.  Here and there, nesting puffins – adorable little birds that purr like cats – moved closer to get a better look at me.  Males and females take turns guarding their nests and they seem to get board with their duties and so checked out this passing human with avid curiosity. 
At the top of the many, many steps the monks chiselled into the Devonian sandstone that sparkles with sedimentary quartz, lies a colony of clochans and a tiny church.  The monks brought seaweed and soil from the mainland and made gardens and even bannocks (or flatbread).  The views from every angle are amazing and create a feeling of limitless space.  Needless to say, the energy in this place throbs with something magical, spiritual . . . indefinable. 

Sitting alone at the top of this rock and listening to the wind, is indeed a mesmerizing and humbling spiritual experience.  Irish monks were never persecuted like Roman Christian monks.  Since their Roman brethren were being crucified, boiled in oil and fed to lions, the Irish monks felt they too should experience some sort of sacrifice.  So they became ‘green martyrs,’ exiling themselves to remote outposts like this one, in an effort to bring themselves closer to the essence of God. 

So, maybe those ancient monks were several shades of crazy, but I can’t help thinking:  If they could do ALL that, then I should be able to write at least one chapter today. 

Until next week,
Deep Peace of the Sacred Grove to You