Epona, Hidden Goddess of the Celts
In the prologue, Cook warns us that aspects of the book may shock some readers. Indeed, they might, although I wasn't shocked, personally. This warning refers, I'm sure, to the final section of the book, in which the author reports on interviews with several contemporary, self-styled priestesses of Epona, from various parts of the world, and their male acolytes. Each of these informants tells a similar story in which ritual use of a scourge or other means of inflicting pain is applied by the priestess to her willing male counterpart. Reasons given for this included the woman's need to express her rage and the man's need to learn submission to the female principle/Goddess.
As I say, this didn't shock me, but it certainly surprised me. The author interviewed six women and three men for this section of the book. (All these informants are given full anonymity, which is understandable, but also makes this part of the work impossible to confirm.) While self-declared priestesses of Epona are probably fairly rare, this still seems a small sample, especially considering that the subjects hail from five different countries. Regardless of the sample size, it is extremely surprising that all of them appear to have such similar stories. In my experience, it is rare for several Pagans to have the same personal gnossis or practices around a particular deity, at least unless they are all members of the same group. Use of the scourge is not unknown (but probably not all that common) in groups with a Gardnerian influence, for example, but if all Cook's informants are in some way connected, he doesn't mention it, nor does he share his method of seeking them out. I can't help but think that he was either intentionally looking only in places where he would find this, or that he didn't consider any other form of devotion worthy of reporting. The author gives us little else about the beliefs or practices of these individuals.
Leaving that to one side, if you are interested in Epona, there should be things in this book to interest you. There are plenty of illustrations of artifacts, and exploration of their meanings, and a considered look at some of the inscriptions to Epona, as well as an interesting discussion of sovereignty. The book is also well laced with the goddess theory, and belief in a matriarchal golden age somewhere in our human past. The author is comfortable conflating or making strong connections between many different deities. How the reader receives these ideas will depend on their own beliefs.
When you know where this book is headed, then it is easier to understand why the author insists on following a route through a variety of ancient religions not usually associated with the Celts. While he doesn't directly say so, it seems that his many references to non-Celtic religious thought, and analogies and associations between Epona and non-Celtic deities, are in service to arriving at the conclusion that the modern practices described above are the inevitable, or correct, method of devotion to Epona in the present day. However, Cook falls just short of plainly stating this as his thesis. If you have a controversial theory which you feel is correct, especially on a religious level, and that theory is worthy of the effort of writing a 300 page book with over 1,200 footnotes, then why not just state it outright? I think this book would have made more sense if he'd done that.
I'm am glad that someone has written a book on Epona. I believe that She deserves more attention and understanding than She is getting, both on a scholarly level and a devotional one. This book adds a little piece to that puzzle, but I feel it is not in the same league as Jhenah Telyndru's recent book on Rhiannon, which I reviewed here. I hope that we will be seeing more non-fiction books on the horse goddesses in the next few years, and that this won't be the final word on Epona.
Epona Hidden Goddess of the Celts, by P.D. MacKenzie Cook is published by Avalonia, London. It's available from Amazon and other booksellers.