Embarr was the horse of the goddess Niamh, daughter of Manannan mac Lir. Niamh convinced the hero Oisin to travel with her to Tír Tairnigiri (the land of promise) upon Embarr. There Oisin stayed for 300 years. Feeling homesick he requested to return to the mortal world for a visit. Niamh agreed and lent him Embarr, but warned that he was not to touch the ground. He fell off Embarr by accident and was instantly turned into an old man and was never able to return to the enchanted land and died soon after.
Epona is the goddess of horses, springs, rivers and fertility in Celtic Myth. Epona would accompany the soul to the underworld. She is the only goddess whose worship was adopted by the Romans and in fact was given a temple in the capital city where her feast day was December 18. In the beginning she was probably only a fertility goddess as her symbol is the cornucopia. At times she is depicted as a white mare, but most usually she is always shown surrounded by horses or riding one. The White Horse of Uffington is a huge outline of a horse carved into the limestone cliffs in England and is thought to be an image of Epona. For many hundreds of years it was traditional for a couple to stand in the “eye of Epona” to be hand fasted (married). The white Horse dates from about 1400 BC.
Macha was another incarnation of Epona, usually found in Ireland. She was the wife of Crunniuc Mac Agnomain of Ulster. During a royal gathering that included horse racing Crunniuc boasted that his wife, who was pregnant at the time, could outrun the king' horse. Of course the king was angered by this boast and demanded that Macha prove her speed. Macha was brought before the king and was told if she refused to race Crunniuc would be killed. Macha agreed to race but prophesied that 'A long-lasting evil will come out of this on the whole of Ulster. She raced the king's horse and won, but at the end of the field gave birth to twins. IN the throes of childbirth she cried that all who heard the scream would suffer from the pangs of childbirth for five days and four nights in times of Ulster's greatest difficulty. The curse would last for nine times nine generations.
Pooka (or phooka) were mischievous and malicious water spirits. They often appeared in the form of black horses. If you caught a pooka in its horse form you could keep it until such time as it glimpsed water, then it would leap into the river or lake and drown the rider. An alternate name for these spirits is kelpie.
Rhiannon is the equivalent of Epona in Welsh mythology. The story is the hero Pwyll spied Rhiannon riding a pure white horse and he was trying to catch her but the horse always seemed to be pulling ahead. He finally called out to her and she stopped. They eventually married and Rhiannon bore him a son. However a monster stole the child despite the presence of 6 midwives. I order to keep blame from themselves they agreed to blame Rhiannon. So they killed a puppy and smeared the blood on Rhiannon's face and body, then told Pwyll she ate the child. As punishment Rhiannon was forced to stand by a horse block and offer to carry any visitors to the castle like a horse. After 7 years the child turns up on Beltane in the company of Teirnon. Teirnon had been hiding in his stable to catch whoever had been stealing the foals of his mares. When he saw an arm reach in the grab a newborn he hacked it off and chased away the monster. When he went outside he found the child, Pryderi, and returned him to his parents. Teirnon also presented Prydani with the foal that had been saved that night.
Splendid Mane is the horse of the Irish god Manannan mac Lir; he was swifter than the spring wind and able to travel over water or land with ease.
The Black and the Grey The hero Cuchulainn owned two horses that were born on the same day as he was. They were the Black of Sainglend and the Grey of Macha. The story is that on the day of Cuchulainn's last battle the Grey refused to be bridled and cried tears of blood. During the fight the Grey was mortally wounded yet still managed to kill 50 of the enemy with his teeth and 30 more with his hooves.
Written and researched by Jorge Desjardins
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