One of the challenges in research is finding sources. My coathor and I have conducted a merry chase to track down citations pertinent to our research.
Before we began our joint project, I had been trying unsuccessfully to find reliable information about Epona, the Gallo-Roman horse goddess. To illustrate this point, a Google search on Epona returns 87,300 hits. Of these, the first few pages include farms, a world-building project, Lgend of Zelda fan sites, personal Web sites, pages for modern worshippers of Epona (1, 2), and catalogs of Celtic deities (1). Site quality varies tremendously.
I’d primarily found sites that assumed one horse-related deity must be like all the others: Epona must equal Rhiannon (character in the medieval Welsh Mabinogion) must equal Macha (Irish goddess whose myth involves giving birth to twin foals after racing). The few books with information on Epona sometimes did contain detailed information(1), but lacked citations so I couldn’t research the author’s sources.
For several years, I searched off and on for concrete evidence and found nothing beyond “Epona was a Celtic horse goddess often associated with Rhiannon and Macha. (Insert various correspondences here.)” The information was incomplete. Surely there were artifacts or inscriptions, something about her origination?
There had to be something more solid behind the assumptions apparent in the popular press, except I couldn’t find it. Until I met my coauthor. During one of our earliest conversations, he emailed me a summary of his research–more concrete facts than I had ever found. He pointed out that English language publications contained very little; however, French material, on the other hand, was much more plentiful.
Even though I read French only with difficulty (although it has gotten much better), I found books via interlibrary loan in French about Epona. This research is a shared passion, and I wasn’t going to let a little thing like language get in the way.
In our reference list, most of the works are not published in English. The non-English citations are primarily in French and German, with others in Spanish, Latin, and Eastern European languages.
Do I read French? Passably — enough to get myself in trouble. German? No, not really. I’ve spent many hours using language dictionaries, Google’s language tools, and emailing German- and French-speaking friends.
Research isn’t about knowing everything. It’s about knowing how to find and use resources to access and analyze information.
(1) For one example, see the entry on Epona in Celtic Myth and Magick by Edain McCoy. While this two page entry had more information then sentence or two in other books, the author does not cite sources well enough for it to be of use to the reader.