Sunday, March 1, 2009

Rhiannon, A Welsh Mother Goddess


By now, you all know how much I enjoy my Celtic and Irish mythology. I figured it was time to share another myth with my friends. Today I will be telling you about Rhiannon. Her story is an interesting one and I hope you enjoy your read.

Rhiannon, meaning great queen, was the otherwordly wife of Pwyll, ruler of Dyfed. Like other charachters of the welsh tradition she is thought to have once been a goddess, but with time and an eroding christian influence, she survives demoted to an otherworldly wife. Rhiannon is equated with the Roman Gallic Goddess Epona.
In the Mabinogion, she makes her first appearance riding a magickal white mare.
Her son's birth shares a mysterious parallel connection with a colt, and lastly she herself suffers a punishment of having to carry people on her back, as if she were a beast of burden. Tradition does preserve the birds of Rhiannon, who are her companions and a relic of her divinity. It is said their song was so potent an enchantment that it would wake the dead and place the living in a dream.
In the Mabinogion, the character of Rhiannon who resembles more fairy then Goddess, falls in love with a mortal, Pwyll- a man with otherworldly associations. His land of Dyfed was an area of Wales where the veil between this world and the next was treacherously thin. So our story begins....

Pwyll was holding court at the royal seat of Arberth, and in the evening he went to sit on a sacred mound of earth that legend said was a portal to the otherworld and where none could pass the night without vision or adventure.
As Pwyll sat patiently surveying the land, a woman riding a white mare appeared on the highway. He called to his men to fetch her, and while she looked to be traveling a gentle pace, none could catch her. The next day the scene was repeated and a faster horse failed to reach her. Pwyll suspected some illusion at play and rode out after her himself, but when his speed brought him no closer he called out to the woman asking her to stop, which she did, remarking that it would have been better for his horses had he asked long ago.
She drew back her veil and fixed her eyes upon him, and he thought their beauty and depth beyond compare.
He asked the purpose of her journey and she explained she had come on her own errand to find him. Pwyll was most pleased.
She introduced herself and went on to explain that her love for him had prevented her from marrying any other. But now her Father in the otherworld has promised her to a man named Gwawl against her will, and she would not marry him unless Pwyll rejected her.
Pwyll assured Rhiannon that she was his choice of all women. They then made a secret pledge to meet again in one year at her fathers palace. When the day came, Rhiannon had arranged a wedding feast and all would have been well if Pwyll, in a thoughless moment, had not agreed to grant an unconditional boon to a guest, who unbeknownst to Pwyll, was the jilted suitor, who naturally asked for the bride.
A clever woman, Rhiannon was quick to stall the wedding yet another year and gave Pwyll detailed instructions to return on the date dressed as a beggar with a magic bag she gave him. As a beggar he could ask Gwawl for the bag's fill of food from the feast and when the bag would not take its fill, Pwyll was to tell Gwawl that only a man of noble blood could quell the appetite by placing his feet in the bag.
All unfolded as planned, and when the trusting Gwawl obliged, Pwyll quickly enveloped and trapped him in the bag. Pwyll's men then fell upon the hall and entertained themselves in beating the bag, calling their amusement "Badger in the Bag". An injured Gwawl protested that he did not deserve such treatment, and the disgusted Father of the bride agreed. Pwyll called for a halt to the game and then pressured Gwawl to return Rhiannon. Gwawl agreed and was released.
The couple returned to Dyfed, where Rhiannon became a kind and capable Queen, but as she was foreign the people were reluctant to accept her. Furthermore, as she had not given birth to an heir, Pwyll came under pressure to forsake her. He refused, and in the fourth year a child was born, but the babe was then mysteriously stolen from under the noses of six sleeping nurses. Thinking they would face the death penalty for their neglect, the nurses conspired to kill some puppies and smear the queen's hands and face with blood, accusing her of devouring her own child in the night. Rhiannon suspected the plot and promised the nurses protection for the truth, but they stood firm six to one.
In the end, the queen herself asked for penance, rather than contending with the cruel company of the women. A council decided that for seven years she hould sit each day at the horse block, where she would tell passersby of her crime and offer to carry them on her back to the castle.
Rhiannon's tale traveled to a friend of Pwyll named Teirnyon, who began to suspect the babe boy who had come into the keeping of him and his wife was the son of the lord of Dyfed. They took the child to court, and Teirnyon told the strange tale of how on the first of May a colt would be born to his mare, but would then mysteriously disappear. The same night of the Queen's alleged crime, he had stood guard over his mare and newborn foal to fight off the mysterious apparition of a black hand that had reached out in the dark to snatch the colt. In the
wake of the unearthly creature, he had found the child, whom they took in and raised as their own. All the court agreed the child was the image of Pwyll, his father. With the return of her son, Rhiannon named him Pryderi (meaning "care" and "anxiety"), and he grew up to be the capable, much loved ruler of Dyfed. After the death of Pwyll, Rhiannon went on to marry the wise and respected Manawydan, son of Llyr.

So what do you think of Rhiannon's tale?
Why do you think her punishment was to carry people on her back?
I wonder how Pwyll, who loved her so much could believe such a story about his wife and allow her such a cruel punishment when she must have ached over the loss of her child as it was.
I would love to hear your thoughts as always.

Also, don't forget to check out my handblended Rhiannon's Anxiety Oil.
This lightly scented oil is blended with essential oils known to calm and relax the mind and body. Rub this oil on your pulse points and chakras to relax your mind and alleviate anxiety.
The smell is lovely and light so that it will not overpower any other scents you choose to wear.

I use only top quality essential oils mixed with organic carrier oils in my oil mixtures. They are safe to wear on your skin and can be used as a massage oil, bath soak or added to an oil burner to enjoy the aromatherapy values of this amazing oil.
Click the link below for more information on my Rhiannon Oil.
Magickal Enchantments

4 comments:

SHI said...

A wonderful post! Rhiannon is my patron Goddess and I never tire of reading about her. Thank you for sharing her story!

jasmoon-butterfly said...

fab...I love mythology too x

Princess61470 said...

This was great, when I was looking up Epona last year I came across some info on Rhiannon but not much. This was great and I can of course also say that the oil is great as well. I love your Rhiannon's oil, we use it quite a bit around here!!

Lara said...

Hi - I found your blog when looking for meanings of Rhiannon. I was looking for a name for an art doll I'm working on and couldn't get the name out of my head. I had a dream about Rhiannon about 8 years ago and she told me to follow my art dream; I want my 'guardian' doll to be a motherly figure; then the title of your post "A Welsh Mother Goddess" was a sign I've chosen the right name for my doll. Sure case of synchronicity, even if it did take 8 years for me to get the message! Thank you!