Monday, March 13, 2006

Rhiannon, Goddess of the Moon and of Inspiration

I've been waiting to post this for awhile. It never seemed to be the right time, bbbuuuttt, where I've fallen recently under the Moon's spell and have heeded her call...tonight seems appropriate.

Let me introduce you to Rhiannon, the Welsh goddess of the moon and of inspiration. Her name means "Divine Queen" of the faeries. Although she is fey and a goddess, she is every bit a Celtic lass through and through. She is proud and defiant, loyal and loving, passionate and intelligent. She creates and dances to her own tune and remains steadfast. She is a goddess of movement and change. Rhiannon's story is one of healing power, of humor, of tears and forgiveness. I present it to you now:

Rhiannon was promised in marriage to an older man she found repugnant. Defying her family's wishes that she, like other Celtic goddesses who married their "own kind," marry this man, Rhiannon chose instead the mortal Prince Pwyll (pronounced Poo-ul or translated as Paul) as her future husband.

She appeared to him one afternoon while he stood with his companions on a great grass-covered mound in the deep forest surrounding his castle. These mounds, called "Tors," were thought to be magical places, perhaps covering the entrance to the otherworld beneath the earth. It was thought that those who stood upon them would become enchanted, so most people avoided them. So it is no surprise that the young prince was enchanted by the vision of the beautiful young goddess Rhiannon, who was dressed in glittering gold as she galloped by on her powerful white steed. She rode on by without sparing him even a glance. Prince Pwyll was intrigued and enraptured, and his companions were understandably concerned.

Ignoring the protest of his friends, the prince sent his servant off riding his swiftest horse to catch her and ask her to return with him to meet His Highness. But the servant soon returned and reported that she had ridden so swiftly it seemed as if her horse's hooves scarcely touched the ground and that he had not been able to follow her to learn where she went.

The next day, ignoring his friends' advice, Pwyll returned alone to the mound and, once more, the Celtic goddess appeared. Mounted on his horse, Pwyll pursued her but could not overtake her. Although his horse ran even faster than Rhiannon's, the distance between them always remained the same. Finally, after his horse began to tremble with exhaustion he stopped and called out for her to wait. And Rhiannon did.

When Pwyll drew close she teased him gently, telling him that it would have been much kinder to his horse had he simply called out instead of chasing her. The goddess Rhiannon then let him know that she had come to find him, seeking his love.

The prince welcomed this for the very sight of the beautiful Celtic goddess had tugged at his heart, and he reached for her reins to guide her to his kingdom. But Rhiannon smiled tenderly and shook her head, telling him that they must wait a year and that then she would marry him. In the next moment, she simply disappeared from him into the deep forest.

Rhiannon returned one year later, dressed as before, to greet Pwyll on the Tor. He was accompanied by a troop of his own men, as befitted a prince on his wedding day. Speaking no words, Rhiannon turned her horse and gestured for the men to follow her into the tangled woods. Although fearful, they complied. As they rode the trees suddenly parted before them, clearing a path, then closing in behind them when they passed.

Soon they entered a clearing and were joined by a flock of small songbirds that swooped playfully in the air around Rhiannon's head. At the sound of their beautiful caroling all fear and worry left the men. Before long they arrived at her father's palace, a stunning site that was surrounded by a lake. The castle, unlike any they had ever seen, was built not of wood or stone, but of silvery crystal. Its spires soared into the heavens.

After the wedding a great feast was held to celebrate the marriage of the goddess. Rhiannon's family and people were both welcoming and merry, but a quarrel broke out at the festivities. It was said that the man she'd once been promised to marry was making a scene, arguing that she should not be allowed to marry outside her own people.

The goddess slipped away from her new husband's side to deal with the situation as discreetly as she could... Using a bit of magic, she turned the persistent suitor into a badger and caught him in a bag which she tied close and threw into the lake. Unfortunately, he managed to escape and later returned to cause great havoc in Rhiannon's life.

The next day Rhiannon left with Prince Pwyll and his men to go to Wales as his princess. When they emerged from the forest and the trees closed behind them, Rhiannon took a moment to glance nostalgically behind her. She knew that the entrance to the fairy kingdom was now closed to her and that she could never return to her childhood home. But she didn't pause for long and felt little regret.

The Celtic goddess was welcomed by her husband's people and admired for her great beauty and her lovely singing. However, when two full years had passed without her becoming pregnant with an heir to the throne, the question of her bloodline, her "fitness" to be queen began to arise.

Fortunately, in the next year she delivered a fine and healthy son. This baby, however, was to become the source of great sorrow for Rhiannon and Pwyll.

As was the custom then, six women servants had been assigned to stay with Rhiannon in her lying-in quarters to help her care for the infant. Although the servants were supposed to work in shifts tending to the baby throughout the night so that the Princess Rhiannon could sleep and regain her strength after having given birth, one evening they all fell asleep on the job.

When they woke it was to find the cradle empty, and they were fearful they would be punished severely for their carelessness. They devised a plan to cast the blame on the innocent Rhiannon, who was, after all, an outsider, not really one of their own people. Killing a puppy, they smeared its blood on the sleeping goddess and scattered its bones around her bed. Sounding the alarm, they accused Rhiannon of eating her own child.

Although Rhiannon swore her innocence, Pwyll, suffering from his own shock and grief and faced with the anger of his advisers and people, did not come strongly to his wife's defense, saying only that he would not divorce her and asked only that her life be spared.

Rhiannon's punishment was announced. For the next seven years she was to sit by the castle gate, bent under the heavy weight of a horse collar, greeting guests with the story of her crime and offering to carry them on her back into the castle.

Rhiannon bore her humiliating punishment without complaint. Through the bitter cold of winters and the dusty heat of four summers, she endured with quiet acceptance. Her courage was such that few accepted her offer to transport them into the castle. Respect for her began to spread throughout the country as travelers talked of the wretched punishment and the dignity with which the princess Rhiannon bore her suffering.

In the fall of the fourth year three strangers appeared at the gate—a well-dressed nobleman, his wife, and a young boy. Rhiannon rose to greet them saying, "Lord, I am here to carry each of you into the prince's court, for I have killed my only child and this is my punishment." The man, his wife and the child dismounted. While the man lifted the surprised Rhiannon onto his horse, the boy handed her a piece of an infant's gown. Rhiannon saw that it was cloth that had been woven by her own hands. The boy then smiled at her, and she recognized that he had the eyes of his father, Pwyll.

Soon the story was told. Four years earlier, during a great storm, the nobleman had been called to the field to help a mare in labor, when he heard the infant's cries and found him lying abandoned. He and his wife took the baby in, raising him as if he were their own. When the rumors of the princess' fate had reached his ears, he realized what had happened and set out at once to return the child to his parents. (Most versions suggest that the enraged suitor Rhiannon had rejected and who had escaped had taken his revenge by kidnapping Rhiannon and her prince's infant son.)

Pwyll and his people quickly recognized the boy for his and Rhiannon's son. The goddess was restored to her honor and her place beside her husband. Although she had suffered immensely at their hands, Rhiannon, goddess of noble traits, saw that they were ashamed and was filled with forgiveness and understanding.

In some versions of the legend, Rhiannon was the Celtic goddess who later became Vivienne, best known as the Lady of the Lake. She was the Celtic goddess who gave Arthur the sword Excalibur, empowering him to become King in the legends of Camelot.

Rhiannon (Vivienne)
by Jessica Galbreth


At 6:29 PM, Blogger Lois said...

I loved this story/myth of Rhiannon ..It reminded me of a friend Yvonne long ago in 1979.

We worked together in a Neighbourhood Learning centre
In 1979 the women in the English for Fun class wrote and published a book
Yvonne wrote this in reference to an unhappy marriage she was in
"Myths - Legends we Live by"
I am a romantic,
for all my years I have longed for a life that bears no relationship to my reality.
I watched the film Camelot the other night and I found my heart aching for the type of love portrayed.
The warm,caring acceptance of King Arthur for Guinevere,regardless of her love affair with Lancelot.
Oh the marvellous depth and height you could experience with a love like that !
Do you know the silliest part of all is that I believe I could receive and return such a love...
Yvonne B.
'And Now it Flows
Release of Learning...1979'

National Library of Australia
Card no. and ISBN 0-908536-00-3.

Lois (Muse of the Sea)

At 8:30 AM, Blogger Vi Jones said...

Beautiful, Lois, and this from a Welsh Celtic lass. We Celts, I think, are more attuned to our world, as well as the world of myth. Our souls are forever reaching for the most elusive of stars.

Thank you for your post.


At 11:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello i am a great admirer of Rhiannon. she has showed me how to not be ashamed of my name.yes it is true my name is Rhiannon. I never realized what great person she was. I now realize why my mother named me Rhiannon....because she new how good I would be for man kind....just like the Celtic goddess of old.


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