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Rhiannon by Jessica Galbreth


Rhiannon was the Welsh Goddess of the Underworld, whose name was derived from “Rig Antonia,” which means Great Queen. She was also the Welsh equivalent of the Irish Goddess Macha, and the Gaulish, or Celtic French Goddess Epona, the Mare or Horse Goddess, who were all symbolized by a pure white mare. While Rhiannon was a powerful Fertility Goddess, she was also the Queen of the Otherworld, the Goddess of the Dead, the Enhancer of Dreams, and a Goddess of the Moon. Rhiannon was also, quite importantly, the Goddess of Transformation, Wisdom, Magic, and Rebirth, and her followers worshipped her, preferably outside, at woodland alters, amidst the trees, and underneath the moonlight.

Rhiannon has often been described as a tall, slender, and beautiful woman, dressed in royal robes of gold, and riding an unearthly white mare. Accompaning her were three beautiful birds from the Otherworld, whose magickal song had the power to lull the living to death, restore the dead to life, and heal all sadness and pain. The Otherworld is another name for the Underworld, which is the place that souls go, when their bodies die. The souls’ existence, in the Otherworld, is similar to that on Earth, and life exists there, much like it does on Earth. The inhabitants of the Otherworld, live out their allotted time there, and then they die, just like they do on Earth. When they do die, they are then reborn, once again on Earth, as the cycle continues to go on.

Birds are believed to symbolize, the spirits’ flight to the Otherworld, and these birds were believed to possess supernatural powers. Throughout the history of the Celts, many Goddesses, including the Irish Goddess of War, The Morrigan, have frequently been known to shape-shift, between the form of a human, and that of a Raven or a Crow.

If we look at the symbolism, central to Celtic Mythology, when three birds appear together, they are usually associated with a Triple Goddess. The spiritual world and the material world were usually considered to be one and the same by the Celts. Death, to them, was just a normal part of life, and they saw no real difference between the natural, and the supernatural, worlds. Until approximately the 11th Century, C.E., Irish Kings, in order to ensure wealth and prosperity for their tribes, would symbolically mate with the Horse Goddess, Epona, who was the Celtic/Gaulic version, and archetypal ancestor, of Rhiannon.

Epona was a major Celtic and Gaulic Horse Goddess, and many statues of her have been found, throughout the British Isles. Epona was similar to Rhiannon in many ways, and she was depicted, riding an unearthly white horse, and accompanied by three birds from the Otherworld. The Celts viewed horses as powerful symbols, since horses played an important role in their daily lives. Horses were used for traveling, for plowing and for transporting heavy loads of goods, and as such, they became quite necessary, to the daily lives of the Celts.

Rhiannon has been identified with the night, emotion, blood, the moon, wilderness, and drama; and she was associated with the wild pleasure of sexuality, rather than just the fertility aspect of the Great Mother Goddess, or the pure and beautiful aspect of sexuality, which was represented by the Phoenician Goddess Astarte/ Ishtar.

As it is with most Goddesses, many myths exist regarding Rhiannon. The following, is one of the best known, of those myths: Rhiannon was the beautiful Welsh Goddess of the Dead, and the Otherworld, and the daughter of Hefaidd Hen, the Lord of the Otherworld. She was always accompanied by three beautiful magickal birds, who could charm men into losing all track of time, and make the dead wake, and the living fall into a blissful, seven-year sleep.

Rhiannon had many suitors, not only because she was so very beautiful, although she was, but also because a union with her, held the possibility that her husband would gain great wealth, prestige and power. Included in her suitors were Pwyll, a mortal, and the King of Dyfed, and Gwawl, a minor sun god, who was the son of Clud. Somehow, Gwawl had managed to trick Rhiannon, into agreeing to marry him, but Rhiannon was terribly unhappy with that arrangement, and she desperately wanted to marry Pwyll. Somehow, things began to change for the better, and Rhiannon was able to get out of her bethrothal to Gwawl, so that she could marry Pwyll, which she did.

Gwawl and his father were furious, when they learned that Rhiannon was marrying Pwyll, and in their anger, they set a curse upon the household of Pwyll, which caused Rhiannon to become barren.

Because she was the Queen of the Otherword, and the Goddess of the Dead, and because she was also quite adept at practicing Magick, many people were afraid of Rhiannon, and most of them did everything that they could, to stay as far away from her as possible. To make matters worse, after many years had passed, she was still unable to give Pwyll a child, more specicially, a male child, who would be Pwyll’s heir.

Pwyll’s friends, all kept trying to convince him, that he should take another wife, who could provide him with an heir; but Pwyll loved Rhiannon very deeply, and refused to even consider such a thing. Eventually, through working her magick, Rhiannon finally did become pregnant, and she gave birth to Pwyll’s son, the heir of Pyfed.

Shortly after he was born, on Beltane Eve, the infant was stolen from the side of the sleeping Rhiannon, and it was quickly whisked away to the Otherworld. The household staff was afraid that they would, at best, get into trouble for allowing the kidnapping to occur, or that they would, at worst, be accused of being accomplices in the kidnapping plot. To counter any possible allegations, they murdered some puppies, which had just been born, and then they smeared the blood all over the sleeping Rhiannon, including on the area around her mouth. They scattered the puppys’ bones, near where Rhiannon and her child had been sleeping, and then they accused her, of devouring her infant son.

Pwyll loved Rhiannon dearly, and he refused to believe that she was capable of devouring their child. Because of that love, Pwyll refused to punish Rhiannon for the murder of their child, since that punishment would have been death.

Instead, the punishment that Rhiannon received, took on a very strange form. She was forced to stand at the gate of their castle, and offer to carry visitors upon her back, to the castle door, telling them, as she did, about her crime. It was through that particular form of punishment, that Rhiannon, symbolically, became transformed into a horse.

Meanwhile, on that same Beltane Eve, a man named Teyrnon was on his way home, after having saved his mare’s foal from a mysterious beast. It was then that he came upon a basket. When he looked inside the basket, he found an infant boy, wrapped in a blanket, asleep. Since Teyrnon and his wife were childless, they decided to adopt the child, and they raised him, as if he was their own.

When his son turned seven, Teyrnon decided, that he would give him a special gift, and the gift that he chose to give the boy, was the same foal, whose life he had saved on the same Beltane evening that he had found his son. Then, quite suddenly, Teyrnon recognized the amazing resemblence between his son, and both Pwyll and Rhiannon, and it was with great sorrow, that he and his wife, returned the boy to his true and natural parents.

The then-exonerated Rhiannon, chose to name their son, Pryderi, which, when translated, means "worry," or "anxiety." Shortly thereafter, it was discovered that Gwawl and his father, had arranged to have their son kidnapped. It had been their way, of getting revenge, for Rhiannon having chosen to marry Pwyll, instead of Gwawl.

This legend shows us a good example of strength and courage, as well as exemplifying the fact, that in the end, truth will prevail. It also shows us how Rhiannon still had the ability to love, unfalteringly, and with great honor and dignity, even though she had to go through, such terrible atrocities. In this tale, Rhiannon's actions reflect the sum of the best qualities that exist within women everywhere, and which make up the Divine Feminine.

In this story, we see Rhiannon, standing tall and proud, even though she was faced with great heartache and adversity; and through her actions, it becomes increasingly clear, why people have always loved, honored and respected this amazing Goddess. Throughout this tale, Rhiannon sets a positive example, for all women to follow, and it is through those very actions, that she appears to be so much more then just an amazing Goddess; for she is, as her title reflects, a Great Queen.

Image of Rhiannon
courtesy of Jessica Galbreth
and the Enchanted-Art Collection
Used with Permission

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