Monday, January 12, 2015
Rhiannon: Welsh Goddess of Sovereignty, Divine Queen, Horse Goddess:
Walker between Worlds.
Rhiannon’s name is well known to most of us from Stevie Nick’s song: Rhiannon rings like a bell through the night and wouldn’t you love to love her? Takes to the sky like a bird in flight, and who will be her lover?
Stevie must have channeled that description of Rhiannon: she is a queen of Faerie and images of bells, birds in flight and song, the Moon, the night and lovers are all elements of her stories. Part Moon goddess, part Horse goddess, part Lady Sovereignty, Rhiannon is like the Elven princess Arwen Undómiel in Lord of the Rings, leaving behind a magical existence in the blissful land of Faerie and choosing to live in the mortal world, where troubles and woes abound with the bliss.
At one point in her immortal life, Rhiannon gives up her place in Faerie to be with her beloved human husband, Pywll, becoming Lady Sovereignty, the Goddess of the Land of Dyfed. At another point in her long life, Rhiannon marries Manannán mac Lir, the Celtic god of the oceans, and has to deal with a Faerie enchantment that she and Manannan and her son Pryderi and his wife must break. Her marriage to Manannan makes sense, since the ocean is the symbol of the Collective Unconscious and gives rise to enchantment. In her role as Lady Sovereignty for Manannan, she must help him bring his special gift back into consciousness—the gift of the imagination—instead of it being used for enchantment (as our media does) to keep mortals unconscious.
Rhiannon is not a passive goddess. She does what needs to get done. She chooses her own mate and then willingly undergoes an unjust punishment (in the form of a horse!) because of the malice of her rejected and humiliated lover. She’s willing to pay the consequences of her choices. For all her beauty and gentleness, Rhiannon is a warrior goddess who must overcome these obstacles to her desires. Her stories are stories of her journey through troubles and pain into triumph.
This Welsh Goddess is an aspect of the Great Goddess of life, death and rebirth. Her song can awaken the dead and put people to sleep. She is a Goddess of Transitions, of Doorways, of walking between worlds. The name Rhiannon derives from Rigantona, meaning Divine Queen. She is often described as riding her White horse in the flower fields of her Faerie kingdom. She is accompanied by three sweetly singing birds, who can revive the dead or put the living into a sweet sleep--times of transitions. She sings with the birds, who are her messengers and she sings to anyone who happens to walk by. For a Faerie Queen, she is friendly to mortals and wants to share her joyful gifts, perhaps because she understands the burdens and joys of our human life.
Rhiannon is associated with horses, and so is her son Pryderi. She is often considered to be related to the Gaulish horse goddess Epona. Like Epona, Rhiannon and her son have an affinity with mares and foals. She is especially associated with White horses—Spirit Horses. White horses are rarer than other colors of horses. The mythology of Horse is vast and we find it in all cultures were horses roam.
It must have been amazing to take that first ride on a horse! (Of course it still is!) Can you image walking everyplace you need to go? How much more limited your life is when you can only depend on walking. Horse brought travel and communication, power and unity to people. It gave them the power of movement and expansion. How swift and powerful horses are—how powerful they make us feel! And unlike cars, horses have their own instincts and they’ll keep us safe if we know how to stay on their backs!
Horses are often associated with the sun chariot, the power to pull the Sun across the sky! Horse is always associated with warrior-heroes, for often heroes must ride like the wind. And the Mare is known for her fertility and gentle, mothering Spirit. In Native American lore, of all the colors, a white stallion was most prized, especially by the chief and medicine man. White Stallion symbolizes the balanced medicine shield, “where true power is wisdom found in remembering your total journey. Wisdom comes from remembering pathways you have walked in another person’s moccasins. Compassion, caring, teaching, loving and sharing your gifts, talents, and abilities are the gateways of power.” (For more, see Sams & Carson, Medicine Cards. Horse, p. 178.)
Horses symbolize movement and power, both physical power and spiritual power. On the physical plane, Horse gave us freedom; when Horse entered our experience, it enabled us to move quickly over large areas of land and to have accelerated power during war. Our whole world-view changed. We talk about cars having ‘horse power’, indicating how powerful the engine is to take us swiftly over many miles. On the spiritual plane, the magical Horse enables shamans to fly through the air and reach heaven.
For the Celts, Horse calls us to journey, to move our life forward and seek our soul’s purpose. And that often includes learning how to shift dimensions. Life needs to get deeper and richer. Horse calls us to go deep within and act boldly outside. Just as Rhiannon is a goddess of journeying between realms, Horse is the vehicle we use to make that journey.
It’s so interesting that horse is a healer—autistic children blossom when they’re connected with horses. Like Dolphin, Horse bridges the gap between human and animal and brings emotional healing to whoever asks its help. Horse is playful and loyal, intelligent and wise. But most truly, gentle and strong: we know that Horse can be trusted (except of course the grouchy ones.)
Whether journeying in the outer realms or the inner, Horse brings us energy, speed and a connection to the land and to the sky. As we journey, we learn the lessons of Horse—that together, we can travel through many dimensions and over many miles of land. Together, we can heal each other. Horse teaches us to become comfortable with the Earth’s life-cycle, letting go of what needs to die so we can rebirth a new life. Journeying is Horse’s gift to us! (for more, see Philip & Stephanie Carr-Gomm, The Druid Animal Oracle. Horse, pg. 122.)
Rhiannon is both Faerie Queen and Lady Sovereignty, who, in choosing her own spouse, thereby ordained Pwyll legitimate king of the Dyfed, which she personified. She rides her White horse between worlds, opening the gates of fertility and powerful sexual energy. This image of Lady Sovereignty astride a White horse developed into a ritual wherein certain Irish kings undertook a symbolic marriage to a white mare to align their reign to the power of the Land itself. The Celtic’s honored Mother Earth and her mysteries.
Rhiannon chose to embrace the mysteries of life, and she offers her guidance to us through her stories. Rhiannon’s stories exemplify the hera’s journey to overcome obstacles to her choices, as well as showing us what happens when the magical (spirit & matter) Feminine must deal with the limited understanding and vision of unconscious humans and faeries. Feminine gifts are misunderstood and often reviled by our left-brain society. Rhiannon can help us forgive those who won’t trust our feminine knowing. She acts out of greater consciousness with humility and grace, showing mortals her true worth.
Rhiannon works with an aspect of feminine consciousness which opens us to new experiences, no matter what plane of existence it happens on. She helps us overcome the obstacles within ourselves to listening to our intuition and emotional intelligence. Rhiannon is a strategist—she needs to be free. She is independent and strong, even in the midst of adversity. And she has the gift of music, which speaks to our souls. Like Sophia and Kwan Yin, she has experienced the suffering of humanity and understands us
and has compassion for us.
She is the Goddess to turn to when you have to walk through a door and you’re not sure how it will turn out. Her goodness, her wisdom and her truth are your best guides for walking into the Unknown. As you journey, you become the Maiden once again, crossing the threshold into the next, new phase of your life.
Rhiannon and Pwyll
While hunting in Glyn Cuch, Pwyll, prince of Dyfed becomes separated from his companions and stumbles across a pack of hounds feeding on a slain stag. Pwyll drives the hounds away and sets his own hounds to feast, thereby earning the anger of Arawn, lord of Annwn, the Otherworld. In recompense, Pwyll agrees to trade places with Arawn for a year and a day, taking on the lord's appearance and taking his place at Arawn's court. At the end of the year, Pwyll engages in single combat against Hafgan, Arawn's bitter rival, and mortally wounds him with one blow to earn Arawn rulership of all Annwn.
After Hafgan's death, Pwyll and Arawn meet once again, revert to their old appearance and return to their respective courts. They become lasting friends when Arawn learns that Pwyll slept chastely with Arawn's wife for the duration of the year. As a result of Pwyll's successful ruling of Annwn, he earns the title Pwyll Pen Annwfn; "Pwyll, head of Annwn." And Arawn himself ruled Dyfed well, so that Pwyll came home to a kingdom at peace.
Sometime later, Pwyll is holding court at his chief seat of Arberth and he walks up the Mound of Arberth. He is told that any noble who sits upon the Mound cannot leave until he either suffers an injury or else sees a marvel. He decides to sit there, hoping to see a marvel. Soon a most beautiful woman appears down the road, dressed in gold silk brocade and riding a shining white horse. She rides past the Mound at a sedate pace, and Pwyll sends his best horsemen to greet her, but she remains ahead of him, though her horse never moves quicker than an amble. The more the man hastens after her, the further away she is.
The next day, Pwyll goes back to the Mound and everything happens as it did the day before. The woman rides by, Pwyll sends his fastest horse after her and she still cannot be caught. On the third day, Pwyll himself rides after her, but he has no better luck. He finally calls out to her: “Maiden, for the sake of the man you love, wait for me!” The maiden calls back: “I will wait gladly, and it had been better for the horse if you had asked it long ago.”
They talk and Pwyll asks her business there and the maiden tells him she has come to see him. She introduces herself as Rhiannon and tells him she has come seeking him because she is being forced to marry a man against her will. She would rather marry him than her fiance, Gwawl ap Clud, if he will have her. Of course Pwyll agrees.
Rhiannon tells him to come to her father’s hall in a year’s time to marry her. When he arrives, he is greeted with great joy and a big celebration. During the feast, a man comes to ask a boon of Pwyll, and without thinking, Pwyll offers to give him anything in his power. Then the petitioner says he is Rhiannon’s intended bridegroom and he wants Rhiannon back. Rhiannon is horrified by Pwyll’s stupidity but she says they have to give him his request but she will put off sleeping with him for a year.
When that year is over, Pwyll and his men come back and hide in the orchard. Rhiannon has a plan. She gives Pwyll a magical bag. During the celebration, Pwyll disguises himself as a beggar, and petitions Gwall for enough food to fill the bag. The bag can never be filled, and after putting quite a bit of the feast in the bag, Gwall says, “Will that bag never be full!” Pwyll tells him that he must come and stamp on the food in the bag for it to stop. When Gwall comes and does it, Pwyll quickly ties him up and calls his men, who proceed to beat up the bag and humiliate Gwall until he agrees to give up Rhiannon.
After being married for a few years, Pwyll and Rhiannon attempt to supply an heir to the kingdom and eventually a boy is born. However, on the night of his birth, he disappears while in the care of six of Rhiannon's ladies-in-waiting.
To avoid the king's wrath, the ladies smear dog's blood onto a sleeping Rhiannon, claiming that she had committed infanticide and cannibalism through eating and "destroying" her child. She tries to get them to tell the truth, saying she will protect them, but they will not recant their lies.
So Rhiannon is forced to do penance for her crime. Her punishment is this: for seven years to sit beside the mounting block outside the gate each day and to tell her story to all who come to Arberth. And to offer to those guests and distant travelers who would allow it to carry them on her back to court. Only rarely would someone allow her to do so. And so it went for seven years.
Meanwhile, Lord Teyrnon, a horse-lord, has a wonderful mare. Every May Eve she would foal, but the colt would always disappear. Finally, Teyrnon decides to put a stop to the theft of her foals. That night when she gives birth to a beautiful colt, a clawed arm comes through the window and grabs the colt. Teyrnon hews its arm off, freeing the colt. When he goes out to give chase to the monster, he finds a baby boy wrapped up in silk brocade.
Teyrnon and his wife always wanted a child, and even though they know the boy is noble, they decide to keep him. They call him Gwri Golden-Haired. The boy grows at an amazing rate. At one, he is walking firmly and is stronger than a three year old. At two, he is bigger and stronger than a six year old. Soon he is helping the stable boys. Finally, Teyrnon and his wife give Gwri the colt that was born on the night they found him.
Through the years, Teyrnon hears stories about Rhiannon and her punishment, and feels bad that she is in such misery. Finally looking at the boy, he realizes that Gwri looks just like Pwyll. And so he and his wife agree to take Gwri to Arberth to his parents. When Teyrnon explains what happened, Rhiannon exclaims, “If this is true, I have been delivered of my anxiety (pryder). And so her son is given the name Prydari.
Prydari grows into a man of honor and many talents, and when his father Pwyll dies, he becomes the ruler of not only Dyfed but also Seisyllwch.
As you can see, Rhiannon is a complex goddess--Faerie Queen who takes on our humanity. A compassionate, magical goddess. One who moves with us on our journey. She is Soul, the part of us that lives in-between our body and our Spirit.
May the love and blessing of the Goddess be ever in your heart. Merry meet, merry part and merry meet again.
Saturday, November 1, 2014
Erishkigal (pronounced: ay-RESH-kee-gahl / er-esh-KIG-ahl) is the Sumarian Goddess of the Underworld, Irkalla, the land of the dead. It is said that Ereshkigal is the only one who can pass judgment and dictate laws in her queendom. She is all-powerful when it comes to judging our souls there. She stands for a process in soul-awakening—the need to go through specific tests and fulfill certain requirements that become our foundation for growth in Spirit and wisdom.
Ereshkigal is the sister and counterpart of Inanna/Ishtar, the Goddess of sex, love and fertility—Goddess of the warm, life-giving season . Inanna is the Goddess of fertility, of cosmic order, of war and love, of heaven and earth. Inanna is called the Lady of Myriad Offices.
Ereshkigal, like Persephone in the Mediterranean region, reigns over nature during the cold season of the year from the Underworld. Since the ancients saw both sides of a goddess, holding the union of her life-giving and death-dealing image their hearts, we can view Inanna and Ereshkigal as one goddess in two aspects. So, Inanna needs Ereshkigal to weigh and judge how she uses her powers. Ereshkigal’s powers are truth-seeing and judgment, testing and boundaries.
Once worshipped as Ruler of the Underworld from the Euphrates to the Nile, Ereshkigal is now known primarily for her role as Inanna’s adversary in the ancient Sumerian text, The Descent of Inanna.
Thus begins this ancient poem/story/song.
The Great Below is obviously calling to Inanna. In Sumerian, the word for ear means mind and wisdom. Inanna, from the Great Above, set (opened) herself—“her ear, her receptor for Wisdom, to the Great Below.”2
Inanna withdraws her energy and power from her Temples and cities, from all her worshipers, her family and friends. She takes the 7 divine powers in her possession and dresses herself in them. Then she tells her faithful servant, Ninshubur, that if she doesn’t return, to go to the three Father gods and beg them to make sure that she doesn’t die in the Underworld.
Having set her mind, Inanna goes down to the underworld to her sister, Ereshgikal.
When Inanna arrived at the outer gate of the underworld, she pushed aggressively on the door. She shouted aggressively: "Open up, doorman, open up. Open up, Neti, open up. I am all alone and I want to come in."
Neti, the chief doorman of the underworld, answered holy Inanna: "Who are you?" "I am Inanna going to the east." "If you are Inanna going to the east, why have you travelled to the land of no return? How did you set your heart on the road whose traveler never returns?"
Holy Inanna answered him: "Because lord Gugalanna, the Bull of Heaven, the husband of my elder sister holy Ereshkigal, has died. I have come to witness the funeral rites. Let the beer of his funeral rites be poured into the cup. Let it be done!
Neti the gatekeeper goes to his mistress Ereshkigal and tells her that Inanna demands entrance. Ereshkigal goes into a rage (she is unfortunately full of fury, greed, the fear of loss, and even of self-spite) and with a bit of glee orders Neti to bolt the doors and only open them one at a time, as with any soul coming to her land. At each door, Inanna must give up one of her powers. When she protests, Neti tells her to hush and not complain about the divine rules of the Underworld. Those are the rules, made to order by Ereshkigal, who knows the soul’s needs.
And so Inanna enters her sister’s Underworld naked and bowed low. As Inanna crouches before her throne, Ereshkigal looks at her with the ‘eye of death’, pronounces her judgment and Inanna dies. Then Ereshkigal hangs her on a meat-hook to putrefy.
When Ninshubur goes to the father gods, Enlil and Nanna, to ask for their help in restoring Inanna, they refuse to help. They say that the rules are the rules—nobody returns from the Underworld. But Enki (her mother’s father) helps. He creates two little beings from the clay under his fingernails, the kurgarra and galatur, and instructs them to take on Ereshkigal’s anguish—to mourn with her. Then he gives them the food and water of life to give to Inanna.
When the kurgarra and the galatur sneak into the Underworld, they find Ereshkigal doubled over in anguish, moaning and bemoaning both her insides and her outsides, as if in the pangs of childbirth. They echo her moans, witness her pain. The Underworld Goddess complains—and why shouldn’t she? Her pain and rejection is real. It hurts! Enki’s wisdom teaches that suffering is part of reverencing life, and so these beings mirror Ereshkigal’s suffering.
And that changes everything. Ereshkigal is so touched by the attention they offer her that she extends herself and offers them the gifts of fertility and growth. Following Enki’s instructions, they instead ask for Inanna’s rotting body (the body of the Goddess of fertility and growth).
The kurgarra and galatur sprinkle the food and water of life on Inanna’s corpse. And Inanna arose.
As Inanna ascends to the upper worlds, she takes back her powers—and then some. But now she has to send someone down to take her place, for the laws of the Underworld cannot be broken. As she returns to her Temples and cities, her worshippers and her family have mourned her. All except her husband, Dummazi, who has gone on with life as if Inanna’s death was unimportant to him. And so she sets the demonic galla on him. He runs and tries to hide but they find him and carry him off to the Underworld.
To learn: To die. Then be born, live and die again.
Ereshkigal is the power that Inanna must face to be reborn. For Inanna to grow, she must face her dark sister. The laws of the underworld seem harsh to us, but they are the soul’s rules. If we want our souls to grow in spiritual awareness, we have to experience the process. Ereshkigal initiates us into the process.
There is a fierceness in Ereshkigal that is lacking in Inanna, whose open sexuality and creativity are matched and balanced by Ereshkigal’s eye of death and her way of stripping you bare. When Inanna reclaims her power, she carries Ereshkigal with her. She is also fierce, and knows something of sacrifice.
Jungians see Ereshkigal as one of the Shadow aspects of women’s psyches. Ereshkigal is the holder of our pain, just as the Shadow is that part of our personality and needs that we’ve rejected, banished, and repressed in the unconscious.
Ereshkigal is a multi-faceted deity of transformation, boundary-keeping, and passion, a teacher of harsh but necessary lessons. The only way we can meet Ereshkigal is stripped of our persona, stripped down to the skin of who we are. She tests our courage and our commitment to ourselves. Will we be whole? Or will we leave a part of ourselves languishing in loneliness and pain?
What happens to the story when we look at it from Ereshkigal’s viewpoint?
Ereshkigal fixed Inanna with the eye of death
She pronounced the word of wrath against her
Inanna fell down dead
Ereshkigal had her corpse hung on a hook3
Unfortunately, Ereshkigal was not happy with her assignment. There she is, bound to the Underworld, not able to come up to where life blossoms or even to go to the heavens with the other gods and goddesses. When Inanna comes calling, why should she let that glorious life in, just to make her feel more miserable and jealous by reminding her of what she is denied?
Ereshkigal is stripped bare, down to her essential being. And that’s what she requires of us when we come to pay her a visit. If we come to her domain, she makes the rules. It’s up to us to decide how we’ll deal with her rules. Are we open to our own truth? Or do we hide from ourselves who we really want to be? What we really want to do? Who we really are?
Another Crone Goddess, Ereshkigal is more than just the death aspect of the Goddess. Goddess of Boundaries, Mistress of the Ordeal and the Descent, and the Merciful Blade that lays open the truth of our Shadow, Ereshkigal is the Goddess who initiates us into our truth and wholeness so we can release all that is dead and embrace all that is dark in us.
We stand at the Gate of Samhain, the end and beginning of the Celtic year. The veils between the worlds are thin, and we can travel through them if we dare. Ereshkigal is the Goddess who can guide us to look at ourselves through her ‘eye of death’.
Take the next step in your journey of self-discovery. Travel to Ereshkigal so that the old will die so the new can be born again.
1. All quotes from “From the Great Above to the Great Below” are taken from Inanna: Queen of Heaven and Earth by Diane Wolkstein and Samuel Noah Kramer. Pp. 52-73.
2. Ibid. p. xvii.
3. Ibid. p. 60.Also, Queen of the Great Below: An Anthology in Honor of Ereshkigal, ed. By Janet Munin, (Bibliotheca Alexandrina: 2013).