Monday, January 12, 2015
Rhiannon: Divine Queen, Horse Goddess and Walker Between Worlds
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.