Pwyll, Lord of the Welsh kingdom of Dyfed, was riding when he saw before him a gorgeous woman dressed in gold, slowly and regally riding a big, beautiful white mare. He tried to catch up with her, but no matter how fast he and his minions rode, they could never reach the beautiful rider, although she never appeared to increase her slow, dignified pace. Finally Pwyll called to her, and she stopped and let him catch up. When he asked why he couldn’t reach her before, she said it was because he hadn’t asked. She introduced herself as Rhiannon and stated her intention to marry him.
Rhiannon married Pwyll and came to live at his court, bringing precious gifts for all his nobles. For three years they had no children, and people began to whisper against her. Rhiannon was rumored to be a sorceress. Local people exhorted Pwyll to choose a new wife, but he refused. Finally Rhiannon gave birth to a son.
Three nights later, on May Eve, servants appointed to keep watch over the newborn fell asleep. They awoke to find the baby missing. They panicked. Rather than be blamed, they killed a puppy and smeared its blood around sleeping Rhiannon’s mouth to make it look like she had not only killed but eaten her child, a doubly heinous crime. Rhiannon was found guilty of infanticide. Pwyll imposed a strange punishment: he ordered Rhiannon to spend seven years seated near the horseblock by his gate, retelling her story to all who approached, and then carrying them to court on her back like a horse.
Meanwhile, strange things were happening over at the house of Teyrnon. Every May Eve (the night of 30 April), his beautiful mare gave birth to a foal that instantly vanished. He decided to solve the mystery by keeping watch inside the stable. Just as the mare gave birth, a huge clawed hand reached in the window to grab the foal. Teyrnon hacked off the hand with his broadsword. The foal was saved. Screams were heard, but when Teyrnon ran outside there was nothing there. He returned to the stable and discovered a beautiful baby boy on the threshold.
Teyrnon and his wife adopted the baby, who quickly began Demonstrating supernatural powers and an affinity for horses. He also began resembling Pwyll. Teyrnon put two and two together and realized that his mysterious child was Pwyll’s son, not dead at all. He brought him to court, told his story and reunited him with his parents. Rhiannon was exonerated and returned to the palace as queen. She named her son Pryderi (“Worry”). After Pwyll’s death, Rhiannon married Manawydan to whom she was very happily wed.
Mysterious legends of Rhiannon derive mainly from the Welsh epic, the Mabinogi. Although she is disguised as a queen and never openly called a goddess, she is clearly a supernatural being. Rhiannon’s name resembles Rigantona, meaning “Great Queen” or “Divine Queen.” It may also derive from two Welsh words:
• Rhiain (“a maiden”)
• Annwn (the name of a Welsh Otherworld)
Some speculate that she is the daughter of Arawn, Lord of Annwn, friend and ally of Pwyll. Rhiannon’s powerful associations with horses have led to associations with Epona, a Celtic horse goddess, none of whose mythology currently survives. Rhiannon also resembles Macha, another beautiful queen, humiliated and forced to assume a horse’s role. (Horses were worshipped in the ancient British Isles. These myths may also protest degradation of horses, no longer treated as sacred oracles but forced to labor.)
Rhiannon is an increasingly popular Neo-Pagan goddess. She is a love goddess invoked for beauty, domestic happiness, and true love. She is petitioned to protect against disaster and humiliation. Rhiannon is a goddess of prosperity and abundance. She also heals and may have associations with divination.
The wrongfully accused
Rhiannon has three magic singing birds who can wake the dead and lull the living to sleep.
Arawn; Branwen; Cliodna; Epona; Mabon; Macha; Manawydan;
Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses– Written by :Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.
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