Rhiannon – Mother and Great Queen

Rhiannon – Mother and Great Queen

Way back in DruidCast history, on DruidCast episode 4 from August 2007 to be precise, there is a talk given by Professor Ronald Hutton on the history of the Pagan Horned God. It’s his usual excellent presentation full of depth, entertainment, information, and humour, as is Ronald’s style. During the talk he says this:

“Too often the Horned God of Nature can be turned into a simple force of hoof and horn, and grain, and grunt, and thrust, and lurch, and armpits, and the men’s locker room, rather than of the intellect, the tongue, with words, the speeder of thought, the creator of beautiful, delicate things”.

When I heard this it led me down a rabbit hole. There are indeed many Pagan Deities whose gifts are magical, powerful, and empowering, but who does a Pagan go to when they are full of grief? When they need comfort, to be held, whilst they shed the tears of loss?

(There is currently quite a strong breeze coming through my open window and the strings of my harp suddenly just sang on their own volition, played by the wind itself.)

The Earth Mother? Certainly. It was my conclusion at the time. But since delving deeply into the stories of Y Mabinogi there is another Goddess, one who has herself suffered loss, pain, one who is there for the seven survivors of the battle in Ireland. I am writing of course of Rhiannon. Her story in the First Branch is one of loss, but then of being reunited with her son Pryderi. I really felt her close beside me as I created the First Branch album, whispering, guiding, holding. Cerri made me a pendant of a horse to wear during that time. I took it off when I started the Second Branch and it now sits upon my altar in her honour. Then, as I went deeper into the Second Branch there she was once more.

I’m just about finishing writing the songs for the Second Branch, and the whole story leads to a point of redemption. I won’t say too much but as the seven survivors gather at Harlech this happens –

We travelled to the court of Harlech and when we arrived we were regaled with the best food and drink. As soon as we began the feast three birds came. We had to gaze far out to sea to catch sight of them, yet their song was clear and true. As if they we in the court with us. Their song was the most beautiful sound we had ever heard. All other birdsong was harsh when compared theirs. The peak of each wave on the ocean shone white in the sunlight, as if a million white horses galloped towards the shore. Then I knew. These were my Mother’s birds. The Birds of Rhiannon had arrived.

The song this leads into once more brings Rhiannon right into my soul. She is the Great Queen and if any Goddess is currently calling me, it is her. If there is a Goddess on whose shoulders you could cry those tears of grief and loss, it is Rhiannon. There is a linguistic link between the ocean, and the soul. Rhiannon’s Birds sing out to sea, their song so beautiful that in the story of Culhwch and Olwen, the giant Ysbaddaden says these words, that they “wake the dead, and lull the living to sleep”. They sing far out to sea, yet their song sounds as if it is near you. Rhiannon, in the First Branch, arrives on a white horse. The songs of her birds are brought to shore by the white horses of the sea. The sea is the soul, the soul is the sea, and the Otherworld is said to lay beyond the waves, on islands far off to the west.

On this island there is still a taboo when it comes to eating horse meat. There is no logical reason for that. But this distaste for horse meat must go back hundreds, if not thousands of years, and maybe, just maybe, comes from a time when the horse was the spiritual symbol of Sovereignty, with the white horse carved into the chalk of downland and hill.

The more I experience these tales, the more I know they are more than just random stories written down in the Middle Ages. Myth is said to be the second level of story – of the occult mysteries that lay behind the tales themselves. There is magic here, with hands and spirits reaching out over centuries that can reconnect people with the land herself.

And out to sea, just beyond the horizon, three birds sing, and those whose hearts are lost in grief may well hear their song, and feel some of that grief lifted.

What a blessing.

15 responses to “Rhiannon – Mother and Great Queen”

  1. Another thoughtful & thought provoking blog, Damh. When I am in a great deal of pain ( I suffer from Fibromyalgia) it is to Brighid I turn to for comfort; I turn to Ceridwen when I feel the need of a Mother’s comfort. It is truly a Blessing to be able to turn to the Deities for comfort & know that it will be given.

  2. My dear Rhiannon seems to be everywhere at the moment….perhaps because there is so much grief in the world right now? Of course there is always grief in the world – the difference now, I believe is that people are more aware…..or that Rhiannon’s presence herself is bringing that awareness I like to think.
    Rhiannon has always been part of my life, but I only recently realised this. I have never been a ‘horsey type’ despite a country upbringing so I think the connection was lost on me for a long time……I didn’t even realise the long term relationship I have with her when I chose to honour her (for a particular reason, not just a favourite song) by taking her name.
    Recently she has taken on other connotations for me ( and I then saw the patterns in my life) not of grief…..but of ‘burdens’.
    I am a retired midwife – so the shame of my profession within her story hit hard……but what I found as I delved deeper – as I finally accepted her fully into my life, was her grace – her acceptance of all burdens afforded her no matter that she was not responsible.
    The strength she showed was illuminating.

    She’s with me every day – and I recommend a lovely little book: Rhiannon: Divine Queen of the Celtic Britons by Jhenah Telyndru.

    I look forward to your album. BB

  3. Wow…what more is there to say. You are truly blessed, as we will be once you reveal the next, eagerly awaited branch.

  4. Rhiannon is a patron. And a goddess that so little is there, in mystic exploration in print. And in song too. So the journey of learning seems a little directionless.Thanks for this

  5. Your words here speak deeply to me as I mourn for my mum, Siusaidh Ceanadach. Epona is my mother, my friend and to me She is also Rhiannon.

    Thank you.

  6. Ah.. the beautiful Rhiannon. How she calls from the White Horse Hills, and the grassy dells where the wild ponies played all those years before.

    The little birds, Her birds, brought to shore by Her White Horses, lift heavy hearts with their song of Hope. The human condition has deep grief and sorrow, but great joy too. And even more when Hope tells us there is no ending, but always new beginnings. Her little birds tell us that if we can hear their song through the Darkness.

    Thank-you Rhiannon. And thank-you Dave for reminding us in such a wonderful poetic way.

  7. Thank you for writing about this wonderful goddess. I have been close to Epona for some twenty years. Rhiannon joined Her in my devotions about six years ago. She offers strength and healing, and do not forget the She is also a sovereignty goddess. For those of us who seek to return the sovereignty of the land TO the land, She is a wonderful guide.

  8. Coming into the last phase of my PhD on Rhiannon means at last the chapter about what reverencing her means. So discovering this blog page is very welcome.

    My decade of research has looked at Rhiannon as the bright icon, the Rider on the pale-white horse, who chooses her way for herself. That’s the most obvious image of her, much celebrated.

    Next, she is revealed as powerfully Welsh (native British) and a political Ruler, a highly intelligent strategist, adviser on legal matters and patron of the arts. She organises great feasts, for many hundreds, festivals like the Eisteddfod or Glastonbury where all are fed and entertained. But it is foodstocks that are her great power (cf. Inanna and the naditu the first recorded Goddess story).

    Then comes her vulnerability, her agony of anxiety and grief. She suffers, losing her ultra-dominance. But just as her Ride is paradoxical, slow yet untouchable by the fastest, her Descent is paradoxical because she still holds her place and dignity. For each night after enduring her undeserved penance she comes to sit beside her consort Pwyll at their high table. That can only happen because he is loyal to her, and her son is returned because Teyrnon too is loyal. So this aspect or level is about how Loyalty, partnership, working together, is one of the great Powers. She learned that when she failed to do it with her Maids.

    As Damh has said so well when the Irish War divides her from her warleader son she bridges the gap between them by sending the Adar Rhiannon/ Birds of Rhiannon, three skylarks whose song is incomparable comfort. But after they are reunited Desolation falls. Her power base, the foodstocks of the land are gone and life becomes subsistence.It is explained that this is vengeance on the whole land because of her, because of her cleverness in getting her way and abusing a good man.
    Her agonising anxiety is restimulated as we say today. Pryderi disappears and his loss as a newborn is all to suffer again. She tries to rescue him, and in the earliest manuscript, the page breaks off as she finds him, a helpless captive. Maternal love takes her to his side and she reaches out to touch, which drags her into paralysed silence, sharing his fate. Again, loyalty wins through and after years of humiliation, she and her beloved son are freed and their land is restored to abundance.

    What is gradually revealed is that when she is no longer alone, she is never alone. Her narrative becomes about loyalty, sharing, and devotion. She is most famous as a Maiden, the golden Rider, but most of her narrative is about her as a Mother. After her Maiden stage nothing happens which is not focused on her child, the anxiety of barren waiting, the grief of loss and its endurance, restoration by friendship’s loyalty, the caring in absence, joy in reuniting, the anxiety again, shared suffering and captivity, and final triumphant freedom due to friendship loyalty again. (I call this her maternal dyad.) That self-willed girl becomes a Matriarch in a web of loyalty, and she also learned the lesson of sisterhood from when she failed it, for she embraces Cigfa her son’s bride; female loyalty.

    To me her message, her thealogy, is that while we need to make our independent choices and struggle to achieve them, no one is an atom on their own. Winning or enduring is about loyalty, friendship, family, network, shared effort, caring for each other. There is no shame in help. Cooperation, receiving help, is the greatest power of all and Covid is our current teacher.

  9. Today I read this and felt that some of my grief was lifted. Thank you. Somehow this provided me with an answer to a question I didn’t even consciously know I’d asked.

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