Celtic goddess of horses and the Underworld. A Welsh epic of Mabinogion describes her as Pryderi’s mother and the wife of first Pwyll and then Manawyddan. Her name Rhi Annon (Ri Ana) means ‘the Great Queen’.
Rhiannon was a Celtic goddess of horses also known as Rigatona and identified with her continental counterpart Epona, the only Celtic goddess worshipped by the Romans. However, the Welsh mostly know her as the heroin of the First and the Third Branch of Mabinogion saga.
Not much is known about how her cult looked like because no written descriptions remained (the Celts have not written their history not myths down so they only circulated in an oral tradition). The only items associated with Rhiannon which survived to this day are figures and reliefs of a woman sitting on a horse. Mabinogion is a cycle of Welsh legends which nevertheless were not recorded in writing until the Christian era. Christian scribes in monasteries were removing elements incompatible with the new religion therefore Rhiannon is not referred to as a goddess in the saga*. The first translation of Mabinogion from Welsh into English was not made until half of the 19th century; the translator was Lady Charlotte Guest, an outstanding personality and the promoter of Welsh culture and literature.
Rhiannon first appears in the First Branch of Mabinogion when Pwyll the prince of Dyfed noticed her while hunting. She was sitting on a pure white horse of large size, with a garment of shining gold around her and when the prince asked his companions whether they knew her, they said they did not. Pwyll told them to ask the lady who she was but she fled on a horse back so quickly that Pwyll’s servants could not catch her. It happened again and again and finally Pwyll became so intrigued that he got on the horse himself and chased the mysterious lady but even having the swiftest horse in the kingdom, he was unable to reach her. At last he was so tired of the pursuit that he called, Lady, please do stop! She did and replied, I will gladly stop and it would have been better for your horse if you had done it much earlier. When she took off the part of a headdress which was covering her face, Pwyll realised she was the most beautiful woman he had ever met. The girl introduced herself as Rhiannon, the daughter of Heveydd Hên who wanted to marry her to a man against her will. She then added, But no husband would I have, and that because of my love for thee, neither will I yet have one unless thou reject me. Of course, Pwyll was not intending to reject her, moreover he added that if he could choose from all the women in the world, he would choose nobody but her. They arranged to meet in her father’s castle in exactly one year time and then parted.
Asked about the mysterious lady Pwyll changed the subject. However, when an arranged time came, he gathered one hundred horsemen and went to Heveydd Hên’s palace where he was welcomed cordially and a feast was arranged in his honour. Pwyll was seated between Heveydd Hên and Rhiannon but the good atmosphere was destroyed at the end of the feast when a richly dressed young man entered the chamber. His name was Gwawl the son of Clud and he was Rhiannon’s wealthy suitor. Gwawl started to talk with Pwyll and manoeuvred the unaware prince to agree on his marriage with Rhiannon. To prevent it, Rhiannon gave a bag to her beloved and ordered him to come back with his horsemen in one year time during her feast before the wedding. She ordered him to wear rags and ask for as much food as the bag could contain and she would use her magical powers to make it bottomless so the guests would wonder what to do to make it fill. Say thou then that it never will, until a man of noble birth and of great wealth arise and press the food in the bag with both his feet, saying, ‘Enough has been put therein’, said Rhiannon. I will cause him to go and tread down the food in the bag, and when he does so, turn thou the bag, so that he shall be up over his head in it, and then slip a knot upon the thongs of the bag. Let there be also a good bugle horn about thy neck, and as soon as thou hast bound him in the bag, wind thy horn, and let it be a signal between thee and thy knights.
This was exactly what happened one year later; hearing the signal Pwyll’s knights entered the chamber, disarmed Gwawl’s companions and cast them into the dungeons. Gwawl himself was still immobilised in the bag until he swore to Pwyll that he would resign from the marriage with Rhiannon, respect Pwyll’s relationship with her and would not take vengeance. He was released with his people and left immediately. Pwyll and Rhiannon were able to get married. Pwyll gave a lot of gifts to his wife’s kinsmen and then he took Rhiannon to his castle in Dyfed where in turn she gave gifts to her husband’s subjects.
The marriage was happy but still childless after two years. In the third year the noblemen came to Pwyll to express their sadness that he still did not have an heir. They suggested leaving Rhiannon and marrying another woman who would bear him a son. Pwyll answered that they were married for a relatively short time so they could still have children. Grant me a year from this time, and for the space of a year we will abide together, and after that I will do according to your wishes, he said. A year later Rhiannon gave birth to a healthy son. Tired after childbirth she fell asleep and the baby was entrusted to six women to watch over it at night. However, they fell asleep and when they woke up, the royal heir was gone. Terrified that they would pay for it with their own lives, they devised a plan: There is here a stag-hound bitch, and she has a litter of whelps. Let us kill some of the cubs, and rub the blood on the face and hands of Rhiannon, and lay the bones before her, and assert that she herself hath devoured her son, and she alone will not be able to gainsay us six.
When princess woke up and asked for her son, wicked women started to persuade her that although they were trying to protect him, Rhiannon ate her own child. Of a truth we never saw any woman so violent as thou, they added. Rhiannon did not get caught by the accusations and assured women that she would defend them if they lied out of fear. They, however, kept lying. Soon the news spread all over the country and people demanded Rhiannon to be put to death for the crime. Pwyll did not agree but felt responsible as a ruler to draw consequences towards his wife. To expiate the act attributed to her, the princess was to sit in the gate to the castle for seven years, tell her story to anyone who did not know it yet and offer that she would carry the traveller on her back into the palace. Luckily, not many demanded that. Although innocent, Rhiannon was enduring her ordeal with dignity and humility.
Meanwhile at the night when Rhiannon’s son was born some other strange events took place. Teirnyon Twryv Vliant, Lord of Gwent Is Coed had an incredibly beautiful mare which regularly foaled on May, 1st but a colt kept vanishing mysteriously. Eventually angry Twryv decided to bring the mare into the house for the time of delivery and to watch over her fully armed. The mare indeed gave birth to a large and beautiful colt but right after that, he heard a great tumult and saw an enormous claw entering through the window and taking the colt. He threw himself at the big hand with his sword and cut it off in an elbow so only the hand with the colt remained. Outside tumult enhanced so Teirnyon ran away to check what happened but it was so dark that he could see nothing. When he came back home, he noticed a baby boy wrapped in a satine mantle lying on the door behold. He brought the baby to his wife and they both decided to adopt him and call Gwri Wallt Euryn for the sake of his blond hair. Boy was growing up rapidly, much faster other children; being just one year old he was bigger than a three year old child, while he was two, he seemed to be six and when he was four, he bribed the grooms to allow him to take the horses to water. Seeing how quickly he was growing, Teirnyon’s wife convinced husband to give boy the colt which was born on the same night as he.
Eventually the news of what happened with Rhiannon reached their castle. Teirnyon felt sorry for her and he started to ask what exactly happened and observed the boy whom he was raising. He noticed his great resemblance to Pwyll and realised he would have to give him back to his real parents. His wife agreed and the same day Teirnyon went to Dyfed with the boy. They met Rhiannon in the gate and in accordance to her penance, she offered to carry them on her back to the palace as a punishment for devouring her own child but Teirnyon refused. They got to the palace where Pwyll welcomed them cordially and invited for a meal. While they were eating Teirnyon told the prince of what had happened in the night when the boy and the colt were born. And behold here is thy son, lady– he said to Rhiannon. – And whosoever told that lie concerning thee, has done wrong. Everyone confirmed boy’s great resemblance to Pwyll and it finished Rhiannon’s ordeal. She called the boy Pryderi meaning ‘Loss’ and Teirnyon was offered great treasures, however being a modest man he did not accept them. Still he was in the great favour of both Rhiannon and Pwyll until his death. Pryderi grew up to be a talented and wise young man and he inherited the throne after his father’s death; he was greatly loved by his people. And thus ends this portion of the Mabinogion.
After Pwyll’s death Pryderi married Kicva and became ruler. He managed to enlarge his lands and went for a war with Ireland together with Bendigeid Vran (Bran) son of King Llyr** who attacked the lands of his brother-in-law in revenge for the treatment of his wife Branwen, Bendigeid’s sister. Pryderi was one of the seven men who survived the bloody battle between the Welsh and the Irish. He came back home accompanied by Manawyddan, Llyr’s other son whom he befriended so much that he decided to marry him to his widowed mother. He arranged a welcome feast to honour his guest and seated him next to Rhiannon. His plan succeeded, Manawyddan and Rhiannon took a fancy to each other and got married soon. For some time Pryderi, his wife, mother and stepfather lived peacefully but one day while they were outside, a storm raged and a strange mist descended on the country. When it disappeared, it turned out that they found neither buildings nor people nor cattles; it seemed as if in the whole Dyfed there was no single person except of the four of them. They remained all alone in their lands for two years but eventually they got bored of having no companionship.
So they set off to England where Manawyddan and Pryderi became so good craftsmen that local guilds turned against them because their products were much more popular than the local ones. The Welsh decided to leave the town and move to another one but the same history repeated there. They moved to yet another town and again they were better than local craftsmen irrespective of whether they were producing saddles, shields or shoes. Their work made buyers delighted but it also aroused the anger of local craftsmen so eventually they decided that it was useless to stay there and came back to Dyfed. After a month Manawyddan and Pryderi went hunting. They came across a great boar of pure white which led them straight to a newly built castle which they saw for the first time. The boar ran straight into the castle and Pryderi’s hunting dogs went after him. Since they were not coming back for a long time, he decided to go inside and take them even though Manawyddan suggested staying.
There was not a trace of a boar and hunting dogs inside neither any signs of people living there. There was, however, a murmur fountain in the centre with a golden bowl hanging over it. Pryderi was so amazed by the the quality of craft that he came to the bowl and placed his hands on it. He did not realise it was enchanted and when he wanted to take his hands back, it turned out to be impossible; he could not utter a word neither. Manawyddan was waiting for him to come back until the evening but eventually he returned to the palace and told Rhiannon about what had happen. She reproached him for not accompanying Pryderi and went searching for her son herself. When she entered the castle and saw him, she touched the bowl and fell under the spell too. Thunderstorm came again and mist enshrouded the castle making it vanish.
Kicva, Pryderi’s wife, fell into despair thinking she could lose him, however Manawyddan promised her that she would certainly have him back. Since they had neither hunting dogs nor food, they emigrated to England again where Manawyddan worked as a shoemaker once more. His products were of the highest quality as always so the local craftsmen turned against him and after a year Rhiannon’s husband had to flee from the town. Luckily, Manawyddan and Kicva took a burden of wheat with them to Dyfed so they sow the seeds which grew up profusely. Additionally, Manawyddan went fishing and deer hunting so they did not starve. Unfortunately, when the time of harvest came, it turned out that some mysterious creatures cut all the ears leaving stalks only. Manawyddan decided to watch over crops to save what had remained; it turned out that around midnight a big host of mice appeared on the field and carried the ears away. Manawyddan managed to catch one of them to the glove.
He was going to execute it but then suddenly a man appeared and came closer; he seemed to be a scholar which surprised Manawyddan because he saw no unknown person in this land for last seven years. When they started to converse and a stranger found out what Rhiannon’s husband was intending to do, he was trying to convince him to sell him the mouse. Manawyddan, however, did not agree so the scholar went away. Soon a priest rode with the same offer and even higher price. Still Manawyddan did not want to sell the mouse so a priest left but Rhiannon’s husband could already see a bishop with his attendants approaching. He offered money again but Manawyddan kept refusing even though the price was getting higher and higher. Eventually bishop offered to release Pryderi and his mother. Manawyddan understood that the mouse is more valuable than it seemed so he additionally demanded the spell to be taken off Dyfed.
Bishop had no choice but to agree. He admitted that in fact he was a mage named Llwyd son of Kilcoed and his pregnant wife was disguised in the body of a mouse. He also revealed that he cast the spell on Dyfed to revenge the insult which Rhiannon and Pwyll made to his friend Gwawl son of Clud. He transformed into mice with his household members and went to Manawyddan’s fields, however because of her condition his wife could not run as fast as the others and was caught. He asked Rhiannon’s husband to release her and assured he would give up his revenge and take spell off Dyfed and he would never do it again. When Llwyd brought Rhiannon and Pryderi back, he returned his wife to him. Life came back to Dyfed and there were people, villages and cattles again. And thus ends this portion of the Mabinogi.
IMAGES, SYMBOLS AND ANIMALS
The animal mostly associated with Rhiannon/Rigatona is a horse. Roman images of a woman riding a horse remained to this day; they probably depict either Rigatona or Epona.
Rhiannon is also connected with the Underworld through her birds. Mabinogion mentions her miraculous birds which sang so sweetly that warriors listening to them fell under their charm for eighty years. Three birds had magical skills to wake the deads up and put the living to sleep. In an old Welsh legend about Culhwch and Olwen, one of Culhwch’s tasks is to get Adar Rhiannon – The Birds of Rhiannon (he wants to marry Olwen but her father does not accept it and demands from suitors things impossible to get). Birds also appear during the feast in the Second Branch of Mabinogion: the singing of the birds of Rhiannon (…) and there came three birds, and began singing unto them a certain song, and all the songs they had ever heard were unpleasant compared thereto; and the birds seemed to them to be at a great distance from them over the sea, yet they appeared as distinct as if they were close by, and at this repast they continued seven years.
Other animals associated with Rhiannon are a boar, dogs and a badger (Welsh game ‘a badger in a bag’ was traditionally initiated when Gwawl, Rhiannon’s suitor, was closed in a bag and teased).
Rhiannon is also associated with the symbol of cauldron (magical bowl in a castle), typical for Celtic goddesses (Welsh Cerridwen, Irish Brigid and triple Morrigan), which makes her the goddess of magic. Some researchers claim that similarly to Irish Medb (Maeve) and Welsh Gwenhwyfer (Guinevere) she is the goddess of sovereignty and grants the throne to the man who marries her. Like a Hellenic goddess Demeter she is linked with horses and perceived as the goddess of abundance and fertility.
Someone with a great need of moving or a person of a swift mind. Someone who is experienced in life, wise, bright and ingenious. A person of great patience and dignity.
It is you who is right in the situation you are inquiring. Do not let people around you make you believe you are not. Have no doubt of who you are, what you do and where you are heading. You are good enough in whatever you are planning so do not allow fears to destroy your potential.
A gaslightning *** method may being used to belittle you, do not stop believing in your own feelings, impressions and emotions. You are right.
Time to change and move forward. A trip is a good idea.
Reflect deeply on what you are intending to do because you will not be able to turn back the time.
Movement. Velocity. Change. Power. Dignity. Mobility. Internet. Happy ending of a difficult situation.
If you are in the relationship: time of testing or ordeal. Speak honestly about what you want, sometimes it is enough to simply ask for it. False accusations. Re – marrying. Being deprived of/granted the custody over the child.
If you are single: this card suggests meeting somebody during a journey.
Loss, typically not caused by wastefulness but by decision of an office or a bank. It is possible to compound or to bend the rules in order to change this situation. Departure, most probably abroad.
Beware of falling down and injuries. Endangered parts of the body: musculoskeletal system (bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments).
Rhiannon hurrying with horses and birds in The Goddess Oracle by Hrana Janto&Amy Sophia Marashinsky
Rhiannon in The Oracle of the Goddess by Gayan Sylvie Winter&Jo Dosé
Rhiannon in Goddess Inspiration Oracle by Kris Waldherr
Rhiannon as The Chariot in The Goddess Tarot by Kris Waldherr
Rhiannon in The Goddess Oracle Deck by Thalia Took
Rhiannon in Goddesses Knowledge Cards by Susan Seddon Boulet&Michael Babcock
Rhiannon in Goddess: A New Guide to Feminine Wisdom by River Huston&Patricia Languedoc
An interesting representation of Rhiannon in The Goddess Power Pack by Cordelia Brabbs
Rhiannon in Goddess Guidance Oracle Cards by Doreen Virtue (I think I have expressed my views about this ‘work of art’ clearly enough in the review of Doreen Virtue’s deck so I will not say a word more)
Rhiannon as Knight of Swords in Universal Goddess Tarot by Maria Caratti&Antonella Platano
* It also affected other Welsh legends about King Arthur, most probably both Morgaine – Morgan Le Fey and Gwenhwyfer – Guinevere were at first goddesses. Legends about King Arthur have been formed in their ultimate shape around 15th century under the French influence while original Welsh myths are as old as at least 6th century. To be honest these versions often differ like fire and water. Both Rhiannon’s husbands are also considered to be originally gods; Pwyll was the lord of the Underworld while Manawyddan seems to be a Welsh counterpart of Irish god of the sea called Manannán.
** Prototype of Shakespear’s King Lear.
*** “Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse used by narcissists in order to instill in their victim’s an extreme sense of anxiety and confusion to the point where they no longer trust their own memory, perception or judgment. The techniques used in “Gaslighting” by the narcissist are similar to those used in brainwashing, interrogation, and torture that have been used in psychological warfare by intelligence operative, law enforcement and other forces for decades.
The intention is to, in a systematic way, target the victim’s mental equilibrium, self confidence, and self esteem so that they are no longer able to function in an independent way. Gaslighting involves the abuser to frequently and systematically withhold factual information from the victim, and replacing it with false information. Because of it’s subtly, this cunning Machiavellian behaviour is a deeply insidious set of manipulations that is difficult for anybody to work out, and with time it finally undermines the mental stability of the victim. That is why it is such a dangerous form of abuse. The emotional damage of Gaslighting is huge on the narcissistic victim. When they are exposed to it for long enough, they begin to lose their sense of their own self. Unable to trust their own judgments, they start to question the reality of everything in their life. They begin to find themselves second-guessing themselves, and this makes them become very insecure around their decision making, even around the smallest of choices. The victim becomes depressed and withdrawn, they become totally dependent on the abuser for their sense of reality. In effect the gaslighting turns the victim’s reality on its head.” (from Narcology)
Based on original issue of Mabinogion available online (much to my joy) here: http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/celt/mab/mab20.htm and http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/celt/mab/mab24.htm
as well as English Wikipedia, http://wintergrovecoven.tripod.com/deities.html , http://www.thaliatook.com/AMGG/rhiannon.html , http://www.joellessacredgrove.com/Celtic/deitiesr-s.html, http://www.joellessacredgrove.com/Celtic/deitiesn-o-p.html .