Weekly Deity: Rhiannon

Rhiannon is a major goddess in the Welsh/Celtic pantheon.  Not only is she the wife and mother of important mythological figures, but is a great deity in her own right.  She is primarily the goddess of horses but also seems to be a mother goddess of inspiration, the moon, and magic.


Often Rhiannon was shown riding a horse and either naked or dressed in finery.  She also had three sacred birds that she was often pictured with as well.  When pictured riding a horse, she looks a great deal like Epona, a related deity who was also a horse goddess, but who may have played a less important role in her culture than did Rhiannon in her own.


The main tale of Rhiannon and her kin comes from the Mabinogi, the main record of Welsh tales.  Her name means “Great Queen,” or in some translations, just “queen.”  The most commonly used translation, however, is “Great Queen.”  Her name could also be translated as meaning “daughter of Annwfn (“Ah-noo-vin”–the otherworld)”, but her name would have to be derived from the Welsh “Rhian Annwfn” for that to be true.

In the story, Rhiannon meets Pwyll (pronounced “Poo-ill”) when she is out riding.  He sees her while out hunting with his men, and sends his men to chase her, but all fail to catch her Otherworldly steed.  After three days, Pwyll chases her himself.  When he came no closer to catching her than his men had, he called out for her to stop, and she did.  They finally meet and Rhiannon tells him that she loved him and not the man her father, Hyfaidd Hen, would have her marry, Gwawl (pronounced roughly as “Goo-ah-ull”).  Rhiannon and Pwyll made a promise, to marry each other.  She then told him that in a year if he would come to the court of her father, there would be a feast for them both.

A year later, Pwyll gathers a hundred horsemen to his side and travels to the court of Hyfaidd Hen, there to celebrate his engagement with Rhiannon.  Gwawl then enters and greets Pwyll, saying he has business with the lord.  Pwyll tells him that anything he asks he will grant.  Gwawl, of course, asks for Rhiannon’s hand, the feast, and the wedding preparations.  Pwyll is oathbound to grant it, and Rhiannon creates a plan.  A year from that day she would lay with Gwawl and seal their betrothal, and on that day Pwyll would have to bring the small magical bag Rhiannon gave to him.  Pwyll and Gwawl listen to their respective instructions and a year later, Pwyll tricks Gwawl into the magical bag.  He then tricks Gwawl’s own men into striking the bag a blow, injuring Gwawl enough to make him relent and give up Rhiannon.  Thus Pwyll wins Rhiannon from Gwawl and they were married.

Rhiannon became a queen, since Pwyll was Prince of Dyfed and Lord of Annwfn. In the third year of their reign, she bears a son, Pryderi.  However, on the night of his birth, he disappeared while Rhiannon slept.  Her six handmaids, fearful of being blamed for Pryderi’s disappearance because they also slept, framed Rhiannon for killing her son by using a puppy’s blood and smearing it over Rhiannon’s face and hands.  They swore Rhiannon killed Pryderi and Rhiannon was punished.  She was made to stand in the court of Arberth for seven years at the horse block and tell her story to all she thought would not know it, and offer to carry all those who would allow it on her back up to the court.  Few allowed it, but thus she spent her time.

Meantime, a nobleman and his wife, by some means of magic, found the boy in their home after a storm one night.  Not knowing who the boy belonged to, they took him in and cared for him.  For four years he was raised with the nobleman until the nobleman heard rumors of Rhiannon and her fate.  He put the pieces together and at once he and his wife decided to return the boy to his parents.  The nobleman and his company traveled to Pwyll’s court, where they met Rhiannon, who offered all the company the story and the carrying.  All refused, and instead took her to the court with them.  There it was revealed the truth.  Rhiannon was freed from her punishment and her good name restored, and Pwyll and Rhiannon got their son Pryderi back.

In a later myth, Pwyll has died and Rhiannon marries Manawydan, son of Llyr and friend of Pryderi.

Light Side

Rhiannon is a clever goddess who is able to finds ways to make her life her own and resist the marriage plan of her father and make up for the hastiness of Pwyll’s offer to Gwawl.  She was a mother not only to her son, but to her people, as many ancient societies considered the king and queen to be father and mother of the land and people.  The punishment she endured for falsely killing her son in the end only showed her to be a figure of great strength, endurance, and honor, as well as a compassionate woman with a deep understanding of people.  She knew her handmaids lied to protect themselves, but also knew that until her son was returned, she could not prove the handmaids’ story false.  Rhiannon is mostly a Light character with a great many positive characteristics.

Dark Side

I would say that part of Rhiannon’s Dark side is her stubbornness, but stubbornness can also be a positive quality.  Other than that one minor quality, I can’t think of another Dark aspect to Rhiannon.  She doesn’t dole out undue punishments, nor does it seem that she wishes harm on others despite their treatment of her.  All in all, she seems very positive and Light.

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