Most people know very little about the ancient Welsh Goddess Rhiannon, even though she is one of the most important Goddesses in Welsh mythology!
This article covers everything you want to know about the Goddess Rhiannon, including origins, history, symbols, offerings, and how you can connect with her! This article is an overview for beginners. If you’d like to read more in-depth about Rhiannon, I highly encourage you to read through The Mabinogion text listed at the bottom of this article as a source.
Please note that I make every effort to ensure this information is correct and accurate through my own experiences and referencing sources throughout AND at the bottom of this article.
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Table of Contents
Who is the Goddess Rhiannon?
Rhiannon is the Welsh goddess of horses, whose story is detailed in an ancient collection of Welsh folktales called The Mabinogion. Due to their similarities, she is often associated with Epona, the Gaulish goddess of horses, and was later equated with Vivienne of Arthurian legend. However, some scholars are skeptical of this, including Ronald Hutton, a pagan historian I greatly respect.
Many know of Rhiannon from the Fleetwood Mac song about a goddess and witch by the same name, but her story runs much deeper than that! A lunar goddess with mysterious power and cunning, Rhiannon was known to protect her realm at any cost, using her wits for political gain and even deception when necessary.
What is Rhiannon the Goddess of?
While many know Rhiannon as a goddess of horses, she is also a goddess of birds, associated with the wind and the moon, and has been affectionately called the Queen of Fairies (Learn more about Fae mythology here or discover different types of Fae here)
She is considered a sovereignty goddess, as any who would be lucky enough to marry her would be blessed with lordship over the realm. This is a common theme seen in The Mabinogion, as suitors competed for her hand to win her and claim their stake of land.
How to Pronounce Rhiannon
Rhiannon is a beautiful name pronounced Ree-ann-non. Rhiannon is often depicted riding a white horse; her name means divine queen or great queen.
Rhiannon Goddess Origins and History
While I’d love to provide the most accurate information possible, it’s important to note that this story was passed down through generations by oral tradition. This creates some interesting variations of the legend of Rhiannon. This is why there can be some conflicting viewpoints from one source to another.
The tale of Rhiannon is told in The Mabinogion, a collection of Welsh folk tales translated by Lady Charlotte Guest. It is considered the oldest work of prose literature in Britain.
Mabinogion, collection of 11 medieval Welsh tales based on mythology, folklore, and heroic legends. The tales provide interesting examples of the transmission of Celtic, Norman, and French traditions in early romance.
The name Mabinogion is derived from a scribal error and is an unjustified but convenient term for these anonymous tales.Britannica – Mabinogion Welsh literature
Is Rhiannon a Goddess in The Mabinogion?
In The Mabinogion, Rhiannon is portrayed not as a goddess but as a mysterious and otherworldly woman who captures the heart of the protagonist, Lord Pwyll. But no matter how Lord Pwyll’s men spurred their horses and sped to catch her, they gained no ground on Rhiannon.
Although Rhiannon displays several mystical abilities in The Mabinogion, ye Lady Charlotte Guest tiptoes around calling her a goddess in her translation. This is possibly due to Christianity’s influence on England when the book was transcribed.
“And while they sat there, they saw a lady, on a pure white horse of large size, with a garment of shining gold around her…”– The Mabinogion, Pwyll Prince of Dyved
After managing to outrun Lord Pwyll for three days, he finally asked Rhiannon if he may approach her, and she agreed to meet with him. When he does, she greets him and introduces herself and her unfortunate dilemma.
Rhiannon is betrothed to a man named Gwawl against her will, and she can only be saved if Pwyll accepts her hand in marriage. He does, and that night he feasts with her by his side.
During the feast, the new couple is approached by a bard who asks for a favor from them. Now, Pwyll is not portrayed as an intelligent man by any means and tells the bard that he will grant him whatever he asks, so long as it is in his power. The bard asks only for Lady Rhiannon.
“Rhiannon rings like a bell through the night and wouldn’t you love to love her?”– Rhiannon, Fleetwood Mac
Rhiannon, recognizing the bard as Gwawl in disguise, informs her lover of how foolish he is for falling for such a ruse and hatches a plan to get back at Gwawl.
She would remain with Gwawl for a year, and when the year had passed, Pwyll would return dressed as a beggar, asking only for enough food to fill his satchel.
Unbeknownst to Gwawl, Pwyll’s bag could hold an infinite number of things, but he told Gwawl that it would stop devouring if a nobleman were to stomp on it. Rhiannon urged Gwawl to do just that, and when he did, Pwyll opened the satchel up and trapped Gwawl inside it.
Rhiannon and Her Son Pryderi
You might hope this was happily-ever-after for Rhiannon, but you’d be wrong.
[Trigger warning* – mention of animal harm, cannibalism, and infanticide.]
Continuing through the first chapter of The Mabinogion, Lord Pwyll and Lady Rhiannon have a son and beckon six women to sit with Rhiannon and the baby during his first night. By morning, all six of the women had fallen asleep instead, and Rhiannon’s child was nowhere to be found.
Fearing the fate that would befall them, the women conspired to blame Rhiannon for her son’s disappearance instead, smearing her face with the blood of a puppy and even going so far as to claim that she ate him.
Rhiannon was made to serve penance for her crime. Posted at the castle gate, she would tell all passersby what she did and offer to carry them to the castle on her back like a horse.
Was Rhiannon’s Son Ever Found?
After some time, Rhiannon would be reunited with her son, although it is never revealed what exactly caused his disappearance.
It is said, however, that a nearby kingdom’s family was in a peculiar state. They had a beautiful mare, and each year, the mare would give birth to a single foal. Each year, the foal disappeared, and no one knew what happened to them.
One night, when the mare was about to give birth, the family took her inside so that nothing terrible could happen to the foal, and the lord of the house sat watch for the night.
As soon as the foal was born, a great claw reached into the house and pulled it out by its mane. The lord struck the beast and ran into the night after it. When he returned, instead of the colt, he found an infant clothed in silks.
The rest of The Mabinogion has much less to do with Rhiannon and her son, but it does disclose that the family recognizes the boy and returns him to his home, freeing Lady Rhiannon in the process.
Goddess Rhiannon Symbols
Ancient people often incorporated symbols into their practice and beliefs. Rhiannon’s symbols represent her strength and power as a goddess. In addition to the symbols listed below, Rhiannon is often connected to the holiday of Beltane.
- The Moon
- Dark Green
- Horses – due to her mysterious ability to elude those who follow her on horseback. It also represents her serving her penance in a sort of equine role.
- Birds, especially songbirds – in one tale, Rhiannon makes use of magical birds whose song can lull anyone to sleep who hears it and even wake the dead.
Goddess Rhiannon Offerings
While many like to praise Rhiannon in art and song, there are many other offerings you can make to the goddess to gain her favor:
- Moon Water
How to Connect with the Goddess Rhiannon
A great way to connect with the goddess Rhiannon is by creating an altar for her, which you can adorn with carvings, statues of horses, or a tray for offerings.
If you participate in equine sports, you can dedicate a performance to the goddess Rhiannon or take special care of your horses in her honor.
She is known to love music, so playing or singing a song for Rhiannon or performing other creative or artistic devotional acts are often well-received.
There are many ways to connect with the goddess Rhiannon, so feel free to do what feels right or best fits in with your spiritual practice.
I hope this article about the Goddess Rhiannon was helpful! Lots of love to you and remember as always…