Welsh Goddess Rhiannon

Rhiannon Goddess and Her Astonishing Forgotten Welsh Mythology

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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 offers a beginner’s guide to Goddess Rhiannon, covering her origins, history, symbols, offerings, and ways to connect. For deeper insights, consult The Mabinogion text listed as a source below.

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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Who is the Goddess Rhiannon?

Rhiannon is the Welsh goddess of horses. Her story is detailed in an ancient collection of Welsh folktales called The Mabinogion. Due to their similarities, Rhiannon is often linked with Epona (the Gaulish goddess of horses) and Vivienne in Arthurian legend. However, some scholars are skeptical of this, including Ronald Hutton, a pagan historian I greatly respect.

Rhiannon’s fame extends beyond the Fleetwood Mac song. She’s a lunar goddess known for her mysterious powers. She’s not afraid to use her cunning wit for deception and political gain.

What is Rhiannon the Goddess of?

Rhiannon isn’t just a horse goddess; she’s also linked to birds, wind, and the moon. This earned her the affectionate title of Queen of Fairies.

(Learn more about Fae mythology here or discover different types of Fae here)

She is considered a sovereignty goddess, and anyone lucky enough to marry her would be given lordship over the realm. In The Mabinogion, suitors compete for Rhiannon’s hand, hoping to marry her and rule the realm.

What is Rhiannon the Goddess of?
Rhiannon riding in Arberth. From ”The Mabinogion”, translated by Charlotte Guest in 1877. Wikimedia.

How to Pronounce Rhiannon

Rhiannon is a beautiful name pronounced Ree-ann-non. She’s often depicted riding a white horse; her name means divine queen or great queen.

Rhiannon Goddess Origins and History

I’m attempting to give the most accurate information possible. However, it’s important to note this story was passed down orally through generations. 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’s 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 not seen as a goddess. Instead, she’s a mysterious woman who captures the heart of the protagonist, Lord Pwyll. Rhiannon intrigues Lord Pwyll, yet despite his men’s attempt to catch her on horseback, she remains out of reach.

Although Rhiannon displays several mystical abilities in The Mabinogion, Lady Charlotte Guest doesn’t call 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

Rhiannon continued to outrun him for three days. Lord Pwyll finally asked 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.

Is Rhiannon a Goddess in The Mabinogion?

Rhiannon’s Fiance

Rhiannon is betrothed to a man named Gwawl against her will; 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 a very intelligent man and tells the bard that he will grant him whatever he asks. As long as it’s in his power. The bard asks only for Lady Rhiannon.

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. When the year 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. However, he told Gwawl it would stop devouring if a nobleman were to stomp on it. Rhiannon encouraged Gwawl to stomp on it. When he did, Pwyll opened the satchel up and trapped Gwawl inside it.

“Rhiannon rings like a bell through the night and wouldn’t you love to love her?”

– Rhiannon, Fleetwood Mac

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.

Symbols

  • Horseshoes
  • The Moon

Colors

  • Gold
  • White
  • Dark Green

Animals

  • 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 uses magical birds whose song can lull anyone who hears it to sleep and even wake the dead.
Goddess Rhiannon Symbols

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:

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…

Sources

Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Mabinogion.” Encyclopedia Britannica, 21 May. 2021, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Mabinogion.

The Mabinogion by Lady Charlotte Guest. 1877. Sacred Texts.

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