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Monday, 9 June 2014

Rhiannon goddess of the moon and protector of horses in Celtic mythology


Continuing with my legends of Wales, Rhiannon is one of the characters who appears in The Mabinogion, a collection of Welsh-language tales which  Lady Charlotte Guest translated into English, and which were first published in three volumes between 1838  and 1849. The original stories were to be found mainly in two collections of medieval manuscripts known as the White Book of Rhydderch (c.1350) and the Red Book of Herge.

I share Rhiannon's love of horses, so it is only fitting that she features on my blog!

 The goddess Rhiannon's name meant “Divine Queen” of the fairies, and she loved horses. Rhiannon was promised in marriage to an older man. However, she fell in love with the mortal Prince Pwyll (pronounced Poo-ulch, translated as Paul) She to Pwyll one afternoon while he stood with his companions on a great grass-covered mound in the forest surrounding his castle. The  prince was enchanted by the vision of the beautiful young goddess Rhiannon, dressed in  gold as she galloped by on her graceful white horse. Pwyll sent his servant, riding his swiftest horse to catch her and ask her to return to meet the prince.  But the servant soon returned and reported that she rode so swiftly that it seemed her horse’s feet scarcely touched the ground and that he could not follow her.

 The next day, ignoring his friends’ advice, Pwyll returned alone to the mound and, once more, the Celtic goddess appeared.   Pwyll pursued her but could not overtake her. Although his horse ran even faster than Rhiannon's, the distance between them always remained the same.  When his horse was exhausted,  he stopped and called out for her to wait.   


She allowed him to draw close, saying it would have been much kinder to his horse had he simply called out instead of chasing her. She told him he had come seeking her love, but that they must wait a year. Then she disappeared

One year later, she reappeared on the same tor. She led him to her father’s palace, a magnificent castle surrounded by a lake.   There they were married but at the wedding feast the man she’d once been promised to marry made a scene, saying she should not be allowed to marry outside her own people. 

Rhiannon slipped away from her husband’s side to deal with the situation in her own way.She turned him into a badger and caught him in a bag which she tied up and threw into the lake. They returned to Wales the  next day, with Rhiannon forsaking the fairy kingdom of her childhood, but she had no regrets.

Three years later, she bore Pwyll a son.As was the custom, six women servants were assigned to stay with Rhiannon in her lying-in quarters to help her care for the infant. However, they fell asleep and the baby disappeared. When they woke to find the cradle empty, they were fearful they would be punished severely for their carelessness. They smeared Rhiannon with the blood of a dead puppy and accused her of eating her own child.

Rhiannon swore her innocence, Pwll refused to divorce her and begged for her life to be spared. Rhiannon’s punishment was announced. For the next seven years she must sit by the castle gate, bent under the heavy weight of a horse collar, greeting guests with the story of her crime and offering to carry them on her back into the castle.


In the autumn of the fourth year three strangers appeared at the gate—a well-dressed nobleman, his wife, and a young boy. The boy handed her a piece of an infant’s gown.  Rhiannon saw that it was cloth that had been woven by her own hands.  The boy then smiled at her, and she realised she was looking at her own son. The nobleman farmer told his story.  Ever year on the 1st May, his mare  foaled and every year the foal disappeared. Four years earlier, he had slashed with his sword at a claw that came through the open window of the stable, to snatch the newborn foal. Running outside, he heard the infant’s cries and found him lying abandoned by the door. He and his wife took the baby in, raising him as if he were their own.

When the rumors of the goddess Rhiannon’s fate reached him, the farmer realized what had happened and set out at once to return the child to his parents. It was rumoured that the  the enraged suitor that Rhiannon had rejected and turned into a badger, had escaped and taken his revenge by kidnapping Rhiannon's infant son.

Rhiannon was restored to her  her place beside her husband.  Although she had suffered immensely at their hands, Rhiannon, she saw that the people who had condemned her were ashamed and forgave them.

In some versions of the legend, Rhiannon was the Celtic goddess who later became Vivienne, best known as the Lady of the Lake. She was the goddess who gave Arthur the sword Excalibur, empowering him to become King in the legends of Camelot.  

6 comments:

  1. I love old myths, but so few have a happy ending as this one did.

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  2. Lovely post! Rhiannon is one of my favorites! :)

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  3. Hi Caroline, thanks so much for stopping by, yes, it's nice to have a happy ending for a change in an old legend, isn't it!

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  4. Hi Mary, thanks - I'm glad you enjoyed the post.

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  5. I have never heard this one before. Really liked it.
    Sue B

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  6. Hi Sue, so glad you liked the post, I love recounting the myths and legends of Wales/

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