Rhiannon: Faerie Queen

Rhiannon was a horse goddess in ancient Wales.    This Celtic goddess had her story told in the Mabinogion.   Besides horses Rhiannon also has three songbirds that are symbols of her power.   

Rhiannon seems to be related to the ancient Gallo-Roman horse goddess Epona, and a derivative, possibly of the earlier Celtic goddess Rigantona.   Both Rhiannon and Rigantona mean “great queen.”

Rhiannon was a Faerie Queen who fell in love with Pwyll, prince of Dyfed (a human royal) who journeyed to Faery in order to ensure Rhiannon was not forced to marry another man, Gwawl ap Clud, against her wishes.    After some issues Pwyll is eventually able to win the hand of his Faerie Queen, and they are married.   

After the birth of their son some servants accused Rhiannon of killing her boy.   So she is punished by being made to stand at the gates of the kingdom and offer people entering the kingdom rides upon her back.   This punishment continues for seven long years until a farmer comes to say that a boy he found and had been raising in the long lost prince, as he has recently discovered.    The first branch of the Mabinogion is devoted to this tale.  

Rhiannon is reinstated with her title and continues to raise her son Pryderi with her husband until her husband dies.    Pryderi now takes over the kingdom, and goes to fight in the Irish wars, where he comes back as one of only seven survivors.    He also finds a suitable second husband for his mother, a man who is a fellow survivor of these wars.

The third branch of the Mabinogion tells the tales of her second marriage to Manawydan.   There is a brief tale of Rhiannon and her son being caught in a magical castle that disappears with them inside, but they do get out eventually.   The story of how they get out is not really ever clearly told.    This is believed to possibly be because the earliest forms of this tale have been lost, and later writers did not know the story in order to finish it.    In most versions it is seen as Manawydan rescuing them with the magician Llwyd ap Cilcoed being forced to release them (This magician had been a friend of Rhiannon’s former betrothed before her first marriage to Pwyll. This had been an act of revenge).    Manawydan is seen by some scholars as a Welsh take on the Irish water god Mannanan mac Lir.   When taken in this perspective this can be seen as a marriage of two deities, and a large convergence of power!

In the modern world Rhiannon is seen as a goddess as well as a Faerie Queen.   There are several pagan traditions that include the worship and honor of Rhiannon.   Notably Celtic based faiths, Faery magic traditions, and Avalonian witchcraft can include Rhiannon in their beliefs.   Rhiannon is a deity with the powers connected to horses (like her white horse that Pwyll first sees her on, that seems to ride slowly yet he can never catch it, and this also proves her faerie status of being able to alter time).   She also has a connection to birds, particularly song birds, and her birds are said to be able to wake the dead and lull the living to sleep.

The story of this Faerie Queen has been embraced, and inspirational to many people over the generations.    Evangeline Walton wrote a series of novels based on the Mabinogion in the 1970’s.    The name Rhiannon is also familiar today to most people thanks to the song written by Stevie Nicks and recorded by Fleetwood Mac on their self titled 1975 album.    Every time Fleetwood Mac performed the song Stevie Nicks would introduce it as a song about an old Welsh witch.    Stevie herself even garnered the nickname of White Witch largely due to this iconic song!

I hope that this post about Rhiannon has been informative, and made you curious to learn more about this magical faerie woman!

Note on Image:   The image at the top of this post is Rhiannon by Alan Lee, created for illustrations on an edition of The Mabinogion.   Lee actually illustrated two editions of this work.    I found this image on Pinterest via dana-mad.ru and I am thankful to Alan Lee for this beautiful illustration!

Below is a poem I have written myself about the powers of Faerie Queens, and how they make me feel!

Faerie Queen

You may call her Mab, Maeve,

Rhiannon, Melusine, Titania, or Gloriana.

Ethereal, ephemeral, enchanting,

Wondrous, and powerful.

Calling upon them allows love, light,

And auras to shine clear.

Living in those enchanted lands of Avalon,

And realms of Fey.

Ancient and wise despite their size.

Power that towers over mere mortals.

For those whose hearts dwell amongst the flowers and stars,

It is felt, the presence of the faeries!

Further Reading/Listening

  • The Mabinogion Translated by Sioned Davies
  • Celtic Mythology: The Nature and Influence of Celtic Myth-from Druidism to Arthurian Legend by Ward Rutherford
  • King of the Celts: Arthurian Legends and Celtic Tradition by Jean Markale
  • Rhiannon: Divine Queen of the Celtic Britons by Jhenah Telyndru
  • Avalon Within: A Sacred Journey of Myth, Mystery, and Inner Wisdom by Jhenah Telyndru
  • The Mythic Moons of Avalon: Lunar & Herbal Wisdom from the Isle of Healing by Jhenah Telyndru
  • “Rhiannon” by Stevie Nicks    (This is one of my all time favorite songs, give it a listen, or a hundred listens!)