For this week’s Femme Fatale Friday, I have chosen to feature one of my favorite Goddesses, in her aspect of connecting to the dead. Rhiannon is a Welsh Goddess, Faery Queen, and Representative of the Sovereignty of Dyfed! Her first marriage to Pwyll even cemented his rulership over the land. Her second marriage to Manawydan, likewise, served to enhance his sovereignty.
Now, it may seem unlikely that a Faery Queen would also be a Goddess associated with death, at least on the surface. However, the Realms of Faery (which are numerous), have always been realms associated with both longevity and the spirits of the human dead! Rhiannon is the daughter of a Faery King who is trying to sell her in marriage to a man she does not desire to wed at the beginning of her tale. In fact, she rides out to meet Pwyll in his human homeland because he is the man that she desired to marry! This is both an act of rebellion and an act of love.
Through a series of trials, that almost prevent their union, Rhiannon and Pwyll fight together to allow their marriage to take place. It does take place at her father’s court, but this was not the first Faery Court that Pwyll had been to. Before meeting Rhiannon, he had been tasked by Arawn, a Faery King and God of the Dead, with switching places with him so that he could kill a rival King for Arawn. This gave Pwyll power of blessings of Arawn, and that could even possibly be said to be part of what would one day unite him and Rhiannon, as he was already blessed by Faery one time!
After Rhiannon and Pwyll had their son, and he was taken, Rhiannon had to bare an unfair punishment until he was returned. She bore having to tell her tale to those who came to Dyfed and offering to give them rides on her back, without complaint. When her son was returned, she was freed of this bizarre punishment. What must be noted is that Rhiannon never was displaced as Queen, even though Pwyll’s advisors likely wanted this, so although he punished her, he did not take her Queendom from her. To me, this is a true marker of the fact that she was the Goddess and true bestower of Sovereignty in their relationship. Of course, after his death their son, Pryderi would become King and would fight a war alongside Manadwyn, and this is how Rhiannon’s second marriage came about.
Now that I have reviewed her role as Faery Queen, I want to look at her deeper relationship with the dead. That relationship is most exemplified by her birds, the Adar Rhiannon! Her birds make a famous appearance in the Second Branch of the Mabinogion, even where Rhiannon herself does not appear. At a feast after the war, the birds famously sing for seven years. We learn that her birds have the power to lull the living to sleep and raise the dead! That right there tells us that Rhiannon is a Goddess of Death and Dreams, as well as a Faery Queen associated with life. She was seen to be a bit of a psychopomp, being able to ferry souls of the dead to the afterlife, often through the use of her birds.
At the end of the day, the truth is that Faery deities rule over all aspects of nature, and over the cycle of life, death, and rebirth! I hope you have enjoyed learning about Rhiannon’s aspects as a Great Goddess and her death associations. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!
Note on Image: The image at the top of the post is Rhiannon with her white horse and trio of birds. I found the image on https://random-times.com/2021/03/04/march-4-feast-of-rhiannon-welsh-goddess/.
- The Mabinogion translated by Sioned Davies
- Rhiannon: Divine Queen of the Celtic Britons by Jhenah Telyndru
- Mabinogion Tetrology by Evangeline Walton