Rhiannon is an old Welsh Goddess of the earth and fertility, of horses and birds, who has links to the Underworld and who is much featured in the Mabinogion. She finds antecedents in the British Goddess Rigatona (“Great Queen”) and the continental Celtic horse-goddess Epona, who is also linked with dogs and birds like Rhiannon.
In the later Christianized version of the tale, Rhiannon’s first husband was Pwyll, (“Never was there a man who made feebler use of his wits”, in Rhiannon’s own words) who had once done a stint as King of the Underworld.
Their son Pryderi vanished the night of his birth while the new mother and the women sent to guard them slept. In fear of the consequences for slacking off on their duty, the serving-women smeared Rhiannon with the blood of a puppy and accused Her of murdering Her own son. Their word won over Rhiannon’s own, and as punishment, She was made to sit outside the castle on a horse-block, and offer each visitor a ride on Her back for seven years. Pryderi was eventually restored to Her by his foster-father Teyrnon, who recognized the boy’s resemblance to Pwyll.
She later took Manawydan (the Welsh equivalant to Manannán, the Irish Sea God) as husband after Pwyll died.
Rhiannon is said to possess marvelous birds that can wake the dead, or lull the living to sleep. In the Mabinogion She is intelligent and wise, and doesn’t hesitate to speak Her mind.
Rhiannon is deeply associated with horses: Pwyll first sees Her riding a marvelous white horse that no one can catch; The vanished child was found by Teyrnon in place of a new-born foal; and Her punishment is to act as a horse.
This card in a reading indicates a time of trial or injustice, that, with patience and faith, will come right in the end. Misunderstandings and mis-communications may be in the air, but understanding the deep roots of the situation will help.
Alternate spellings: Riannon
Pronunciation: hree AN non
From: Thalia Took
Rhiannon is also associated with otherworldly brids, the adar Rhiannon (birds of Rhiannon) which are explicitly named in the Mabinogion of Branwen ferch Llŷr. Mortally wounded after the battle in Ireland, Brân tells his companions to cut off his head and take it with them on their return journey …you will be on the road a long time. In Harlech you will be seven years in feasting, the birds of Rhiannon singing to you. The head will be as good company to you as it was at its best when it was ever on me. And you will be at Gwales in Penfro for eighty years. Until you open the door facing Aber Henfelen on the side facing Cornwall, you will be able to abide there, along with the head with you uncorrupted. But when you open that door, you will not be able to remain there…. They reach Harlech and as soon as they began their feast …there came three birds, which began to sing a kind of song to them; and when they heard that song, every other [tune] seemed unlovely beside it…. The brids of Rhiannon are next mentioned in the Mabinogion of Culhwch ac Olwen where Culhwch is set forty impossible tasks by Ysbaddaden Pencawr in the wooing of his daughter Olwen. The thirteenth task is the gaining of Rhiannon’s birds that they may sing at the wedding feast. These birds have a woderous song and are …to wake the dead, and send the living to sleep…. There may also be a hint of Rhiannon’s magical birds in the Mabinogion of Iarlles y Ffynawn. The Arthurian champion Cynon relates one of his adventures to Oweni and Cei: He comes to amagical glade where a spring emerges. Water from the spring must be poured on the slab and there will be a mighty peal of thunder and hailstones will fall from the sky. Then the weather becomes fair, but the tree is denuded of its leaves. At this point a flock of birds fly in and they will alight within the bare branches of the tree and sing. Their melody will be the sweetest sound ever heard by any mortal ear. Some time within the course of the song the black knight — guardian of the fountain — will appear to challenge the usurper. For the shower of hailstones will have stripped the black knight’s lands bare, denuding it of all life. Only by defeating the challenger can the balance be restored. Cynon is defeated by the knight but Owein then re-traces Cynon’s tracks and experiences the same things but he defeats the black knight. From their description it seems highly likely that the birds described here are the adar Rhiannon (the birds of Rhiannon).
Riannon’s association with horses is also unquestionable. We are told of the way Rhiannon rides past the gorsedd of Arberth on a great steed that no-one can catch. After the loss of her son, Rhiannon’s punishment is to be effectively turned into a horse. She has to stand by a horse-block and offer to carry any traveler upon her back and into Pwyll’s llys. Here she is beng symbolically transformed into that which she symbolizes. The link between Rhiannon and horses is further exemplified by her son Pwyll and the fact that he was born on the same night as a foal and that he and the foal grew up together and effectively ‘became one’. Symbolically therefore the ‘horse’ Rhiannon gives birth to a foal ‘Pryderi’. All of this leads to the inescapable conclusion that Rhiannon is strongly hippomorphic in aspect and probably represents at the very least an aspect (and may well represent a continuation of) the mythos of that great pan-Celtic hippomorphic goddess, Epona. A further indication of the link between Rhiannon and Epona may be the episode of the killing of a puppy to frame Rhiannon for her son’s disappearance for a dog is often seen as Epona’s companion.
Rhiannon’s name is derived from the Brythonic Rīgantona (Great Queen). Continuation of the name would indicate the existence of a Brythnoic goddes known as *Rīgantona, though no trace of her (save for the name of Rhiannon) has been left to us. Whether this *Rīgantona was an independent deity or represented an aspect of Epona (who is occasionally referred to in the plural and may be a triple-goddess) may not be known for certain though the surviving tales of Rhiannon would suggest the later interpretation. Thus there may once have been an insular Brythonic deity known as *Rīgantona Epona. If this is the case, and the Epona aspect of the goddess is fairly clear, what does the Rīgantona aspect represent. In the Mabinogi, Rhiannon is plainly ‘otherworldly’ in nature though this aspect of her nature is not explicitly drawn out. However, from how she and Pwyll met is is fairly obvious that Rhiannon does not originate in the World of Men. Moreover, she appears immediately after the episode of Pwyll and Arawn and originally Rhiannon may well have originated in one of the ‘Happy Otherworlds’ that are beloved of the Celtic storytellers. Epona herself was probably a psychopomp and the association of Rhiannon with horses and with her magical birds (both of which could transport/accompany the deay on their journey to the next world) would indicate that Rhiannon may once have performed a similar function. In the Mabinogi of Branwen ferch Llŷr Rhiannon’s birds are described as singing ‘across the waters’ which is the only direct evidence we have for Rhiannon’s otherworldly home; the ‘Happy Isles of the Blessed’. Thus Rhiannon may originally have been the ‘Great Queen’ of such a realm; a realm to which her steeds transported the spirits of the dead who were entertained on the way by the singing of the ‘Great Queen’s’ magical birds. The association between horses and birds also seems to be a recurring theme in Celtic mythos and the image above comes from a coin of the Unelli tribe of modern-day Normandy.
Rhiannon’s name is directly cognate with the Irish goddess Mórrígan (which also menans ‘Great Queen’). In terms of attributes, however, Rhiannon is most closely similar to an aspect of the triple-goddes, Mórrígan known as Macha; a goddess of war, horses and kingship.
The Welsh horse goddess of the Underworld, Rhiannon (pronounced ree-ah-nin) is also known as Rigatona or “Great Queen” in Welsh lore. An equine goddess-turned-magical queen, she is unique in the sense that she is exclusively a horse deity — while other goddesses of antiquity typically have other identities and functions.
Accordingly, horse themes are very strong in Irish and Welsh mythology. As such, Rhiannon’s Irish sister Macha, a trans-functional goddess spanning all possible functions of society as priestess, warrior, and nurturer, has also been represented as a horse.
Nevertheless, Rhiannon is one of a kind with the exception of one Gaulish equine goddess counterpart known as Epona — a diety who has no other function than being the patroness of horses.
Even more anomalous however, is her legendary fairy tale: one that is fraught with ambivalences. Appearing in the first “branch” (or chapter) of the Mabinogi as a mysterious lady riding a horse, Rhiannon is depicted as a graceful and wild goddess — untamable and free to the point that no one can ever catch her or overtake her gallop.
Alas, she is finally tamed in the sense that Pwyll, Prince of Dyfed, convinces her to stop and speak with him. As if fated, the two marry and Rhiannon bears him a child — one who mysteriously disappears at birth. Because the attendant maids (who should have been keeping vigilance) shirk their duties by falling asleep, the baby is effectively spirited away by an unknown creature. Trying to absolve themselves of any blame, the maids then resolve to kill some puppies, smearing the blood and gore on Rhiannon, claiming that she had killed her own child.
In light of the goddess-queen’s presumed guilt, Pywll does not divorce her, since that had been an act reserved exclusively for barrenness. Instead, she is sentenced to sitting near a horse-block outside of the city gate and is correspondingly instructed to carry passersby inside the city walls, becoming a horse in all but physical appearance and wild freedom.
Incidentally, right after Rhiannon’s son disappears, a mare of a villager named Teyrnon Twrf Liant gives birth to rather attractive colt. At the moment of delivery, a great claw reaches through the window of the house as if to seize the newborn. In bewildered response, Teyrnon slices off the arm and rushes outside only to find a noble baby boy — Rhiannon’s child.
Raising the boy as his own for over four years, the man eventually hears about the unfortunate plight of the goddess-queen, sees the resemblance between the two, and brings the child to the castle. Happy and free from her position as a compulsory horse-substitute, Rhiannon embraces her long-lost son, naming him Pryderi. And then they all live happily ever after . . . until the story changes again.
In a twist of fate, in the third “branch” of the Mabinogi following her husband’s death, Rhiannon marries her son’s friend Manawydan. After a number of experiences and adventures, she and her son eventually disappear into the magic fortress of Llwyd, (son of Cil Coed) where she is made to pay a horse penance once again, wearing the collars of donkeys.
The beautiful Welsh underworld goddess traveled through earth on an impossibly speedy horse, accompanied always by magical birds that made the dead waken and the living fall into a blissful seven-year sleep. Originally named Rigatona (“Great Queen”), she shrank in later legend into Rhiannon, a fairylike figure who appeared to Prince Pwyll of Dyfed near the gate of the underworld. He pursued her on his fastest horses, but hers–cantering steadily and without tiring–exhausted any mount of Pwyll’s. Finally, the queen decided to stay with Pwyll; she bore him a son soon afterward.
What can one expect of a goddess of death? Her son disappeared, and the queen was found with blood on her mouth and cheeks. Accused of murder, she was sentenced to serve as Pwyll’s gatekeeper, bearing visitors to the door on her back; thus she was symbolically transformed into a horse. All ended happily when her son was found; Rhiannon had been falsely accused by maids who, terrified at finding the babe absent, had smeared puppy blood on the queen’s face.
Behind this legend is doubtless another, more primitive one in which the death queen actually was guilty of infanticide. This beautiful queen of the night would then, it seems, be identical to the Germanic Mora, the nightmare, the horse-shaped goddess of terror. But night brings good dreams as well as bad, so Rhiannon was said to be the beautiful goddess of joy and oblivion, a goddess of Elysium as well as the queen of hell.
The horse goddess. Rhiannon was the Welsh equivalent of the Epona (Gallic) and Macha (Irish). Rhiannon was also associated with a Romano-Celtic goddess Rigantona (“Great Goddess”).
Rhiannon was the daughter of Hereydd the Old. She married Pwyll, a chieftain of Dyfed.
Rhiannon was unfortunate figure in Welsh myth. Rhiannon had many suitors, among them were Pwyll, chieftain of Dyfed, and Gwawl, the son of Clud. Pwyll won her hand and married her. Gwawl and his father laid a curse upon Pwyll’s household. Rhiannon was barren for many years. Pwyll blamed his wife for their inability to have a child, mistreated Rhiannon.
Even though she managed to give birth to a son named Pryderi, she was accused of killing or devouring her infant.
Later, when Pwyll died, Rhiannon lived with her son, before she married Manawyddan, after the death of Manawyddan’s brother (Bran) from the war in Ireland. Upon her son arrival back, Rhiannon and Pryderi were beset by curse from Llywd, the son of Kil Coed, and friend of Gwawl, Rhiannon’s former suitor. Their subjects in Dyved had vanished. Llywd had transformed Rhiannon into an ass, while her son was transformed into a gate-hammer. They were released from the curses through Manawyddan’s cunning and resourcefulness.
See Manawyddan son of Llyr, in the Mabinogion.
From: Timeless Myths