Here at BFan headquarters we are busy preparing for our upcoming show: Dragon & the Night Queen: Celtic Stories, opening in Florence, OR, on February 20th, then coming to Eugene’s Hult Center February 26-28th! (Get your tickets here!) This brand new, all original ballet draws inspiration from medieval Celtic legends, including the legend of the Rhiannon.
The Night Queen Rhiannon is the Celtic goddess of the moon as well as fertility, wisdom, inspiration, and the night. The name “Rhiannon” means “Divine Queen” in Welsh, making her the Divine Queen of the Fairies. The ultimate time to worship Rhiannon is at night, when the moon is at its highest point according to Celtic tradition.
In Celtic tradition, Rhiannon is often affiliated with a white horse, which she is often seen riding in many illustrations. Her white horse is symbolic for her role as a moon deity and as a leader. In Celtic legends, Rhiannon is described as a prominent beauty, draped in rich colors such as gold, silver, and ruby.
According to medieval texts, the story of the goddess Rhiannon begins at her father’s crystal castle, where the two ruled over the land of fairies. There, her father arranged a marriage for his daughter, but Rhiannon, being a believer in true love, refused to marry a man of her own kind that she did not love. Instead, Rhiannon wished to marry Prince Pwyll (poo-ul), a mortal. The two had met when Pwyll stood on a Tor which surrounded his castle with his friends. Tors were grassy mounds thought to be magical places, perhaps covering the entrance to the fairy world, which most people avoided. Once Pwyll stepped foot on the Tor, Rhiannon appeared on her white horse, dressed in glittering gold, and rode past Pwyll without even glancing at him. Pwyll was instantly enchanted and intrigued. Against his friends recommendations, he sent a servant to chase after her. But, the goddess was too fast for him and got away. The next day, Pwyll stood on the same Tor and waited for Rhiannon to appear. Once she did, she again gave Pwyll no attention and continued to ride away. Pwyll was determined, so he went on a chase. After becoming exhausted, he finally called out to the goddess, and in that moment Rhiannon stopped her horse and smiled. She informed him that she had appeared to him to seek his love. The Prince insisted that she come to his palace with him, but Rhiannon declined and told him that she would return in a year to marry him. Then, she vanished into the forest.
A year later, Rhiannon returned to the Tor where she met Pwyll with his friends. She led them into the forest to her crystal castle, where they had a beautiful wedding ceremony. At the celebration that followed, the man the her father had arranged for Rhiannon to marry caused a scene, claiming that the wedding was not right. Rhiannon swiftly turned the man into a badger, put him in a bag, and threw him in the lake surrounding her castle. Unfortunately, the badger would later cause much trouble for the newlyweds.
After the wedding, Rhiannon left with Pwyll to return to his castle. Leaving the fairy world was difficult for the goddess, but she was excited for her new life with the Prince. Initially, the people welcomed the beautiful goddess with open arms, but after two years and no child to be heir to the throne, the people turned on her and refused to praise her as their queen. Fortunately, the next year, the queen gave birth to a son. While the new mother was resting, servants were put in charge of caring for the baby. One night, the servants fell asleep and awoke to an empty crib. The servants panicked and decided to put the blame on Rhiannon, an outsider queen. The servant smeared blood on her hands and cried out that the the queen had killed her own son. A grief stricken Pwyell listened to his citizens and punished Rhiannon to spend seven years wearing a horse collar in a cage outside of the palace. She would have to carry each person wishing the reach the castle and tell the story of her “crime’.
Four years had passed without Rhiannon ever complaining. One fine day a nobleman, his wife, and a small boy came to the palace gates. To her surprise, the man lifted Rhiannon and placed her on his horse. The boy then handed Rhiannon a piece of a gown, which she instantly recognized as the infant gown that she had sewn her son with her own two hands. Rhiannon looked into the boy’s eyes and recognized them as her husband’s. She rejoiced and thanked the family for raising her son returning him to her. According to many legends, the man who had been turned into a badger by Rhiannon had kidnapped the small child and taken him to a field where the family found the newborn.
The goddess Rhiannon was restored to her honor and returned to her place next to her husband. Although the people had caused her to suffer tremendously for four years, Rhiannon recognized their shame and forgave everyone who caused her pain.
The story of the Celtic goddess Rhiannon reminds people of the healing powers forgiveness and love for yourself and others. The goddess Rhiannon is a goddess of change and transformation who demonstrates that with good intentions and love, one can truly transform into something magical. Rhiannon also encourages people to seek answers to their questions, listen to their instincts, and to not let doubt consume one’s life.
References: http://www.uexpress.com/tell-me-a-story/2013/4/28/the-goddess-rhiannon-a-welsh-tale Heroes of the Dawn: Celtic Myth by Fergus Fleming Celtic Mythology by J.A. MacCulloch The Mabinogion by Lady Charlotte Guest