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Symbolism of Rhiannon on the Mabinogion


The Mabinogion

It is acknowledged that the
Mabinogion is the most valuable written source where the character of Rhiannon appears.

"
Mabinogion" (măbĭnō`gēən), is the title given to a collection of medieval Welsh stories. Scholars differ as to the meaning of the word mabinogion: some think it to be the plural of the Welsh word mabinogi, which means "youthful career"; others think it derives from the Welsh word mabinog, meaning "aspirant to bardic honor."

The stories in the Mabinogion are found in two manuscripts, the White Book of Rhydderch (c.1300–1325) comprising the The Four Branches of the Mabinogi: Culhwch and Olwen; The Dream of Macsen Wledig; Lludd and Llefelys; Peredur; Owain (also known as The Lady of the Fountain); and Geraint and Enid; and the Red Book of Hergest (c.1375–1425) which most notably, contains the tale of the Dream of Rhonabwy.

The first four tales, which are called collectively The Four Branches of the Mabinogi, are divided into Pwyll, Branwen, Manawydan, and Math; their connecting link, now obscured by many accretions, is the story of Prince Gwri or, as he is later called, Pryderi, who is the child of Pwyll Pendefig Dyfed and Rhiannon.

Rhiannon features in both the first and third branches of the Mabinogi, the tales of:
(a tale that revolves around his friendship with the ruler of the nether-realm, his finding and gaining Rhiannon as a wife, the birth, loss and re-discovery of his son) &
(a tale that recounts how Pryderi ,-who survived the war in Ireland-, offers his own realm to Manawyddan and gifts him his mother, Rhiannon to be Manawyddan's wife).


The Character

As commented on a previous post, Rhiannon is probably a reflex of the Celtic Great Queen goddess Rigantona and may also be associated with the horse goddess Epona.
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 Celtic goddess who gave Arthur the sword Excalibur, empowering him to become King in the legends of Camelot.

As a Celtic Moon Goddess
she is reputed to be extremely beautiful and have a tremendous singing prowess. She was born at the first Moonrise. She is generally pictured as being dressed in gold and riding a milk white horse, with birds around her head who are reputed to be able to sing the living to sleep and raise the dead with their song. Wiccans usually celebrate her feast day on July 4, but she is also celebrated at Beltane.
Her First Branch Story in Brief
Upon ascending the magical mound of Gorsedd Aberth, the Demetian king Pwyll witnesses the arrival of Rhiannon. Pwyll immediately fell in love, and when Rhiannon rode by, he followed her, but he could never bridge the distance between them, no matter how fast or long he rode.
Pwyll sends his best horsemen after her, but she always remains ahead of them, though her horse never does more than amble.
After three days, he finally calls out to her, and Rhiannon tells him she has come seeking him because she would rather marry him than Gwawl ap Clud, who was one of her “own kind”, much to the distress of her family, smiling to let him know all he had to do is ask for her.
A year after their meeting, Pwyll accidentally and foolishly promises Rhiannon to Gwawl, before managing to win her back through outwitting, bloodying and dishonouring his rival, with the magical use of a sack that could never be filled up.

A couple of years later, Rhiannon gave birth to a son, Pryderi, at the Winter Solstice.

However, on the night of his birth, he disappears while in the care of six of Rhiannon's ladies-in-waiting , and the servants panicked.

They schemed and decided to put puppy blood on Rhiannon’s face as she was sleeping, and scattered puppy bones all around her.

Rhiannon is forced to do penance for her supposed crime, since everyone believed Rhiannon had eaten her baby.

As punishment, she humbly stood at the castle gates with a horse’s collar around her neck. She was obliged to offer to carry anyone who came to the gates inside to their destination. She never complained over the long seven years she was humiliated this way.

One day, her son came to the gate, and mother and son immediately recognized each other, and Rhiannon’s good name was restored. The boy is eventually reunited with Pwyll and Rhiannon and is renamed Pryderi, meaning "loss". Some time later, Pwyll dies peacefully and Pryderi ascends to the throne, marrying Cigfa and amalgamating the seven cantrefs of Morgannwg to his kingdom.


Symbolism of Rhiannon on the Mabinogion

This shows how incredibly forgiving and truly regal she was. She knows hardship, and comforts us with understanding when we call on her.

The story of the Celtic goddess Rhiannon reminds us of the healing power of humor, tears, and forgiveness.
The goddess Rhiannon is a goddess of movement and change who remains steadfast, comforting us in times of crisis and of loss.
She is a goddess of love, even sexual love, giving her associations also with Venus, and her transformative powers are strongest when used for love of others or self. She is thought of as an example of true love and beauty, and it is said one can only completely know Rhiannon when they truly love themselves. She also shows us, through love and intent, that transformation is really possible. She represents the constant ebb and flow of life and how we are ALWAYS able to create change.
Rhiannon is also known as a Goddess of Doubt, in that she helps us to work out the doubt we have in our lives, and helps us listen to our instincts. She encourages us to seek answers to our questions and not to blindly trust.

Though depicted with a human form Rhiannon she may euhemerize an earlier goddess ofCeltic Polytheism.

Similar euhemerisms of pre-Christian deities can be found in other medieval Celtic literature, when Christian scribes and redactors may have felt uncomfortable writing about the powers of pagan gods. In the Táin Bó Cúailnge, for example, Macha and Morrígan appear as larger-than-life figures, but are never described as goddesses, very similar to the presentation of Rhiannon in the Mabinogion.

Proinsias Mac Cana states:
"[Rhiannon] reincarnates the goddess of sovereignty who, in taking to her a spouse, thereby ordained him legitimate king of the territory which she personified".

According to Miranda Jane Green, "Rhiannon conforms to two archetypes of myth ... a gracious, bountiful queen-goddess; and as the 'wronged wife', falsely accused of eating charlotte".

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