Rhiannon, Goddess of Birds and Horses by Judith Shaw

photo of Judith ShawRhiannon, Goddess of Birds and Horses, is also know as the Queen of  Fairies.  She is a Sovereignty Goddess who the king must wed to legitimate his rule.  A Goddess of Transformation, she uses her powers for love of others or self.  She shines in our hearts as an example of true love and beauty. She appears in both the first and third branches of the Medieval Welsh stories, The Mabinogion, a narrative which grew out of the ancient myths of the Celtic Gods and Goddesses.

Rhiannon is associated with Epona, the Gaulish Horse Goddess.  They are probably both derived from the ancient Celtic Goddess, Rigatona, whose name means “Great Queen”.  Unfortunately, Rigatona’s stories  and meaning are lost to us today.

Things sacred to Rhiannon are the moon, horses, horseshoes, songbirds, gates, the wind, and the number 7.

In the Mabinogion Rhiannon first appears to Pwyll, King of the new tribes of Dyved, as a beautiful  dream vision, riding a glowing white horse. Her hair shining in the sun, her birds twittering in circles around her head, She seems to be clothed by golden light.   Thus begins her journey to attain the man of her desires.  She possesses deep magic and can manifest her dreams and desires both for herself and for the good of all.

Rhiannon painting by Judith Shaw

No matter how fast Pywll chases her, she remains elusive.  She is aloof and appears to not notice him.  Finally Pywll asks her to stop and she complies, saying “Since you ask it of me, I will gladly stop.”

Rhiannon confesses her love to Pywll and tells him that her father wants her to marry another.  Not only is Pywll smitten. His legitimacy as King is in question and he must marry Rhiannon to prove his sovereignty. He follows her to the Otherworld, the Fairy World, where she promises they will marry. But here he is tricked by Gwawl, Rhiannon’s suitor, into giving Her to him.

Rhinnon’s uses her powerful magic to rid herself of Gwawl and thus manifests her dreams.  Finally she and Pwyll are married and she must leave the world of faery, the bright world, forever.

In this part of her story we see Rhiannon in her aspect as a Fertility Goddess, a Goddess of Love and as a Dream Goddess. But she is also an Otherworld Goddess and a Death Goddess.

Years pass in the land of the Dyved and finally Rhiannon gave birth to a son.  But she and her ladies fell into a deep sleep and her son was stolen.  When her ladies woke to discover the baby was gone they feared for their lives. To escape responsibility they smeared puppy blood on Rhiannon. With blood on her and puppy bones scattered round her, they accused her of killing her son.  Perhaps in her more ancient aspect, as Death Goddess she did actually kill her son.  After all the Goddess gives and the Goddess takes away.  In this Death Goddess aspect Rhiannon and Her birds sang so sweetly that the dying went gladly to their deaths.  Rhiannon’s birds also healed at the soul level and could wake the dead from their sleep.

As punishment for this crime that didn’t happen, she was forced to become like a horse herself.  She was sentenced to stand on a block at the castle gates for seven years. When visitors arrived she had to confess her crime and offer to carry them on her back.  Though few accepted her offer because of her beauty and humility.

Ultimately, after two winters her son and her place were restored to her.  When her son was first returned to her, she exclaimed that her “Pryderi” (her grief and anxiety) was finally ended.  Thus he received his name from his mother as was the Welsh custom. She was returned to Pwyll’s side as Queen.  After Pwyll’s death, Rhiannon married Manawyden, son of Llyr who is an equivalent to the Irish Sea God, Manannan.  Click here to read Rhiannon’s story and further difficulties during her years with Manawyden.

With grace and dignity Rhiannon endured the years of this unjust punishment, reminding us in her aspect as Horse Goddess of the power of endurance. Though patience is a difficult trait to master in our ever accelerating modern world, Rhiannon assures us that the pains and injustices we suffer will be brought into alignment with the natural state of balance in the universe; truth and justice will prevail.

As an Otherworld Goddess, Rhiannon rules the dream world. Call on Her for soul revealing dreams.

Rhiannon, reminding us of our own divinity, helps us to identify with our sovereign wholeness. She enables us to cast out the role of victim from our lives forever. Her presence calls us to practice patience and forgiveness. She lights our way to the ability to transcend injustice and maintain compassion for our accusers.

Rhiannon’s story reveals the truth that with love and intention transformation is possible.  We can create the change we desire. She brings reconciliation to our unbalanced world by calling us to remember Her, our Great Queen, our Mother. Through our love for her we can be reconciled with our divided selves.

Judith Shaw, a graduate of the San Francisco Art Institute, has been interested in myth, culture and mystical studies all her life. From a college paper on Beauty and the Beast to a much later series of paintings on Beauty and the Beast…From a student painting of circles to her current fascination with the interlocking circles of sacred geometry…From reading When God Was A Woman in the early 70′s to her ongoing visual exploration of the role of the Goddess in our modern world…From her very first oil painting of a tree to her ongoing series of trees— her early influences of Jackson Pollack’s abandon, and Van Gogh’s emotionality are evident. Originally from New Orleans, she has traveled in Mexico, Central America, China, Europe and Greece and lived in Mexico and Greece. The passion and bright colors of many of these places have affected her palette and style. Judith makes art, dances with abandon and experiences the world through travel and study. Her work, which expresses her belief in the interconnectedness of all life, can be seen on her website at http://judithshawart.com

Categories: Goddess, Goddess Spirituality, Goddess Spirituality, Spirituality

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14 replies

  1. Thank you again for bringing the Celtic goddesses to new life!


  2. It’s my great pleasure to be learning about the Celtic goddesses in the way that only painting them provides for me. Thanks for checking into my work with them.


  3. For a wonderful and very readable rendering of the story in all its rich and mysterious detail, read The Mabinogion by Evangeline Walton.


  4. Oh this is lovely…I’m always on the lookout for more information about the Goddess I’m named for. :D


    • Rhiannon, you are so lucky to be blessed with such a beautiful name from such an inspiring goddess. Glad you enjoyed. Rhiannon is definitely one of my favorites.


      • And woman is scorned and the teacher is woman often lessons learned, forgotten and remembered simultaneously, when enlightened it becomes obvious that lessons to be truly understood are indeed required to be perceived by one persons’ perception – not by wrath nor force nor power but by love remembered – so woman is scorned by denial and by force and by power that often but sometimes perceives that love is truly the one and only power ! Can go on but late now and thank you for your info on the woman Rhiannon. The truth of the world resides in woman and most men do not get that – speak soon possibly – I shall maybe pen a wee poem about Celtic myths, truths and wisdom.


      • John, A wee poem sounds great. Hope you share it with us.


  5. Thank you so much for this truly enlightened article! I´ve just added your link to a posting I´ve made about the song “A Rose to Epona” by the Swiss folk metal band Eluveitie!


    • Jo, Sounds like an interesting band. Maybe you’d like to post a link to your article which hopefully has a video or audio of the song. I’d love to hear it. Rhiannon is certainly connected to Epona, whose story in part is also one of the “betrayed wife” – so prevalent…..



  1. Rhiannon, Celtic Goddess | Judith Shaw - Life on the Edge
  2. Rhiannon, Goddess of Birds and Horses « WiccanWeb
  3. Celtic Goddesses – a Personal Journey by Judith Shaw «
  4. Rhiannon | commonplace2015

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