Rhiannon, Goddess of Birds and Horses by Judith Shaw

judith shaw photoRhiannon, 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’s deck of Celtic Goddess Oracle Cards is available now.  Celtic-Goddess-Oracle-cards-by-judith-shawYou can order your deck on Judith’s website. Experience the wisdom of the Celtic Goddesses!

Judith Shaw, a graduate of the San Francisco Art Institute, has been interested in myth, culture and mystical studies all her life.  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

Tags: , , , ,

19 replies

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

    Liked by 1 person

  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.


  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…..


  6. I’ve read articles describing Rhiannon as a sun goddess, even one stating that she rode her white horse across the sky each day, pulling the sun behind her. What do you think about her association as a solar deity? It seems to me that she’s representative of the Maiden/Mother/Crone moon goddess based on the story of her marriage to Pwyll, the birth of her son, and the accusation of infanticide. But do you think that association with the moon or the sun is as important to her mythos as her other symbols, the birds, the horse, the title Queen of the Fairies?


    • Robin, I have not seen those articles describing Rhiannon as a Sun Goddess. If you have the link perhaps you could share as I’d love to read them. As the Celts had an oral tradition and their stories were not written down until the 11th century researching the Celtic Goddesses is very confusing – so many conflicting reports of their stories. There certainly are Sun Goddesses who I believe are much older than Sun Gods but I personally don’t see Rhiannon as one. Sulis, Brigid, Grainne, Olwen and Aine are solar goddesses within the Celtic tradition

      The number three is very important and found throughout all of the Celts’ stories but I think there is confusion in equating the Celtic concept of triple deities with the Maiden/Mother/Crone triplicity found in the East. For one it seems to me that the Celts did not view their deities as Great Mothers or Great Fathers to be obeyed but rather as source who helped them understand the cosmos and seek abundance and well-being. And yet there are triple goddesses who function more in a revelatory way than as markers of stages of a human life. For instance the triplicity of Anu, Danu and Tailtiu are goddess of origin and Destination. Or Boann, Brigid, Ceridwen who are Goddesses of Creativity, Inspiration, Vision.

      So I feel that Rhiannon’s importance is one of healing (her birds), strength and endurance (her horse), and the power of love and forgiveness (her experiences in the human world). Her story is one of my favorites…..

      Liked by 1 person

      • Judith,

        This is the story about her pulling the sun behind her horse: http://www.goddessgift.com/goddess-myths/celtic_goddess_rhiannon.htm Every other site on the first page of Google’s search mentions the moon. I know a little bit about Celtic mythology and was surprised to see her called a sun goddess. I’ve seen her described as an Underworld goddess, a death goddess, a love goddess, and a creativity goddess. I’m trying to understand the real Celtic goddesses. I’ve seen too many books that just list goddesses in their tables of correspondence with deities from other cultures as ruling over this, that, and the other thing. I think that it’s hard to find information about Rhiannon because Welsh mythology is more difficult to understand than, say, Irish mythology . . . I think it’s closer to Norse mythology in terms of oral tradition, as you said. Many people have a lot of misconceptions about the Vikings, for example. People don’t understand the bardic tradition in Welsh mythology. I look for the Maiden/Mother/Crone motif in every mythology because it’s in all the books. That’s why I’m trying to find better sources. I’ve bought a couple of books put out by Moon Publishing; they have books about the Morrigan, Brigid, and Hecate, but they don’t yet have a book devoted to Rhiannon or Welsh mythology. This book, Goddess Alive https://www.amazon.com/Goddess-Alive-Inviting-Celtic-Goddesses/dp/0738710806/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1481764732&sr=8-1&keywords=goddess+alive is supposed to devote some time to Rhiannon but I’m afraid to buy it and get more “Goddess lite.” I feel very drawn to Rhiannon and I want to understand her real story. I’m also putting a lot of time into researching real fairies as they were perceived by the Celts. Rhiannon as Queen of the Fairies is another thing I find fascinating.

        Thank you so much for responding to me. I hope you can take a look at the sun goddess link and let me know what you think.


        Liked by 1 person

      • Correction: It’s Moon Books, not Moon Publishing.


      • Robin,
        I checked out the link you shared and I personally I would not put much confidence in the authenticity of the info in that post. A great source for the retelling of the epic Welsh myths which includes Rhiannon is The Mabinogion Tetralogy by Evangeline Walton. I am not an expert at all but through my work on my deck of Celtic Goddess cards I have found a wide array of conflicting stories about many of them. The Tuatha Dé Danann were a group who invaded Ireland long ago and their stories became the stories of the Gods and Goddesses. They were ultimately defeated by the Melissians at which time it was believed that the Tuatha Dé Danann went underground to become what we call “fairies” today.

        Here’s a link to a blog that goes into the importance of “3” to the Celts and Triadic Goddesses
        http://store.isisbooks.com/The_Triple_Goddess_s/401.htm. You can also check out this link to the ancient texts – http://www.ancienttexts.org/library/celtic/index.html. You have to really search way back to find the most authentic info about the Celtic Goddesses and Gods. You are also welcome to check out my other posts on the different Celtic Goddesses – there are 33 in all.



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  2. Rhiannon, Goddess of Birds and Horses « WiccanWeb
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