Creiddylad, Welsh Goddess of Flowers and Love by Judith Shaw


photo of Judith Shaw

May Day/Beltane (Calan Mai to the ancient Celts) is almost here and our hearts turn to thoughts of love, flowers and the bounty of our Mother Earth. Both Beltane and Halloween/Samhain (Calan Gaeaf) were liminal or threshold days, considered to be outside of normal time. These sacred, mystic days were more important than the solstices in the Celtic world view.

Creiddylad painting by Judith Shaw

Creiddylad, Welsh Goddess of Flowers and Love, is celebrated at this time. (Her name is pronounced cree-THIL-ahd)  She is the eternal May Queen, always seeking peace and stability.  She remains eternally constant in the face of all change.  She is the promise of love, golden glowing moon-flowing love, enduring through all hardship and despair.  Creiddylad also shows us the necessity of self-love. Only by truly loving ourselves can we love another.

Creiddylad is mentioned only briefly in The Mabinogion but her symbolism reveals that she is surely an ancient and important Goddess, whose original stories have been lost to the mists of time.

Creiddylad, the daughter of Lludd Silver-hand, was promised in marriage to her heart’s desire, Gwythyr ap Greidawl. But before the marriage could be consummated she was abducted by Gwyn ap Nudd, who possessed many dark aspects akin to the Lord of the Underworld.

Gwythyr gathered together his warriors and set out to rescue his love, Creiddylad, from Gwyn.  A fierce battle ensued, during which Gwyn, who emerged as the victor, committed horrendous acts of brutality and butchery.

King Arthur, hearing of this brutality, marched off to Gwyn’s lands to settle the matter. He declared that neither man could marry Creiddylad and returned her to her father, Lludd Silver-hand.  An arrangement was made forcing the two men to battle each other in single combat for the hand of Creiddylad every year at Beltane/May Day.  Creiddylad’s destiny was set; she would remain an eternal maiden, living with her father, until the final battle on Judgement Day revealed the victor.

Her father Lludd Silver-hand doesn’t enter into Creiddylad’s rescue from Gwyn – not the usual response for a lord whose daughter has been abducted. He waits calmly while her two suitors fight over her.   This is a clue that the story is more than it appears.  In fact Cryeiddylad’s tale is the origin of the Celtic love-triangle pattern of a beautiful young noblewoman who loves a virile hero but is pursued and/or married to another, often darkly driven, suitor.    It’s the Oak King – May Queen – Holly King literary theme, a metaphor for the mythic motif of the cyclical nature of time.  This theme is repeated in Celtic legends such as Tristan and Isolde, Blodeuwedd and Lleu Law Gyffes and Arthur and Guinevere.

The oak tree, revered by the Welsh Druids, was a symbol of the chief and his protection of the people. The oak tree majestically reveals its strength and beauty in the spring and summer, sprouting leaves and growing acorns, which all fall to the ground in the autumn.  It symbolizes the growing time, the cycle of sowing, reaping and harvesting, represented in part by a young, virile God.

The holly tree, whose leaves remain bright green with red berries in the cold winter months, is a tree of death and resurrection. It’s a reminder that new life will emerge from the depths of winter, a symbol of death, reincarnation and continuing life.

Over the years these trees were personified as the Oak King, representing the green growing half of the year, and Holly King, representing the dark half of the year, with its promise of rebirth.  And they battle each other every year, on Beltane, when light and life are victorious and at Samhain,when the veil between the two worlds is thinnest and the forces of darkness win.

The May Queen, honored on May Day is represented by the ivy plant, symbolizing the power of life.  She is the ever-fertile maiden, whose power births new life. She is the ground, the source from which the ever turning cycle of sowing, reaping, dying and being reborn emerge.  She is the symbol of love, herself symbolized by the ivy plant, whose natural vein structure forms two hearts .

Gwythr has the role of Oak King, Gwyn ap Nudd is the Holly King and Creiddylad is the beautiful May Queen.  The triangle is complete and now love and the sacred feminine are again part of the ongoing cycle of death and rebirth.

Every Beltane we are reminded of the wisdom of Creiddylad, the eternal May Queen.  A Fertility Goddess, She emerges when the earth is filled with flowers opening in sweetness to receive kisses from the sun.  She bestows her gifts of abundance on us all.  In the land of our mythic dreams she becomes the Earth Herself, the very heart of the home from which we all emerge and to which we one day return.  Her story reminds us that we come from and return to love, an eternal love, crossing all boundaries of time and space.  And as she loved and honored herself in choosing her own destiny to be with Gwythr, we are reminded that all love begins with the love of self.  By embracing self-love and acceptance we grow into a state of abundance.  Not only does Creiddylad gift humanity with an abundant earth, She gifts us with the ability to accept and receive that abundance.  Creiddylad’s gifts take us out of a consciousness of fear and into a consciousness of love.  She is a beautiful reminder to trust in ourselves, the universe and the power of love to provide.

Update – Judith’s deck of Celtic Goddess Oracle Cards is ready for publication and will begin shipment by the end of November.  Her Celtic-Goddess-Oracle-cards-by-judith-shawcrowdfunding campaign was successful, ending on 10.19.17 at 120% funded.  You can still  Pre-order your deck on Judith’s website. Bring the wisdom of the Celtic Goddesses into the world.

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

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Categories: Art, Earth-based spirituality, Feminism, Goddess, Goddess Spirituality, Goddess Spirituality

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23 replies

  1. Thank you for this explanation :)

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  2. This is lovely! Thank you, Judith.

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  3. I do not know these stories, but I was struck by the fact that they clearly come from cultures that view “warfare as eternal.” So eternal that the changing of the seasons is explained through the metaphor of battle to the death (and resurrection). Sound familiar?

    Not the same as the Old European understanding that birth, death, and regeneration are parts of the same cycle.

    In these stories both the life and death aspects of the Goddess are masculinized and militarized. What a shame.

    And the mother (Demeter) who would mourn her daughter’s loss is entirely absent.

    Siggghhhh…..

    Goddesses of patriarchy.

    The Goddess is still there but she is now under the control of male warriors and magicians. And she is only 1/3 of the triangle of life.

    Siggghhhhh….

    Still we can celebrate these Goddesses if we see them as pointing to a time before war, private property, and the control of female sexuality. As you do!

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    • All that you say is very true. Some of these stories of Celtic Goddesses that I have been researching come from The Mabinogion. The Mabinogion is rooted in the oral myths and legends of Wales and was first written in the mid-twelfth century, well into the establishment of the patriarchy. Evangeline Walton’s beautiful retelling of these tales looks at them as stories that illustrate a clash of cultures and a changing of consciousness. The “Old Tribes”, the Picts, who were probably a hybridization of the beaker people and the earlier aboriginal peoples, hold to the ancient harmonies of the Goddess. The “New Tribes”, Celtic invaders, follow the male gods. Many of these stories illustrate that changing status of women.

      The Cailleach and Brigid are ancient, ancient Goddesses of that area who were there before the Celts arrived. In them we see the cyclical nature of life.

      Creiddylad is intriguing because so little is known about her and yet Her role as May Queen is so important. There must be much more to Her that has been lost. It would be interesting to re-imagine Her story before the Gods of War took over.

      The Mother of the major figures in the Mabinogion from the old tribes is Don. But Her stories are completely lost. So sad – the loss and destruction of such wealth inherent in the consciousness of the Goddess.

      I avoided the Celtic stories for many years because of their violence. But in the past couple of years I have become very drawn to the history and myths of my own ancestral heritage – French, Irish, Scottish and English.

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    • I can’t see this as a “love triangle.” It is a love story interrupted by a rapist. No female sovereignty in this tale: her fate is determined by violence. She has no say. How ironic for a May Queen to be sentenced to a decree of no sex. Creiddylad needs new stories.

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      • True that in the story as we have it now there is no female sovereignty. But what is Her ancient story that has been lost to us? Why, being mentioned so briefly (in the Mabinogion she appears in one small paragraph in the long, long telling of the story of Kilhwch and Olwen) is the resolution put forth by Arthur centered around May Day, a day of such importance to the Celts?

        Creiddylad’s connection to Beltane seems a clue that she must have originally been a Goddess of Sovereignty – One whom the king must marry in order to be seen as a legitimate ruler.

        The stories of the Mabinogion speak to me of how difficult it has been for the patriarchy to suppress the Goddess. They contort and change Her stories but She continues. And even after the burning times and all the horrors, She emerges yet again in our times.

        I agree, Creiddylad’s story needs to be re-discovered and re-imagined.

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  4. Having just pulled up a lot of volunteer ivy that may have contributed to the death of 1/2 of an olive tree, I will note that this is an interesting symbol. Ivy is not a flower but a vine. It is invasive, difficult to eradicate, and takes over! Hmmmmm, wonder if any of these aspects of ivy were meant to be included or just the heart symbol?

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    • Invasive plants are a problem worldwide. I know that here in New Mexico our Cottonwoods are being threatened by Salt Cedar, Russian Olive and Chinese Elm, all non-native trees and brush. Then add the drought and the controlling of the Rio Grande and now without human intervention, the Cottonwoods would disappear completely.

      I found this about ivy in wikipedia-
      Ivies are natives of Eurasia and north Africa but have been introduced to North America where they can be invasive.The speciation of ivies probably began around the Mediterranean Basin. Ivy seeds are spread by birds.

      Ivies are of major ecological importance for their nectar and fruit production, both produced at times of the year when few other nectar or fruit sources are available. (this might be why they were important in the norther climates of Europe.)

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  5. Reblogged this on Journeying to the Goddess and commented:
    According to Patricia Monaghan, Creiddylad is associated with a Goddess I worked with last year, Cordelia. “Creiddylad, Welsh Goddess of Flowers and Love, is celebrated at this time. (Her name is pronounced cree-THIL-ahd) She is the eternal May Queen, always seeking peace and stability. She remains eternally constant in the face of all change. She is the promise of love, golden glowing moon-flowing love, enduring through all hardship and despair. Creiddylad also shows us the necessity of self-love. Only by truly loving ourselves can we love another.” ~ Judith Shaw

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    • Yes, I also read about Cordelia as a later name for Creiddylad. Cordelia also is a fictional character in William Shakespeare’s tragic play. In Shakespeare’s play she is part of that love triangle pattern we see in Creiddylad’s story.

      Thanks for the repost.

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  6. perhaps we can see this story as our own journey through darkness into light – the eternal cycle – the light bringing hope … just knowing it is there….. even before we can see it. Thank you for sharing Her story.

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  7. I would read this story as showing that even those things that we associate most with light, goodness, purity, and love are only true gifts of ourselves if we have consulted with the dark sides of ourselves as well as the light. It’s all very well to feel charitable and commit ourselves one day to a good cause, or feel passion and commit ourselves to a love, but unless all of ourselves-dark and light, Oak and Holly, have been consulted, balanced, and drawn together-those commitments will fail because we have only given a part of ourselves to it. Through loving and knowing our whole selves, as you say, and continuing to accept both parts of our personality, not only our loves but our fears too, we become truly giving and fertile like Creiddylad. Moreover, Creiddylad teaches us that when we start to flag in who we want to be and do, the way to mend things is through hearing all parts of ourselves, what’s really wrong, rather than continuing to fight ourselves, or running or denying the issues that get in our way. By balancing ourselves, we can balance our lives, relationships, and hopes.

    In this reading Creiddylad takes precedence over all the warring men in the story because they are aspects of her own psyche that she must balance to remain the May Queen. She prefers one side of herself, but must not simply denounce the other-she must accept both of them and work to keep them in balance and harmony because that is the only way to be true to herself. The military aspects of her conscience merely show how easy it is to fall into fights or dislike of yourself and how strong this goddess is in order to keep them coming together and on equal terms.

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    • What a beautiful and interesting interpretation of Creiddylad’s story. This is what I love so much about myth and legend. The stories slowly percolate, allowing us to find layer upon layer of meaning.

      If Creiddylad’s story is about loving ourselves then certainly we must love our shadow also. How intriguing to read the story as if all parts of it are Her – like we can do with dreams, where all the actors in the dream are parts of ourselves.

      Thanks for your insight.

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  8. I think even the patriarchal stories that hijack the Goddess can still be insightful to talk even about patriarchy and history with ourselves, others and our children. Great discussion openers.

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  9. Reblogged this on The Darkness in the Light and commented:
    For you Celts and Pagans, excellent words!

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Trackbacks

  1. Goddess Cordelia | Journeying to the Goddess
  2. Creiddylad, Welsh Goddess of Flowers and Love « WiccanWeb
  3. Creiddylad, An Enigmatic Goddess | Judith Shaw - Life on the Edge
  4. Celtic Goddesses – a Personal Journey by Judith Shaw «

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