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, 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.
Judith’s deck of Celtic Goddess Oracle Cards is available now. You 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. 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