Again and again, I keep cycling back around to a deeper and deeper exploration of how easily we Other individuals or groups, halting any progress towards meaningful relationship, potential friendship, and peaceweaving. While there are endless examples to be held up in today’s media, in this moment I find myself taking my questions to my altar instead of my newsfeed and to the mythos of the Ladies of my chosen Tradition.
For The Sisterhood of Avalon, this is the season of Rhiannon, Great Queen of the First Branch of The Mabinogion. When we first catch site of Her, She is riding out from Gorsedd Arbeth, portal of the passage from the Otherworld into our world. Confident, self-assured, She comes into our world of Her own volition to pursue Her sovereign path in lieu of the life Her father wants to set before Her. She chooses to marry Pwyll, Prince of Dyfed (in southwest Wales) and together they build a life and rule a kingdom. For many years, all appears to be well. But when Rhiannon bears a son who mysteriously disappears hours after his birth, we see that the people of Dyfed have not forgotten that Rhiannon is Other to them– a foreigner, a stranger, mysterious, dangerous even, and not to be trusted.
The precious child is gone. Rhiannon, exhausted by the labor, is asleep. And the nurses charged with the child’s safekeeping panic. Fear takes over. They slaughter a puppy, litter the bones around the sleeping mother, and smear Her hands & face with the poor creature’s blood. They know this strategy of framing Rhiannon for Her own son’s death will save them from blame & punishment. Why? Because they know the court of Dyfed has never stopped Othering Rhiannon.
When She wakes, surrounded by bones, dripping with blood, She cries out, pleading with the women in attendance for them to tell the truth of the events of that night. Her pleas and offers of immunity fail to move the women from their conspiracy to blame this Other Woman. They refuse to recant their allegations against Her and even Her own husband passes judgement against Her; sentencing the Great Queen to seven years of grueling punishment.
Revisiting Her mythos every Cycle, I find something new She is asking me to consider. In this moment of Her season, I find myself examining the tragic events of Her labor & birth experience from opposite viewpoints in turn.
When have I been one of the terrified nurses? Around whom have I scattered false bones? Who do I paint with unjust blood? Who do I label as dangerous; as the stranger not to be trusted? Who do I Other because of my own personal or cultural fears? What does this tell me about the work I need to do within myself and out in the world around me?
And when have I woken up to find myself painted the Lady of Other? When have I fought to comprehend strange blood on my hands or bones at my feet? Or struggled to understand the fearful looks of those who have been conditioned not to trust me? How could I give my best effort to establishing that trust? When that fails, what are the circumstances surrounding the times when have I been unable to overcome being Othered? How have I been able to bear that burden without letting it destroy me?
This is the work She sets before me now.
So what about you? In a culture rampant with violent Othering, what does your faith/spiritual tradition teach you about how we can reweave this patter of Other and Othering in our own hearts, in our communities, and in the world at large? What do(es) your God(s) or Goddess(es) tell you about how you Other and how you can cope when Othered yourself? What can you do with those understandings to affect change in your here and now?
Kate Brunner is a writer, healer, ritualist, & member of The Sisterhood of Avalon, studying at the Avalonian Thealogical Seminary. She is a somewhat nomadic American, homeschooling her children with the world as their classroom. She holds a BA from Tulane University, where she studied Economics, International Relations, & Religious Traditions. Kate volunteered as a presenter for monthly Red Tents and semi-annual women’s retreats before relocating overseas for several years where she hosted seasonal women’s gatherings, facilitated labyrinth rituals, and led workshops on an assortment of women’s spirituality topics. She recently returned to the US and is breathing into the potential of this new chapter of her life.
12 thoughts on “Rhiannon: Lady of the Other(world) by Kate Brunner”
A very timely reminder about the other given all the trouble surrounding the acceptance of immigrants into various countries.
Beautiful thoughtful and thought-provoking post. Thank you!
Thank you, Kate – you have given me much to think about.
Good questions to spend time with Kate. Many thanks.
I find that, at 77, I don’t put a lot of stock in what others think of me. Some people think I walk on water; other people think I do it because I don’t know how to swim. What seems important to me is to not “other” others.
Within the Christian tradition, Jesus provides an example for me in his relationships and stories. The early Xtian communities struggled a lot with accepting Gentiles and we still seem to have some who reject more easily than love others.
The little dog who got killed caught my attention. I feel that Rhiannon can take care of herself, but isn’t it those who are weak and vulnerable who most suffer from our injustice?
It is always interesting to see what points of view catch our hearts when we take in a myth or story. You raise an important question to consider by considering the fate of the puppy at the hands of the nurses. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.
I am flattened by this post. What great questions! This will keep me pondering for a while. Also, vis a vis birthing a creation vs. condemned for murder- how many times has something I created/help create been misinterpreted, taken to be something it is not, something for which I did not intend it to mean. Egads, this mythic narrative has many layers!
Beautiful art and thank you for sharing it here. Is Emily your sister?
I find that when we begin to really sit with mythic narratives, there are so many layers we can begin to work through– many, many more than what common cultural surface knowledge or even academic scholastic analysis have given us. Eisegesis applied to the deconstruction of sacred texts in Abrahamic traditions is seriously frowned upon, but I find that it is a powerfully positive tool for working with Goddess mythos.
When I share her work, people often ask me that. But no, Emily & I are not related to the best of my knowledge. I do love her work, though, and enjoy introducing others to it.
We Pagans used to be deeply Other. Muggles were afraid of us. We’re more accepted today…..but not by everybody! Even in this century. A dozen years ago, I edited a book that was really a long sermon by an elderly preacher in Georgia. After I’d finished, he went to my website (I don’t know why) and found out who I am and what my religion is. And he took every single thing I’d done out of his book! (His publisher told me about it.) I think I’d declare people like him to be Other, at least Other in my eyes. I was obviously a scary Other in his eyes. I’m pretty sure, though, that I would not be Other in Jesus’ eyes.
By being primarily concerned with protecting themselves from targeting by the husband/patriarchy’s ever-ready blame, the women leave an abductor of babies – and probably a predator of more than babies – free amongst them, and thus protected, to strike again.
Which is perhaps an important piece of this mythos to examine when considering the wide-ranging damage of woman-on-woman violence to a community as a whole.
Laying on my couch, nursing my all-hours infant, I decided to go for a quick stroll down internet research rabbit holes.
My aunt has a birthday coming up and she loves horses. Thinking of that and of a painting a friend gifted me years ago (by an artist I’ve never met) of Rhiannon commanding a position of flight, her naked breast (breastfeeding on the brain, obviously, the head of horse and a raven with wings outspread. Gorgeous work! (Would gladly send you a pic if you’re interested in seeing it.) So I thought I may want to commission a painting of my own for her. But I wanted more mythos.
Long story short, from this random idea and dabbling of research into her history, I’ve been led to your post. And it’s the last thing I was expecting tonight, but exactly what I need to hear and consider. It touches a very personal battle for me currently, and it’s a ferocious reminder that I cannot ignore reflecting on my own faults within this blame/judgement cycle I have created for the people involved.
It also maps out an inner dialogue that I should be having much more often with myself. Battles or none, these are the things we should be bathing with…The soap and rough cloth of self examination that will help us clear away the grime with which we mask ourselves.
So, thank you, for this well-constructed and poignant write up 😁