Blodeuwedd, also known as the Ninefold Goddess of the Western Isles of Paradise, was a Goddess like no other in the manner of her birth. She is one of the main figures in the Mabinogion, the Welsh cycle of stories of the early Celtic Goddesses and Gods. But to understand Blodeuwedd, her short life, her actions, and her death we must look back to the story of Arianrhod, Celtic Sky Goddess.
Both Arianrhod and Blodeuwedd, viewed through the patriarchal lenses, get bad raps for their actions. Arianrhod, the most powerful child of the great Mother Goddess, Don, was a Virgin Goddess in the ancient meaning of the word virgin – a woman who is complete unto herself; a woman who needs no protection from a man; a woman who bestowed her sexual favors where and when she chose.
But Arianrhod was deceived by her brother, Gwydion, a powerful magician and heir to the kingship as the eldest son of Don. In those days the kingship was passed on through the mother line, through the children of the king’s sister. Children were seen as gifts from the Goddess given to humanity through the bodies of women.
Yet times changed. People began to speak of a new concept – fatherhood. With that concept came the masculine need for female chastity before marriage. Arianrhod became enamored by the glamour of this fashion, yet with no intention or desire of practicing chastity.
Arianrhod’s uncle, the magician King Math, was under a strange taboo which required him to keep his feet in the lap of a virgin whenever he was not actively engaged in battle. Gwydion, suggested Arianrhod for this role. Yet during the time he had to tell her of that role, he hoped to convince her to marry him instead, thus ensuring his own sons would be in line for kingship. Ariahrhod enjoyed Gwydion’s company but she had no desire to marry. She longed for the excitement of court. She decided to accept King Math’s offer
Gwydion, using magic and trickery forced Arianrhod to conceive his child. To prove her virginity she had to step across a magical rod. While doing that, she fell victim of Gwydion’s magic and immediately gave birth to two twin boys. The first, who Math named Dylan, fled to the sea and swam away. The second boy, unnoticed by all present, was scooped up by Gwydion and raised in a magic forest.
And this is where the need for Blodeuwedd enters the tale. When Arianrhod learned of Gwydion’s betrayal, she laid three curses on the boy. She denied the child a name or the right to bear arms – the right of Welsh mothers – which gives a clear indication of the ancient power of women. But Gwydion tricked Arianrhod into granting them. The third curse, that “the boy shall have no wife of the race that is now on the earth,” was more difficult to break.
Marriage was essential because to become king Llew had to marry a woman, a Goddess, a representative of the land. Finally Gwydion, with Math’s help, created a woman out of flowers to be Llew’s wife. What better representation of the land than a woman made of flowers of primrose, bean, broom, meadowsweet, burdock, nettle, oak, hawthorn and chestnut. She was named, Blodeuwedd, meaning “Flower Face.” She was the earth in full bloom, making Llew’s sovereignty legitimate.
So Blodeuwedd was born a full grown woman, beautiful and passive. She was made to be Llew’s wife. It was expected that she would accept this role without question. And so she did… at first. Until the day when she was alone with her ladies and first laid eyes on Gronw, a handsome huntsman. Her heart quickened and the first desire of her own awakened. Grown’s heart quickened also and their fate was sealed.
Now she could no longer accept the destiny that others had laid on her. Now she had a mind and a heart of her own. But she was trapped in a marriage to a man she did not love. What was she to do?
Out of desperation she and Gronw plotted Llew’s death, for what other way could she ever be free of him. Yet this was a difficult task to accomplish as Llew, like many Celtic heroes, had magic surrounding how he could be killed. Llew could not be killed indoors or out, on horse or on foot, and the spearhead used to kill him had to be made during sacred time.
But these conditions were secret. Gronw urged Blodeuwedd to discover Llew’s secret so that he could kill him, thus freeing them to follow their love. Blodeuweed pretending to be worried about Llew’s possible death, persuaded him to show her under what circumstances it could be accomplished. To put her fears to rest he showed her the strange and improbable conditions.
They prepared a bath by the side of a river which was covered with a thatched roof, thus being neither indoors nor out. Then Llew put one foot on the edge of the bath and the other on the back of the goat, thus being neither on horse nor on foot. Gronw was hiding, ready to act. He threw the sacred spear, hitting Llew in the side, who immediately turned into an eagle and flew away.
Blodeuwedd and Gronw ran off together. Soon Gwydion found Llew and nursed him back to health. When he found the lovers he killed Gronw. But Gwydion couldn’t bring himself to kill Blodeuweed, his own creation. He turned her into an owl. Blodeuwedd, in her short life, went from an innocent, meek wife to a women of passion and action and finally into a solitary night predator. She became a Goddess of Life and of Death.
Though Blodeuwedd was created by men to fulfill their own need, to assure Llew’s right to rule the land, she ultimately awakened to herself, to her own desire, to her own fate. Storytellers have judged her harshly, calling her the epitome of feminine passivity, the ultimate betrayer; the fickle and faithless wife. Let her actions and her story be a lesson to all who seek to manipulate women, to control their fate, to limit their choices. Her story is one of reclaiming her own power, of determining her own fate. Blodeuwedd helps us leave behind the innocence and passivity of our youth. She blazes the path, through pain and suffering, to connection with the powerful Divine Feminine, which always holds life in one hand and death in the other.
Judith Shaw, a graduate of the San Francisco Art Institute, has been interested in myth, culture and mystical studies all her life. Not long after graduating from SFAI, while living in Greece, Judith began exploring the Goddess in her artwork. She continues to be inspired by the Divine Feminine in all of Her manifestations. Originally from New Orleans, Judith now makes her home in New Mexico where she paints and teaches part-time. She is currently hard at work on a deck of Goddess cards. Give yourself the gift of one of Judith’s prints and paintings, priced from $25 – $3000.