The Mabinogion is one of the most translated bodies of Cymric, (Welsh) myth. According to celt.org the Mabinogion is the pre-Christian Celtic mythology, international folktale motifs, and on early medieval historical traditions. While some details may hark back to older Iron Age traditions, each of these tales is the product of a highly developed Welsh narrative tradition, both oral and written. Lady Charlotte Guest first translated them into English in the mid 19th century
Notice that they are listed as a compendium of pre-and post Christian mythology. The sections that we are most interested in are the original Four Branches. These are most definitely of pre-Christian origin.
We meet Arianrhod ( ari – an- rod) in the Fourth Branch of the Mabinogion under questionable circumstances. After Gwydyon (ge-dee-on) and Gilvaethwy (gil-vay-tin) conspired to “take” Goewin, (and were punished most effectively – read the Fourth Branch of the Mabinogion for more information) Arianrhod is brought to Math and requested to show her virgin nature by jumping over his Staff. This being done, two children came out of her. The first was Dylan, who became Lord of the Sea and the second, a small dark child, was spirited away by Gwydyon before any could see him.
Arianrhod returns to Caer Arianrhod, (The seat of Understanding) and Dylan passes out of the story. The second son is secreted away and later through a series of trials becomes Llew.
Each interaction between Arianrhod and Gwydyon and her son Llew gives an interesting insight.
The first thing to look at is that she first tells Gwydyon that he will have no other name than the one she gives him, no other armor than the armor she gives him, and no earthly bride. At first this seems a real short changing of a child that did nothing wrong accept to be born. This is not the case. In Iron Age cultures it was the role of the mother as the manifestation of the Mother Goddess to name and prepare their son for the future. Each child’s name was carefully chosen based upon the mother’s understanding intuitively of the child. The mother also gave armor, or “that which was necessary for a child to become a man or women”.
As to the last statement, no earthly bride, that is actually a prophecy that can be seen working out in the later part of the Fourth Branch, and will not be discussed in this article.
What significance does the child’s name Llew which means Sun King, (llew) also spelled Llew which actually means lion, a difference in pre and post Christian translations, have? Notice in the myth that Arianrhod is watching the disguised child and Gwydyon making shoes and the boy shooting a wren’s foot, which is a skill shot.
The wren is a bird of the Goddess Rhiannon (here-ree-an-non) and the Heroine Branwen (bran-win) and represents a Light from the Otherworld, or Celtic spirit realms. It is also the Celtic King of all Birds and was seen as the symbol of wit and keen insight. Like many other birds, the Wren was considered to be the messenger between the terrestrial world and the Otherworld.
According to the legend of the Wren, when all the birds competed for supremacy, the Wren answered the challenge of the Eagle: the one bird that flies closer to the Sun will be declared King of the Birds. When the Eagle could fly no higher, the Wren, that had taken shelter within the Eagle’s feathers, jumped up and flew an extra few inches higher, thus proclaiming itself King.
This is also giving us a hint for later in the Branch when Lug turns himself into an eagle.
So, we see that Llew “masters’ the king of birds and later becomes one.
The second action, “armor” is granted him only after Arianrhod is again seems to be tricked into giving it to him.
While a cursory reading of this branch shows that she seems to be easily fooled. In the next part we will take a look at other information on Arianrhod who after all is the Goddess of the Silver Wheel.
According to most sources, Arianrhod and her Silver Wheel is a common motif in Celtic mythology. It represents the wheel of the year and the wheel of birth and rebirth. It is my contention that to understand the behavior of this Goddess in the Mabinogion is to examine her Goddess form. Once one has completed this one can incorporate these lessons into one’s spiritual path the lesson and essence of the Silver Wheel.
Arachne and Lunar Astrology
One natural creature stands out as creator of a silver wheel: The Spider. Yes, this strange creature who is not an insect, with 8 legs and a unique ability to spin webs. Most of these webs are circular, and last for one night to trap its prey. As is nature’s way, the spider traps the insects, eats them, and uses the energy to create more spiders. Another wheel of life.
In astrology, there are actually 13 signs. There are the common 12 and the Sign of Arachne or Ophiuchus which is no longer used in the zodiac. Yet prior to the 5th century, (Anonymous 379) this constellation was used. The arcane knowledge indicates that individuals who were born under this star had a proclivity to be healer or scholars.
According to Patricia Crowther in her work, Covensense, recognition of this 13th zodiac sign is one of the special practices of the Craft of the Wise.
Arianrhod – The Goddess
She is the Goddess of the Silver Wheel, and her very name in Welsh is Silver (arian) wheel (rhod) .
Therefore, we can say that she IS the Silver Wheel. Other cultures represent the Silver Wheel as the Moon in its full stage. In Welsh traditions, she is the Goddess of the Otherworld tower of Initiation, (Caer Sidi) , where each bard went to learn the great wisdom, (understanding) and where the dead go between their incarnations. She is the Goddess of childbirth, the moon, fertility, and fate. For some Welsh family traditions, she is the full moon, and her home is Caer Arianrhod, the Corona Borealis, or Northern Lights.
What exactly is the significance of death and rebirth? We know in old Path beliefs and religions that have an agricultural root, that death and rebirth are related to the agricultural cycle. Each year, the earth “dies” (winter) , and is “reborn”, (spring) . Even in non-agricultural societies, new animals were born in the spring and summer months.
Therefore, she has become associated with the spider, the wheel of life, and the wheel of the year.
The Mabinogion and Silver Wheel Explained
Now let us return to the Fourth Branch of the Mabinogion. Arianrhod, a “virgin”, gave birth to the twin sons, Llew, and Dylan. Dylan became the God of the Sea, and Llew, was burdened with a taboo, from Arianrhod to never have a name, armor, or wife of earthly kind. Using our understanding of the Silver Wheel, let us examine this myth.
At first, Arianrhod said she was a virgin. What exactly IS a ‘virgin’?
Judeo Christian theology would have us believe that it is a woman who never had sex. However, according to dictionary.com it can also be said that a virgin is an unmarried girl or woman or saint.
What is a ‘saint’? Again from the same source a saint is a person of great holiness, virtue, or benevolence. So, putting both of these together we get a new definition of a virgin.
A virgin is an unmarried female who shows great holiness, virtue and benevolence. Sounds like a good definition of a Goddess to me.
When Math used his magick and the two children appeared from Arianrhod, it shows that he impinged upon her honor. She was rightly upset, as she WAS unmarried. Math for his part, devoted Dylan to the Goddess and the God, and he, (Dylan) , became a God himself. As to the second, dark, small, son, he was spirited away and neither Math, nor Arianrhod had an opportunity to see or name him.
We do see that Arianrhod, (who had no intention of acknowledging this son) , can be associated very easily as the Goddess of Childbirth and Fertility.
Next, as she is “tricked” into giving her unacknowledged son, a name, and armor, it is not unexpected that she would be associated with fate as well. Again, let us examine the definition of the word fate.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, ‘fate’ is defined as the will or principle or determining cause by which things in general are believed to come to be as they are or events to happen as they do. Remember that the last taboo from Arianrhod was that her son Llew would have no earthly bride.
Math and Gwydion made him a wife out of flowers. This wife purportedly betrays her husband (a later article) , which leads to an entire series of events resulting in the symbolic death and rebirth of her son. Therefore, we see that Arianrhod is related to death and rebirth as well.
Lastly, we need to examine how she comes to be the Goddess of Bards, or true knowledge. For this we only need to objectively examine the entire story. She grants this knowledge to her son with each of her actions as discussed above. She gives him a name, and armor, and indirectly, all participants learn a valuable lesson in the later events. Truly, Llew ends up without an earthly wife, while becoming a true warrior of spirit.
Therefore, it is fitting that Arianrhod the Silver Wheel, is the Goddess of death, rebirth, childbirth, and bardic knowledge.
For more information on Arianrhod click here to obtain my book
Manifesting True Desires: Learning from Arianrhod and the Tree of Life