Monday, September 01, 2014

Deity Challenge: I to VI

Arianrhod is a British Goddess about whom not much is really known in a historical sense. Her name means "Silver Wheel", and she is related to many other deities in the Welsh/British divine team, especially the Goddess of the Land Dôn, the God of Magic Gwyddion and the Hero-God Lleu Llaw Gyffes. The main source to Her is the fourth branch of the Welsh Mabinogion where she plays an important role, but Her name also comes up in the Trioedd Ynys Prydein. She does not have a consort in history or in myth but is the (virgin) mother of twin boys, and if She ever had an actual cult, nobody left behind traces of it.

I read the Mabinogion for the first time about 17 years ago, and with the notable exception of the story of Taliesin (first story I told live both as a training and performing storyteller), much as I loved the drama in the whole thing, I did not understand crap on what those mental people in the stories were all about. So I disregarded the Welsh as uninteresting to my personal Pagan revivalism and neverminded it all, then continued my research, but the Fourth Branch specifically would never leave me alone, and everywhere I read about other myths, legends, stories, rites and symbols, whether Celtic or from other cultures, my mind drew parallels and conclusions of its own volition based on the story (more like stories, really) of Arianrhod's drama-ridden family. And as we spent more time together over the years, even though I did not plan to, I started to like Her and Her folks.

From Her name, Arianrhod is the (Silver) Wheel. In an agricultural society like the one She hails from, wheel means also the year, and all cycles, including moon phases and the stages in a person's life. It also means indirectly growth. That said, Hers is also time, and no-time. Arianrhod'd den is Caer Arianrhod, which is the Ancient Welsh name for the Northern constellation of Corona Borealis, so just like her icon is the wheel, Her quarter is North. Caer Arianrhod is thought to be at least related to Caer Sidi (Spinning Castle) and Caer Droia (the classical 7-circuit labyrinth that is found pretty much everywhere on Earth where human beings settled). I have never found anything that would discard this notion, and actually, as cycle, Arianrhod's wheel is definetely in movement, so a spinning tower is a very appropriate symbol of Her. She is indeed a very dynamic Goddess based on my personal experience. And the Labyrinth is associated with Arianrhod for many reasons: Her constellation is also mythically related to Ariadne, the Cretan lady of the Labyrinth, and the classical Labyrinth is walked sort of in spirals, in and out, deosil and widdershins, and spiral-like is also Caer Arianrhod. So, I do include the Spiral and the Labyrinth as Her symbols. And when functioning as Her priest, I wear a silver ring with triskeles on it. Other than the stars, Her castle is also said to be in the Western sea (like many Celtic Goddesses) and She is the mother of sea creature Dylan ail Don, but I am not so sure the Ocean and the West would be associated with Arianrhod too.

The Fourth Branch of the Mabinogion is all we have, and it is actually a good telling, albeit tainted and twisted by patriarchal shit. In a nutshell, and focused on Her character:

Cursed King Math of Gwynedd (Northern Wales) needed a virgin to hold his feet on her lap. His previous footholder Goewin was raped by his nephew Gilfaethwy with the help of brother and enchanter Gwydion, and Math punished them by making them repeatedly heterosexual pairs of deer, boar and wolf, and sending them off to the woods to procreate. Every year they would come back with a baby and switch genders for a new round. They both learned a lot about Motherhood, I reckon. But Math still needed a virgin footholder, and Gwydion, who was The Man and had the solution to every bind in the story, called forth his sister Arianrhod, who when challenged by Math on Her virginity said, "I do not know but that I am (a virgin)", and submitted Herself to a virginity test: stepping over Math's magical wand. When She did, two sons blurted out. Firstly Dylan ail Don who instantly became a sea creature and found his way to the ocean, and the other was a blob of flesh, snatched away by Uncle Gwydion and hid from the rest of the court. Arianrhod fled Math's castle in rage and shame to Her own.

Years went by, and surrogate mother Gwydion found the son of Arianrhod grew very fast and decided to take him to his birth mother. She was still resentful of what happened at Math's court, and stated that the boy would never have a name unless She gave him one. By a feat of Gwydion's magic, like everything else in the Fourth Branch, Arianrhod saw the boy killing a wren with a slingshot and said the fair-heared boy (Lleu) had a skillful hand (Llau Gyffes). The kid had a name now, and Arianrhod, mad, said he would never have weapons unless She gave him some Herself. Years later, Gwydion-The-Shit came back to Caer Arianrhod, cast an illusion of a threat that made Arianrhod so fearful and desperate that She armed Gwydion-The-Shit's protegee, and so the second curse of Arianrhod is dispelled. Arianrhod then stated that Lleu would never have a human wife. But of course Gwydion had got that down too: he made a flower maiden of oak, broom and meadowsweet, gave her the name Blodeuwedd (meaning flower face), and got Lleu married.

At this point Arianrhod disappears from the story, but Lleu goes on to get himself killed by a plot of his wife and her lover Gronw, then resurrected as an eagle and transformed back to human by (who else?) Gwydion and raised to the throne of Gwynedd.

I should have done this challenge about Gwydion, shouldn't I? Well.

In the Mabinogi, She is the daughter of Dôn, the Earth Mother, niece of Math ap Mathonwy, mother of Dylan ail Don and Lleu Llaw Gyffes, sister of Gwydion fab Dôn and Gilfaethwy. There is no father to Arianrhod's children. In the Trioedd Ynys Prydein, Arianrhod is given a different family tree, but that is probably somebody else also named Arianrhod.

This is interesting: just a superficial read on Arianrhod will liken Her to the Minoan Ariadne. Both are the myth behind the constellation we now call Corona Borealis. The constellation, in our own astronomical tradition, is named after the crown Ariadne wore on her wedding day with Greek god Dionysos. The name "Ariadne" means "most holy", and it is a point of contention that she might actually be several goddesses and gods mashed up into one single myth (among them Athena, a weaving Goddess, and Poseidon, the Sea King and consort of the Earth). But one thing is certain: Ariadne was the lady of the Labyrinth, initiator of Theseus, the hero who slew the Minotaur at the center of the Labyrinth and came back to rise to the throne in his native Athens, through a thread given by Ariadne that showed him the way back out.

A deeper interpretation of the myth will yield even more interesting information about both goddesses: both have "spinning" domains that are walked in spirals, so they could be associated with weaving too, and initiate and empower heroes and gods (Lleu and Theseus) in their own way. They both are related to men of desire from their own particular place (Gilfaethwy and Dionysos), and also men of the trees (Dionysos is the god of trees and the woodland, and Gwydion means "born of trees"), just like to Ocean deities (Dylan ail Don and Poseidon). They both confer sovereignity through a symbolic union with the Earth (through flower maiden Bloddeuwedd or the Minotaur). It has certainly been speculated that Ariadne's thread is a symbol of the serpent, that goes into the Earth and shapeshifts through shedding its skin. One powerful symbol of the Eternal Cycle myth in several cultures is the snake swallowing its own tail, which certain takes us back to Arianrhod's regency of endless cycles and an ever-spinning wheel.

Through Ariadne, Arianrhod can be associated with Dionysos, Athena, Poseidon, the Bull God of Minoans, the Tree God in His/Her many guises, and the emblematic Minoan Snake Goddess.

Through Her own Mabinogi myth, Arianrhod is especially related to the Mother Earth (both as Dôn and Bloddeuwedd), as well as Her whole family tree already mentioned. As the Initiator and Empowerer aspects of the Goddess, She is associated with Lleu Law Gyffes and all myths associated with Him: Lugh, Lugus, Loki, Loge and whoever else who also functions as Holly King I have never come across in my reading. And their counterparts too: Gwyddion, Odin, and all faces of the Oak King. In fact, Arianrhod being the Wheel Year patron deity, She is the Master of the game all cycle Gods and Goddesses play, including the Triple Goddess of the Moon (Maiden, Mother and Crone), the heterosexual pair of the Wiccan Wheel Year, Persephone and Dionysos Himself, the dying and resurrecting God. I call this figure The Dancer in the Labyrinth, because S/He dances to Arianrhod's music on Her ground, and as S/He shapeshifts, S/He is initiated and is empowered. To me, the Dancer in Her/His many guises is also an attribute of Arianrhod. But that's all UPG so take it or leave it.

Personally, I find a million things in common between Arianrhod and the Native American goddess of the Whirling Rainbow: both are associated with the circle/wheel, shapeshifting (into different races, or positions in society, or different powers for example), reincarnation and coming back, and as much as the Whirling Rainbow is actually a prophecy of the Navajo and the Hopi nations, it can certainly be argued that Arianrhod's curses upon Lleu were actually predictions of what would happen next in the boy's initiation process. Arianrhod is the Wheel Herself in the end, and She is the master of whole cycle. If she did not know what was coming next, who would?

Also on the Personal Gnosis field, but fruit of years and years on this Path, I equate Arianrhod (mother of Lleu and Dylan, sister of Gwyddion and Gilfaethwy) with all Divine Mothers of Divine Twins: Ceridwen (mother of Creirwy and Afagddu/Morfran), Mari (Basque mother of Mikelatz and Atarrabi/Atxular, Leto (Greek mother of Apollo and Artemis), Nerthus/Njord (Scandinavian mother/father of Freyr and Freja) and Nana Buluku (Western African mother of Lisa and Mawa), and countless others, far too many to put a comprehensive list together. Most of these are also virgin mothers, just like Arianrhod and her dual pair of Divine Brothers Lleu-Dylan (Her own sons) and Gilfaethwy-Gwydion (Her brothers, sons of Dôn whose father is unknown, most probably inexistent). If I learned anything about Deity in this life, it's that a Parthenogenetic God, mother of Divine Twins is the oldest and most profound image of Divinity.

More tomorrow.