by Winter Cymraes
A Note On The Celts
Within the Celtic Tradition, storytelling has long been a favoured occupation and, generally speaking, the longer and more intricate the story, the more revered the legend and the teller. Long held as the embodiment of most ancient Welsh legends is the Mabinogion. The story of Branwen is contained therein, as is the legend of Blodeuwedd.
In order to offer some sort of clarity to these legends it is necessary to give you some background in the history of the Celts and, therefore, shed some light on the intricacies of the stories. The Celts, historically, were matrilineal; you were born to your mother’s line, not your father’s. Kingship, therefore, landed upon the son of the king’s sister and not upon the offspring of the king and the queen. Very often, too, the queens were the actual power, with her spouse being a Duke of War, rather than a true king. In order to be a king, one had to marry the land in order to demonstrate his devotion to the sovereignty. Often, this marriage was symbolic and accomplished by the practice of the Great Rite between the proposed king and a priestess of the Goddess. The commission of this act would ensure the king’s love for the land and a lifelong desire to defend her as he would his wife. It is also important to note that there is no Goddess of Love, such as Ishtar, Aphrodite and Venus in other cultures, but there were, throughout the legends, Maiden Goddesses made of flowers or fruit. The most important aspect of the Goddess is triune in nature - the Maiden, the Mother and the Crone - and most legends involve three Goddesses representing these three aspects.
The Legend of Blodeuwedd is also the story of Llew’s struggle for his kingship which was averted and made more difficult by the Goddess Arianrhod who tried Her best to prevent Llew, Her son, from claiming his birth-right due to the shame brought upon Her by his companions. In short, Arianrhod stated that he would not receive a name, unless it be from Her; he would not receive his arms, unless it be from Her; and, he could never marry a mortal woman. Thus, he could not become king unless it be through Her auspices.
In order to assure that Llew would survive long enough to attain his kingship, some magick was given to him in the form of the circumstances of his death. As has been typical of the Celts, his death could only be accomplished through a set of very unlikely and almost preposterous circumstances. He could not be killed indoors or out, on horse or on foot, and the spearhead capable of killing him had to be cast during a sacred period of time. Arianrhod was tricked into giving Llew his name and his arms but the larger problem of having a wife, which would assert his right to the land, was accomplished through the magick of his cousins, Math and Gwydion, who created Blodeuwedd from the flowers of the Oak, Broom and Meadowsweet.
Due to the nature of Her Birth, Blodeuwedd - whose name means either ‘Flower Face’ or the ancient name for the Owl - represents the Earth in full bloom. Through their marriage, Llew’s requirement of marrying the land and thus his Sovereignty is completed.
One day, Llew goes hunting, leaving Blodeuwedd alone with Her ladies in the castle. A young huntsman, Gronw, later seeks shelter and he and Blodeuwedd experience love at first sight. Wanting nothing more than to be together, Gronw persuades Blodeuwedd to discover the improbable circumstances surrounding Llew’s death, an act he would help to accomplish. The plan made, Gronw departs from Blodeuwedd and they remain separate for a long period of time, during which Blodeuwedd feigns anxiety concerning Llew’s death. Eventually, Her pleading persuades Llew to demonstrate these very circumstances in order to allay Her fears by showing Her his death could not be easily accomplished. They prepare a bath on a riverbank, covering it with a thatched roof, being neither indoors nor out. As Llew stands with one foot upon the edge of the tub and the other upon the back of a goat, Gronw throws the specially-made spear, hitting Llew in the side. Llew immediately turns into an eagle and flies off, later discovered and nursed back to health by his cousins, Math and Gwydion. When the two lovers are found, Gronw is killed and Blodeuwedd turned into an owl.
Due to the very circumstances of Her Birth, the actions of Blodeuwedd may be seen in a more sympathetic light. She was created from the flowers of a very powerful Tree - the Oak - and from flowers of an explicitly healing nature, in order to give power to Llew and to be able to continually heal and renew him. She is never asked whether She loves him or desires to marry him. She was created for his purposes, solely to assure his right to rule the land. Her Own desires are impossible to achieve while Llew lives and She is often seen as the epitome of non-assertive femininity, fickleness and the faithless wife, using the passion of two men for Her to seal the doom of both.
In truth, Her supposed treachery creates the very conditions to enable Llew to experience the ritual death and rebirth commonly required of the Druidic priesthood, thus ensuring his kingship. Blodeuwedd is seen as a part of his hard and difficult destiny. Throughout Celtic legend, otherworldly women are created and utilized to represent the Land, which is definitely feminine in nature. Owl, the totemic representation of Blodeuwedd, signifies the complete transformation of the initiate as represented by Llew’s virtual death and subsequent healing. She is signified by the Empress card of the Tarot. She is a Goddess of emotions, representing the matrix that reforms transpersonal and universal energies into well-defined life force. She is also the Maiden Goddess of initiation ceremonies and is known as the Ninefold Goddess of the Western Isles of Paradise. Flowers, the wisdom of innocence, Lunar Mysteries and initiation are Her provinces.
Art work by Scarlettletters