The Crown of the North: Arianrhod, Part Three

November 8, 2013 — Leave a comment

“When coincidences pile up in this way, one cannot help being impressed by them – for the greater the number of terms in such a series, or the more unusual its character, the more improbable it becomes.”
–Carl Jung

“I no longer have the luxury of co-incidence.”
–Julian Betkowski

The poem I keep thinking of–who walked between...

Two nights ago, the stars seemed again to wheel.  I watched one fall, bright, fierce. I noticed, before I went inside again the reflection of light against a metal bike-gear I’ve kept as a pendant for no apparent reason, its 19 points later noticed as the same number of years the ancient druids required for training, the same number as Iolo Morganwg’s ring of stones.

Yesterday, I performed a bardic ritual of water, as directed in the training materials for the Druid organisation I’ve joined. I sometimes do these out of order, sometimes read one, do the practices later in the week, or sometimes do them just before reading the next one, as today.  And there’s the poem, who walked between..

Outside last night, owls called to each other from the trees in the misty woods not far from the house.

I returned inside, read Tarot for a friend of great affection. There, in the center, her wheel.

Dreams last night, the leaving of the gods from the world of mortals–not leaving, but withdrawing a gift, withdrawing something we need but have failed to earn.

Woke thinking about a question in my head about another goddess who appeared to me briefly, to test me I now realise.  She’s appeared to others lately, maybe chasing one person far away.  Soon after, good news, and just as I respond to it, a massive bird-of-prey dances oddly outside my window, as if it to say “notice me. Notice us…”

Synchronicity, as conceived by Jung (a sometimes useful, but otherwise often restricting man), was relationship or meaning conceived between “acuasal” events.  Something happens, something else happens, they seem to be related even though they were caused by different things, and seem perhaps related to something meaningful.

Don’t bother with that.  It’s the same to say this: Try to find something out, open yourself up to knowledge, and it’s all there.  Something or someone guides you when you ask for answers.

VI. Related Deities and Entities

Blodeuwydd:

I mentioned in my last post that the one character in the story of Arianrhod from the Mabinogion who is most important in understanding Arianrhod is Blodeuwydd.  Her names mean Flower-Aspect and also, later, Owl.  She’s worshipped by some as a goddess of springtime and sometimes seen as the maiden aspect of a triple goddess, sometimes (but not always) including Ceridwen and Arianrhod.

Arianrhod’s three denials of Lleu were of a name, arms, and a mortal wife. Gwydion aids Lleu in the procurement of all three by magic; first, by conjuring an elaborate illusion of inept shoemakers so that Arianrhod will leave her castle and witness Lleu striking a bird; second, he creates a vast phantasm of ships attacking Caer Arianrhod so that she mistakenly commands Lleu to be armed to defend her; thirdly, Gwydion and his uncle Math conjure a woman out of oak and plants so that Lleu can marry outside of Arianrhod’s geas.

This third geas, though, is more than a mere denial of Lleu’s ability to find a mate.  Woven throughout the stories and myths of multiple Celtic heroes and gods is the concept of Sovereignty, the right and authority to rule the land.  In almost every story of which I’m aware, this right and authority is derived not from the gods or brute force, but from a woman who stands both as the representative of the land and also the conveyer of the gods’ will.  

In some stories, the woman who grants sovereignty is the queen; in some cases, she is a goddess represented by a woman or an animal (often a horse, and if you’d like a bit more of the mating-as-animals theme from earlier, you don’t have to look far), and in one specific case, she is formed directly from the land herself.

You can think of Sovereignty another way.  If you are familiar with the Old Testament at all, you may remember multiple stories of how the god of the Hebrews repeatedly withdrew his “blessing” from them for breaking their covenant with him.  That is another kind of sovereignty, and this notion appears repeatedly in Celtic stories, particularly in one incredibly important to modern druids, the Battle of Trees.

In it, and similar variations, two armies are at war, one headed by a great warrior with a shield of alder (alternately depicting alder or actually made of alder); this army was the kingdom of Annwn, the Underworld (but not necessarily of the dead).  The other army, the Kingdom of Don (that is, Arianrhod’s mother), has a great female warrior.  Neither of these warriors could be conquered by conventional means, but the bard, Taliesin, on the side against the kingdom of Annwn, was able to identify the great warrior as Bran the Blessed, a god of Alder (and also appearing in an earlier branch of the Mabinogion), and the army of Annwn is defeated. [Fun fact–Taliesin also is a companion of Bran in the Mabinogian…he gets around.]

The poet Robert Graves and others have pointed to the story of this battle (bloodless in most accounts, fought in words-as-weapons rather than metal) as another story of sovereignty.  Learn the name of the god behind an army (or kingdom’s) power, and that power diminishes.

But also, piss off a particular god(dess) tied to the land, and the land turns against you, as we can learn in the stories of the Irish goddess, The Morrigan.

Arianrhod refused to grant not just sovereignty, but the means of gaining sovereignty, to Lleu.  Gwydion and Math attempt to get around her geas by summoning the land itself in the form of a goddess, and she rebels, too.  A line of kings ends, the magicians behind them fail (but have revenge upon the woman, having first turned her from wood-and-plant to woman, now from woman to owl).

But the matter of Arianrhod and Sovereignty is not complete, either, without discussing three other divine beings associated with sovereignty and related to Arianrhod.

Maelgven and Dahut:

You may not know these names, so let me tell you another story:

A King encounters a sorceress, a woman named Maelgven from apparently another world, a Queen from over Sea.  They fall in love, and she offers him her hand if he kills her husband.

A war ensues, the King and the woman succeed and then flee together on a sea-horse (not the undersea sort, but a horse which rides through the sea, a Morvarc’h, the same sea-beast from which the Merovingians–a French royal line–is said to be descended from ).  They have a daughter, Dahut.

Maelgven disappears at some point; perhaps she died, perhaps she went back to the north, or perhaps she wandered the forests of Bretagne. Before this, though, she asks King Gradlon what he sees in their daughter.


“I see you,” he says.

“Then she will be ever thus,” she answers.

The King, Gradlon, founds a city upon an island called Ys, ruling for an unmentioned time until the locks and gates which protected the city failed. In some tales, Dahut steals the keys to the gates and gives them to an enemy, in other tales she opens them herself; in every story that we have, it is Dahut whom is blamed.

As the gates fail, the city floods, King Gradlon mounts his sea-horse and rescues his daughter.  But his sea horse begins to fail under the weight, and Dahut leaves (again, either returns to the north or to the sea).

The “sunken city” motif is common in Celtic myth, enough so that it’s almost impossible to argue that there wasn’t some city of some importance in which a woman with some sort of sorcerous powers lived.  Some conflate this with Atlantis; I don’t.

The Breton story of King Gradlon and the Queen from over the Sea is a founding myth of Bretagne.  There was a historical King thought to have been Arthur who sailed across the ocean from Britain to Bretagne (old celtic lands from before the migration into Britain/Ireland, re-settled by “insular” celts as the Anglo-Saxons invaded).  Gradlon doesn’t seem to be Arthur, but an older king, who, in essence, earned the favor of the Queen of the North by killing her husband but then, later, lost that favor when his daughter (in the myths, exactly the same as the Queen) turned against him. 

Just because there’s an island castle involved doesn’t make them the same.  But there’s another thing of great interest here.  There’s been significant research on this story suggesting that Dahut is similar to the irish Li Ban or other spirits, or an other-world figure or goddess (“la femme d’autre-monde”), primarily by two french/breton authors. But interestingly, these same authors who make this case most strongly (Le Roux and Guyonvarch’h) also discount the existence of Maelgven, primarily because of their belief in the Irish origins of the myth and also later Christianisation. They suggest Maelgven was added later.

An aside on Christianisation:

Christianisation is a problem you’ll run into all the time with questions of this nature; some argue that everything which has come through the christians is tainted, while others look to liberate the actual truth and the hidden gods and goddess from the christianized myths.  I’m of this second group.

Almost every myth we have of the Celtic gods and goddesses passed through Christian hands. Druids were slaughtered or went into hiding (there’s a possibility that the Ovates survived as witches and then cunning-men), and the only other celtic “priest” class, the Bards, continued on as lorekeepers for the Christian kings.  And so all the lore, Irish, Welsh, Cornish, Breton and Scottish, can be said to have been “tainted.”

More difficult, the oldest recorded myths were collected in the 12th century.  Lots of scholarship has shown the myths were older (anyone suggesting otherwise needs to explain why christian monks or christianized bards would conjure myths out of whole cloth full of pagan beliefs, being certain to face charges of heresy and death).  But there are epic arguments about parallels, etymology, and history which will “conclusively” prove that one god from one people (living 150 miles away over an easily-crossed channel) cannot possibly have been the same god as another remarkably similar one.

Thus, we’ll run into a problem with this next association:

The Morrigan:

I am suggesting that Arianrhod and the Morrigan are related. I am not suggesting they are the same, any more than I am suggesting that the Morrigan and Morgan la Fay are the same (but, guilty by association, you’ll see I think Morgan and Arianrhod are also related).

A good place for a Brothel.

Names are sometimes also titles.  Arianrhod’s name means “Silver Wheel.”  Is this here name or her title? Or are they both the same?  The Morrigan is both a name and a title.  We run into this problem often, particularly when gods seems to mix together.  For instance, take Maponus Apollonius; that is, Mabon/Apollo, shown to have been worshiped in what is now France.  Druids were said to have worshipped Mercury on top of a hill in what is now Paris, where a christian priest named Denis (Dionysus, actually) and his companion Eleutherius (“Liberator,” an epithet for Dionysus) were both martyred and then spilled wine out of their necks.  Fun fact–that hill? it’s now called Montmartre…you know, where the Moulin Rouge and all the sex is in Paris. As if it’s a temple to Dionysus or something…

Sort that complication out and you’ve come close to understanding the very nature of divinity.  Good luck with that. Most might be tempted to use Jung here, or Neoplatonism, but I find this inadequate for a myriad of reasons I will explain another time.

Someone who’s probably done more active work in the building of the cultus of Dionysus than anyone else alive once put it to me this way in an email “I don’t know how this works, but sometimes the gods seem to inhabit each other.”

This is the best explanation I’ve heard.  This also explains perfectly why, despite having had no experience with The Morrigan and having made no supplications to her, she appeared after a vision which I am certain (you don’t need to be, by the way) came from Arianrhod.

To be clear, I didn’t enjoy the experience.  The Morrigan is maybe the harshest goddess I’ve encountered, and sometimes I wonder if she’s sorting us all out on behalf of the other gods, making sure we really mean this stuff.  After confronting two of the mysteries of Arianrhod (I’ll get to this in another post), the third involved The Morrigan.  Not until beginning this series did I even understand the relationship to that mystery and The Morrigan, and–I’ll be a bit honest–each time I write that name, I get chills.  I understand why some might flee to Christianity after meeting her.

St. Catherine

Speaking of fleeing into Christianity, remember that prophecy I mentioned in an earlier post, from the toothless madman?  “Cathedral steps, great place to fuck.”

They’re not, it turns out.  However, if you’re ever having the trip of your life, wandering in the most vivid
waking dream you’ve ever experienced in a foreign city founded by the aforementioned King Gradlon, the city of three rivers, tell the hills I say hello.  I’ll be there again, but maybe not for a little bit.

And when you go to the Cathedral of St. Corentin, the bishop who claimed to have drowned Dahut in the sea, go look at the gate leading north and stare at the statue of the only saint above that gate.  Stare at the wheel she holds and smile, thinking of the Queen of the North and her Crown.

Morgan la Fay

There is a very compelling case to be made that Morgan la Fay, Maelgven/Dahut and Arianrhod are related to each other. Morgaines are sea spirits and sometimes sea goddesses in both Breton and Welsh tales, Dahut was turned into a Morgaine, and, similarly, the sister of the irish sea goddess Fand, Li Ban, was in a christian baptism renamed to “sea-born,” or Muirgen).   Morgana is a sorceress from an isle, sometimes called Avalon/Avallach.  Arianrhod is a sorceress on an island which later disappears under the sea.  If the same process happened in Wales as it did in Ireland, Morgan could be a diminution of Arianrhod.

Ariadne

Later.

VII. Other Names and Epithets

Depending on how you read what I’ve just written above, you might consider calling Arianrhod by the name of one of more of the aforementioned divine figures. I don’t, as I see her distinct from them, and prefer Arianrhod.   No harm done (really) if you don’t see it my way.

Instead, the following titles seem to work best in worshipping her.

Iniatrix: Arianrhod is often seen as the Iniatior of Bards and Mystics.  Taliesin mentions having been “three times in Caer Arianrhod,” and this is taken as either reference to bardic initiation.

Crown of the North: This one keeps coming to me as meaningful, and is why I’ve titled this series as such.  Not only because of the stars of her constellation also being the Coronoa Borealis (Northern Crown), but also because of relationship to sovereignty.

Queen of Witches:  This title is already taken by Hecate and a few other goddess.  However, I call her this, as it is what she asked me to call her.  I do so.  You may do as you please.

Lady of the Stars, Lady of the Wheel, and Lady of the Tower: The first two are easy enough to understand.  The Tower refers to another name for her constellation and castle, Caer Sidi, the tower that turns.  Some take this to mean the zodiac, some to mean an actual turning tower, and a few to mean a labyrinthine tower.

VIII: Common Misconceptions

I haven’t heard any, actually.  For being quite popular with Witches and Pagans, I’ve yet to hear anyone say anything about Arianrhod which sounds so off-base that I think she’d be offended.

There are priests and priestesses of other gods who will get awfully enraged if you say something that does not fit their (venerable) knowledge of their deity.  Many of them happen to also be worshiping some rather fierce gods known for cantankerous personalities.  But sometimes this is just ego.  If Arianrhod should ever choose me to be her priest rather than just her bard, throw that statement back in my face hard, please.  One of the biggest barriers to learning about the gods is the ferocity with which some people approach honest seekers.

What I will say it this, though. I’ll happily harangue and harass anyone who dares suggest she, or any other celtic deity, should only be worshipped by celts.  You’re racist, and they don’t need you.  Nor do we.

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