Rhiannon was the Celtic goddess of horses and birds. One day she was out riding, and she caught the eye of Prince Pwyll, who was mesmerized by her beauty. He rode after her, but his horse was no match for her gleaming white steed, and Rhiannon quickly disappeared.
The next morning Prince Pwyll rode out again, this time on the fastest horse in his kingdom, and there in the distance he saw the beautiful Rhiannon, her long golden hair gleaming in the sun. He rode out after her, but even the fastest horse in his kingdom was no match for her magical steed.
Love compelled the Prince to chase after her, day after day, and day after day he failed in his quest. One day Rhiannon decided to ride to the Prince instead of away from him. She believed in her heart that his love was true, and she agreed to be his bride.
That night as the kingdom celebrated, a tall, handsome auburn haired stranger joined the feast. He asked the Prince for a favor, and the Prince, being in very good spirits, granted him anything he wished for. The stranger, who was actually Prince Gwawl from a neighboring land, asked for the hand of Rhiannon, and Prince Pwyll had no choice but to consent, as to do otherwise was to risk war between their kingdoms. Rhiannon, horrified at the Prince’s blunder, quickly told him how to rescue her, and keep peace between the kingdoms.
Pwyll was to go to the neighboring kingdom, dressed as a common beggar, in one year, on the eve that Rhiannon was to marry Gwawl. He was to carry a small bag, and ask for it to be filled with meat. Gwawl would be so joyful, that he would fill the bag himself, and fall in, as it was a magical bag.
So in one year Prince Pwyll did just this, and captured Gwawl in Rhiannon’s magical bag. Gwawl agreed to let Rhiannon return to Pwyll, and promised not to seek retribution, in return for having his life spared.
Rhiannon and Pwyll were married, and after four years, on May Eve, Rhiannon gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. That night as she lay sleeping, six nursemaids were sent to watch after her and her child. But long before midnight, all were sound asleep.
The next morning the nursemaids woke to find the child missing. Fearful for their own safety, they concocted the story that Rhiannon had devoured her own child. They killed a dog, and smeared the blood on the sleeping Rhiannon, and left its bones at her feet.
Rhiannon woke that morning to the accusations that she’d killed her baby, and death would be her penance. She declared to Pwyll that their child had been stolen from her. Pwyll, though he loved her, did not believe her. Since he could not bear to put her to death, he instead declared that her punishment would be to stand outside the castle, greet each visitor and tell them the story of how she devoured her child, and then offer to carry them on her back to castle.
Several years had passed when a farmer from a far off village heard of Rhiannon’s tale. On that same May Eve long ago he had almost lost a newborn colt to a Pooka, but he went after the Pooka with an ax. The Pooka dropped a newborn baby and ran off. The farmer and his wife had cared for the child, but until now had no idea where he’d come from.
The farmer returned the child to Rhiannon, who was then reinstated as Queen at Pwyll’s side.
The journey of Rhiannon is a tale of love and broken trust. She gave her heart to a man she believed was strong enough to return her love, but just when she needed him, he failed her. Twice! Rhiannon reminds us that though promises and lovers may fade away, within each of us we always carry the strength to get through any situation.
Deanna sings a song she wrote, "The Journey of Rhiannon."