In the Mabinogion of Welsh mythology Rhiannon is the horse goddess reminiscent of Epona from Gaulish religion. Rhiannon was a daughter of Hefeydd the Old. She was married to Pwyll, and later, Manawydan.

Story of Rhiannon

Pwyll first met Rhiannon when she appeared as a beautiful woman dressed in gold and riding a white horse. Pwyll sent his horsemen after her, but she was too fast. After three days, he finally chased her himself. When he spoke, asking her to stop, Rhiannon told him she would rather marry him than the man she was being forced upon, Gwawl. She made a tryst with Pwyll and after a year from that day, he won her from Gwawl by tricking him to climb into a magic bag that Rhiannon had given to Pwyll, striking an agreement to free him in exchange for Rhiannon.

Rhiannon gave birth to a son after three years of their rule; however, on the night of the birth, the child disappeared while in the care of six of Rhiannon's ladies-in-waiting. They feared that they would be put to death, and to avoid any blame, smeared blood from a puppy on the sleeping Rhiannon, and lay its bones around her bed. Pwyll imposed a penance on Rhiannon for her crime, to remain in the court of Arberth for seven years, and to sit every day near a horse-block outside the gate telling her story to all that passed. In addition, she was to carry any willing guest to the court on her back.

The child appeared outside a stable of King Teyrnon, whose mares had just given birth but the foals had disappeared. Teyrnon had been watching his stables when he saw a mysterious beast coming to take the foal; Teyrnon stopped the beast by cutting off its arm at the elbow, and found the child outside the stable. He and his wife adopted him. The child grew to adulthood in only seven years and was given the foal which had led Teyrnon to the stable. Teyrnon realized who the child was and returned him to Pwyll and Rhiannon, who named him Pryderi ("care").

Pryderi married Cigfa and became King of Dyfed after his father died. He then invited Manawydan (his stepfather) to live with him in Dyfed. Soon, Dyfed turned into a barren wasteland and only Rhiannon, Pryderi, Cigfa and Manawydan survived. Manawydan and Pryderi, while out hunting, saw a white boar which they followed. Pryderi and his mother, Rhiannon, touched a golden bowl that the boar led them to and became enchanted. Manawydan and Cigfa were unable to help them until they captured a mouse which was actually the wife of Llwyd, Rhiannon's enemy (seeking revenge for her treatment of Gwawl), and the spell was lifted.


‘What does the name Rhiannon mean?’ and ‘Who was Rhiannon?’ are two distinct questions. Unfortunately, many websites devoted to babies’ names seem to confuses the two issues: Rhiannon was not a nymph and was not a witch; and the name certainly does not mean ‘nymph’ or ‘witch’.

The name appears to be derived from the Proto-Celtic root *"rīganī" meaning 'queen' in combination with the augmentive suffix "-on". [ [http://www.wales.ac.uk/documents/external/cawcs/PCl-MoE.pdf Proto-Celtic—English lexicon.] ] The Romano-British form of this name, if it had existed at that stage, would likely have been *"Rīgantonā". This is supported by a number of academic authors.

According to Professor Proinsias Mac Cana of University College Dublin and Visiting Professor of Celtic Studies at Harvard University Rhiannon derives ‘from *Rīgantonā Divine Queen’ [Proinsias Mac Cana (1992) "The Mabinogi", Cardiff, University of Wales Press, p. 51.] . Dr Anne Ross gives Rhiannon’s derivation as, ‘Welsh Riannon from Rigantona, great queen’ [Ross. A. (11992) "Pagan Celtic Britain: Studies in Iconography and Tradition", London, Constable, p. 313.] . Professor Miranda Green of the University of Wales gives two meanings, combining the above derivations: ‘Her name may derive from that of a pagan goddess Rigantona (“Great – or Sacred – Queen”)’ [Green, M. (1993) "Celtic Myths", London, British Museum Press, p. 30.] .

In answer the question, ‘Who was Rhiannon?’, Proinsias Mac Cana states: ‘ [Rhiannon] reincarnates the goddess of sovereignty who, in taking to her a spouse, thereby ordained him legitimate king of the territory which she personified’ [Mac Cana, p. 56.] . According to Professor Green, ‘Rhiannon conforms to two archetypes of myth ... a gracious, bountiful queen-goddess’ [Green, p. 40.] .

Modern references

The Rhiannon myth was the inspiration for the song, "Rhiannon (Will You Ever Win)". Stevie Nicks read the name in a novel by Mary Leader called "Triad" during a flight, liked the name, and wrote the song in 10 minutes. She later learned of the Welsh myth and was shocked to learn that her song fit the myth, though it is likely that the novel, "Triad", is loosely based on the Welsh Triads, medieval manuscripts describing Welsh folklore. "Angel" by Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac and "The Birds of Rhiannon" by Faith and the Muse are based on this myth, as well as the song "Rhiannon" from German folk band, Faun.

Leigh Brackett wrote the science-fiction novel, "The Sword Of Rhiannon", first published in 1949 as "Sea-Kings of Mars", although the story has no direct relation to the myth.

Rhiannon is also the name given to asteroid 16912.

See also

*Welsh mythology


* [http://www.timelessmyths.com/celtic/welsh.html#Rhiannon Story of Rhiannon]

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