Monday, July 23, 2012

Arianrhod, Celtic Goddess of the Moon

I’ve always loved myths and legends and ancient gods and goddesses. One of the aspects that I love about my Roman/Druid books set during the 1st century in Britain is the mysticism that surrounds the Druid peoples. This was a time when gods and goddesses were integral to every day life—but the thing that really captures my imagination is the goddess culture.

In the third book in my Forbidden series, Betrayed, I already knew that the heroine, Nimue, worshipped Arianrhod, Goddess of the Moon and Weaver of Fates. I only knew a little about this goddess but wanted to thread her legend into Nimue’s story. She is mentioned in the Mabinogion, a cycle of Welsh legends collected in the nineteenth century and—surprise surprise—she is publicly disgraced in the royal court for failing to pass a virginity test.

By her own brother, Gwydion.

Here, in a nutshell, is the legend. Arianrhod’s uncle, the magician King Math, was required to keep his feet in the lap of a maiden whenever he wasn’t at war, in order to retain his sovereignty and power. When Arianrhod and Gwydion’s younger brother fell in love with her Gwydion, God of Illusion, manufactured a war which entailed Math leaving his domain.

The younger brother immediately took advantage and raped the maiden.

Upon Math’s return, and learning that his maiden could no longer perform her duty, he took her hand in marriage and proceeded to punish his two nephews. His punishments were completely bizarre and involved turning them into a mated pair of deer for a year, then a mated pair of wild hogs and finally a pair of mated wolves. At the end of each year the brothers produced one offspring (I’m not going there :-) )

So, finally, the punishment ended, but Math still required a maiden as his footholder. Gwydion suggested his sister, Arianrhod, who was brought to court and had to step over a magical wand to prove her virginity. As she did so she gave birth to twin boys, one who slipped into the sea and swam away and the other was taken by Gwydion who raised him as his own.

And so Arianrhod was humiliated and shamed before the whole court, forsaken by her brother Gwydion and later thwarted by her son. She retreated to her castle and later drowned.

Right. I wasn’t too impressed by that ending that appears to punish a woman for not conforming to a certain patriarchal worldview, so I dug deeper.

And when you read between the lines, it gets interesting.

Arianrhod’s name means “starry wheel” and her palace, or castle, was the Aurora Borealis. She is one of the Triple Goddesses, a Moon Goddess associated with reincarnation and is connected to the womb, death, rebirth and creation. She is a weaver of the fates and could shapeshift into an owl—symbolic of wisdom.

In short, Arianrhod was a powerful goddess in her own right and would have been a strong, independent woman and a primal figure of feminine power.

Too powerful, perhaps?

I was intrigued and knew I’d found the hook I’d been looking for. Nimue, my heroine in Betrayed, is an acolyte of Arianrhod. She’s strong, independent and doesn’t need a man to protect her. But when she’s captured by Tacitus, a Roman Tribune, her world is turned upside down and she and Arianrhod’s fates become inextricably entwined.

The blurbs to my four books set during the first century AD can be read here

Forbidden - Out Now
Captive     - Out Now
Betrayed   - Coming Soon from Ellora’s Cave
Tainted     - Coming Soon from Ellora’s Cave

The Mabinogion, translated by Lady Charlotte Guest. Welsh legends collected in the Red Book of Hergest, a manuscript which is in the library of Oxford University.
Arianrhod’s legend is in the Fourth Branch, Math, the Son of Mathonwy

Image of the moon from Shutterstock


Sara Hantz said...

This is really interesting. Can't wait to read the next Druid book.

Michelle Diener said...

Christina, you know how interested I am in fairy tales and legends, and I LOVED this. Thank you so much for an extremely interesting post!

Cheryl Leigh said...

Wow, the Mabinogion has an interesting plot for a legend! Did King Math have to keep his feet in a maiden's lap ALL the time? The mind boggles, or maybe just mine, LOL.

How wonderful this legend gave you the hook for BETRAYED, Christina. Sounds like another terrific book!

Christina Phillips said...

Hi Sara! I hope you enjoy the next book too!!!

Hey Michelle, I'm so glad you enjoyed the post. I get so wrapped up in all this stuff I often become lost!!

Hi Cheryl, isn't it fascinating? I have no idea what Math did when he needed to use the bathroom!!! I think his feet needed to be in the lap of a maiden only when he was sitting on his throne :-) haha now my mind is working overtime!!!

Allison Butler said...

Hi Christina,

Thanks for a wonderful post. It really was a magical, mystical time. But gosh, the punishments were bizarre and I'm glad you didn't 'go there' at one partcular point LOL.
Congratulations on your up-coming release. BETRAYED sounds as fabulous as Forbidden and Captive:)

Joanna Lloyd said...

I love hearing about the inspiraion behind a story and your druid legends are bizarre and exciting...great material! Congratulations on the upcoming release, it sounds a captivating read.

Christina Phillips said...

Hi Alison, yes I found the punishments completely intriguing and no, I'm still not going "there"!!! Thanks so much for your congratulations :-)

Christina Phillips said...

Hi Joanna, I love discovering the inspiration behind a story too. There's so much rich material to mine in ancient legends and myths, I love digging around :-) Thank you for the congrats :-)