Rhiannon, a British sun goddess, was a fairy princess and ruler of the sun itself.
If, when I said fairy princess your mind jumped to the image of a pretty little butterfly creature fluttering in the flowers like the fairies you see on greeting cards, you can be forgiven.
But you'd be wrong. Dead wrong.
She certainly wasn't that kind of fairy.
She may have been an enchantress who was endowed with supernatural powers, but she was also a very intelligent, ambitious, and willful Otherworld woman who was exceptionally skilled as a strategist and a planner.
Rhiannon could certainly be quite ruthless when she felt needed to be—not at all the all-loving or playful goddess you might be expecting.
Rhiannon's very name meant "Divine Queen". Her royal parents, the Fairy King and Queen of Gwent (a sizeable Welsh kingdom in Britain), had educated their daughter to handle the enormous responsibility of sovereignty and governance. She had proved herself to be quite adept—it was second-nature for her to be queenly.
And, frankly, that's exactly what you'd want in a Queen—accumulated wisdom, the ability to organize and to create order, love of the people, the strength of a supernatural will, and an heir to the throne.
The very survival of a kingdom and its people depended upon it.
Rhiannon's divine responsibility was to pull the sun across the sky each day. Dressed in shimmering gold silk brocade, astride her pale horse she looked every bit the part of the sun goddess she was.
But let's let her story tell the tale . . .
Rhiannon didn't mind having to get up in the dark to head to the stables before dawn. When she arrived her horse was already groomed and fed and raring to go. Together they pulled the sun across the sky each day.
Sometimes dreams and memories popped into her head while Rhiannon rode. This morning it was a dream that was troubling her. Funny that— variations of this dream seemed to appear frequently but she'd always been able to easily brush it off.
But the feeling of this last dream still lingered. She could almost feel the girls still hiding behind the bushes, taunting her, calling her stuck-up and worse. Then they'd giggle and run away before Rhiannon could see who they were.
In the dreams, she'd tell herself, "Silly girls, nothing on their minds but the latest fashions, spreading gossip and flirting with boys. Who are they to judge me?" and continue on her way, undisturbed.
Rhiannon wasn't about to let this unpleasantness spoil a perfectly fine day. She'd learned long ago that you could control your emotions by replacing a painful thought with one that was positive instead. And that's just what she did.
So she reached out for the happy memories of times spent with her dad in his library. For a fairy king he was quite a good scientist and she'd learned a lot at his side. Oh how she relished those special moments when he praised her for having such a 'fine rational mind"!
The science that she loved best was measurement. Just by understanding the 'mathematics' and the 'physics' of things she could do the most impressive tricks!
First, there was the 'Sun Trick'. It was her favourite. By pulling the sun at just the right speed and the right distance from earth, she could make it look like the sun was much closer to the ground that it really was. It was even better that, even though it was racing through the sky, it looked as if it was hardly moving at all! This was her favourite trick; she did it so well that it would probably be years before anyone even suspected it was just an illusion.
What's more—she could create a bag large enough to hold a grown man and then fold it in just such a way that it looked just about the size of a woman's purse or a small shopping bag.
Maybe someday some brilliant person would figure it out like she had. But until that day, she enjoyed just having everyone think it was magic!
You'd think it would grow boring to do the same thing day after day. But all that time on her own was to her liking. It allowed Rhiannon to do her best thinking and planning, helping her get organized and ready to spring into action to reach her goals and dreams.
As a bonus, it gave her a bird's eye view of current events. And a chance to stay well-informed about what that new hero, Prince Pwyll of Dwyfed, was doing. She'd never met him, but she'd certainly been amazed and excited by his noble nature and, most of all, his recent exploits.
He'd amply proved his ability to govern, but it was his bravery in combat that made her heart skip a beat. His clever adventures left her breathless with admiration for his daring, not to mention his exceptional leadership.
Pwyll was definitely the 'Man of the Year' —a genuine hero if ever there was one. Already a prince in his homeland of Dwyfed, now that he'd formed an alliance and begun his rule in Annwfn (the Otherworld), he was about to become king in his own right.
So, on that day, the goddess Rhiannon reined in her horse for a brief look and the sun rolled to a stop just behind her. She was hoping to see what was going on down there on earth.
Large crowds had formed all over Dwyfed, and the people were cheering wildly. "Just what I expected." she said to herself, thinking of Pwyll, "They're making him their new King. "Prince, hero, King . . . he's earned it all."
"Courageous, wealthy, noble", she counted off on her fingers, "and now king."
Yes, Rhiannon was definitely taken by that man.
But there's a fly in the ointment.
And that was enough to set her planning again—a good thing, too, since there was a bit of a problem she'd have to work around. And soon.
As was traditional in those times, her parents had already arranged for her to wed another man. The marriage contract had been signed and arrangements for the royal wedding were already underway.
Rhiannon didn't look forward to telling her parents about this change of plans. It wasn't going to be easy. She couldn't argue that Gwawl, her fiancé, was unsuitable—he was young, handsome, courteous and wealthy.
No that wasn't it at all.
It was that she wanted to be the one to choose. And her mind was made up—even if it meant she would be defying convention, even if it meant paying the hefty fine for breaking the contract. (Rhiannon made a mental note to see what she could do to get out of paying the fine.) Either way, she was resolved it would be Pwyll she would marry, not Gwawl.
Rhiannon was confident. Her parents rarely said no. It wasn't that they'd spoiled her—she'd always been good, met her responsibilities, done well—she'd earned their trust and support.
The beginning of a plan began to unfold in Rhiannon's keen mind. As everyone knew, when Rhiannon has a plan, before you know it . . . Voila! It's done!
"Hmmh, " Rhiannon mused, "I think it's about time I meet the man I'm about to marry."
Shortly after becoming king of Dwyfd and the ruler of Annwfn, Pwyll and his companions sat on a great grass-covered mound above the castle. It was believed to be the magical place that covered an entrance to Annwfn, the Otherworld kingdom that lay beneath the earth.
(Note: In Celtic mythology the Otherworld is the land of the dead and also the home of the gods and goddesses and other powerful spirits, both the good and the malevolent. Annfwn was like a parallel universe—reflecting the world above, but perfected and luxurious.
In archetypal psychology, such a place represents the unconscious mind, chaotic, free from the constraint of being rational, orderly, or bound by rules or convention. )
Now it had been explained to Pwyll that when a man of high birth sat on that mound, either something monstrous or dangerous would appear or he would witness a marvel of some sort. You took your chances sitting there—it was something only the brave would dare to do.
Pwyll and his men were hoping for a marvel, of course.
And they weren't disappointed. That fateful afternoon the beautiful Rhiannon rode slowly by, dressed in gold silk that glittered like the sun, calmly pacing on her powerful pale-white horse.
Needless to say, the prince was enchanted.
He sent one of his men to follow her and find out who she was and why she'd come this way. The footman soon returned saying he'd been unable to catch up with her before she'd disappeared from sight. They decided to return to the mound tomorrow and try again.
They returned the following day, this time bringing their finest steeds.
Once again they failed. The men reported that it was as if her horse's feet scarcely touched the ground and, though she moved slowly and peacefully, the fastest horses in the kingdom could not catch up with her.
Now Pwyll really was intrigued.
So he returned the following day and once more Rhiannon appeared. But no matter how quickly he pursued her, the distance between them always remained the same. When his horse trembled with exhaustion and could go no more, Pwyll called out for her to wait.
But when he drew close, she gently chided him. "It would have been much kinder to your horse", she teased, "if you had simply asked me to wait much earlier."
"This was no ordinary woman", he thought. "This is a woman with a mind of her own and the confidence to speak that mind, quite unlike all the flirtatious young women who overwhelm me with their fawning adoration and praise since I've become such a hero."
"No", thought Pwyll, "this is the kind of woman I want as a partner, someone to truly share the throne, to rule with me as Queen." He had barely managed to catch his breath when Rhiannon, seeming to read his mind, volunteered the information he was really seeking.
She told him who she was and that she had come to find him, seeking his love.
Pwyll welcomed this . . . his heart was completely captivated by this forthright woman who commanded his respect.
Rhiannon said that he must wait a year, giving her to time to organize the wedding feast, and then he should come to her and she would marry him.
(For in those days the wedding WAS the feast. There was no special ceremony. Marriages were witnessed as a public 'sitting' of the woman and man together, eating at the feast. They were then witnessed to go into an adjoining bedroom to become lovers, thus sealing the marriage and joining the wealth and resources of their two families.)
The arrangements completed, Rhiannon bid him goodbye and departed.
One year later Pwyll presented himself at her father's court as she had commanded. As he and his company rode to her home, the trees suddenly parted before them, clearing a path, closing in behind them when they passed.
Three songbirds swooped playfully in the air around them, showing them the way, and carolling beautiful music which induced a deep calm in them.
Their first sight of the king's palace stunned Pwyll and his men. Never before had they seen such magnificence! Surrounded by a lake, the castle was built, not of wood or stone, but of pure gold. Its spires soared and glistened into the heavens.
Crowds greeted Pwyll and his men with jubilation. The kingdom had never seen a wedding feast so great as this one. Rhiannon had organized everything that the hundreds of people attending could possibly desire in food, drink, comfort and entertainments. Her household and the guests were both welcoming and merry.
Until . . .
After the eating and before the bedding, a well-dressed, handsome young man who'd just arrived approached Pwyll courteously asking for a boon or wedding favor, as was the custom. "Oh yes," responded the groom-to-be, "This is such a happy day for me that I'll give you anything you ask that's within my power."
It was a serious mistake . . . the stranger then calmly asked for Rhiannon herself!
Unbeknowst to Pwyll, this stranger was Gwawl, the man to whom Rhiannon had been arranged to marry. Pwyll had fallen into a trap. As a nobleman, he was obliged to honour his promise.
When Gwawl took the seat of the groom-t0-be, Rhiannon asked him to allow her a brief moment outside to regain her composure. Away from the wedding party inside, she took Pwyll soundly to task for having been so brash with his words. But having already formulated a plan, Rhiannon then took him aside to direct him on how they could outwit the other man.
She cleverly laid a plan so they would appear to comply with Gwawl's request. And this is how Pwyll, following her instructions, managed to trick his rival this time.
Disguising himself in raggedy clothes, he came back into the hall and approached the 'new groom-to-be', Gwawl, this time for a wedding boon for himself. He asked only for just enough food to fill his little bag and keep him from starving.
Little did Gwawl realize, it was one of the 'magical' bags that Rhiannon had designed. As the servants filled the little bag with food from the feast it never seemed to get any fuller. When Gwawl complained that this beggar was going to consume the entire feast, Rhiannon told him that she'd heard that the only way to end that was for a nobleman with many lands to be bold enough to step inside the bag and stomp on it from the inside!
Gwawl, foolishly hoping to be the hero, walked into the bag.
Pwyll then flipped the bag and knotted the strings.
Now it was Gwawl's turn to be the one who was trapped!
Rhiannon announced that he would be released only on two conditions: one was that he give her up and not seek revenge. And the other that he also pay for her great wedding feast!
Gwawl readily agreed to her terms and, leaving the couple with his guarantees, he left to return to his home.
The day after the wedding Rhiannon left with Pwyll, as his equal and his queen, to go to their home in Dyfed in the west. When they emerged from the great forest and the trees closed behind them, Rhiannon took a moment to glance lovingly behind her.
She knew that the entrance to the fairy kingdom was now closed and that she could never return to her childhood home. But she didn't pause for long and seemed to have no regret.