Aranrhod ferch Dôn (ah-RAHN-hrod)
Variations include Arianrhod (ah-REEN-hrod); manuscripts give Aranrot, Aryanrot, and Aranron.
Welsh: round hill?
According to "Math fab Mathonwy" Aranrhod is the daughter of Dôn, niece of Math, and sister to the great magician and extreme trouble-maker Gwydion. According to the story, when Gwydion creates a war with Pryderi so that Math can lead his men into war--thus leaving Math's footholder Goewin unattended--Gwydion's brother Gilfaethwy has a window of opportunity to rape Goewin, thus curing his "wasting sickness". The result is that Math must find a new footholder. Aranrhod is suggested by Gwydion for the job; Math proceeds to use his magic wand to test his niece's virginity. As a result, she spontaneously gives birth to twins, Dylan eil Ton, who immediately makes for the ocean, and Lleu Llaw Gyffes, upon whom she places a number of gease, namely that he would only get a name from her (and she doesn't intend to give him a name), that only she would give him arms (and she has no intent of ever doing so), and that Lleu would never have a wife "of the race that now inhabits this earth"--and so Gwydion and Math create a woman out of flowers, the maiden Blodeuwedd. In each case, Gwydion, who has raised the boy, tricks Aranrhod into giving him a name and arms; it is only in the case of the wife that Aranrhod is not fooled into providing for her son. This may, in fact, be part of why Blodeuwedd betrays Lleu, for it is the one example where Aranrhod is not involved in the breaking of her own intentions; instead, Gwydion's magic--before only used to decieve--is at work.
Now, there are a number of things at work here, not the least is the admittedly Freudian "chastity test" that involves stepping over the obviously phallic "magic wand". It is thought that the original, oral version of this story may have been the rape of Aranrhod by Gwydion, and the subsequent adventures of their incestuous-but-magical child. This would explain Aranrhod's pregnancy and her subsequent hatred for her brother, as well as the disappearance from the story of Gilfaethwy and Goewin. The stories of Pryderi's murder for his magical swine was likely a seperate story, later grafted onto what became a rather confused story explaining the conception of divine twins. In W. J. Gruffydd's study Math vab Mathonwy, he argues that the tale has been confused; Aranrhod was originally a figure like Danae, mother of Perseus, who is locked in a tower because her son is prophecied to kill her father, the king. However, during the diversionary war, Gwydion is able to gain access to her and impregnate her with the divine child. This, to some extent, also corresponds to the story of the conception of Lugh Lamhfada, the Irish counterpart of Lleu.
The triads also mention Aranrhod, spelled in two manuscripts (Peniarth 16 and Jesus 111) as Aryanrot (and in other manuscripts as Aranrot, and in one case Aranron). She is listed as the daughter of Beli and sister to Caswallawn, who figures in another branch of the Mabinogi. The section beginning "A Host Went Up from Llychlyn", which details various naval adventures of the Britons, states that when Caswallawn went to battle Caesar, he was accompanied by his sister Arianrhod, and her two sons Gwennwynwyn and Gwanar, whom she had by Lliaw fab Nwyfre. Once again, she is given two sons, though now grafted onto the historical battles of Cassivellaunus against Julius Caesar's second invasion of Britain in 54 BCE.
Aranrhod also appears in the Book of Taliesin's "Kadeir Kerrituen":
"Aranrot drem clot tra gwawr hinon."and in a 16th century poem by Lewys Môn (Pen 76, fol.206-7):
Arianrhod, of laudable aspect, dawn of serenity
Mae 'nghwyn am vorwyn yn vwy
no Math hen ab Mathonwy
braich un ddi-wair, breichwen ddoeth
oedd i obenydd beunoeth,
Arianrhod eira unrhyw
ni byddai vab hebddi'n vyw
My complain concerning a maiden is greater than
old Math son of Mathonwy
The arm of a chaste, white-armed wise one
was his pillow each night--
Arianrhod, like to the snow--
that man could not live without her.
The first poem is another example of the poet's (whoever he was) knowledge of the Gwydion-Lleu centered stories; the second gives a different version from that known in the Mabinogi, where Aranrhod is in the place of Goewin, which makes more sense.
Aranrhod is also associated with a rock formation off the coast of Wales near Dinlle, called Caer Aranrhod; Dinlle is a prehistoric formation, whose name means "Fort of Lleu". Both of these are located west of Caernarfon.
As her name is spelled various ways, it's difficult to find a satisfactory etymology for "Aranrhod", as there is an equally plausible spelling "Arianrhod".
Bromwich, Rachel. Trioedd Ynys Prydein. first edition. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1961. p. 278
Gruffydd, W. J. Math vab Mathonwy. Cardiff: University of Wales Press.
Skene, W.F. The Four Ancient Books of Wales.
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Mary Jones © 2009