Welsh: likely from the reconstructioned form *Rigantona--"Great [Divine] Queen"
Major figure from the Mabinogi. She is the daughter of Heuedd Hen, probably an Otherworld being, and wife of Pwyll pen Annwfn. She was also mother to Pryderi and later wife to Manawydan ap Llyr.
Story in the Mabinogi and Culhwch
Rhiannon is depicted as a clever and outspoken woman; when Pwyll initially pursues her, he is unable to catch her until he essentially asks her permission. Again, when Pwyll foolishly loses her to Clwyd, it is Rhiannon who comes up with a plan to help Pwyll regain her as a spouse. Later, she is accused of her son Pryderi's murder when he disappers as an infant, and forced to act like a horse in punishment. She is innocent, however, and much of her life is led trying to rescue Pryderi from the trouble he gets himself in, such as when he attempted to take a magic bowl from a castle; he became attached to the bowl. She attempted to free him, but was also attached to the bowl. They are then abducted by the friends of her ex-suitor Clwyd, but are freed by Manawyddan.
In both the second branch of the Mabinogi and "Culhwch ac Olwen", there is mentioned "the Birds of Rhiannon".
The first time Pwyll sees Rhiannon, she is riding a horse that can't be caught. Rhiannon is twice forced to take on the role of a horse--first as punishment for Pryderi's "murder", she is made to sit at the gates and carry people on her back, and later in the Otherworld imprisonment, she was forced to carry hay and wear the collars of an ass. Also, her son Pryderi is discovered in a stable by Teyrnon, at the same time a foal is born on May Eve.
She is often identified as a horse goddess, equivalent to the Gaulish Epona and the Irish Macha. Also, her name, meaning "great queen", would then also relate her to Macha, who in many texts is identified with another "great queen"--the Morrigan. She also has three magic birds, the Birds of Rhiannon, whose song no man can resist--and the presence of birds could further connect her to the Morrigan, who often took the form of a crow, and one of whose name is Bodb--crow.
Also interesting is her connection to Manwydan ap Llyr--the Welsh counterpart to the Irish sea god Manannan mac Lir. The horse goddess and the sea god being paired off together seems to reflect the Greek tradition that Posideon created the horse as a gift for his wife; and the waves are refered to as "Manannan's horses". Moreover, Pryderi's foster father is named "Teyrnon Twrf Lliant"--"Lord of the Raging Sea"--which may originally have been a byname of Manawydan.
According to the theories put forth by W.J. Gruffydd, in the problems she faces regarding Pryderi's abduction, Rhiannon seems to be an aspect of Modron the Welsh mother goddess, as Pryderi seems to be Mabon--hense the term mabinogi being applied to Pryderi's tale.
Relation to Plant Dôn?
Anwyl surmized, "If 'euuyd' is Eveyd Hen the father of Rhiannon, then it is not impossible that Rhiannon herself belongs to the Don-cycle, as the form of her name would suggest." "Euuyd" in this case refers to Eufydd uab Dôn, spelled Eueyd in the Mabinogion manuscripts, as Rhiannon's father's name is Heueyd. The element -on in the names of Gwydion, Gofannon, Mabon, Modron, and Rhiannon, all point to their origins as deities, as the same element is often seen in Gaulish deity names (Maponos, Epona, etc.)
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Mary Jones © 2003