Ynis Afallach Tuath


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Ynis Afallach Tuath



Blodeuwedd: Analysis and Parallelisms

(© Argante – Arc’Hant Afallon Alarch)

Blodeuwedd’s story is told in the Fouth Branch of the Mabinogion.

Her name means “flower face”, and she was created by Math and Gwydion (the Celtic Woden) using nine flowers. Her purpose was that of becoming Llews’ bride for – due to his mother’s spell – he could never marry a human woman. Blodeuwedd is introduced as a creature from the Otherworld, a fairy woman endowed with magical powers – like Pwyll’s Rhiannon. She embodies the archetype of the Virgin Initiatrix and the May Bride She is the Sovereignty, the Celtic earth-goddess who marries a hero and allows him to become a king.

But Blodeuwedd betrays Llew and he consequently faces death (symbolically an initiation re-birth). As a punishment she is turned into an owl (symbol of knowledge, because it can see through the night).

Blodeuwedd is connected to Spring and the Emersion Station, ant to the period of time that goes from Imbolc to Beltaine. She is the Virgin Huntress, the independent girl looking for knowledge and self-affirmation. Her teaching is: don’t be afraid of showing your true nature and learn to affirm your ideas.

The herbs she is linked to are those from which she was created: Bean, Burdock, Meadows-sweet, Primrose, Nettle, Hawthorn, Oak and Chestnut. Her lunar aspect is New and Crescent Moon. She is a goddess of beginnings, creativity, freshness and youth, but also of wisdom and knowledge.

Which are the symbols and archetypes showed in her myth?

A Virgin Huntress and Sovereignty she recalls Morgan Le Fay’s character (she who allowed Arthur to reign). But in her case it’s not the king who betrays but Blodeuwedd. She is created from the first season flowers to allow the king to reign and Spring to come. Her duty done, she rebels and frees herself. She is a Spring goddess, and in this time of the year Nature frees itself from coldness and Winter constraint.

Betrayal and freedom are parts of her duties: she is the Virgin Initiatrix who sacrifices herself to let Llew complete his initiation.

Blodeuwedd’s betrayal recalls that of Guinevere. Though in later novels this role was played by Morgan Le Fay, in ancient legends Sovereignty one of Guinevere’s attributes. Nowadays she is depicted as a minor and despisable character, but she is more than what we can see. We are not talking about the queen of medieval “amor cortese” romances, but about the mythical goddess who betrays Arthur because he is not behaving as the legitimate king, so pushing him towards his doom.

But why Guinevere is barren?

Her name means “ white ghost”, underlining a connection to the Otherworld (like Blodeuwedd, also called “white bride”). Sterility can be explained by noticing that Guinevere and Blodeuwedd incarnate the Virgin archetype (whose color is white) and both are given to a kink not worth their gift. So they give it to a more worthy candidate, whom they fall in love with. This Love creates Motion, symbolically represented by the fight between the two kings of the Year.

With regard to this, we propose some remarks:

In the Mabinogion Llew represents the Sun and Goronwy is a symbol of coldness and mystery (Winter). Blodeuwedd chooses Winter.

In Arthur’s legend, Arthur is the Winter King –mature and peacekeeper – while Lancelot is the Summer King – handsome, young and the best knight. Guinevere chooses the last one.

In Celti myths the Goddes chooses the Summer King (the young Mabon) at Beltaine and, after his death during the cold period, she retires with Cernunnos, the Winter King.

Then, why Blodeuwedd chooses Winter? Isn’t she a Triangle Goddess? The one who gives life to change and motion? She should have chosen the Sun…

Well, actually Blodeuwedd does not choose Winter but only Freedom, Independence and Self-expression. She is a goddess and the two principles are melted in her. Her choice represents a Third Force, the one which allows to create movement and life from stasis. Blodeuwedd’s first and most important teaching is freedom of choice (denied to her) and taking control of oneself. It’s more important to TAKE a decision, not the decision itself.

The other element we need to explain is BETRYAL.

Or, better, “alleged betrayal”, since actually it has a deeper meaning: both for Arthur and Llews it means initiation or re-initiation. Llew was first initiated by his mother Arianrhod (virgin and not desiring children) and later to the mysteries of death and re-birth by Blodeuwedd. And under the tree upon which he stands in the shape of an eagle is a white sow: Ceridwen.

In the Mabinogion the Triple Goddess appears in three figures: Mother (Arianrhod), Maiden/Virgin (Blodeuwedd) and Crone (Ceridwen).

By the same way Arthur is initiated by Morgan Le Fay and later by Guinevere.

We should not forget that this myth was deeply altered by the subsequent patriarchal mentality: Blodeuwedd is created by men; she betrays and is punished. In the original myth she was probably not a doll made to satisfy male desires, but a maiden from the Otherworld (here we find a recall to the ninth wave cited by Taliesin). Her story is that of other double-nature fairies: bride and initiatrix, death and rebirth, “flower face” and “white sow”. In the end, turning into owl she reveals her true nature: she who leads us to the Otherworld. She is condemned never to die, an owl forever She betrays because she needs both kings in reciprocal victory.

Let’s now analyze Llew’s character.

He is the Lion with the Deft Hand, one of Lugh’s names. Lugh lives a cyclic existence and his bride, Nas, betrays him with Cearmaid (bearing him three children). Lugh kills Cearmaid but the Dagda revived him. Then one of Nas’ children kills Lugh.

To understand this story we need to look at the events that lie at the base of these myths. That’s to say to change Blodeuwedd, Lugh, Llew etc. into generical concepts.

From Kondratiev: “… the God of the Tribe and the God who, in alternating forms, is the consort of the Goddess within the Land, are… rivals for the Goddess’s favor. To ensure a successful Harvest, the Land-goddess must temporarily give her allegiance to the God of the Tribe rather than to the Maponos who is normally her consort at this time”. If she didn’t betray him, he would not free his spirit and be re-born. The same for the triangle Arthur-Guinevere-Maelwas. The Ard Ri’ Arthur embodies the God of the Tribe who, like Llew, is always able to win back the earth-goddess. This is included in the revenge: punishment and reconquest are the same. Using Graves’ words, thei is the “Unique Theme”

Still from Kondratiev: “Whatever name may have been applied to the God of the Tribe in various local traditions, Lugh is the archetype behind them all. He is the saviour-hero, the bringer of happy endings, the embodiment of a new synthesis that transcends earlier problems”.

If we think about these myths as the personifications of agri-pastoral life, we can see how fire and light are important in Winter time. But it is also important to have water and coolness in Summer time. A bit of winter to save harvest and one of summer to restart hope.

Kondratiev again: “Various local traditions suggest that the God of the Land was often represented as a sculptured stone head on the summit of the hill, probably in many cases two-sided <<Janus head>>… reflecting the god’s dual aspect, looking simultaneously towards the samos and giamos poles of the yearly cycle…”. 

Going back to Blodeuwedd’s analysis, we sometimes wonder whether – as a fairy being – she is dangerous or not. In Medieval and Renaissance stories such characters are depicted as beings from the Otherworld: charming but peligrous. Why? They “lack of soul” is actually a behavior opposite to the common “moral” rules of the time. So they are superficially described as morally corrupted or cruel. But we know that theirs is not wickedness: it is a non-conformism, considered as a dangerous aberration for the status quo. Consequently, all the pagan divinities (most of all female ones) that the Christian patriarchal society could not change into saints became fairies or sprites.

Blodeuwedd’s story is one of self-affirmation beyond any moral prejudice. The inhabitants of the Otherworld are not without souls: the ARE souls, for they have overcome the boundaries of rationality and have become the mirrors of their souls. Mirrors of the Great Mother, she who is Nature, instinct, harmony and balance. Not rules, morality, thought and rationality. They have no limits, they are free. And when forced to subdue to social rules, they do it as in a game, because reality lies beyond the material level. What “normal” people can see as reality is just an illusion. The actual reality is the one which makes itself material but has its roots in the immaterial Otherworld.

In our culture man is representative of reason, mind, matter: while woman is dream, irrationality and heart. It is thus obvious that in the Mabinogion (filled with magic and dream) we can find a substantial difference between men and women. In the last Branch this difference becomes more evident and contrasting, while in the first ones the respect between otherworldly women and human men is stronger.

This is Blodeuwedd.

She is superficiality for men and freedom for herself.

And a symbol, though overshadowed, is always readable, strong and powerful, to those who can see it.

Notes: written and compiled by Argante from the Gruppo Sentieri di Avalon classes.

Traduzione a cura di Abigail_derwen


© Ynis Afallach Tuath, 2008/2009
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