Picturing Rhiannon

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: : Alan Lee’s illustration of Rhiannon : :

It’s strange, but sometimes my freelance work comes in unintentional themes. Lately, I’ve been getting a lot of writing and research work based on fairy tales, myths, folklore and legends. Before you feel jealous, I would remind you that this is an oddity – my usual bread and butter work is writing press releases, and such. Not that I’m complaining, but it’s obviously more interesting to write on fairy tales and myths. This is especially true because it takes me back to my undergraduate university days when I studied Celtic and Arthurian myths, and I often want to re-capture those days when I was free to explore these things.

So it’s because of this mood that I’ve been re-reading The Mabinogion: “The eleven prose tales upon which the title ‘Mabinogion’ has been at once happily and arbitrarily bestowed are among the finest flowerings of the Celtic genius and, taken together, a masterpiece of our medieval European literature. ... The stories have been preserved in two Welsh manuscript collections, the White Book of Rhydderch (Llyfr Gwyn Rhydderch) written down about 1300-25, and the Red Book of Hergest (Llyfr Coch Hergest), of the period 1375-1425” (Gwyn Jones and Thomas Jones, The Mabinogion, 1993). In this collection of tales, I encountered Arthur and Guinevere in early form; but I also encountered another figure who I adored from Stevie Nicks’ song: ‘Rhiannon’. In Nicks’ words:

“That song is really straight out of the old Welsh mythology. Rhiannon is the Goddess of Steeds and the Maker of Birds, and her song is a song that takes away pain. When you hear her song, you close your eyes and fall asleep, and when you wake up the pain is gone or the danger is gone and you’ll see her three birds flying away. That’s the legend. So, whenever I sing the song, I always think of that” (Stevie Nicks, Music Connection, 1994).

In The Mabinogion, Rhiannon is human, and her name means ‘Great Queen’. But like many mythological figures, she moves from being a mortal to being a goddess, and in other variations of her character (such as Nicks’ song), a type of witch. One thing is constant about her though: she is always associated with horses and birds. In the Arthurian tale of ‘Culhwch and Olwen’, a giant requests “the birds of Rhiannon” whose songs can “wake the dead, and ease the living to sleep”. This must have been what Nicks had in mind when she sang the song, ‘Rhiannon’. In pictorial form, here’s what I have in mind when I think of Rhiannon. By the way, this post has been so fun to compile and it reminds me why I keep this blog. Enjoy.

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: : My own screen capture from the film, Beauty and the Beast (1946) : :

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: : Silver Apples of the Moon (1912) by Margaret MacDonald : :

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: : (Top to bottom) My own screen capture from the film, Orlando (1992) : : My own screen capture from the film, Beauty and the Beast (1946) : :

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: : (Top to bottom) My own screen capture from the film Great Expectations (1998) : : My own screen capture from the film, Beauty and the Beast (1946) : :

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: : (Left to right, top to bottom) Stevie Nicks’ Firebird Painting : : My own screen capture from the film, The Red Shoes (1948) : : Photo of dancer, Ruth Saint Denis : :

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: : Migration begins at dawn by Chiara Fersini (I wrote a post about her work here) : :

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: : Wintersleep by Laura Makabresku (I wrote a post about her work here) : :

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: : Birds by Laura Makabresku (I wrote a post about her work here) : :

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: : Weeping of the Willow - A Black Forest Perfume Amulet by For Strange Women : :

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: : My own screen capture from the film, Summer Interlude (1951) : :

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