Come Oak, broom and meadowsweet,
Come Oak, broom and meadowsweet,
Come Oak, broom and meadowsweet,
Come Bodeuwedd, come Wake!
The legend of Blodeuwedd, the Welsh/ Celtic Goddess is told in the fourth branch of the Mabinogi, it is from this legend, that I draw the name of my blog.
To understand the legend in all it's intricacies, it is best to start the story, before her birth!
Arianrhod (also another Welsh/Celtic Goddess) through the shame brought upon her through mayhem and misadventure on the birth of her two sons by of her brother Gwydion and her Uncle Math. As retaliation of that shame, her son who later obtains the name Lleu Llaw Gyffes is placed under a tynged, that he may not have a name, or bear arms unless bestowed by Arianrhod herself. Through magick, and deception Gwydion and Math, trick Arianrhod into bestowing a name upon her son, and giving him arms to bear. In a rage, she places one last curse upon her son, to never know a woman of a mortal race. Again, Gwydion and Math step into, to subvert Arianrhod's curse and from the blossoms of nine flowers; oak, meadowsweet, broom, cockle, bean, nettle, chestnut, primrose, and hawthorn; the breathed life into Blodeuwedd. "Flower face", Blodeuwedd is given in marriage to Lleu, the sole purpose of her creation.
However, our story does not end here. Now, married Lleu is able to assume Kingship, and he and Blodeuwedd retire to their castle. Sometime later, desiring to see his Uncles again, Lleu undertakes a trip to them, leaving Blodeuwedd behind. One day, while Lleu is away, Blodeuwedd out with her ladies, meets a young huntsman Gronw, who later seeks shelter at her castle. They fall in love instantly and perioulsly. Betraying Lleu's marriage bed. Blodeuwedd's only possible escape from the marriage is Lleu's death. Even that is not simple. Gwydion and Math had sometime before worked to ensure their nephews rule, by ensure that only a ludicrous event could cause his death. Blodeuwedd is convinced to root it out of her husband.
Lleu returns from visiting his uncles, and Blodeuwedd, resumes her guise as a dutiful wife. She laments to Lleu that she fears for his life, and he assures her, that his death is ridiculously improbable. Blodeuwedd begs that he show her, to assuage her fears he does so. The roof of a bath house is built and a bath placed underneath on a river bank. He stand with one foot on the side of the tub and the other on the back of a goat. Gronw, who has been waiting with a special spear, launches it onto the side of the unsuspecting Lleu, who turns into an eagle and flies away to safety. Gwydion, upon hearing of the attempt and his nephews metamorphosis, searches for him, and upon finding him, returns Llew to his human form. The Lovers are then tracked down, to avenge the King. Gronw is killed in much the same fashion of his attempt on Lleu. Blodeuwedd is found, and cursed to wander only at night, she is turned into an Owl.
Ok so that's a neat bedtime story, but what is important about it?
To understand any story, it is a good idea, to look at it in the context of the people from whence it came. The Celtic society was matrilinear. Meaning that kingship passed through the female line. It would pass through the sister of the King, rather than from his own offspring. In this instance the matirlinear line is Arianrhod. The heir to the throne should be Lleu. The tynged's placed upon Lleu by Arianrhod, are meant to rob him of his inheritance, his Kingship, his manhood.
To the Celts the designation of a king, was made with a sacred marriage to the sovereign goddess of the land. thus to become King, one must marry the land itself, demonstrating his sovereignty and devotion. This is also the explanation of why a good king would ensure the prosperity of the land. The king and the land were unified as one with the marriage and his ascension.
So we see that Lleu is very literally married to the land, Blodeuwedd, made from the flowers of the earth. His kingship is thus ensured. His Goddess/ Queen, is not only a goddess, but the Goddess of Spring Growth, she is made from herbs of healing, thus ensuring his health as king. For the Celts, a king must be without form or defect. His health of primary importance.
However, when we look to Blodeuwedd, we can sympathize with her plight. She is created from the earth , from flowers, specifically to fulfill one function, to legitimize and grant sovereignty to Lleu. While we think that Lleu cared for her, there is little doubt that anyone was concerned with what she thought or felt. Blodeuwedd never had the opportunity to grow up, learn or assert her own independence. She is simply a means to an end.
As she learns and grows, she become dissatisfied with her current state of affairs, and meets Gronw, with whom she falls in love. For the first time Blodewedd, who has been the epitome of the shy, non- assertive, and dependent female is now asserting herself and making her own choices.
Gronw, the hunter is interesting. The symbolism as the hunter/horned one, fighting the Lleu/ Sun King/ Oak King, is not lost on us either. Lleu has come into his prime, he has married at Goddess/ May Queen. Blodeuwedd, is often associated as the Queen of the May. Flowering into her full glory! The Battle ensues, and the Horned One/ Dark Brother/ Hunter/ Holly King is the victor, as the waning of the year begins, carrying us towards the winter.
It is through Blodeuwedd that Lleu, the king is able to ensure his kingship through ritual death and rebirth. This is often seen in other myths and stories of Celtic Kings and later the Druidic Priesthood. Blodeuwedd who is the Goddess of Iniations, completes his iniation with his death and rebirth, solidifying his claim to kingship, consolidation of his power, and assurance of his soverignty and divinity.
With her punishment, for her part in Lleu's ritual death, Blodewedd, May Queen, Goddess of Spring Growth, the Wisdom of Innocence, is transformed into an Owl, during the waning of the year. Again we see the links with the Oak King/ Sun King battle with his Dark Brother. hunter. Horned One, and the transition of Blodeuwedd, into an Owl, towards Samhain. She is completing her own cycle of life, death and rebirth, transitioning from the wisdom of innocence towards the full wisdom of the end of the cycle. The transition of life and parting of the veil. The final iniation.
Blodeuwedd is Goddess of emotions, initiation ceremonies the wisdom of innocence and lunar mysteries, she is also known as the Nine fold Goddess of the Western Isles of Paradise.
She is associated with the fullness of Spring, she is the May Queen. As her aspect of the owl, she is associate with Samhain.
Both beautiful songs that inspire this blog:
Oak, Broom and Meadosweet ~Damh the Bard
Blodeuwedd ~ Damh the Bard
The Silver Wheel by Marguerite Elsbeth and Kenneth Johnson
The Apple Branch by Alexi Kondratiev
Blodeuwedd, Winter Cymraes