Rhiannon was the Celtic lunar goddess of fertility, rebirth, transformation, and magic. She was a spirited fairy princess with a mind of her own. When her parents chose a man for her to marry that she could not stomach, she refused and set her own plan in motion to marry a mortal, who just happened to be the prince of Wales.
Rhiannon was also a highly skilled horsewoman; so skilled, in fact, that no mortal man or other god could catch her. She appeared to her beloved – – Pwyll – – dressed in shimmering gold and mounted on her horse. Of course, the prince could not help but fall immediately in love with her.
Although his horse was known to be both swift and steady, try as he might, Pwyll could not overtake the vision in gold. Just as it seemed that he would never catch her, he called out for her to stop. To his delight, she did just that. But as he drew closer to her and reached out to grab her horse’s reigns, she backed away.
Without thinking further, Pwyll blurted out the words, “marry me.” Rhiannon gently shook her head and said that she could not at least for one more year. With that, she turned and disappeared – – horse and all – – into the deep dark woods.
The prince followed but could not find her, finally giving up. Still, he could not forget his beloved and despite his parent’s urge to do so, he refused to choose another for his bride. One year to the date of their first meeting, Rhiannon showed up while the prince was riding with his men. Not saying a word, she motioned for the him to follow her into the woods. His men cautioned him not to do so, but of course he did.
Eventually, they made their way through the woods to a beautiful clearing full of lakes and waterfalls, trees and plants the likes of which the prince had never seen before. And just beyond the clearing was a stunning silver palace with spires that seemed to reach into the heavens.
Rhiannon welcome her beloved prince to her father’s castle where they were immediately wed. Once the wedding feast was complete, the couple returned to Pwyll’s land where she was also welcomed with loving arms.
Eventually, the couple was blessed with child – – a son. But the boy, which should have been the source of great pride and joy for the kingdom, soon would instead become, the source of ultimate sorrow.
On his first birthday, the child went missing. His maid servant, afraid that she would be blamed because she had lost track of him, told everyone that Rhiannon had taken him. When it appeared that no one believed her, she devised a plan to shine the light of guilt upon the queen.
She butchered a small animal and spread its bones underneath the goddess’s bed. She then pretended to find then as she was cleaning and shouted in feigned fear and pain that Rhiannon had eaten her own child.
Alas, Pwyll did not know what to believe and turned his wife over to the people for punishment. They deemed that she would remain outside the castle gate wearing a horse collar and carrying guests back and forth from the gate to the castle. The severe punishment went on for seven long years.
The goddess did not protest, nor did she complain. She bore the punishment with the grace of a true queen, through bitter cold winters and scorching summers. All the time, she vowed that she would someday find her child and bring him home to his father.
Slowly, the people grudgingly began to respect Rhiannon again, awed by her dignity and strength. Her story spread beyond the walls of her kingdom until virtually everyone knew of her plight.
One day a nobleman came to the gate, holding the hand of a young boy. When Rhiannon told him her punishment and offered to carry him and his son to the castle, he instead lifted her onto his horse. Then he smiled, placed the hand of the boy in hers and told her, “Be joyful, gracious queen. Your son is home.”
As it turned out, when the careless maid servant had misplaced the small boy in the fields, the nobleman traveling through the area had found him. He had assumed the child had been abandoned and had taken him home and raised him as his own. However, when the story of the queen and her punishment became known throughout the land, he realized that a terrible injustice had taken place and had hastened to bring the boy immediately home.
The king was, of course, deeply shamed that he had not believed his wife. The people were also ashamed for putting the queen through years of punishment for something she had not done. No one expected her forgiveness. In fact, many worried that she would punish them severely.
Rhiannon, did not wish vengeance nor justice. She simply smiled and told her husband she loved him and her people that she bore them no ill feeling.
After that time, Rhiannon was not only known as the goddess of the moon, but also the goddess of forgiveness and unsurpassed wisdom.
The story is meant to be a reminder to us that we will all suffer great losses throughout our lifetime. It is what we do when such pain and anguish is experienced that shapes the course of who and what we are as human beings. Our choice at such times is to either wallow in self-pity or to remain steadfast and strong, rising above the adversity. But perhaps even more important, Rhiannons’s story exemplifies of the healing power of forgiveness.