I’ve always loved myths and legends and ancient gods and goddesses. One of the aspects that I love about my Roman/Druid books set during the 1st century in Britain is the mysticism that surrounds the Druid peoples. This was a time when gods and goddesses were integral to every day life—but the thing that really captures my imagination is the goddess culture.
The heroine of ENSLAVED is Nimue. She appeared right at the end of book #2, CAPTIVE, and was an acolyte of the Moon Goddess Arianrhod. I knew next to nothing about Arianrhod at that point but when Nimue wouldn’t leave my mind because her story had to be told, I knew I was going to have to do some research.
Legend has it that Arianrhod’s uncle, the magician King Math, was required to keep his feet in the lap of a maiden whenever he wasn’t at war, in order to retain his sovereignty and power. When Arianrhod and her brother-god Gwydion’s younger brother fell in love with her Gwydion, God of Illusion, manufactured a war which entailed Math leaving his domain.
The younger brother immediately took advantage and raped the maiden (yeah, and he’ll never be hero material).
Upon Math’s return, and learning that his maiden could no longer perform her duty, he married her and then punished his two nephews. His punishments involved turning them into a mated pair of deer for a year, then a mated pair of wild hogs and finally a pair of mated wolves. At the end of each year the brothers produced one offspring (I’m not going there )
Finally the punishment ended but Math still required a maiden as his footholder. Gwydion suggested his sister, Arianrhod. She was brought to court and had to step over a magical wand to prove her virginity. As she did so she gave birth to twin boys, one who slipped into the sea and swam away and the other was taken by Gwydion who raised him as his own.
Arianrhod was humiliated and shamed before the whole court, forsaken by her brother Gwydion and later thwarted by her son. She retreated to her castle and later drowned.
Unimpressed by that ending that appears to punish a woman for not conforming to a certain patriarchal worldview, I dug deeper.
Arianrhod’s name means “starry wheel” and her palace, or castle, was the Aurora Borealis. She is one of the Triple Goddesses, a Moon Goddess associated with reincarnation and is connected to the womb, death, rebirth and creation. She is a weaver of the fates and could shapeshift into an owl—symbolic of wisdom.
In short, Arianrhod was a powerful goddess in her own right and would have been a strong, independent woman and a primal figure of feminine power.
Too powerful, perhaps, for a patriarchal society to accept?
I’d found the hook I’d been looking for. Nimue is strong, independent and doesn’t need a man to protect her. But when she’s captured by Tacitus, a Roman Tribune, her world is turned upside down and she and Arianrhod’s fates become inextricably entwined.
The Mabinogion, translated by Lady Charlotte Guest. Welsh legends collected in the Red Book of Hergest, a manuscript which is in the library of Oxford University.
Arianrhod’s legend is in the Fourth Branch, Math, the Son of Mathonwy
This post was previously published on the Dark Side Down Under blog and the Historical Hearts blog.