I work quite a lot with the goddess Blodeuwedd. If you’re not familiar with this Welsh goddess, she appears to us in the Fourth Branch of the Mabinogion, a collection of Welsh mythology. I’ve written about her here in other contexts, but a student recently asked me: “Why Blodeuwedd?”. Blodeuwedd’s tale is not exactly happy or inspiring on the surface. My student asked, what was it about Blodeuwedd that drew me in?
The story goes that Blodeuwedd was created by the Gods Math and Gwydion from the flowers of the forest. The god Lleu has been rejected by his mother Arianrhod, who has refused to give him a name, weapons or to allow him to marry a human woman. Gwydion gets around these issues by tricking Arianrhod into naming Lleu and giving Lleu weapons, but to make sure Lleu can marry, Gwydion, with the help of Math, has to go a step further.
So they create a beautiful woman out of flowers (and as I have posited before), possibly from the spirit of a white Underworld goddess (death). Math and Gwydion arrogantly assume that this non-human woman that they’ve created will do as she’s told. And in the beginning, she does. She marries Lleu and for a while they are happy.
But, Lleu eventually goes off on a hunt and Blodeuwedd meets the hunter Gronw. The two conspire to kill Lleu, who can only be killed in very specific, very weird, way.
Blodeuwedd gets Lleu to tell her, and then show her, how he can be killed. To, you know, make sure it never happens, because she’s sooooo worried. As Lleu demonstrates how he might be killed, Gronw kills him, using goat, water, a house, and most pointedly, a spear. Blodeuwedd and Gronw walk happily off into the sunset.
Of course, the story doesn’t end there. Lleu being a god, isn’t actually dead, but transformed. Gwydion tromps off into the forest and eventually finds Lleu as an Eagle sitting up high in an oak tree. Through a lot of magical singing and poetry, Gwydion gets Lleu down from the tree and transforms him back into a man (or at least an anthromorph).
Lleu returns home, challenges and defeats Gronw, and Blodeuwedd ends up changed into
an owl, flying off into the forest. Some stories say that Lleu turns Blodeuwedd into an owl for her treachery, others say that it’s Gwydion that changes her. Still others say that Blodeuwedd changes herself into the Owl. Either way, Blodeuwedd goes from a flower, fertility goddess of the Spring/Summer, to a goddess of death and omens of the Autumn/Winter. In Welsh, the name Blodeuwedd literally means flower face, which is the word for owl. She is not one or the other, she is both and was always meant to be both. (Again, when you “create” someone out of flowers, using the spirit of death, what do you expect?)
So yes…not exactly a pleasant tale. Blodeuwedd has been represented by some as the ultimate victim. In her novelization of the Mabinogion, Evangeline Walton goes as far as to blame Her for the existence of rape! So, my student saw only what she perceived as treachery and subjugation.
What is so easy to forget, especially when reading this story through the translations of Christian monks, is that Blodeuwedd is not just some woman, she is a Goddess.
Blodeuwedd makes her own choices, with a full understanding of what she is setting in motion. She is the Goddess who moves the wheel of the year and it is through her actions and choices that this cycle continues.
When looked at objectively, this is an allegory for the agricultural cycle. Blodeuwedd spends time journeying back and fourth between the Upperworld and the Underworld. Lleu is the young sun god that blesses the fields. Gronw is the old stag of winter. The young god and the old god must fight it out every year, the young god dying at Litha, the old god winning at Yule. We see this throughout most European mythology.
It is so easy to try to make Blodeuwedd into nothing more than a victim and to refuse to allow her agency over her own story. She is trapped between all of these men and her choice of Gronw is nothing but a selfish betrayal of her “husband.”
But Blodeuwedd is not a victim. She makes choices for herself. She does not simply stay married to Lleu because she is told to. She meets Gronw and knows that she belongs with him.
She is also not forced into marrying Lleu, though that certainly seems to be the intent of Math and Gwydion. Hey, let’s face it, Lleu is a hot young sun God: who wouldn’t want some of that? But to think that a Goddess couldn’t have refused to play along is sort of ridiculous. We all know that Math and Gwydion’s arrogance is what has gotten them into this mess to begin with, and they have both made decisions already that are, let’s face it, pretty stupid. They have already pissed off other powerful goddesses. Blodeuwedd chooses to marry Lleu, and then she chooses to get rid of him for someone else.
Blodeuwedd is not human. She has her own power and her own magic.
In the end, it all comes down to her actions and her choices to drive the tale and the events. Just like Persephone chose to eat those pomegranate seeds in Hades, Blodeuwedd chooses to take an Underworld lover.
When a Goddess ‘chooses’ you, you can feel it. Blodeuwedd definitely chose me. But while Blodeuwedd definitely chose me to be one of hers, I also heartily accepted Blodeuwedd as a patroness. Her choice, her decision, to do what is right for her, is so powerful. Her choices literally drive the seasons, the crops and the fertility of the world around us. She does not choose to make other people happy, she does not exist within social expectations. She is a goddess and she does what she needs to do for herself. It is her control over her choices that allows the world to flourish. She knows that her power, which is greater than that of either Gwydion, Math, Lleu or Gronw, is what truly matters in order for the world to cycle naturally. And how could I not be drawn by that power? She is the ultimate feminine choice. Her actions are not to make other people happy, but to what is right for herself. And I hope in this world, I can emulate her by living truthfully for myself in the same way. The choices I make are for me, not because someone tells me to make them. Blodeuwedd seeks happiness, and while that doesn’t always quite work out the way we might want it to, that is also life.
I am where I am today because of her. In looking back over the last few years, I know I was
chosen specifically to hold this place right here, right now because she saw as much in me as I see in her. The choices I have made definitely do not please other people. I have been vilified and many have tried to take my own personal agency away from me by making me into nothing more than a victim who obviously can’t choose for herself.
But just like Blodeuwedd, I am not a victim. I am a powerful, independent woman who stands by her own choices and by those she chooses to support. Are there consequences to that? Of course. But my truth is what drives me. You don’t have to agree with me, like me, or support me. You don’t matter in the sphere of the choices I make for myself and my family.
I too chose Gronw over Lleu, and I have never, not once in the midst of everything, regretted that.
And this is what Blodeuwedd teaches us. Our choices drive the world we exist in. Just because other people have influence on our lives or occasionally force us into doing things that we don’t want to do, doesn’t mean that we are beholden to acting the way others try to make us or expect us to act.
Blodeuwedd represents the ultimate female agency and choice.
So is this a story of victim-hood and subjugation? I don’t see it that way. I see Blodeuwedd doing what every person should do. She ignores the mantle of civilized expectations and makes choices that will fulfill her role and life. I proudly serve Her and hope that my own actions mirror hers.
I do not accept the role that others give me, and that is why I will walk away at the end of the day. If you can accept your power to make your own choices, you’ve already won and no one can take that from you.