Blodeuwedd and Personal Agency

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Blodeuwedd by my SO

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.

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The Forming of Blodeuwedd by my SO

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.

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Goddess Secrets, by me!

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Mabon and the Forgotten Queen

This was a blog post from Witches and Pagans originally posted on September 17th, 2012. Blodeuwedd is a goddess that I work very closely with.

 

Mabon is the Sabbat where the focus of the wheel of the year goes from Life and growth to Death and the harvest. It is when the young God experiences death and begins his journey to the Underworld. It is also when the White Goddess begins her descent to the Underworld to take her rightful place as the Queen of Death. The Welsh figure of Blodeuwedd is an often ignored facet of the Queen of Death.

Blodeuwedd is a Goddess that modern audiences have a hard time viewing outside of the lense of our industrial, patriarchal culture. Blodeuwedd, who comes to us in the Fourth Branch of the Welsh Mabinogion, is a woman created out of the flowers of the forest by the Gods Math and Gwydion who need a wife for Gwydion’s son Lleu; Lleu has been cursed by his mother, Arianrhod, to never take a human wife. Blodeuwedd’s story is often seen as one of rape and revenge, similar to the way the Arthurian legends are often treated. It is a story that most people never try to reconstruct with the meaning it might have had to pre-Medieval Welsh listeners. For modern listeners, Blodeuwedd is not seen as the White Goddess that she is; she is viewed as a woman torn between two lovers, such as the Medieval Iseult, or Shakespeare’s Juliet, and the tale of the two Gods/men (Lleu and Gronw) becomes one of lust and revenge.

Unlike the Greek myths, where we have the original stories “written” out to us by the Greeks themselves, the Mabinogion comes to us through the interpretation of the “modern” and patriarchal society who recorded it. Christian ideology overshadows the retelling of the stories, and these tales are doomed to be seen in the shadow of modern ideologies. Blodeuwedd as a Goddess is a victim not of rape, but of misinterpretation.

In the modern scenario, Blodeuwedd has no agency of her own as an individual and therefore no power as the Goddess that she is; she is the tool of the men around her, rather than a woman with true power. She becomes an excuse to shame women and is not seen as the force of nature she is, the force that assists in turning the wheel of the year. In this way, Blodeuwedd becomes similar to Pandora and Galatea, a plaything of a thunder wielding, sky father God. But let us remember that Blodeuwedd is a creature of the forces of land and nature worshipped by the agrarian Celts.

In the contemporary retelling of Blodeuwedd’s story, we sense that Math and Gwydion’s intentions are simply to create a wife for Lleu; that there are no other reasons that this woman needs to be brought into existence. But consider that Math and Gwydion create Blodeuwedd from the flowers of the forest, which symbolize the life and death aspects of the cycle of the year; they are intentionally drawing the White Goddess of the Underworld, the White Lady of Death, into the physical realm. Blodeuwedd of the Underworld is the balance to Lleu’s role as the Lord of the Sun.

Arianrhod, Lugh’s mother (another misunderstood Welsh Goddess), foreshadows the role that Blodeuwedd is to play. Lleu’s birth is seen as being shameful to her in the Christian context; she is not seen as the High Priestess figure who is helping her son through his initiations to gain the power that he is destined to inherit. Gwydion’s “trickery” to make Arianrhod name Lleu, by getting her to exclaim “the young lion has a steady hand” when he kills a wren (symbol of winter), is the first place where it is understood that Lleu has to kill the Old God in order to take his rightful place as God of the Sun. It is the starting point for the task that Blodeuwedd will assume in order to facilitate this cycle. Blodeuwedd’s lover Gronw is the wren that Lugh originally kills to claim his title. Life and Death work side by side to ensure this cycle continues.

Blodeuwedd is the physical manifestation of the Goddess of the Underworld. Just as Persephone in the Greek myths, Blodeuwedd is aware of what she is doing when she tasks Gronw with killing Lleu. Blodeuwedd’s “choice” between Lleu and Gronw is the neverending cycle of Growth and the Harvest. The Sun God must die so that winter may come: the cycle of death and rebirth again and again. Blodeuwedd is not just a woman who is torn between two lovers through Math and Gwydion’s magic; she is an incarnation of the White Goddess.

Blodeuwedd’s role in this cyclical story is an integral part of what Mabon symbolizes. When we forget the basic meanings behind the stories of our holidays or misinterpret their meanings, we forget the true importance of what we are celebrating. Blodeuwedd is not a light Goddess; she is the Dark that awaits all of us in the end, and her presence at Mabon should be considered in light of her true aspect.

Mabon

Blessed Mabon a little late everyone!

Life has been busy and insane! Here is my Pagan Household column and my Pagan Square blog (Mabon and the Forgotten Queen, a discussion on how we look at the story of Blodeuwedd). I promise to start writing on this blog again next week. We just survived the family apocalypse 2012 and are going to be moving into a new place this week. We will be back to our regularly scheduled programing when the dust settles!