By Jhenah Telyndru
The Goddesses of Avalon are the heart and soul of the Sacred Landscape, each weaving a transformational energy into the matrix of the archetypal realm. Once we have successfully made contact with the landscape areas and established a good working relationship which each of these places of power, we can use them to connect with the Ladies of Avalon. These five Divine Ancestresses will further our quest for positive change, personal Sovereignty and the wisdom that comes from drinking deep from the cauldron of our souls.
The Avalonian Tradition draws its inspiration from British, rather than English, culture. Wales was able to maintain and preserve the culture, language and traditions of Celtic Britain far longer than the rest of England, so we look to Welsh language, literature and folklore to understand the beliefs of the Britons. The Welsh mythic cycle contains the first references to King Arthur, and through him, to Ynys Afallon – the Island of Avalon. Therefore, to discover the Goddess as She has revealed Herself to the Britons, and as She was probably worshiped on Avalon, we must turn to the mythology of Wales. We therefore seek the Goddesses of Avalon in The Mabinogion and its associated legends as this collection of stories represents the surviving corpus of the mythology of the Celtic Britons and as such, is worthy of deep study.
It is imperative to honor these Goddesses by studying Their myths, seeking out Their symbolism, and coming to understand the lessons They bring to us. When reading The Mabinogion, it is especially important to identify the elements that are a reflection of the patriarchal Christian world in which the stories were set down in writing; these have nothing to do with the true essence of the Goddesses and the teachings inherent in Their myths. We must remember that the social standing and privileges of British Celtic women were very different from those of women at the time the stories of The Mabinogion were written down.
Once we can read the stories of the Welsh Goddesses without the filter of Medieval mores and Christian philosophy, a very different portrait of Them emerges. The betraying harlot becomes the giver of Sovereignty, free to choose Her mate as She wills and granting kingship to whom She deems best. The abandoning mother becomes the Great Teacher and the devouring witch is revealed as the Initiatrix into the Mysteries.
The very fact that these stories were written down by people outside of the cultural context that revered these figures makes all the difference in the tone of their portrayal and the overall interpretation of elements in the story. Due to oral tradition, then, the Divinities of the British Celts do not benefit from having their myths written down by those who worshiped Them, as do the Gods of other cultures.
We are not inheritors of an intact tradition, and must look between the lines to seek out the symbols that have made the transition from oral to written form, even if those that transcribed them attempted to have them make sense in their own cultural context. It is for this reason that we must immerse ourselves in the study of Celtic culture so that we may piece the bigger picture back together and reclaim what we can of what was.
The Five Goddesses of Avalon
Blodeuwedd is the Lady of Initiation. She calls us to cast off the garments of expectation and to peer into the darkness of the self to find, and ultimately live, our inner truth. She teaches us to fly where others would see us grounded.
Mythological Sources for Blodeuwedd: The Mabinogi – “Math, Son of Mathonwy”; “Hanes Taliesin”
Rhiannon is the Lady of Manifestation. She calls us to stand strong regardless of the challenges to our truth. She teaches us to ask for what we need, and grants abundant and loving support to carry us through our dark times.
Mythological Sources for Rhiannon: The Mabinogi– “Pwyll, Prince of Dyfed” and “Manawydan, Son of Llyr”
Ceridwen is the Lady of Transformation. She calls us to enter into our darkness to seek out the seeds of our wholeness. She teaches us that the only path to wisdom is through trial and experience. In Her Cauldron, the mysteries of death and rebirth are revealed, and we emerge to initiate the process once more. We ride the Wheel with our newfound insight and understanding, so that we may illume the next phase of our journey with what we have learned.
Mythological Sources for Ceridwen: “The Tale of Gwion Bach” and “Hanes Taliesin”
Arianrhod is the Great Teacher, holding the energy of the active principle. She is the embodiment of the Wheel, yet not Herself subject to it. She is the force of Bound and Rebound, the Karmic Lesson Bringer that brings the Universe into Balance. All cycles and time are within Her realm of influence. Arianrhod is the Source of Awen, the Divine Spark of Inspiration, although it is through Ceridwen that Awen is bestowed.
Mythological Source for Arianrhod: The Mabinogi – “Math, Son of Mathonwy”
Branwen is the embodiment of Sovereignty and is the Guardian of Avalon, holding the energy of the passive principle. She is the Whole, the Center, the Axis Mundi. The primal Feminine energy, all things emanate from Branwen. She is the Goddess of the Land Manifest, as well as the Spirit of the Land. On Avalon, Branwen was primarily consulted in matters dealing with Her Realm – that is, concerning the full tapestry of Avalon, rather than the individual stitches. She is the Goddess of the grand scheme of things, the broader perspective that allows the greater patterns to be revealed.
Mythological Source for Branwen: The Mabinogi – “Branwen, Daughter of Llyr”
– Excerpted from Avalon Within: A Sacred Journey of Myth, Mystery, and Inner Wisdom by Jhenah Telyndru.