The lore of Arianrod is most appropriate for Earth Day. This story is found within the fourth portion of the Welsh Mabinogion which is entitled “Math the Son of Mathonwy.” This is a rather convoluted tale of intrigue in the court of Math, lord of Gwynedd. Arianrod is not dragged into the mess until halfway through the tale. For those curious about the details leading up to Arianrod’s involvement, the full story can be found at Sacred Texts (all quotes sourced from there.) A much abbreviated version will suit the purposes here.
Math was not only lord over Gwynedd, but he was also a powerful magician capable of making physical transformations. Except in times of war, Math lived under a geis (destiny) that required his feet to rest in the lap of a maiden. While some might equate this geis with a curse, I suspect this connection with the divine feminine (grounded in the lap of a maiden, the untouched womb) may be the source of his superior magical ability. The context of the story makes it clear that the usage of maiden is the same as virgin.
Gwydion is the nephew of Math. Gwydion is also powerful magically, but not as powerful as Math. Gwydion cannot transform anything, but he is adept at creating illusions; illusions that fade relatively quickly. It is Gwydion’s deceptions that cause Math to lose his foot maiden. To make amends to Math, Gwydion nominates his sister, Arianrod, as a replacement maiden.
Arianrod is summoned to the court of her uncle, Math. Her virginity must be tested before she can become Math’s foot maiden. Math has Arianrod step over his wand to test her virginity in the presence of Gwydion; she steps over a powerful phallic symbol in the presence of two powerful male magicians. A fully developed man-child appeared which Math, the more powerful magician, took charge of. A small form (partially developed fetus?) appeared which Gwydion, the lesser magician, spirited away quickly. Arianrod ran for the door in shame.
I do not believe (as some) that Arianrod’s definition of maiden was different from that of Math and Gwydion. Having previous intercourse with other men doesn’t explain the different stages of development of the two manifested children. If we perceive Arianrod as the epitome of the divine feminine most fertile in the presence of two male sorcerers of different potency, then nothing remains to be explained. I believe she was a maiden who was publicly shamed by the foolishness of two male magicians who lacked the wisdom that most attributed to them. Arianrod’s anger towards Gwydion later is much more understandable in this manner.
The first born was named Dylan by Math. Dylan means son of the Wave, and he lived up to his name when Math had him baptized. No reason is given for his being killed by his uncle Govannon. It should be noted that Water is considered a feminine element in most circles.
The small form eventually grew to be a strapping young man. Gwydion then presented him to Arianrod. She responded, “what has come unto thee that thou shouldst shame me thus? wherefore dost thou seek my dishonour, and retain it so long as this?” (There’s that anger I mentioned earlier.)
Gwydion wanted Arianrod to name her son. She responds, “I lay this destiny upon him, that he shall never have a name until he receives one from me.” Gwydion then tricks Arianrod into naming the boy Llew Llaw Gyffes. It seems significant that Gwydion acknowledges the authority of Arianrod’s geis (destiny) by tricking her, instead of ignoring her and naming the boy himself.
Gwydion then wants Arianrod to arm Llew. She responds to this with a similar geis. Gwydion tricks Arianrod once again. A pattern appears to be developing, but Arianrod seems aware. She proclaims a third geis: “‘Now will I lay a destiny upon this youth,’ she said, ‘that he shall never have a wife of the race that now inhabits this earth.’”
Gwydion does not try to trick Arianrod this time. He conspires with his uncle, Math, to transform a bunch of flowers into a bride for Llew. This bride is named Blodeuwedd. She was unfaithful, though, and almost cost Llew his life. Gwydion eventually found her and transformed her into an owl. This is actually a lengthy part of the tale that ends quite simply:
A second time did Llew Llaw Gyffes take possession of the land, and prosperously did he govern it. And, as the story relates, he was lord after this over Gwynedd. And thus ends this portion of the Mabinogi. (Math the Son of Mathonwy, Sacred Texts)
There seems to be much lore in the British Isles about the king being wed to the land so all may prosper. It should also be noted that the element of Earth is considered feminine in most circles. Arianrod did not proclaim a destiny for Llew where he would not be married, just that he shall never have a wife of the race that now inhabits this earth. It appears that once Llew accepted his destiny and took possession of his true wife (the land, or Earth), it was prosperously governed.
I am sure Arianrod (or Arianrhod) is perceived differently by each individual. The perception of her as a Mother Goddess seems common, particularly in conjunction with the full moon. She is also perceived as a goddess of reincarnation because of her power over destiny. Some perceive a dark aspect to a goddess who personally understands injustice.
On this Earth Day, I see Arianrod as a goddess of wisdom who tries to teach her children to love and respect the Earth. Let us care for the Earth so she remains a fertile wellspring of life. In this manner, we can all prosper.