When we look at all the ancient stories and myths, we’re seeing a story that was likely passed down verbally for generations before someone decided to preserve their version and write it down. It’s like the children’s game of Telephone.
Then we play even more Telephone with it by translating it, changing it, embellishing it and stripping things away from it. Only after all that do people in Academia study it, interpret it through whatever lens they’re using, and produce the “authoritative version”.
In other words, don’t believe everything you read.
I follow the Welsh goddess Arianrhod, Lady of the Silver Wheel. In the feudal sense of the term She is my Lady (I refer to Her that way quite a bit). You could also call Her my Mistress in the BDSM sense of the term, except I’m not a slave. I make the choice to serve Her, honor Her, and love Her every single day.
So who is She?
The stories don’t tell us much. She comes down to us in one story of the Mabinogion, a few fragments of other myths semi-preserved in other stories, and some surviving beliefs and customs in her native Wales. She does not look good in these stories, to say the least. We’ve also got a more modern take from Robert Graves, who co-opted Her as the Mother in his Welsh “Maiden/Mother/Crone” trio – and while She did give birth, the “loving moon mommy” is not Her role! Other sources show other associations, and there’s no telling where those came from.
I have been working with Her since She Called me at 12, damn near 20 years ago. She has occasionally asked me to work with other deities, but for the most part She has been my focus for all that time. So I can tell you what I’ve learned. It’s mostly UPG*, but one of the reasons I’m sharing this online is because I know there are other people out there working with Her, and I’d love to connect with some of them and get some other perspectives!
Above all else Arianrhod is a liminal goddess. She stands at the moment of transition between What Was and What Will Be, the instant that potential is made manifest. Her primary emphasis, in fact, is encouraging that moment of manifesting potential. Rites of passage are especially important to Her, because during the moment of “becoming” the celebrant briefly enters Her realm.
She does not fit neatly into the life stage of Maiden or Mother or Crone – She is all of them, and none of them, because She stands outside of the cycle in order to monitor its passage. Stories say that She hosts the dead between incarnations, giving them rest and peace before rebirth. Again She dwells at the liminal space, whether its between stages of life or between lifetimes.
And that also shows another side of Her personality. She will comfort you, She will give you peace and rest – but only for a time. You can’t stay in Her Tower, you can only visit. She will implacably send you out to fight again, to live and die again, because it is only by doing this that you will realize everything you can be.
As a goddess of the liminal She has no tolerance for stasis. It is only change that encourages – and rewards – growth. So it doesn’t matter if She has to push you, drag you, or simply hold your hand. She will create obstacles, challenge your preconceived notions, disrupt your routine, and throw you curve balls, just so you can learn how to handle them. Or, alternately, to prove to you that you’re strong enough to bear the burden. Often our strength and resources have to be tested to be known. Arianrhod will test you right to the breaking point, walking that fine line between “too much” and “not enough”. There’s always the chance you might fail – which creates another kind of opportunity to grow. Which challenges the meaning of “failure”, and your relationship to it. Which is another growth opportunity.
This part goes back to her role in the Welsh Mabinogion. On a surface reading She comes off as just about the worst mother ever. But when I read it again, after working with Her for awhile, I saw the “curses” as challenges, instead. This is why statues of Arianrhod are now appearing with descriptions like “the Goddess of Transformation and Obstacles”.
It is this aspect of Arianrhod that links her with the concept of Ordeal workings. Before I even knew what an Ordeal working was I was doing them at Her direction. Now I not only undergo Ordeals, I’m slowly beginning to learn how to safely conduct them for others. And so the Wheel spins round…
Ordeals are just one of the many tools in Her toolbox, all designed to encourage that moment a potential is realized. And that brings us to an interesting personality quirk. She is a bit OCD. She can’t stand to see potential wasted. She doesn’t even seem to care what the potential is for, so long as it is the very best it can be. Do you have the potential to be a world-class poet, or mathematician, or plumber? Or simply yourself? No matter what it is, She will help you realize it.
She’s the same way with ideas, visions, concepts, dreams, projects, and poems. If you get stuck, call on Arianrhod – She’ll support you across the rough spots. She won’t do it for you – how would you learn that way? – but She’ll offer support and different perspectives along your path.
And that, of course, is her link with inspiration. It again goes to the liminal. The birthing of an idea, of a vision, is also a moment of change. Poets and artists are said to go to the Tower of Arianrhod when seeking inspiration, finding it in the sacred well She tends. Dreamers can visit the Tower as well, seeking answers to pressing questions. Arianrhod will help as much as She is able.
That, of course, links Her with divination. Arianrhod is said by some to weave the tapestry of life and death – and since She knows what is and what has been, She can offer guidance. However, while She can tell you a lot not even She knows exactly how the future will turn out. We all have the potential within us to change things. So Arianrhod’s approach is to help you see all the choices and potentials ahead of you – it is up to you to chart your own course. You alone have the responsibility for guiding your life, because you are the one who will grow and develop by doing so, but She’ll assist by giving you the most information available.
If you want absolutes and blind obedience, Arianrhod is not for you. If you want a comfortable deity who condones delusion and fuzzy focus look elsewhere. But if you want a demanding taskmistress who will support you, guide you, and kick your ass by turns, strictly and sincerely to help you grow into the best you can be, maybe think about developing a relationship with Her. If you already work with Her I would love to hear from you – please feel free to comment!
* UPG: Unverified Personal Gnosis. A term popularized by the Heathen/Asatru community. Refers to information you’ve gained through personal experience, but can’t back up in the stories and lore. If several people, preferably having no contact with each other, happen to have the same UPG it becomes a SPG (Shared Personal Gnosis). And if it is later somehow verified it becomes a VPG (Verified Personal Gnosis). Just in case readers might not be familiar with the terms!
I refer to the Mabinogion quite a bit in the above. Haven’t read it? It’s available all over the web as a free download. The most common version, by Lady Charlotte Guest, isn’t my favorite, though – I prefer Patrick Ford’s Mabinogion and Other Tales, which I got used on Amazon for like $3.