My last day at work as a social worker in a residential building for the mentally-ill, a rather traditionally “mad” client asked what I wanted before I left to Europe. I answered him a bit off-handedly, part-jokingly, “you have any advice?”
This man, I should say, had passed beyond all recognition of sanity for years, babbling incoherently so often that any few intelligible sentences he did utter always took us by surprise. Drug-addicted, severely schizophrenic, and relentlessly in a different world.
He returned, 20 minutes later. He’d donned a dress, a wig, and some makeup, unusual for him. Smoking with him on the front porch on break, he danced around a bit, and then said, laughingly, through his toothless mouth,
“Don’t want to take a plane? The woman in the stars will come down to take you back with her. Oh, and cathedral steps? Great place to fuck.”
On the gods
I think maybe, before writing about Arianrhod, I should write about deities in general. I’m a Pagan, or more specifically, a “polytheistic” pagan. That is, I believe in the actual existence of multiple gods.
As opposed to, say, Monotheism (Christianity, Islam, Judaism), which believes in the actual existence of just one god, the best god, or one-true-god, or what have you. I don’t have a problem with them, only that I think they can be bit grumpy at times, particularly when they try to jail gays or burn pagans or silence scientists.
This is also opposed to Atheists, who believe in no gods at all, or no supernatural anything. They make some great companions, though, and tend to read as much as I do. And I’ve got no problem with them, except when they get so angry at the Monotheists that they support all kinds of bloody wars in the middle-east to liberate women from a certain form of clothing.
There are other ways to delineate my beliefs, but these get boring and technical. Ever sat through a debate between a Leninist or a Trotskyite? Or, better say, a Pre-tribulationist versus Post-tribulationist argument? No?
Good. Let’s begin. (1)
I. Who’s Arianrhod?
You maybe never heard of her. I hadn’t, much, except for a short passage in a collection of Welsh mythology call the Mabinogion. The name would sometimes get stuck in my head–it sounds cool, is spelled awesome, and always felt a little familiar.
Arianrhod, in Welsh, means Silver Wheel. (2)
That tells you little, except it sort of tells you lots. There’s a fun thing about myth and mythic language; like poetry, it unfolds over time. Turn the phrase around in your head, look at it directly, say it a few times, and then forget about it completely until it suddenly appears in the theatre of your mind, seemingly out of nowhere. You’re staring at something, or thinking about something else, and Silver Wheel comes into your head and you’re not sure why, but it somehow fits with what you’re thinking about. Like an off-handed remark uttered by a stranger 8 years before which startlingly takes on profound, severe meaning when you’re in the shower, or kissing a lover, or bolting out of a crosswalk to avoid an on-coming car.
She’s a goddess, it turns out, as appear to be many others in the Mabinogion. Daughter of a King with a strange curse, mother of two children whom she didn’t keep. Said to live in both a castle and a tower, Caer Sidi or Caer Arianrhod. Somewhere in the west, somewhere in the stars.
II. How’d I find out about her?
There’s two histories here. I’m not sure which one to tell. Now that I think about it, probably three. History is like this–it’s all in the telling, like story. The threads I choose to pull out and weave together create a tapestry which is a story, but I never seem able to use all the threads. Ever try writing and finishing a novel? It’s just like that.
I’m gonna try this question again. When did I first know her by name? That one’s easier. I was praying one day and suddenly blurted out her name, adding her to the names of the other gods I usually greeted. By “praying,” I mean, in essence, sometimes I merely say “hello” to gods, which I also sometimes do to birds, dragonflies, trees, and friends. Again. I believe they actually exist, just like I’m pretty certain trees and friends do, too).
Actually, I did that more often in the beginning. I got maybe a little too playful with a god, or flippant, shall we say, but it turned out rather good at the end, and I’m glad he decided to see how serious I was, rather than just ignoring my childishness. And said god’s got something to do with her, but we’re not there yet, and I’ve got 30 questions to answer and at this rate, I might as well be doing National Novel Writing Month.
Back to that moment. I just sort of blurted out her name, with an image of a woman and a wheel in my head (one of her most popular depictions), and then I got her attention.
No, that’s wrong. She had mine.
III. Her symbols and icons
I’ve already mentioned this. It bears repeating. Also, hey–did you try what I suggested earlier, playing with the english translation of her name?
What’s a silver wheel, huh?
At night, if you stare at the stars in a place where you can still do such a thing, if you stare at the stars repeatedly over a period of time, you’ll notice they move. They don’t, of course (thanks, science!), but they appear to. Also, more fun, they appear to move around a specific spot, appearing to circle a stationary star.
Ever seen a time-lapse photo of the stars? They appear to wheel. In fact, there’s a phrase, used much less often now that we don’t read ink on paper, and I think it should be used more often. Wheel can be used as a verb, and I like it that way. Stars wheel overhead. You can sit out all night with a lover under the wheeling of stars (I recommend it, both to you and myself, as I’ve done much less than I ought to).
Another fun thing, except this starts to get messy. There’s a constellation close to the pole star, called in Latin Corona Borealis, or The Crown of the North. This same constellation is reputed to be called Caer Arianrhod. No problem here, yet, except Corona Borealis is already claimed not just in name but in myth to a certain mortal woman, elevated to deity by a certain other deity. Her name? Ariadne. And please note–the mere fact that they share letters doesn’t mean they’re related, anymore than Santa and Satan. Still…I’ll take this up later. There’s some interesting stuff here.
So, a Crown is also a silver wheel. The stars wheel, and are kind of silver. And there’s also another silver wheel around the moon, a lunar halo. All these and a few other things have been said to relate to Arianrhod.
And…hmm. There are other wheels, too. The moon is sort of a wheel (more a disc, actually, so I tend to ignore this, and besides, Ceridwen’s a bit better with the moon). Also, there are other wheels (carts have them, as do cars now, I’ve heard), and there’s one more wheel that’s worth noting.
One of the fun things about Paganism is that, like other naturalistic philosophies (including Atheism, actually), it takes most of its symbolism from nature. Interacting with nature and studying nature all of the time, rather than computers and celebrities (stars? really?), gives you this huge wealth of symbolism and also lots of oxygen, sunlight, moon- and star-light. And noticing that certain things seem to repeat themselves (the first snow, the first flowering, the first really hot day) on a regular pattern makes one some look for symbols to represent this (this is where pagans and modern scientists tend to differ-scientists like to find ways to predict things and come up with workable and often-accurate theories to do so; pagans often stay with symbols).
Wheels turn. So do seasons (from summer to autumn to winter, etc.), so do days (from light to dark), so does the month (which, when based on the silver disk’s shifting in the night sky, is roughly a 28 day turning, a wheeling within a wheel), and years seem to do so. So does the earth, making both its own turning around an axis as well as a turning around the sun, another wheel within a wheel (though that one’s a bit flat, ellipitical, as it were).
Arianrhod, then, symbolised by a wheel of silver, which is the meaning of her name…what does that mean?
I’ve got the rest of the month to go into that.
1. Though, for those who care, I’m equal parts Reconstructionalist and Revivalist, belonging not very well to either group. The Celtic Recon’s sometimes get stuck on their “back to tradition” beliefs that they miss how a god or goddess is currently being worshipped, and also sometimes get racist; the Revivalists tend to slip too much into Rainbow-Dazzle-Sparkle-Unicorn talk; I like Unicorns, I don’t like Dazzle as much, though sometimes I do.
2. Arian, Ariannaid= Silver; Wheel, Orb, Ecliptic=Rhodau