Arianrhod fech Dôn


An investigation into Arianrhod fech Dôn.

Although Arianrhod is better known through Math vab Mathonowy within the Mabinogion. Arianrhod fach Don according to tradition is the daughter of Beli Mawr. In turn Arainrhod fails Math test to become his foot holder. This relationship has been discussed up to a point with the birth and life of Lleu lawgyffes. Overall there is very scant information available which can inform one further about her role.

The literature simply places Arianrhod at Caer Arianrhod. A reef within Caernarfon Bay, where at low tides white horses dart and play on the surf, giving away its proximity to the observer. Apart from the two trips taken by Gwydion and Lleu to Caer Arianrhod; the first by boat, and the second on horseback. Little else is revealed. However it does raise specific questions. For instant what happened to the sea, if they were able to reach it by horse later? Indeed what can be gleamed from earlier years Bard's concerning Arainrhod, alternatively what do the scholars deduce.

Interesting what becomes apparent is the location of Caer Arianrhod is only derived from the mid 16th century.[i] Folklore also elaborates on Arianrhod having three sisters, who ventures from the Caer. [ii] In turn the absence is indicate to be the reason why the sea submerged the city. Logically this could be a later addition, which followed after its identification in the landscape to explain its loss. Additionally a submerged Caer might lead towards later connection of Arianrhod being identified with the underworld, and not the other world. Together with the tendency to associate Arianrhod to Rhiannon becomes very probable in the bardic tradition or its later revival. However what we could be seeing within the oral tradition is a change developing within it as evident in the triads.[iii] Moreover, awareness of specific branches in the Mabinogion relates to specific regional areas might assist in the subsequently mix and match of regional folklore occurring. [iv]

The Antiquarians and the Celtic Revival period of the 18th to 20th century record associations of Caer Arianrhod located within the constellations.[v] Indeed this is also taken up and followed in later years by popular Celtic commentators, together with its earthly location. Considerations and awareness of possible associations from classical Greek with Ariadne; or those from Viking/Germanic/Anglo Saxon associations of Wyrd, may have converged into the story. Specifically of the association with three sisters causing the submergence of Caer Arianrhod through their absence.

Although the Renaissance period was relative late influencing Wales. Early signs are available but the momentum becomes more prominent later with the early antiquarian and celtic revival movements. Further insights into Arainrhod are available through two prominent Bards one being Tuder Aled, a pencredd (head bard) from early to mid 16th century. The other Lewis Môn also a pencredd from late 15th early 16th century. Although these two bards are from North Wales and pertain to different regional areas, Flintshire/Denbigh and Anglesey, each have a different tradition form associated to Arainrhod. However their individual bardic teachers are also known whom both derived from northeast Wales. One could raise the question of whether these traditional insights were passed from teacher to pupil. Indeed this might be expected in modern perceptions of continuity of any oral tradition. Yet Tuder Aled and Lewis Môn have different perspectives which have survived. So this question of the teacher pupil relationship and the passing of knowledge might be difficult to ascertain in regards to Arianrhod, and become regionally specific.

Tuder Aled position with Arianrhod is very clear. Her mother and father prevent her from venturing into the world; additionally she is jealously guard by her husband; even if she did escape from those watchful eyes. Aled believes people would not see her, as she became visible on the cliff edge, Indeed people were not allowed to cast their eyes upon her! So they would probably not know that she was there.[vi] Some of these themes become relevant within the Mabinogion while others are not. Scholars have related Arianrhod to be the daughter of Belli [vii] equated to Balor, in this specific case. Subsequently due to the Beli literature associations Tuder Aled reduction of the Arianrhod tradition, is considered to be older, when compared to Lewis Mon.[viii]

In contrast Lewis Mon considers Arianrhod in a different context, here she is a maid whom holds a great importance. Indeed Math is indicated to be very dependant on her. Specifically at night when the maiden described as having a “white arm like snow,” acts as a pillow-allowing Math to rest. Yet Lewis potently points out “man might not live without her”. So in Lewis Môn view the concept of Arianrhod being a foot holder to Math, as indicated in the Mabinogion does not appear. Indeed there could be a sense of ambiguity in this redaction depending on individual reader’s perceptions. If one returns to the Antiquarians and Revival period, one could quite easily wonder whether there is a solar or planetary element hidden in Lewis Môn story. Nonetheless one must also consider the other Ynys Môn connection of Goewin fech Peblin who became Math virgin foot holder; whom Gilfaethwy, became besotted over. In itself this event may well post date Arianrhod nomination to become Math foot holder.

During the early 10th and 11th centuries monastic monasteries and associated churches commenced a reform, focused on changing morals and codes of behaviour. Generally it’s a move away from what might be considered regional codes governed by tribal customary law. From regional and early medieval kingships to one, which was governed by codes of conduct acceptable throughout Christendom.[ix] Such momentum saw the folktales adapted to a point to reveal a similar message disseminated by the bards to the local populace. Yet, whether this too is being motivated from European oral bardic tradition is another matter entirely. Indeed Christian theology themes become adapted and incorporated within traditional roles could be a debatable point, specifically after 1066. Irrespectively it’s after this date glimpses of an adaptation of Arianrhod role, which might contribute towards earlier oral and archaic association.

The 'Lai from Brittany' written in the 12th century informs of a tradition concerning a story of an aging lord of Caerwent (South Wales) who locked up his young radiant wife in a silver tower. In turn an older women guarded her, subsequently a knight in the form of a hawk descends through the tower window befriends and falls in love with her. The husband later mortally wounds the hawk/knight in a deception.[x]. It’s interesting in this particular case the tower is surrounded with water. In turn a connection with Arianrhod through comparison to be transferred into the Arthurian Tradition has also been suggested.[xi] Arianrhod isolated on water within her walled silver city or tower, in the other world, becomes the destination of wounded knights carried by a ship; where they can be healed, but the location has also become associated with the Isle of Avalon.

Avalon have been located to various earthly locations perhaps Glastonbury may be a popular choice; alternatively tradition may associate it to Caer Arianrhod. However, may be in today’s world people have forgotten about the stars. Specifically seeing Arianrhod connections to the silver wheel or circumpolar stars and even Corana Bolaris situated on its edge within the northern Hemisphere. The circumpolar stars appear as a circular wheel always visible and rotating on a daily basis in the night sky. Indeed this could stand as a strong contender for the otherworldly location, a circle of stars and island in the sky, always visible as it swings from its nadir to its zenith with the changing of earthly seasons. The visibility of the North Star within the centre has played a major role in shaping various northern hemisphere cultures developing an understanding nature and the world in which they inhabit. Dependent on the period within linear time whether it’s via the classical world or later developing civilisation or even an indigenous culture encased in shamanism. Alternatively with an underlying theme with a belief of returning, in some cases become prevalent. So perhaps the circumpolar stars in this case becomes the real location of Cear Arianrhod.

So what can be deduced from the entomology of the silver Wheel is this indeed just the circumpolar stars or simply another way to describe the Moon? On the other hand, is this an ambiguity used in the bardic tradition within gnormic poetry? Contemplating studies in folklore that have deduced each culture to have their own form of ‘cultural cylinder’ in which access to deities, gods and goddesses, and the ancestors become available.[xii] Such an abstract cylinder can be defined and argued from specific cultures to be in existence via understanding the mythological meaning and relationships. Again within an archaeological contexts where space becomes defined and separated through the construction of monuments, burial mounds, henge and the like. When used by the ritual specialist the ancestors beome accessible through the cultural cylinder, indeed an abstract upright cylinder that connects the earth to the sky and the circumpolar stars with its centre north star. Yet through the expertise of the ancient ritual specialist, the shaman, ovate, awenddion, magician and etc, the living community might also get a glimpse across a bridge and into the void.[xiii]

Yet this may not explain the mode of transport, which Gwydion and Lleu took. There first trip was by boat to Caer Arianrhod. Empirically, sea levels studies within the locality of the Caer have indicated these rose above the present 50m depth sea datum after 7,000 BCE. At that time what has been cited as Care Arianrhod would have been on dry land, and forested. Human occupation within the area has been allusive archaeologically until the Neolithic period. Although further along the north coast evidence of the presence Nethandal man existing in the area is available. It is highly likely that by the time human occupation occurred in the area the encroaching sea levels would of been higher than the 50m sea level datum. Yet the present archaeological evidence of Neolithic settlement is very sparse. Indeed it does increase in the Bronze Age and again becomes more prevalent in the Iron Age. In all probability if Gwydion and Lleu took there trip via a boat to Car Arianrhod the likelihood of it occurring would have been within the Bronze Age. However it also makes the second trip improbable to the same place on horseback, specifically seeing that the sea already surrounds Caer Arianrhod. Yet the ships, which Gwydion conjured up, were gathering and obscured the sea some distance from Caer Arianrhod. This then suggests the sea has not reached the Caer producing an island city and was still accessible via the land. If this is the case it would indicate that the second visit to gain Llue arms was really the first one which they undertook. Accepting that Caer Arianrhod is a location within the landscape historically no older than the 16OO's.

Overall Arianrhod fach Dôn might be seen through various aspects. Whether a goddess, or a female, jealously guarded within a tower denied her freedom. To a place within the landscape attributed to recording the memory of the events in the tale. Additional connections with the Arthurian romance cycle, and the probable projection into the night sky, whether it be the Sun or Moon as Lewis Mon states that no man can live without her; to the associated with the circumpolar stars or the isle of avalon perhaps, with its 'myth of the eternal return.' Maybe the Bardic storytellers knew more about Arainrhod, which was not recorded in its written form, as there appears to be many possibilities which might fit her role, and function.

© Astrocelt 2005

Last updated March 18, 2005


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i] Caer Arianrhod only became identified with this reef since the 16th Century through Humphrey Llwyd who also placed it on the map in early cartography. However, there may appear to be change of name. Edward Lhyud deduced from local enquires the alternative name relating to the same geological feature was known as Caer Anrhod and Caer Anrhad in the 16th century. See Bartrum 1993, p. 87 and Parchiala p. 51

[ii] The three sisters are named as Gwennian, Elan and Maclan bi Don, Rhys J, 19 p. 209.

[iii] See Bomwich

[iv] 4th branch relates to Gwynedd, 1st and 3rd branch Dyfed (Pembokeshire) 2nd Branch Gwent

[v] Northern crown ap Ithel p, 284, or Coron Borealis see Baddas vol II p. 403. Alternatively there is the circle of Arainrhod indicated to be the White Throne which Taliesin sings of in the ‘Song of the Great World’.

[vi] Griffiths, W.J., 1928 p. 1928

[vii] Both WJ Griffiths, J. Rhys makes this connection, as does the tradition. Similarities comparisons between Arianrhod and Eithlin, daughter of Balor in Irish tradition, who was also restricted to a tower could also be relevant in this case. However the question is when new deities are approached by another culture. The only way they can be understood is through comparison of the culture attempting to evaluate indigenous ideas of understanding their world. That is not to say this is the case where the scholars are concerned, but in the past when different cultures may have sway over another.

[viii] See Griffiths W.J. p. 194-5

[ix] England under the Angevin Kings 1075-1225

[x] Although later folktales such as recorded by the Grime brothers within Germanic folktales such as Rapunzel exhibit similar themes. Although its written recording is much later.

[xi] See Rhys

[xii] Deduced through measurement of the breath and depth, where mythic constructs display and harness a conceptual universe that allows empirical and transcendent deductions of the mythic universe. see Levi-Strauss C 1971; Parker Pearson and Richards C., (1994).

[xiii] There are two types of cultural knowlege which are interchangable, traditional natural philosophy, or experimental and empirical, the other mythical with cosmic associations which have metaphoric value. Although viewed as sparate items, when displayed in culture and ritual they combine together creating a whole, producing estatic states of cognitive transcendace.

Arianrhod, Celtic, Druid, Druidry, Wales,
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Eadha Deora's picture

lol ... well I particularly

lol ... well I particularly read the ones about Wales/Welsh stuff .. I think the information is getting better and better actually. Deliberate? LOL oh my, it reminds me of one of my teacher's who does deliberate mistakes to see how on the ball we are in class. Heh!

Astrocelt's picture


Nice to see someone is reading these articles, ah you found the deliberate mistake too! Fantastic. Laughing

Eadha Deora's picture


Isn't her name "Arianrhod"? .... :) 

Same with "Caer Arianrhod" etc

Not being arsey, lol. Loved this article! Has given me a lot to think about as well as some good information I didn't know before. Thanks.