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English teacher interested in language and culture, and also in fiction using magic, myth, folklore and the supernatural. Now teaching part-time in a Leicester Upper School (ages 14-19) and also writing for children, teens and teachers.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Midweek Magic: Spring Lore 1 - Blodeuwedd















Since it's starting to feel properly Spring-like, I thought I'd bring some Spring-related stories and lore to this spot.  And as the flowers of the season are starting to show themselves, I've been thinking of the story of Blodeuwedd.

In the Welsh myth cycle, The Mabinogion, is Blodeuwedd's story - of her creation and her undoing.

She is created out of flowers (oak, broom and meadowsweet) to be a wife to Llew, whose mother Arianrhod has cursed him never to marry a human woman.  This is the third curse she has placed upon him, as the first two have been foiled by her brother, the magician Gwydion, and her uncle, Math.  Blodeuwedd is said to mean 'flower face'.

What's interesting to my mind is the later part of this story, where Blodeuwedd falls in love with another man -    Gronw - and they conspire to kill Llew, who can only die under a very specific and bizarre set of circumstances.  Llew can only die if he is: neither by day nor by night, neither indoors nor outdoors, neither riding nor walking, neither clothed nor naked and not by any lawfully-made weapon.  Blodeuwedd tricks Llew into telling her how he can be killed, feigning wifely concern, and (of course) shares this information with Gronw.  Since producing the unlawfully-made weapon will take a year (it must be produced while people are supposed to be in church), Blodeuwedd checks the exact circumstances under which Llew could die a year later, persuading him to demonstrate just how unlikely a set of circumstances these are.  Naturally, Gronw happens along and attempts to kill Llew (who turns into an eagle), for which Gronw is put to death.  For her part, Blodeuwedd is punished by being turned into an owl, and to have no friend among the other birds - this is why owls are only seen at night, for Blodeuwedd is not permitted to enjoy the light of day.

OK, the end of this story is, admittedly, not in the least Spring-like.  But Blodeuwedd is seen by many as a Maiden Goddess, related to Spring - probably at least because she is formed of delicate flowers.  What I find interesting is the punishment brought against her for not remaining faithful to a husband whom she hadn't chosen.  She can also be defended as a being of Nature (in the most literal sense), and therefore not subject to human codes of behaviour.

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There is an interesting analysis/explanation of the story at the OBOD website here.

If you enjoy your myths sung, I would recommend the music of Damh the Bard, who has several songs featuring Blodeuwedd: "Blodeuwedd" and "Cloak of Feathers", on the album "Herne's Apprentice" are inspired by her story, while "Oak, Broom and Meadowsweet", on the album "Spirit of Albion" tells the story of her creation very effectively.

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