The Tale of Lleu, Chapter VIII: Samhain
When Blodeuwedd heard that Gwydion was coming in search of vengeance for the death of Lleu, she took with her an accompaniment of her maidens and left Ardudwy, crossing the River Cynfael and fleeing with them into the mountains.
So fearful was their haste that they could not but face backwards as they fled, and thus did they pay poor attention to where they were going. Unawares, they fell into a lake high up in the foothills, and all were drowned to a woman, except for Blodeuwedd herself.
After a long pursuit through the chill night, where in her flight, Blodeuwedd left a trail of white flowers that now marks the Milky Way, Gwydion caught up to Blodeuwedd, and captured her.
Gwydion said, “I shall not slay you, Blodeuwedd. And yet, I shall do you worse. I shall turn you into a bird, but from this moment on, you shall not while the Winter lasts show your face in the light of day. To the night that you have doomed the Earth, you shall be thus confined, and it shall be in the nature of other birds to attack you, and drive you out from wherever they may find you, until light has returned again to the land. You will not lose your name, you will always be known as Blodeuwedd.”
These words, spoken by Gwydion, were words of power, and before him, Blodeuwedd changed from a beautiful woman into the form of an owl. And to this day, in fulfillment of Gwydion’s promise, owls are still called “Blodeuwedd” in the land of Wales.
But, my friends, things are not ever quite so simple as all of that. We have heard the words of Gwydion, and of Math, we have heard the words of Arianrhod and of Gronw.
Let us now hear from Blodeuwedd, and know the truth of matters.
The Druids called it a curse
When I shed my flower-flesh to grow feathers
When the sunlight bled from my broom-colored hair
Transforming my eyes to golden orbs
Huge as the Harvest moon, hungry to swallow the sky.
Those so-called wizards tearing at the ground
My spirit ripped from embracing earth
Motherless, conjured for human lust,
Bound in flawless, soul-less petal-flesh
Married to the Sun
Without the sweet green mercy of shade,
Without the dignity of my own roots.
He crushed the slender stalks of my limbs
Blistered with kisses my dewy petal-tender skin
There was no illusion of passion, no futile cries
From a throat so recently innocent of breath,
Remembering only the taste of rain and air.
Yet somehow the Moon heard and came to me,
Cool and smooth, a lover, a healer
Pouring over me her silver elixir,
Renewing my roots, re-forming my thorns
In the chilling wind she whispered, “Do not despair!”
“They cannot hurt you.
They see only the vegetable flesh of their own creation,
Not the mind and magic lurking beneath the skin.
Bloom, my child, release your seducing perfume
Let my foolish son believe
That you revolve around him.
There is one among them who will set you free
Gnarled and brown, brother to the hard winter oaks
Go to him and work your revenge
And when the time comes, I will come for you.”
And yes, I know you have heard this part of the story.
How the young flower-bride conspired
For her almost immortal husband to be slain
The struggle as old as time – the young Lord of Summer
Betrayed by beauty he thought conquered –
Falls to the wily Winter Lord’s spear.
And in one year and a day, rise to slay his slayer
Perpetual battle, the cycle of the Seasons.
Yes, the story is true in all but its ending –
It was not a wizard’s spell that gave me wings,
Not the druid’s retribution that gave me swift, inevitable claws.
It was the moon in my roots
Transmuting the illusion of woman’s flesh to silver feathers
Ironic petals so delicately framing this avian face.
Is it any wonder that I love her,
Riding her skies in the wind of December
Far above the mortal world and its battles and schemes?
No, it was no curse, that I who dined on maiden’s morsels
Fed to me from golden plates by besotted kings
Now revel in the scent of mouse-blood,
Small bones crunching under musty fur,
Taste of mushrooms and humus,
The nocturnal stories of life underground.
You know this when you marvel at my sweeping shadow,
When you shiver at the sound of my ecstatic cry
Floating high and white in the sky like snow
The silver shudder of moonlight transmuted into sound.
You will know this and more if you dare
To brave the winter winds of your human soul
To look into the mirror of my sulfur-colored eyes
And meet the fierce and hungry spirit
Behind my fair flower face.
Little did Gwydion know, that in spite of all his mastery of the Three Magicks, it was not he who changed Blodeuwedd’s form, but she herself. For now, the time was right for Blodeuwedd to transcend the form that had been chosen for her by eager men, and to become, for a time, as harsh as the Winter she created, to fulfill the weave and the weft that Arianrhod had spun long ago. We have seen the hard price of escaping her Fate by trickery and magick, now we see the reward of embracing Arianrhod’s pattern.
As the moon flashes in Blodeuwedd’s owl eyes, reflected are the changes of the seasons, for within the heart of Blodeuwedd lies the Spirit of the Earth.
Blodeuwedd, like the Earth, must for a while abide in the frozen night of Winter, until an ancient curse is fulfilled, and the sunlight is rekindled with a song.
But that is another tale, for another time.
(I cannot thank Mare enough for contributing her poem to this Sabbat’s chapter of the Tale of Lleu. I am eternally grateful for her very enlightening perspective.)