One of the things that myths give us, are stories that we can use to measure and make sense of our own lives. Relating personal experience to mythic archetypes it can be possible to find ways through hard times, answers to challenging questions, and ways of being. We can take the myths as role models, or as ‘what not to do’. Most of us will find times in our lives when we are out of inspiration, hope, or a sense of direction. In seeking mythic parallels, we can find answers to that, or at least the sense that others have faced challenges before and survived.
This is a notion I’ve been contemplating for a while, thinking about how pagan writers use myths to explore contemporary life – Emma Restall Orr uses the theme of Gawain and the Loathly Lady extensively to explore ideas of femininity in Kissing the Hag while Kevan Manwaring uses the Taliesin myth to explore his own bardic path in The Way of Awen. This is something any of us can do, at any time, for any reason. What prompted me to think of it was a suggestion from Ness on facebook (thanks Ness!) that I put my trials into the hands of a goddess for a while.
Crashed out for an hour this afternoon, I contemplated the stories of goddesses, and waited for inspiration. I remembered the story of Rhiannon- falsely accused of killing her child, and then made to bear people on her back like a horse, and tell her story to them. It would be fair to say that there are no close parallels between that and my own life, but it is story about endurance, staying true to yourself, and justice being done in the end.
Rhiannon endures with good grace. Her circumstances make me think of modern women accused of infanticide because their children have died from cot death. There were some high profile cases in the UK a few years ago. It’s the worst thing that could happen to a mother – to lose your child and then be blamed for it. Rhiannon is blamed. She has no way of defending herself and does not even know what has happened. She has no way of resolving things. All she can do, is endure with good grace, which she does, and tell her story.
There is a power in telling stories. In the end, the stolen child is recovered, Rhiannon’s good name is restored to her, and the real villain is punished. This is only possible because she has endured, she has survived and lived long enough to see things righted.
Normally I tend to favour active solutions to problems, rather than characters who wait for a rescuer, or for fate to return the balance. I don’t have a very trusting nature, and I feel safer when I’m doing something. But Rhiannon’s is a tale in which there is no scope for doing anything at all. There are no clues, nothing to go on. She’s not like Demeter, who is able to go and seek information about the missing Persephone. The child has gone, and there is no one who can tell Rhiannon how, aside from the mysterious thief. Rhiannon’s is a tale of powerlessness, and if any character had justification to despair, she would be the one. And yet, she gets through, somehow.
This is a story about not giving up, even when there is no visible reason for hope. That’s a very powerful message to turn to when there seems to be no way forward. It is also a tale about grace and a certain kind of quiet courage. Rhiannon does not dishonour herself in any way, despite what she is made to endure. She shoulders her burdens, literally, and she gets through. So may we all.