Tag Archives: Blodeuwedd

Ogham – Tinne: Holly

400 yr old Holly at Greencombe, Porlock

T – Tinne: Holly

The Moon-month for Tinne runs from 8 Jul – 4 Aug

The holly tree at Greencombe, Porlock, Exmoor, is anciet and very magical. I’ve sat within his multi-stemmed grove and dreamed several times.

Holly is the tree of the Tánaiste – the twin and often the killer of the king.

What is a Tánaiste?

This is from wiki and may surprise you J …

The Tánaiste (Irish pronunciation: [ˈtɑːnəʃtʲə]; plural: Tánaistí [ˈtɑːnəʃtʲiː]), or, more formally, An Tánaiste[2], is the deputy prime minister of Ireland. The Taoiseach (prime minister) nominates a member of the government to the position of Tánaiste. The current Tánaiste is Mary Coughlan, TD. TánaisteIrish word for the heir of the chief ( was originally the taoiseach) or king (rí), under the Gaelic system of tanistry. Before independence, the British Viceroy was sometimes referred to in the Irish language as An Tánaiste-Ri, literally ‘the deputy king’.

The office was created in the 1937 Constitution of Ireland, replacing the previous office of Vice-President of the Executive Council that had existed under the Free State constitution. The Tánaiste acts in the place of the Taoiseach during his or her temporary absence, and, until a successor has been appointed, in the event of the Taoiseach’s death or permanent incapacitation.

Holly berries

However, the role of Tánaiste is far older than 1937.  Two of the most famous holders of the office are Gawain who was Arthur’s Tánaiste and Gronw who was Tánaiste to Llew Llaw Gyffes. In the latter case Gronw is called to kill Llew in order to open him from being a personality-oriented brat so that he can become king, it is part of Blodeuwedd’s training of him. Blodeuwedd is the Queen of the Night and Lady of Dreams who agreed to inhabit the body made for her from nine flowers by Math and Gwydion in order to find a wife for Llew.

This is a complex story that has been much dumbed-down by Victorian and later writers who have made Blodeuwedd to be a soulless, heartless trollop who cheats on her man. Such is not at all the case. Blodeuwedd is a powerful goddess and initiator, a king-maker, one who draws us from the illusion of form into the reality of essence. Her totem, the owl, is the wise bird of legend, one who can see in the dark and the barn owl – with the heart-shaped face assigned to Blodeuwedd – is able to fly silently and to pinpoint the smallest sound with her incredible hearing. Ponder on the symbology of all that for a goddess … and for what she can see and draw out of you.

Back to the Tánaiste … the wiki piece above says the Tánaiste was the deputy-king, and indeed that was so, but what does it mean and how is it relevant to us?

second-in-command, assistant, agent, representative, helper, supporter, envoy, emissary, ambassador, negotiator, mediator … these are some of the offerings for the word deputy from the Thesaurus. All are relevant and pondering on them will give you more of an idea of what it is to be Tánaiste. Both Gawain and Gronw are these to their respective kings.

I recently gave you the story of Ragnall’s Wedding where Gawain takes on the job of marrying Ragnall in her hag-form in order to get the answer to the questions “What do women most desire?”, and so save Arthur’s life. It’s a wonderful story and shows what all beings, creatures, people want … the ability to choose. Gawain is vital to this as are his qualities of perception and generosity, and his willingness to ask, to hand over decisions to another when appropriate.

Gronw usually suffers badly at the hands of story-tellers, becoming the cuckolder, the stealer of another man’s wife, the nasty piece of work. He’s none of these things. Without him, Llew would continue in his hunting and pleasuring and never take the slightest care of the Land … and for the Celts, the Land is the Goddess who is our whole care and duty. You can see Llew, until Gronw speared him, was a complete waste of space as far as being guardian to the goddess was concerned!

Robert Graves gives the line for Tinne, in the Song of Amergin as …

I am a Spear: that roars for blood

This is the spear that Gronw makes, with Blodeuwedd’s help, in order to drink the blood and pierce the ego of Llew, so drawing him into his totem, the eagle, and forcing him into aloneness in the wilderness of the eagle-mountain, Mother Snowdon, to find himself as king. Without Gronw spearing him he would have been useless.

Often, the Tánaiste is also the “twin”, and his twin’s executioner as Gronw is in the this story. There are many Celtic stories of  twins, usually a dark one and a light one … the ubiquitous two sides of one coin that permeates the whole of the Celtic tradition.

These two heads are the same … if you turn one upside-down you get the other. They were inscribed on coins from the Celtic period.

The relationship of Tánaiste to king is like this, they are two sides of one coin.


There is much lore about holly in the British tradition and it is a magnificent tree if allowed to grow to its full height, often 50ft.

Holly King by Christopher Bell

In Celtic grammarye the Holly King is the Green Knight of “Gawain and the Green Knight”. Gawain is Arthur’s Tánaiste who, as we’ve seen, takes the king’s place in dangerous adventures. You’ll remember the story of the Green Knight coming to Arthur’s hall at Yule, carrying a holly bush as his totem, and demanding to be beheaded? Gawain complies and so incurs the duty to find the Green Knight again and allow himself to be beheaded in his turn.

I’ll do the story later.

Holly is also sacred to Llew and one of the Celtic symbols for this tree is the Flaming Spear … after Gronw’s spear that transmuted him from boy into king.

Holly is the first moon of the dark half of the year – i.e. after the midsummer solstice when the days begin to get shorter again. This is significant of the mythos of the Oak King, slain by his twin, Tánaiste, the Holly King. The Holly King then rules until the midwinter solstice when he, in his turn, is slain by his Tánaiste, the Oak King. Oak and Holly are again two sides of the same coin, the end of one cycle being the beginning of the next.

The old yuletide carol – much older than Christmas – says, “of all the Trees that are in the Wood, the Holly bears the Crown” … a good thought to finish on.


Elen Sentier
… behind every gifted woman there’s usually a rather talented cat …
writer artist gardener shaman
My Blog
Contact Me WordpressFacebookYoutubeMySpaceTwitterAmazonLinkedinFlickr
Celtic shaman – Elen Sentier Coughing up bones …

Blodeuwedd’s Song

Following along the owls theme… this poem was written back when I was about seventeen, and is one of the few things from my early writing days that I still like. Although I wasn’t conscious of it at the time ‘I am’ is a technique used by bards, modern and old, as a way of getting closer to a subject. ‘I am the stag of seven tines’. It’s a very simple way of invoking/evoking the spirit you want to work with.

As mentioned yesterday, I was from an early age enchanted by Alan Garner’s The Owl Service, in which ancient Welsh myth replays itself through three young folk. The idea that the myths might be real things, that take over lives and reinvent themselves, appealed to me. It still appeals to the author in me, although these days I have far less inclination to see myself as doomed anti-heroine material! However, the myths do give s archetypes to work with, and narratives that at times can help us make sense of our own lives. Working with the meanings, symbols and shapes of mythic tales can be helpful as part of the personal journey and quest for wisdom and understanding. So, this is a poem about Blodeuwedd, The Owl Service, the idea of being taken over by myth, and my belief that being turned into an owl is freedom, not punnishment.

Blodeuwedd’s Song

I was flowers, paint me owls, set me free.

Too long in soft sweet innocence I reach for wings and talons.

Face of flowers, born of flowers, broom oak and meadowsweet.

I am ageless, I am timeless. If you love me, set me free.

This my ancient, burning magic, dreams that shape insanity.

Too long in the daylight, I long to kill and fly through trees.

This is my disturbed protection, reality in terror rules.

Hide behind my imagination to be there when the veil falls.

A sorrow, tragic bitter myth I have with choice instead of life.

To hide behind the msyteries and fly in silence through the night.

Give me eyes to see forever, give me grace and time to be,

Believing, in the darkness. If you love me, set me free.

Bitter love first made me owls, owls still are part of me,

Dancing crazy through this lifetime, living mostly in my dreams.

I am owls, I am flowers, each with time my state of mind.

I am mad, but this ploy’s working.

While I’m crazy, I am free.

Life with Owls

I must have been about eight when Dad first read Alan Garner’s ‘The Owl Service’ to me. Enchanted by the story, and finding it well and truly under my skin, I gobbled up the Kevin Crossley Holland Mabinogian, and from that point, owls and Blodeuwedd were very much with me.

For those not familiar with the stories, Blodeuwedd is made out of flowers by two magicians, for a man who’s mother cursed him such that he would have no wife of mortal race. She falls in love with someone else, arranges her husband’s murder and is punished by being turned into an owl. (It’s a long, complex, magical story and worth reading properly.) I found her story resonant and it travelled with me through the challenges of my teenage years. The traditional interpretation of Blodeuwedd is of betrayer, corrupter, cheat. To me, she was a wronged creature, made to serve another but not made to love him, neglected, seeking love elsewhere and betrayed by her lover. For me, turning from flower maiden into owl always seemed like freedom and escape. Blodeuwedd might also be seen as representing humanity’s desire to shape, control and direct nature, and the ultimate futility of so doing. It’s a story that resonates on many levels.

There have been several defining moments in my relationship with Blodeuwedd and owls. The first came at Clun Green Man day, quite some years ago, when I opted to sit in on a concert from some bloke I’d never heard of, and he proceeded to sing about Blodeuwedd in a way that echoed my own thoughts about her. I was stunned, brought close to tears, and filled with the realisation that it wasn’t just me. ‘Some bloke’ turned out to be Damh the Bard – who has been a significant influence on my journey down the bardic and druidic paths. Here’s one of his songs, telling the story

Event number two, happened at Birmingham museum, when an ancient figure from a country that would now be part of Iraq was brought there. We were at war with Iraq, and Bobcat and Honouring the Ancient Dead arranged a gathering at the museum. (More here – http://www.honour.org.uk/node/256) The goddess depicted on the tablet, had owl wings. A different owl goddess from my own, but a figure I felt moved to encounter. It was the first time I looked into the darkness, before a plunging down into some devastatingly hard times. In that moment of encounter, I had a sense of the challenges to come, although not the specific form they would take. I sang. I have a song from my teens about Blodeuwedd, which was wholly inappropriate. I rewrote it as I sang it in honour of The Queen of The Night. I have no idea how, or what I sang, but it felt right. It was the first time that kind of wild improvising had happened to me in ritual, but by no means the last.

Event number three came as part of the OBOD druid course – www.druidry.org The visualisation that sparked it was a simple one, inviting us to reach out to an animal guide. Although there are many creatures that inspire me, owls retain a special place in my heart. So, there I was, meditating quietly, contemplating owls, when a profound sense of owlness came to me. Shortly followed by an even more profound sense of being swallowed whole by it. Now, meditation can just be a brain workout or a way of being calm, but sometimes it’s a much deeper, more affecting experience. This was one such occasion. I was inside the owl. I stayed inside the owl for several days, stumbling through my regular life in a state of bewilderment and disorientation, until eventually it coughed me up. An experience that taught me to take these things seriously, and that marked me in far deeper way.

I’ll post the song tomorrow.

Pagan Holidays for April 30, 2010

In Northern Germany and Scandinavian Countries, today was known as Walpurgis Night—sacred to Witches.

Tonight is the Eve of Beltane, a Pagan Sabbath which exists now even today. The Celtics knew that on this night Spirits were afoot. And once long ago, people would place the branches of the rowan across their doors and windows. It is said that if you sit for a spell underneath a tree this night, you may just see the Queen of the fairies, or at least hear the passing of her throne.

The Welsh will be having an Observance for their Goddess Blodeuwedd. Now here is an interesting story….

This Goddess was created by the God Gwydion. The purpose of making her was clear. She was to be the wife of another god named Llew Llaw Gyffes. Now, naturally, this totally ticked Blodeuwedd off. She had no desire to be the the property of any god. Plus, she accidently fell in love with the God who created her  (Gwydion) so this didn’t help matters at all. And to make the situation worse, he also fell in love with her. So what were these star crossed lovers to do?

Well, the only darn thing they could do. They devised a plan and tricked Llew Llaw Gyffes into getting killed but unfortunately, he managed to find a way to return. In all his anger he rid of Gwydion and cursed Blodeuwedd to live in the form of an owl, hunting during the night and living out her existence in solitude.

Sometimes it sucks to be a deity.




Coming Soon from Noble Romance Publishing Click to Purchase