Feathers and Petals: A Blodeuwedd Devotional
Blodeuwedd was the woman made of flowers, who became an owl.
Blodeuwedd isn’t designated as a deity in her original myth (which appears in the fourth branch of the Mabinogion – the first written collection of Welsh myths and stories). Nowhere does it say she was a goddess, but what it does say is how she was created from oak, broom, and meadowsweet flowers solely to be the wife of Lleu Llaw Gyffes, a son of Arianrhod (who is also now commonly viewed as a goddess). She then rebelled against the life she was made to live, attempts to kill her husband and run away with a lad she loves for himself, not because she’s forced to love him – only to be caught and turned into an owl, forbidden to come out in the daytime ever again.
This is the nature of stories, of myths – the good ones last, and their meanings are ever-shifting and nuanced. It doesn’t matter to me, as a writer obsessed with the spiritual, if she was a deity in those tales or not. She represents powerful things. The stories – and the characters in them – become inspiration worthy of devotion, whatever the original intention. Blodeuwedd is a goddess of mine for what she represents (and is a goddess to many other modern pagans).
It’s worth pointing out she has a fair amount in common with Persephone of Greek mythology fame: in the rebellion, the association with spring and growth and life, the idea that striking out away from someone with authority over them (husband or mother) leads to darkness, and in fact in the light/dark balance of their tales. If a flower maiden with a less innocent side appeals to you, it’s very much a personal choice of which one it will be. Blodeuwedd resonates with me most strongly as an expression of power, despite knowing her transformation was intended as a ‘punishment.’
Blodeuwedd was created to love one man; that was her original purpose in life. She found a way to assert her own wants and needs, and they think the best way to teach her a lesson is by turning her into an owl? Even in the brilliant, classic YA fantasy The Owl Service by Alan Garner, the darkness in Blodeuwedd-as-owl is depicted as a negative. In my own heart I see her transformation as a positive, as an evolution. Flowers to owls is a woman coming into her power. Pretty petals to bird of prey? Oak, broom, and meadowsweet have their value and are forces of nature, of course – but an owl is another level, a creature with deep wisdom and insight. Not to mention claws and a killer instinct.
But the best part about Blodeuwedd, in my spiritual practice, is that she is forever both flowers and owl in our imaginations. She is the gentle promise of summer, and she is strong. She is feeling something is right with all your being as well as having the organisation to move it forward. A good friend of mine created the print to the left depicting this blend of floral and avian – it hangs on the door of the cupboard where I keep my tarot and oracle cards and scribble-witch notebooks.
(Incidentally I also write my notes for my Pussy Magic blogs in a Blodeuwedd notebook. She – or her owl form – pops up everywhere around here.)
While I can connect very deeply with Blodeuwedd at any time, it is never stronger than in May. Beltane opens the gates and the spring-summer cross-season bursts through. Outside, as I write this, it’s chilly and grey, and the rain is falling, tapping the windows to get my attention (that’s the north of England for you). But the world is also green and growing. Everything feels more alive than it did in April. The energy is waxing, sending us towards the height and heart of midsummer. Blodeuwedd energy – the energy that says ‘I am worth more than this, and I will walk my own path’ – is right there, asking you if you’re ready for it. It’s in the dandelions growing wherever the hell they want, knowing they aren’t the weeds our modern world says they are. It’s in the slowly strengthening sun. It’s in the birds flying north again. And it’s in us, if we welcome it.
I’ll leave you this time with part one of a poem I wrote a year or two ago concerning Blodeuwedd, Arianrhod, and Ceridwen. I have plans for the other two goddesses in the trio to make an appearance here at some point in the future, but for now Blodeuwedd gets to have her say. She knows I’m always listening. Maybe some of you are (or will be), too.
from ‘Feathers, petals, fur, and bone’
Beneath the sun-captured
musk of meadowsweet
dusting her skin, holding
the heat of June, you catch
the musty scent of owl
flesh between feathers,
a last flash for the shrew
on its first and final flight.
(Full poem first published in Eternal Haunted Summer, and later in my chapbook Land and Sea and Turning (CWP Collective Press, 2018)).
Born in Southern Ohio, but settled in the UK since 1999, Kate is a writer, witch, editor and mother of five. She is the author of several poetry pamphlets, and the founding editor of four web journals and a micropress.
Her witchcraft is a blend of her great-grandmother's Appalachian ways and the Anglo-Celtic craft of the country she now calls home – though she incorporates tarot, astrology, and her ancestors, plus music, film, books, and many other things into her practice. Her spiritual life is best described as queer Christopagan with emphasis on the feminine and the natural world. She believes magic is everywhere.
Find Kate on twitter and IG - @mskateybelle - and at her website.