The Shifting Identities of the Gods

“On an island lives the King of Annwn with a mysterious woman and no-one knows whether she is his sister, his beloved, his wife, his queen, or his daughter.”

These were words gifted to me at the beginning of a drumming journey that I undertook with the guidance of my patron god, Gwyn ap Nudd, a King of Annwn/Faerie, after asking him about the links I have intuited between his sister and beloved, Creiddylad, the mare goddess, Rhiannon, and the mother goddess, Modron.

There is little written about Creiddylad, but we know, like Rhiannon, she is a Queen of Annwn. As I have got to know her Creiddylad has revealed she is also associated with roses and horses. One of her names is ‘First Rose’ and she rides and takes the form of a white winged horse. Parallels exist between Rhiannon giving birth to Pryderi and him disappearing the same night as a foal is captured by a monstrous claw and Modron giving birth to Mabon, who is stolen away when he is three nights old. Whilst Creiddylad and Rhiannon are consorts of the King of Annwn, Modron is his daugher.

My journey resulted in the series of visions recorded in my poem ‘The Baby’s Gone’. My gnosis suggests Creiddylad, Rhiannon, and Modron are the same goddess with shifting identities.

Further, in the ‘Rose Queen Triptych’ I was inspired to draw, Creiddylad, ‘The Rose Maiden’, shifts into Rhiannon, ‘The Rose Queen’, then into the Mari Llwyd, ‘The Bone Mare’.

This didn’t come as a great surprise as I had similar experiences with Gwyn. When I first came to polytheism about ten years ago I regarded myself to be a hard polytheist (someone who believes the gods are real individual persons) as opposed to a soft polytheist (someone who believes the gods are aspects of a single god or goddess or psychological archetypes). I still stand by that belief, however, it has become a lot more fluid.

One of the defining characteristics of the gods across cultures is that individual deities have many names and titles. A prime example is the Norse god, Odin. Over forty of his names are recorded in The Poetic Edda alone and he is known by many more in other texts. The Greek goddess, Demeter, possesses several epithets such as aganippe ‘night mare’ and chloe ‘the green shoot’.

Gwyn first revealed himself to me by that name as the King of Annwn/Faerie in 2012. After our initial meeting I made my main focus the myths in which he is known as Gwyn but swiftly found he lay behind a number of our Fairy King and Wild Huntsman legends in Lancashire and my past experiences with the fay and the faerie realm.

My experience of dedicating myself to Gwyn at the cauldron-like White Spring beneath Glastonbury Tor confirmed the links I had made between Gwyn feasting on Glastonbury Tor in The Life of St Collen and Pen Annwn presiding over a mead-feast with his cauldron were correct.

I was far more cautious about equating Gwyn with other Kings of Annwn. However, as I worked with the myths, intuiting the similarities between Gwyn and Arawn, both of whom are huntsmen who preside over otherworldly feasts, have beautiful brides, and fight a seasonal battle against a summer god each year, I found myself inhabiting their overlapping tales.

In one instance, in a dream, I was thrust into the role of Pwyll, who took the identity of Arawn in Annwn and had to fight Arawn’s battle, in Arawn’s form, against his rival, Hafgan. Only, in my dream I was taking the role of Gwyn and was preparing to battle against Gwythyr. This resulted in my poem ‘If I Had To Fight Your Battle’. In another, as I was walking my local landscape in winter, I felt for a moment like Arawn-as-Pwyll making a circuit of a thiswordly kingdom, only my identity became conjoined, instead, with Gwyn’s as Winter’s King. Again, I recorded my experience in a poem: ‘Winter Kingdom’. To me this proves Gwyn ‘White’ and Arawn (whose name a translation has not been agreed on) are names or titles of the same god who has shifting identities across time and place.

Similar experiences from intuiting links in the myths and being gifted with poems and visions have led me to believe the King of Annwn goes by many other names. These include Afallach, the Apple King who presides over Avalon and Melwas who shares similar associations with Glastonbury, Llwyd ‘Grey’ who puts an enchantment on the land and abducts Rhiannon and Pryderi in The Mabinogion, Brenin Llwyd, ‘The Grey King’ who haunts the misty Snowdonian mountains, Ugnach, a figure with ‘white hounds’ and ‘great horns’ whose otherworld feast Taliesin refuses to attend, and Ogyrven the Giant, who presides over the spirits of inspiration.

Additionally, the King of Annwn spoke to me directly of his shifting identities in this poem:

I speak from the infinite
joining of the circle
as the snake bites its tail

the moment of awen
in every always of the universe

the sea behind the sea
the land behind the land
the sun behind the sun.

I come from many deaths.
From many deaths
I am reborn.

Dis, Vindonnus, Vindos,
Llwyd, Brenin Llwyd, Arawn,
Ugnach, Melwas, Ogyrven.

Across the sea I am Finn.
For tonight I am Gwyn.

Thus it is unsurprising his consort, the Queen of Annwn, has many shifting identities too.

Interestingly, when I was involved with Dun Brython, it was very much Rhiannon/Rigantona who brought the group together in the beginning and I came later as a devotee of Gwyn. One of the other members also had a strong relationship with Gwyn and it was member Greg Hill’s translations of poems featuring Ogyrven and Ugnach that helped me decipher the aforementioned connections. When Greg and I set up the Awen ac Awenydd group many other Gwyn devotees were drawn to it and the King and Queen of Annwn feel very central to the Brythonic tradition in the modern day.

12 thoughts on “The Shifting Identities of the Gods

  1. potiapitchford says:

    I’ve had similar experiences with other deities, most notably Brighid/Brigantia. I get the impression that we flesh bags too often see boundaries where those without flesh don’t. Where is the boundary between the river and the sea? Or the mountain and the plain? As physical life forms we have boundaries to ourselves but our identities still shift – mother, daughter, friend, beloved, druid, priest…

    • Victoria says:

      Agreed! And our various languages also separate us.
      What tongue do the Kings and Queens of Annwn use when they feast together? Is it a song of pure energy, pure fecundity, translated into language only by our inept ears, tied to a geographic locale poorly by a faulted human understanding?

  2. OrderInTheQuartz says:

    Yes, while being a Polytheist who very much believes in individual Gods and Goddesses, I get some startling fluidity from certain Deities. Sometimes the late-age names we have left seem to create boxes in the human mind, but the Deity flows in and out and around those boxes, contrary to expectations. This is not always easy on my currently incarnate human mind and heart, but I do try to–albeit slowly and cautiously–respect and follow Their lead. It is a journey!

  3. Victoria says:

    I had a thought about Hellebores as the First Rose.
    I preface this all by saying I am not well versed in anything, save some gardening where the plants of witches have called me deeply.
    Some etymology suggests that this plant is named “helle” fawn (Faun) “bora” food. I see Fauns. Food of the Fauns. Other etymology suggests “helle” poison/kill “bora” food. Some say her poison resembles the effect of the poison of certain toads.
    I say this in response to fluid polytheism and my confusion regarding pantheons.
    Gwyn called me, came knocking loudly, and I didn’t even know his name at the time. Once I met him, I knew that my Welsh heritage had opened a doorway and I was confused when Hecate also introduced herself.
    As a Queen of the Underworld, I could see a connection but still separate pantheons seemed, well, separate.
    Last night I asked the Dreaming Time to show me what the element “earth” is. I dreamt of Christmas, singing songs as the words came to me. Words that were a call to unity. Words that were funny, punny, and set forth on an unsteady voice that gathered itself in a wavering vibrato. “Christmas” always reminds me of Annwn: the white snow representing the white, light, the gwyn. The seasonal cold when everything turns inward and under. The respite and the true growing.
    Your writing and words inspired by Gwyn have opened another doorway into understanding that the Kings and Queens of Annwn, while presenting specifically to geographical Earth locations in one form, perhaps all call home the Earth Planet, into which life was breathed as Titans fell from the sky and ignited the cosmic dance of awareness for Gaia.
    Beneath our feet, the mycelium neurons connect all geographic expressions of Annwn and the Kings and Queens who carry that awareness shift their names and shapes in a synaptic dance as needed.
    As a student of Tarot, I heard “speak the language of the deck.”
    Do our gracious Underworld Kings and Queens know one another, become one another, to speak the language of our deck?

    • lornasmithers says:

      Interesting… I see hellebores is also known as “winter rose”, “Christmas rose” and “Lenten rose” and seems to fit with the imagery you’ve received. Thanks for sharing a little about your experiences with and perceptions of Gwyn and the otherworld deities.

  4. Thornsilver says:

    This post resonates with me so deeply. I’ve gone overall from soft to harder polytheism but years ago I started to have a sense that it really wasn’t up to me to tell the Deities when They’re allowed to syncretize with each other. That understanding started with my experience of meeting Gwyn as a face of the Horned God (in Wicca), and then more recently finding out that the Horned God wasn’t only “wingmanning” for Gwyn sometimes, but was always connecting me to Gwyn, through Himself, even when I interacted with other faces/aspects. So now I also understand Deities to have a certain fluidity and think my own best practice is just asking “Are You the same as XYZ, right now, for me?”

    It’s been difficult to wrap my head around all that, but one helpful thing Gwyn told me is to think of things as being defined by the center rather than the edges. So, the core of who these beings are, rather than the exact boundaries between them. At first I felt He was helping me learn to see Him as Gwyn, and keeping me away from running after (most) other potential faces of His, but I feel that’s starting to relax a bit. Maybe He considers my understanding mature enough to go in that direction now?

    I’m not sure if you’re familiar with what’s known on Tumblr as the “deerpocalypse/deerkult” phenomenon but basically, starting in 2014/2015, some sort of inter-pantheon Wild Hunt event swept the community (involving lots of deer imagery, hence the name), and there was much being hunted but also being led on a hunt/chase, with riddles about the identities of the Deities involved, and “identity swapping” between the Deities, and between followers and Deities. It happened offline too–that’s about the time when the Horned God (and Gwyn) showed up to grab me. I’m always struck by how very “deerkult” Gwyn seems to me in the ways I see Him act, and whenever you mention inhabiting His role in a story, I’m reminded of that. I’ve wondered if my own feeling that it’s important to me to learn to channel Gwyn is related to the deerkult “identity swapping.”

    I admit my mind was sort of blown when you said Gwyn might be Afallach. Last year I got a lot of apple symbols around this time, and He even planted me an orchard on a journey one time (I was initially skeptical that He could do it, for some reason, and I’ll never forget the Look He gave me!). All of that is even funnier and incredibly delightful now that I know He has a connection to apples beyond the personal connections I have with them.

    I love the sentence you started this post with–it feels like a fairytale! And the poem at the end is very powerful as well. “For tonight I am Gwyn.” I love that.

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