Arianrhod Goddess of the Summerland
“I am the Gracious Goddess who gives joy unto the hearts of men and women. Upon earth I bring knowledge of the Spirit Eternal, and after death I bring peace, freedom and reunion with those who have gone before.” (from the Charge of the Goddess by Doreen Valiente)
In Wicca there is no bible or “Universal” Book of Shadows that all Wiccans follow. Most Wiccans use the Charge of the Goddess in their rituals and most believe in the Spirit Eternal, that is life after death. Many Wiccans believe in the idea that after death we go to the Summerland, a place where the soul rests between incarnations, but not all know where this idea and this word come from. The idea of the land of eternal youth also called Summerland or Tir na nÓg can be found in many of the old legends. Here are a few of these stories.
The Story of Oisin
Oisin was the son of the great Irish hero Fionn MacCumhail and Sadbh. Sadbh was a beautiful woman who was cursed to live in the form of a deer. She was only able to retain her form as a woman on Fionn’s land. Unfortunately the evil “druid” who had cursed her named Fer Doirich, returned and the pregnant Sadbh was lost in the wilds as a deer. Later Fionn found Oisin and was re-united with him.
The tale of Oisín in Tir na nÓg is his most famous story. Oisin meets a beautiful fairy woman named Niamh Chinn Oir (Niamh of the Golden Hair) who was one of the daughters of the Sea God Manannan Mac Lir. She falls in love with him and takes him away to Tir na nOg. They have a son named Oscar and a daughter named Plor na mBan. After 3 years in Tir n nOg Oisin wants to go home for a visit so Niamh gives him a faery horse to travel back to Ireland. She warns him that if his feet touch the ground he will die. When Oisin returns to his home he finds that 300 years have passed and everyone he knew is dead. During his return he accidently touches the ground and becomes a withered old man and dies.
In the Welsh legends Tir n nOg called Annwn is ruled by the Faery King Gwyn ap Nudd. Annwn (pronounced Ann-oon) is one of the main themes in the Welsh tales. Another place where Annwn (Summerland) is mentioned is in the story of Imram Curaig Mailduin (The Journey of Malduin’s Boat) which is a story from the 8th century that is preserved in manuscript form in Trinity College Library in Dublin and in the British Museum. The Modern Celtic Scholar Caitlin Matthews has called this story the Celtic Book of the Dead because it is the story of the soul’s travels (represented by Malduin) after death, finding nourishment, lessons or purification on each island in the Otherworld of Annwn. The last island is Tir n nOg or Summerland, but in the story Malduin returns home just before reaching this island. The story is similar to the story of The Voyage of Bran the Blessed, and the Voyage of St. Brendan, both of which may be re-telling of the older story.
The common use of the word “Summerland” in Wicca may be due to C.W. Leadbeater (1854 –1934), a Theosophist who taught that those who were good in life went to a place called Summerland between incarnations. He greatly influenced the occultists of his time including Annie Besant and probably Gerald Gardner.
The Story of Math ap Mathonwy from the Mabinogian
Arianrhod is the Goddess of the Silver Wheel. She is associated with her celestial castle, Corona Borealis, also called Caer Sidi, a magical realm in the north and the Underworld. She is a child of the great Mother Goddess Don and the Sun God Beli. In the Song of Taliesin he writes: “I have been three periods in the prison of Arianrhod” which refers to his stay between incarnations in the Underworld.
The story goes that King Math, who was her Uncle, was cursed to keep his feet in the lap of a virgin whenever he was not actively engaged in battle or he would die. When his first footholder Goewin lost her virginity Math asked Arianrhod to take her place. To prove she was a virgin she had to step across the magic wand of Gwydion, her brother. In the story two fetuses, twin boys Dylan and Lleu were born when she did this. Dylan became a god of the sea and Lleu was taken by Gwydion and placed in a magical trunk until he was able to breathe on his own. The story is very long and involved concerning what happened to Lleu, but Arianrhod, who felt tricked by Gwydion, went back to her castle and later when the sea reclaimed the land returned to Annwn, the land of the Dead.
Call on Arianrhod when you are dealing with issues of death and dying. She is honoured in the winter especially in December when the land is covered with snow and the starlight makes the landscape silver.
Prayer to Arianrhod
Dear Lady of the Silver Wheel
White star shining in the Northern Sky
I honor you and call to you
Reach forth your graceful hand, oh goddess
And guide me to wisdom, peace and understanding
Of this life, the life between lives and the life that comes after
Grace me with a gentle passing over the nine waves
To the Summerland where I shall rest in your embrace.