Arianrhod of the Silver Wheel

Arianrhod, also known as Arianrod, Aranrot, Aryanrot, Aranron and Aranrhod, a prominent figure in Welsh mythology, is a complex character whose story is central to the The Fourth Branch of the Mabinogi: Math Son of Mathonwy. She may represent a diminished form of an earlier goddess, embodying various aspects of divinity and femininity.

Arianrhod & The Fourth Branch of the Mabinogi

Her story intertwines with the tale of Goewin, king Math’s footholder. Goewin’s role was crucial for Math, as his life depended on his feet resting in the lap of a virgin when not at war. Gwydion and Gilfaethwy, Math’s nephews, violated Goewin, leading to her marriage with Math and a curse upon the perpetrators.

In the wake of this incident, Arianrhod, daughter of the mother goddess Dôn, was nominated to replace Goewin as footholder. When tested for her virginity by stepping over Math’s wand, she unexpectedly gives birth to Dylan and Lleu Llaw Gyffes. Dylan, a sea spirit, immediately flees into the ocean, while Lleu is rejected by Arianrhod but taken in by Gwydion, who may be his father.

Arianrhod’s refusal to give Lleu a name or weapons — both traditional maternal duties in Welsh culture — leads to Gwydion’s clever manipulation to ensure Lleu’s rightful passage to manhood.

The story’s portrayal of Arianrhod is ambiguous, especially regarding the conception of her children. It’s unclear if she conceived parthenogenetically, fitting a goddess’s profile, or was unknowingly impregnated, suggesting Gwydion’s deceit. Her reaction to the birth suggests she was unaware, challenging the notion of her deceit.

Arianrhod in the the Welsh Triads

The Welsh Triads recognize her as one of Britain’s “three fair maidens” or “white ladies,” linking her to other ancestral goddesses like Branwen.

Three Beautiful Maidens of the Island of Britain:
Creirwy, daughter of Ceridwen,
and Ar(i)anrhod daughter of Don,
and Gwen daughter of Cywryd son of Crydon.

The Welsh Triads, Red Book of Hergest

Arianrhod and the Caswallawn Saga

In different accounts, Arianrhod’s lineage varies, with one Welsh Triad naming her father as Beli Mawr and linking her to the Caswallawn saga. While the Mabinogion is a primary source, other versions exist. Notably, some believe Arianrhod may have been Math’s footholder in these alternate tales. Her palace, Caer Arianrhod, is linked to a visible rock formation in North-West Wales and is also the Welsh name for the Corona Borealis constellation.

When a Host went to Llychlyn.
The third levy went with Caswallawn son of Beli, and Gwenwynwyn and Gwanar, sons of Lliaws son of Nwyfre, and Arianrhod daughter of Beli their mother.

The Welsh Triads, Red Book of Hergest

Three Golden Shoemakers of the Island of Britain:
Caswallawn son of Beli, when he went to Rome to seek Fflur; and Manawydan son of Llyr, when the Enchantment was on Dyfed; and Lleu Skilful-Hand, when he and Gwydion were seeking a name and arms from his mother Ar(i)anrhod.

The Welsh Triads, Red Book of Hergest

Other Associations

She is associated with Caer Arianrhod, a coastal or celestial domain (also a name for the constellation Corona Borealis), where she lived liberally among her maidens, drawing parallels to other mythological figures like Dahut.

Caer Arianrhod is an oval reef situated about 900m west of the Gwynedd mainland near Llandwrog, although older maps refer to this place as Caer Ferienrhod or Caer Ieriedrode.

Etymology of Arianrhod

The name “Arianrhod” likely originates from the Welsh words for “silver” and “wheel,” possibly aligning with a Proto-Celtic term meaning “silver wheel.” This evokes lunar imagery, suggesting she might have been a moon goddess.

Her name reflect suggests she existed in the celestial realm, a common theme with celtic gods like Taranis (“The Thunderer”), Loucetius (“Lightning”) and Sirona (“Divine Star Goddess”).

Alternatively, her potential role as a virgin mother goddess of the land aligns with similar mythological figures. Additionally, she might represent a dawn goddess, symbolically mothering both light (Lleu) and darkness (Dylan).