I was (re-)watching the 1992 film Hedd Wyn recently. It tells the story of the Welsh poet Ellis Evans, the poet of the Black Chair, who was killed during the battle of Passchendaele in 1917.
There’s a scene in which Evans is standing outside the family farmhouse on a cold winter’s night, mentally composing the poem which will win him second place in that year’s National Eisteddfod. His sister comes out, wrapped in a blanket, to demand why he’s standing out there on his own. Evans, who has been gazing at the full moon, replies “I’m not on my own. She’s with me. Arianrhod. The ancient name for the moon”.
The moon… and inspiration… and much more. As I wrote in a previous post, Arianrhod is the goddess of poetry, and culture, and of social memory. She is the goddess of rite and ritual, and of transition through the stages of life. She is the constant companion of the true Bard.
Her name means “the Silver Wheel”. It’s clear why she became the goddess of social cohesion and continuity: who can stand under the night sky, and not understand that?
Month after month, year after year, she is ever-changing. She is constant. Never the same two nights in a row, always the same year after year. The names and faces of a people come and go; they are born, grow strong, grow weak, and pass on. Their children do the same, and their children like them. The individuals wax and wane; they enter into their fullness, they sink into their darkness: but the tribe endures, and remains constant; it remembers its glorious forebears, and maintains their traditions.
And who ensures that this happens? It is the Bards, who remember the stories, and re-tell them to the people so that they shall know who they are. It is the Bards, who educate the people in poetry, and maintain their knowledge of their language so that their tongues shall be inspired and their memories preserved for the generations yet to come.
And this is why Arianrhod is always at the Bard’s side.