The Birds of Rhiannon

Rhiannon by Wendy Andrew

What follows is a small ritual for the building of self-esteem for women, although with a little tweaking it could be adapted for men too.

The Goddess Rhiannon was wrongly accused, driven to doubt herself and as a white mare, forced to carry all upon her back and tell, again and again, lies about herself to all who would listen. Rhiannon knows the pain of women: she has been within women the countless centuries when their talents have remained unused; when their bodies have been violated and brutalised; when their dreams have been crushed or ignored; when their beauty has been rejected and distorted and their experiences and perceptions of life have been deemed less worthy.

Rhiannon knows that when there have been so few positive reflections of her in the world over such a long time, women can doubt themselves, doubt their intelligence, their beauty and their worth. Like Rhiannon’s story we can believe the lies that are told about us, re-tell those lies ourselves, and carry the burden of other’s projections upon us. The heaviest burden of all is the weight of our own self-criticism, our own lack of self-love and belief.

The following ritual is designed  to help us recognise and name the lies that have been told about us; giving the pain of these over to transformation, reclaiming the truth that we are talented, beautiful and worthy of love and respect, both from ourselves and from others.

In preparation for the ritual, think long and hard about the key moments in your life when you were made to feel badly about yourself, about your talents or your appearance; the times when you were bullied or controlled and made to feel un worthy or unlovable. Think about how each time this happened, it re-enforced a negative image of yourself, so much so, that you started to believe that this false image was actually you. Think about how these events still affect your life by the way they have made you view yourself. Write these events down on small strips of paper using key phrases that express the negative things they make you feel about yourself e.g. I am fat; I am ugly; I am stupid; I am unlovable etc. Performs the following:

Rhiannon, I come to you with my burden of self-doubt and self-loathing; I come to you with the lies that were told about me, that made me feel unworthy and unlovable, that I carry to this day and have come to believe as truth. I give these over to you Rhiannon to be transformed in your fires of love.

Burn each slip of paper in the cauldron. Release each of these negative thoughts about yourself to Rhiannon; give them over to her loving presence.

In legend, Rhiannon was surrounded with a cloud of birds whose singing was so sweet and magical that it was said to raise the dead and send the living into a blissful sleep. Call upon the Birds of Rhiannon to sing in your ear; let each individual bird sing a new song of your worth and beauty.

I call upon the Birds of Rhiannon and ask that you come and sing your sweet and magical songs to me; sing to me of my true worth; sing to me of tender self-love and self-esteem; of a true and loving relationship with myself. The songs of Rhiannon’s birds are how she truly sees me. I now choose to see myself through Rhiannon’s eyes.

Settle yourself, close your eyes and turn inward. See Rhiannon before you surrounded by her beautiful birds. Hear their sweet music. Then, one by one, as many as is needed, see each bird fly to your ear in turn; listen to their song –  each will sing a song of your true worth and beauty. Rhiannon’s birds can only sing sweet songs: everything they tell you about yourself will be loving. Hear what each says and write these new, positive things about yourself down on paper.

You may have trouble hearing positive things – these may not come to mind. Your critical voice might drown them out. This is because we have become adept at putting ourselves down. We have trained ourselves to do this. In this ritual, we are beginning to retrain ourselves in the art of self-love. If you have problems, ask Rhiannon for help; see yourself as a mother, telling her daughter how wonderful she is. If you keep this image of a loving mother talking to daughter, it becomes very hard to let in those negative judgements. Remember, it is Rhiannon who speaks to you through her birds – she is your mother and you her daughter. She wants you to feel loved, beautiful, worthy and gifted because that is exactly what you are.

When the birds have finished singing their songs, thank them and now read what you have written. Turn each of these new statements into an affirmation e.g. If a bird sung ‘you have beautiful eyes’, you write ‘I have beautiful eyes’; if a bird sung, ‘you are immensely skilled and organised’, you write, ‘I am immensely skilled and organised’. These affirmations will be the new songs that you will sing to yourself again and again to replace the horrible, negative ones that have been burned. When ready say,

I pledge to sing a new song about myself, one of love and appreciation:

Read your new, positive and loving affirmations…

…I am a daughter of the Goddess and as such I have marvellous gifts to share with the world: my talents and skills; my beauty; my experiences and knowledge; my love. Never again will I doubt my value; never again will I let another lead me to doubt my worth.

Close your eyes once more. See before you a cage of birds. These birds are all the wonderful parts of you that have been crushed and suppressed by the negative conditioning you have lived under until now. Now is your chance to set them free! See yourself move towards the cage, release the latch and open the door. Watch as all the birds take flight and find their freedom – their flight is your flight. Feel the exhilaration of this moment.

 Now see Rhiannon before you. She holds out her mirror. Open your eyes. Pick up the mirror from the altar and look at yourself. See how beautiful you are; see Rhiannon’s face staring back at you.

Now light your special candle and say,

I light Rhiannon’s fire of self-love in my heart. In her honour, may it burn brightly there always. Blessed Be.


Sacred Sex and the Goddess and God of Beltane

Lady of the earth’s desire and the earth’s yielding, of the sap rising and the embrace of longing, as the kiss of the sun awakens you, we too are awakened to the yearning of our bodies and souls. As you unfurl each petal, you release the scent of bluebells, may and apple blossom – this is your love song, your call to union – and we too must answer.

It is hard to resist loving this time of year, everything feels gloriously alive and renewed; the blossom abundant; the green of the trees that special shade that our eyes seem magnetically drawn to. The colour of bluebells has an equally mesmerising effect, as if we are thirsty for it, that rare, vivid, unearthly blue that dissolves and overwhelms our defences with joy. 

Beltane is the festival of the Sacred Union of the Goddess and God. It’s a deeply joyous affair, celebrating sexuality on many levels, its rites ultimately honouring our striving for that union of the Divine Masculine and Feminine deep within us. I always think of it as exploring that magical process when we truly open to another – just as the blossom to the bee – and in the surrendering of that boundary become something more than ourselves. Love and sex bring us some of our most profound experiences; some ecstatically joyous; others deeply painful – but at best they open us and let the mystery of another’s being flood into that intimate, hidden space, changing us.

I have always been very interested in the spiritual dimensions of sex. From very early on, I had an inkling that sex had the potential to be a gateway to God which was rather strange considering my early experiences of it, which at best were rather empty, superficial teenage fumbling, at worst humiliating abuse. Even at the lowest moments of the abusive relationship in my teens, when sex really did feel like the sharpest and most brutal of weapons to my young psyche, I knew deep down that in its purest form it could be a profoundly connecting and intensely spiritual act. What my early experience taught me was that it takes a great deal of courage to let sex work on you in that way because such an experience demands a mutual surrendering; a letting go of all that keeps us feeling safe; a stripping away of those masks that hide our vulnerability. In abusive relationships you have a dynamic where that surrendering is being actively forced upon one party by another; the enforcer does their utmost to surrender nothing – they control the surrender by force or coercion and vicariously experience it for themselves whilst retaining a sense of power. Such an approach is mainly about power – it’s not even really about sex. Sex becomes an enticing setting because it is potentially where we expose our greatest vulnerability.

Sex can be the most meaningless of acts, a superficial if pleasurable sensation; it can be a battlefield, the most painful wedge of separation between two people; it can also be a gateway to another’s deepest being, a connecting force between the soul of one to another; it can bring an intensity of emotion and feeling that blows life as we know it apart – all known signposts gone – and from this intensely vulnerable and alive place, a new potential of being can be born. Spiritual sex, sex that engages the body, mind emotions and soul surely takes us to the Divine within, shows us most vividly a glimpse of that Divine Union that we strive for within us, the union that Beltane is ultimately about.

Our particular Beltane rituals tend to focus quite a lot on self-worth. I think for many people there is a lot of healing to be done with regard to sexuality and intimacy; good boundaries and healthy self- esteem are so important. It can be easy to make sexual and emotional choices that are less than good for us when we have a fragile sense of self. Self-love and care are psychologically strengthening; they help to bring clarity and re-engage us with a healthy and flexible self-protective instinct. We start to develop better judgement in deciding ‘what’ and ‘who’ are ‘good’ or ‘bad’ for us.

The Goddess and God of Beltane – as I understand them – touch me deeply and help to heal my old wounds. The Goddess is the Lady of the Heart’s Blossoming, Divine Lover, setting fire to our bellies with Her joyous heat and animating our bodies with the blissful energy of Her love. We honour Her as Queen of the May, Lady of Life and Love, naked and radiant with the power of Her desire. She reveals to us the joy of union, the exquisite unfurling of body, mind and spirit. Crucially She teaches us that the treasure of our Yoni is truly precious, a place of inspired creation and pleasure, the gateway to life, challenging the often derogatory and confused undercurrent that seems to underpin attitudes to female sexual organs and sexuality; she taps us in to their deeper power and significance. In Her heart burn the fires of love, both the love of self and of others. She holds up Her mirror and reflects back to us our true beauty and worth. When we gaze at our reflection, we see Her beautiful face, body and being. I have learned that Her beauty is our beauty, that in valuing and loving ourselves, we are honouring and loving Her. She expresses the wisdom that without such loving self-care we can never truly open to another. She is passion, joy and creativity; queen of her own body, emotions, mind and spirit but also striving for joyous union with the world and others: She is the needy heat of desire; powerful self-love and the passionate love of others; She is ecstasy and the dance of life; She is sensuality and deep connection; She is the intimacy of skin upon skin. We feel Her pulsing though us when we fall in love, when desire takes over; when we reach out to touch the soul of another. We also feel her when we take joy in ourselves, when we feel and see our own beauty and worth. Historically She has been given a terribly hard time. She has been called whore and punished for Her beauty and Her power. She is often the one within us that needs the most healing.

The God of Beltane expresses a joyous desire, he is Lord of the waxing earth and sun; vibrant spirit of the wildwood whose green blood fires our hearts. He is the moist fingers of outstretched leaves and His vibrant growth is the tender hand that moves upon the body of the Goddess. He is the warm kiss of sunlight, the heat of passion and the dance of life. He has helped to heal a great deal in me, teaching that the treasures of His Sacred Phallus are not violence, senseless aggression or abuse but strength, passion and reverence. He is our energy and vigour. He is the Great Spark of Light and Life, and as bluebells cover the woodland floors; apple and hawthorn trees blossom and everywhere grows lush and green, His desire intensifies. At Beltane He hears the voice of the Goddess deep in the greenwood and with joy answers her call, drawn by her glorious scent, striving to merge and surrender to the bliss of her embrace. He is the heat of passion; the sweet pain of yearning; the reverence that true intimacy and love inspires. Through Him we are transformed by desire; we open to the mystery of another; we die to our separate selves and become the ecstasy of life. He touches us with His urgency; move us with His need; take us to the core of ourselves.

Beltane encourages us to ask – ‘What is life without passion and connection?’ It opens us to the extraordinary energy of our desire but also to the deeply empathetic nature of our being, one that strives to relate, make connections, open ever further to  the mystery of life. This Beltane, may each of us be blessed with deep and abiding love – of self, others, our planet – and through those healing fires of love and passion, may we each find our true path to Union within.


The Love of Self Can Be Such an Elusive Quest

The love of self can be such an elusive quest.  We are not taught it well in our culture. Many of us may still confuse the love of self with an act of selfishness. This can lead us into being very poor emotional care takers of ourselves. Self-negation can feel a whole lot easier than self-love to those ill practiced at it – practice being a very apt word, for the development of self-care takes commitment and diligence. It is a skill that is learnt. There will be moments when we slip back into old habits but this is part of the process; persistence is key.

As a young teenager I was involved in an abusive relationship with someone older than myself. It came about in the devastating wake of my mother’s death. Nobody told my deeply hurting young self that bereaved children can look for love in the most inappropriate of places. Cajoled into a sexual relationship by the flattering attention of this troubled man, my introduction to the world of desire and sex was a dark, painful, and violent one. Despite my innocence, I had a hunch that sex might express itself as a deeply spiritual physical connection between two people. I was to be disappointed. My first lesson was that sex could be a weapon; a tool to wield power and control; a means for another to vent pain and anger.  For two years I was repeatedly told that I was ugly, while paradoxically remaining the object of this person’s need and desire. It left me very confused about my own physical and sexual attractiveness but absolutely clear about my worthlessness, painful enough for any adult but crippling for a young girl experiencing the turbulence of puberty.

I came to utterly believe in my own apparent ugliness. My body found refuge in dancing. In ballet my body sensed its own strength and beauty; it was a moment of loving fusion where I could express appreciation for myself. With a secret emotional life dominated by fear and powerlessness, in dancing I clutched at the ragged edge of a self-esteem prematurely ripped from its roots. But even here in this sanctuary I feared my ugliness; my dance teachers constantly requesting that I hold up my head, that I smile, both of which terrified me because in doing so I felt the risk of yet more ridicule and rejection. Needless to say, I grew into an adult who struggled with the way she looked.

To practice the precious art of loving oneself can be a tremendously healing experience. When it occurred to me that I could go back and be a source of nurturance to that young, damaged girl inside me, my entire life changed. Feeling compassion for the little me who had suffered so much, was powerful and moving; it also prepared the ground for that child inside to trust that I could at last be an adequate carer: up until then I had been guilty of colluding with my abusers – re-inflicting the original hurt over and over by continuing to tell myself how ugly and unlovable I was.

I eventually came to view myself as both mother and daughter. When feeling those old, negative judgements rising and spilling out of me, I would quickly ask myself ‘Would a loving mother tell her daughter she was ugly and unlovable?’ Of course she would not. So why would I do that to myself? Slowly and with much initial doubt and frustration, I became the mother I had lost; in learning to create a loving space of self-nurturance and self-acceptance inside myself, I discovered the courage to be the young girl I once was before she became so distressingly submerged.

My early attempts at self-love felt unreal, fake, as if I were mouthing the lines of a bad script. I learned these words and phrases that felt alien to my mouth and gradually, with perseverance and practice – as if my tongue were connecting to my heart- they began to come of their own accord. With gentle, persistent acts of kindness to myself, I began to reclaim a sense of self-worth, tentatively discovering for the first time my own unique beauty.

This all sounds easy; in actuality it has taken years and is still a work in progress. However, now when I look back at photos of the thirty year old me – remembering how neurotic and unhappy I felt about my body and face – the forty two year old me now sees how beautiful I actually was. I feel immense sadness that I wasted so much time feeling unhappy, not able to enjoy the woman I was; I feel an equally immense joy that I recognised that the time had come to heal; grateful in finding a method by which I could eventually come to take pleasure in the woman I am.

Now of course, aging brings its own challenges to my self-esteem and yet, despite the changes, I feel more at home in my body and face than I have ever done. They are me and my being and soul feel settled and comfortably contained.  To embrace a healthy and loving relationship with ourselves is never selfish and the first battleground most of us start this fight upon- particularly for women – is the territory of our bodies and faces. Looking around me at the images of supposed womanhood that leave most of us feeling unacceptable; at young girls starving themselves to fit an impossible ideal, it seems there is much healing to be done for us all.

It still shocks me to discover the cruelty we can inflict upon another, but it shocks me further still the cruelty we can inflict upon ourselves. We are potentially all our own mothers (regardless of gender), capable of instilling the deepest self-love and worth in our daughter/son-selves. Whatever age we are, whatever major damage we wrestle with, that seemingly elusive quest is ours to make.