In Britain we have a seasonal myth based around a maiden goddess called Creiddylad. She is due to wed Gwythyr ap Greidol, a hero of King Arthur’s court and ruler of northern Britain on May Day. Before they can marry, Gwyn ap Nudd, king of Annwn takes her away.
She wanders fields of meadow buttercup
passes ponds of opening water lilies
barefooted weaves may flowers
into an anklet dance-steps
to the woodland edge
gathers hawthorn blossoms
for her headdress and wedding gown.
Drawn by some unseen melody
she dances on a carpet of anemones
with a sleepy yawn sinks beneath a twisted tree.
When she awakes in the gloaming
the woodland is strange and unfamiliar.
Gnarled faces stare from tangled trunks
and twiggy-dark creatures dart between.
A distant howling chills her blood
growing nearer. Huge and shaggy
wolf-like shadows surround her.
Thundering hoofbeats rock her seat.
Gripped by cold she sways in terror
at the sight of a pale beautiful warrior
who captures her breath her heart then takes her.
Creiddylad descends with Gwyn to Annwn
The blackthorn unfurls its roots.
The black horse plunges.
The blackness is absolute.
Creiddylad cannot tell if she rides horse or night.
Knows only stomach churning dropping falling dread
and inability to scream the scream rising inside her.
Heart still breath stopped she floats in a void.
Sees an unendurable light: the king of the underworld beckons.
She runs to him rides with him onto brightening plains
so wonderful with green she weeps.
In an ivied glade of soothing music
he offers deep red wine sweetest of meads.
She sinks in honeyed bliss onto white furs
as the forest moves around her succumbs
to his tangled touch and rough tongue
triumphant howling in the distance.
When she looks upon him again
something stirs in her chest
roaring fills her veins
whirlwind her mind
with a rustling crescendo of leaves.
“You’ve stolen my heart!”
“No. I’ve made it beat.”
Years pass and Creiddylad becomes Gwyn’s crowned queen. Beloved of the fay. Beloved of the dead. Beloved above all of Gwyn.
Creiddylad spends the time we know
as summer in Annwn’s forest
hunting and dancing with her new lord,
stranger men and wilder maidens.
As autumn approaches they retreat
within his mist-wrapped palace
to delicious banquets, roaring fires
and stories of bards from faraway places.
On winter nights Gwyn leaves Creiddylad alone
cheek pressed against glass walls
gazing out across misty treetops in loneliness
so unbearable she demands to go with him.
He takes her up to this-world into nights
of barren trees and wild reckless winds
where with hounds and huntsmen he hunts the dead.
Knowing what they are and what she has become
ravages Creiddylad. She storms through
the forest screaming tearing her hair
her garments gouging her skin
with bloodied fingernails.
The forest’s people surround her calm her
with honey dew and cleansing water
clothe her in leaves cord her brow
with ivies to stem her fury
and carry her to a woodland throne
where her rulership of Annwn
is sealed by her lover’s kiss.
Crowned Queen of Annwn
she ages into their timeless beauty.
News of her splendour carries
across both worlds.
Those seeking to petition Gwyn
invoke him in the name of his Queen
for Gwyn loves Creiddylad with a depth
and intensity he has felt for no other.
Gwythyr gathers a host and brings his army to the underworld. They are no match for Gwyn’s warriors. Hounds with savage teeth, hawks with scraping claws and horses with huge round hooves help dash them to the ground. Gwyn locks them in prison and vents his fury on them for their attempted assault on his realm and his queen.
King Arthur comes to Gwythyr’s rescue and releases his noblemen. He binds Gwyn and Gwythyr to battle for Creiddylad every May Day until the world ends. Gwythyr wins and she stays with him in this-world for the summer.
Creiddylad ascends and dons
her May garlands alive
at the freshness of this-world
walks barefooted with meadow buttercup,
water lilies and frog song, wood anemones,
wood sorrel, may flowers and hawthorn blossom
to Gwythyr’s touch of tenderness.
May King and May Queen marry
amongst merriment and May Pole dancing.
But on the otherside there is howling.
Howling of the hounds. Howling of the dead.
Howling of the flowers of the underworld.
Some say Gwyn howls for her too.
Even on this-side in this-world
you can hear the howling
if you listen carefully
at a twisted blackthorn on May Day.
Yet when the meadow-flowers are shorn, Gwyn returns for his bride at the twisted blackthorn. She goes to ride with him on the Wild Hunt and returns for winter to their kingdom in Annwn.