Echoes Of Glory – Rediscovering Rhun ap Beli Mawr

Though a surprisingly large body of work has survived the centuries since the first storytellers shared tales of the beings they had encountered, it is also sadly apparent that we have also lost a great deal, with entire mythological epics now only existing as passing references in other stories.

Many of the ancestors, spirits and gods once renowned in our past have seemingly fallen into obscurity, their deeds and accomplishments lost to the ravages of history, or more optimistically, stowed away in a library and museum collections, awaiting the day their stories will be told once again. That doesn’t mean their voices have fallen silent indefinitely however, as Awenydd we can use our knowledge of legend and lore along with the gift of Awen to answer the call of long forgotten voices. Rhun is one such Spirit.

Red Ravager – Rhun Ap Beli Mawr

Finding references to Rhun and his nature is no mean feat, this is only compounded by the seeming over popularity of the name among historical Kings of the early Christian period and the subsequent confusing of myth and history by later scholars such as Geoffrey of Monmouth. However there are a small handful of clues that when pieced together give us a tantalising glimpse of this lost figure.

Rhun is mentioned four times with the Welsh literary tradition, in Iolo triad 31 he is referred to as one of three “blood soaked ones” of the isle of Britain alongside Morgan the Courteous and Arthur, this triad goes on to state that “when they marched to war no one could remain at home, so greatly where they loved, they were victorious in every war and battle that did not involve ambush or deception. Their armies obtained soldiers wherever they marched.

TYP20 names Rhun as a Red ravager alongside his nephew Lleu and the seemingly otherworldly warrior Morgant, it is stated in the triad that “neither grass or plants would grow for a year where these men had walked”, their destructive power was only surpassed by Arthur himself who could render a land barren for seven years after setting foot on it.

An alternative version of TYP13 mentions him as the father of Gwyddar, a “Chief officer” of Britain.

He is also referred to in a poem penned by the thirteenth century Bard Hywel Foel Ap Griffi, who writing on the imprisonment of Owain Goch ap Gruffudd states:

“If he where a free man, like Rhun Ap Beli,

He would not let Lloegr burn his borders”

These references begin to present a very compelling picture of a charismatic and brutal war god, loyal to this men and his land yet merciless when facing his adversaries, destroying all who oppose him.

The exact etymology of the name Rhun is tricky to decipher, however it contains the element Rhu, which means “shout” or “bellow”. Another possible etymology for his name is that it originates in the proto-celtic roinos which can be translated as “route, road or landmark”. From this we can deduce a handful of possible names for him:

One who bellows

Road maker

Landmarker

The possible etymologies add a different flavour to his character, giving either the impression of a powerful warrior unleashing his battlecry, or a man who clears a path through the battlefield, both rather fitting for a blood-soaked red ravager.

It’s interesting here to contrast Rhun with the two other established warriors in his family, Caswallawn and Nyniaw. While all three of them are incredible powerful combatants the techniques they use in battle are very different. Caswallawn uses subterfuge and powers of illusion to ambush his enemies, Nyniaw strikes in a self-destructive and devastating rage while Rhun uses charismatic leadership and a salted-earth tactics to decimate his opposition. These three Spirits of war give us an intriguing insight into the Celtic peoples paradoxical view on conflict and violence, a people that would often fight naked and with no regard for their own lives in battle, but who also cared deeply for their fellow tribe members, chose their battlefields with careful and deliberate tactics in mind and who would use ambush and hit-and-run tactics to devastating effect.

As with his brothers and sisters Rhun defies simple categorisation as a god of war, he is also a charismatic leader who can harbour such devotion in his men that they will leave all they know to follow him, a man of such destructive nature that he is a literal walking wasteland, yet also the father of a wise and noble leader… and perhaps in a sense that is the essence of Rhun. he is charisma, that je ne sais quoi that great men and women sometimes possess, an ability to draw people to their cause, and to change the world…. For better, or for worse.

Wayfinding – Experiences of Rhun

When I was researching the family line of Beli Mawr, Rhun’s name practically leapt from the screen at me, and yet I could barely find a scrap of information about him. What little I could piece together was on shaky ground, a trio of triads, one an alternative version of a much better established piece, and another in the works of Iolo Morganwg, with no way of knowing for sure if it was a fabrication on his part. The reference to Rhun in the poetry of Hywel Foel Ap Griffi was invaluable, and yet gives very little real information about who Rhun was.

However for some reason his name has stuck in my mind and refuses to leave, and over time I feel I have began to get more complete feel for who he is, and what influence he controls. He has spoken to me in idle thoughts and appeared to me in meditations and dreams, as a tall a powerful looking man, drenched from head to toe in blood, a hatchet gripped tightly in his hand. Though Rhun is never associated with axes in Welsh lore, In my personal experiences with him the image of the axe or hatchet has became a key piece of imagery I relate to him

Devotional practice to Rhun is process of trial and error, after all there are no historical records of his worship, so initiative needs to be used. Offerings of fragrant teas, mead and cooling water are all things that I have personally found appreciated as devotional offerings to Rhun. The Gaulish counterparts of Rhun’s siblings where placated with sacrifices of dogs, who were ceremonially killed and cast down wells. This practice is quite rightly considered unacceptable in today’s society, but I have found that miniature clay figurines of hounds can be an effective stand-in offering if the Spirit in question is agreeable to the exchange.

Despite his mysterious nature I have found Rhun to be a potent force,  in situations I have found myself in that require me to be especially charismatic or assertive, he has shown me that by closing my eyes and centering myself within, I can call on Rhun for a small taste of his power, and if he obliges, I can place myself in that commanding mindset. This has been a powerful gift, providing me with assistance in overcoming nerves and gaining courage when I can’t quite seem to find my own.

As an ally in acts of divination alongside the other children of Beli he councils me in matters regarding charisma and authority, and also gives warning of the price paid for letting praise and ego cloud my judgement. Rhun serves as a reminder to remain in control of our personal power, and never to lose sight of the human cost of our actions.

I moved away from neo-druidry towards a more reconstructionist framework because I was wary of how some groups and people seem to twist sources, *ahem* “channel infomation”, or just flat-out makeup whole swaths of Pagan spirituality without making it clear that this is their own personal experience of the Gods rather than information from a primary source. Needless to say that what is written in this half of the post is my own unverified personal gnosis! However In my fumbling attempts at building a meaningful connection with Rhun I had to tentatively venture beyond the scarce fragments that have survived in Welsh lore and trust my intuitions and experiences. I have found that Rhun’s voice still calls over the clash of conflict, ringing loud and clear through the years and over the landscape of Wales. All we need to do is listen.

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