Stevie Nicks and the Cult of Rhiannon

Ana Redondo

Dreams Unwind, Love's a State of Mind ...

The Lady Rhiannon takes shape as a young, shining Stephanie Nicks. It is said that gods take the form of anything they may choose. The gods have chosen rock and roll music as its mouthpiece for harmonic magic since its very beginning. It is 1976 and the young, blonde gold dust woman is counting on this performance for her life, how it may decide her fate from this moment onward. It is all the more significant that women and girls all around the world seek the spirit of Rhiannon as Stevie had, using her as a symbol of their power. With the emergence and growth of communities celebrating Celtic history and mythologies; ‘witch-tok’ has become home away from home, a place of refuge for women and girls. Nicks has become a beacon of light, continuing on the legacy of Pagan history through song, a theme that had emerged in the 1960s and 70s with a revival of spirituality and Wicca (created in 1954.) Rhiannon finds Stevie in the form of fiction, coming across “a stupid little paperback that I found somewhere at somebody’s house, lying on the couch.” Stevie later recalls, “It was called Triad and it was all about this girl who becomes possessed by a spirit named Rhiannon. I read the book, but I was so taken with that name that I thought: ‘I’ve got to write something about this.’ So I sat down at the piano and started this song about a woman that was all involved with these birds and magic.” The spiritual impact of Rhiannon happened on her completely incidentally, as if a deep Welsh magic had been calling to her in the depths of California.
Stevie Nicks and the Cult of Rhiannon
Stevie Nicks onstage in 1974 - Willie Gibson

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Stevie Nicks and the Cult of Rhiannon
Stela representing Irish goddess Epona 3rd Century AD from Freyming (Moselle), France. Musée lorrain

Rhiannon as Divine Queen

While Nicks may not have initially intended to reference the Celtic goddess from Welsh text 'The Mabinogion', her spirit comes through as a force to be reckoned with, the power to alter dreams and a 'great queen of the faeries', as her name translates. The Mabinogion is a collection of prose and folk tales, passed down orally through the years, detailing the bravery and magic of the Welsh people and their gods. Rhiannon is first presented to the listener as a mortal, appearing for the first time at Arberth, an “ancestral mound” in the court of Dyfed. The ancestral mound is a magical force, a gateway to the otherworld and Pwyll, the Prince of Dyfed, awaits the challenge with bravery, that if one who is worthy sits upon it they will see a great wonder, and he who is not, will suffer three great blows. Rhiannon appears from the mound as its promised gift, once the prince is deemed worthy. The goddess is therefore sewn into the roots of Welsh culture as a spirit of great power and importance to the landscape and the people of Wales. Rhiannon can never be caught; she is a wild spirit, seeking more, a sovereign queen. The Welsh Celtic tradition simultaneously links women and female deities with the earth, continuing on the tradition of the earth mother as divine protector. Folk stories of Welsh gods conjure Rhiannon as part of the First Branch of Gods and divine beings. Within her story in the First, Second and Third Branches of the Mabinogion, she is both connected to fertility and the underworld. Rhiannon is described as a beautiful young woman in a golden dress who rides a white horse, connecting her presence with the moon. White horses within Celtic myth are commonly connected to lunar deities. It has become tradition therefore that Rhiannon’s abilities and behaviour within the stories indicates her origin as otherworldly, beyond human, faery and divine. It is this power to which listeners take on when they hear the first chords of the song, each listener becoming their own songbird, part of Rhiannon. The song feels much like the sensation of riding a great horse through expansive land, into battle. Indeed, Rhiannon is depicted in the Third Branch as displaying the powers of a horse, a giantess. The association with the white horse in which Rhiannon is depicted, reinforces her illusive, powerful nature. It is recorded that the images of the goddess are connected to the Irish Gallic goddess Epona, who is depicted on stone as a figure riding a horse. She is there and then she is gone. Rhiannon is also connected to three mystical birds. The Birds of Rhiannon appear in the Second Branch, in the Triads of Britain and in Culhwch ac Olwen. Her birds were said to lull the living to sleep and the dead to life, linking the goddess with the very fabric of life and death, an all powerful goddess. This invocation of ancient gods is nothing new, but rituals for the ancient gods have taken on a new form. The resurgence of interest in Welsh gods that dwell in the deep earth represent a need for connection, community and nature. Young people have led the way in their own research of Celtic practices and medieval folk tales, journeying back to where it all started. There is evidence that within the First centuries AD, plants and symbols of Rhiannon such as apple, jasmine and moonstone were carved and moulded into talismans and jewellery for ritual purpose and to protect one's home. On the contrary, we must apply care when discussing the existence of cults for Celtic gods, as Ronald Hutton suggests that there is little evidence of a cult of Rhiannon in Ancient Britain, as many of the motifs seen in the Mabinogion are typical of Medieval tradition. However, while little has been recorded detailing specific rituals and offerings to Rhiannon, it is emphasised that Celtic horse goddesses alike Rhiannon and Epona carried women through their lives, through girlhood, marriage and grief. It is therefore, no surprise that young women all over the world centuries later identify with the goddesses.
Ancestry UK

Rhiannon, her Influence through Stevie Nicks and Modern Offerings to the Goddess

Rhiannon is worshipped today in the Berkshire hills with the Festival of the White Horse held in honour of the Divine Queen and her steed. Wiccans and Pagans gather annually in the early days of March to celebrate the Feast of Rhiannon, sharing abundance and making offerings to the goddess in the only way they know how, with music. Fleetwood Mac's Rhiannon, alike the goddess, has the healing power of a thousand melodies. It has called to young women ever since its appearance on Fleetwood Mac’s self-titled album, resurrecting a whole new generation of Fleetwood Mac fans in the 1990s into the 2020s. The spirit of Stevie Nicks and Rhiannon has become a symbol of a culture amongst young people who desire to begin a quest for spirituality. The 1990s brought Wiccan practice and Celtic gods into the limelight, with the creation of cult classics featuring young witches such as Charmed (1998), with Celtic mythology becoming more accessible with the growth of online spaces. The rise of cult TV shows such as American Horror Story ‘Coven’ centres around modern witchcraft and a woman named Misty Day to whom Nicks is important. “That song [Rhiannon (Will You Ever Win)] is really straight out of the old Welsh mythology.” Nicks later explains in 1994, “Rhiannon is the Goddess of Steeds and the Maker of Birds, and her song is a song that takes away pain. When you hear her song, you close your eyes and fall asleep, and when you wake up the pain is gone, or the danger is gone and you'll see her three birds flying away. That's the legend. So, whenever I sing the song, I always think of that…” The song carries the same meaning to this day, with young women all over social media joining the virtual coven of Rhiannon and Stevie Nicks. With the resurgence of interest in Wiccan practice and ‘witchtok’, her vibrations are more powerful than ever. Contemporary followers of Rhiannon and Nicks leave offerings in their tiny pockets of the internet. The song serves as a power anthem, lifting women up into the goddess form. Stevie talks of Rhiannon as able to do anything, she is a black cat, she is the queen and maker of birds, she is the bell in the night. Christine McVie and her enchanting back-up vocals enhance the magic, two powerful women uniting to bring spirit to life. “This is a song about an old Welsh witch,” remarks Stevie, blessing the ritual she is about to perform and giving it her all, praying to Rhiannon herself to make her dreams a reality. The Midnight Special, 1976 is where the coven assembles. The spellbinding and bewitching performance is enhanced by the visual imagery of the band, Stevie taking to the stage in black satin like mist, a moment in time that young witches alike myself shall never forget. Stevie and therefore Rhiannon, is the final piece of the puzzle, the final flame that solidifies Fleetwood Mac’s place as part of the canon. Her vocals are ground-breaking, earth shattering, bringing the listener to tears with every note that she belts. Rhiannon takes over her form and she is no longer Stephanie Lynn Nicks, but a goddess in her own right. The song takes on many forms, such as Fleetwood Mac’s performance at the Warner Studios in 1997, taking on a yearning, ghostly tone of a woman lost and stuck in time. We cannot help but look back to ancient folk tales of Rhiannon, as a hopeful, guiding figure to women, omnipresent as the 'Lunar Queen'. Decades later, Rhiannon by Fleetwood Mac is a beloved enchantment for all, described on TikTok as ‘a roman empire’ of excellence. The mystifying timelessness of Rhiannon finds its home in young people searching for more, a reclaiming of ancient histories and their mystery. Nicks has instilled a desire to dig deep into ancestral roots and the magic of the landscape to which we inhabit. The voice of Rhiannon is the voice of a million young women, finding the power within themselves, as 26-year-old Stephanie Nicks had. 2023 marks a year of female empowerment, with the film 'Barbie' by director Greta Gerwig and a Stevie Nicks barbie doll, adorned in the silky black sleeves as Rhiannon. The spirit of Rhiannon lives on for generations to come, for those who hold the Stevie Nicks barbie doll may feel the rumble of the goddess' power and their own.
Stevie Nicks and the Cult of Rhiannon
Stevie Nicks Barbie Doll created and trademarked by Mattel, 2023
Stevie Nicks and the Cult of Rhiannon

Ana Redondo

Ana is a 22 year old classicist and writer from London, having studied at Kings College London. She specialises in mythologies, social history, folk history and ancient religions. She works within museums and galleries to reinforce accessible learning of history for all.
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