See Rhiannon page for list of main articles about her.
In the Second Branch Rhiannon does not appear directly at all but she does make her presence felt. Her son Pryderi joins the king of Britain, Bendigeidfran, in the great Irish War. The war becomes a genocide so that only Pryderi himself, the king of Britain’s brother Manawydan, and five other men (making seven) are left alive of the British hosts. The sad queen Branwen also survives, though her child does not; but she succumbs to despair and dies on her return to her homeland. The Seven Survivors journey into enchantment, first at Harlech in Gwynedd, then on the isle of Gwales in Dyfed.
At Harlech where they stay for seven years, the Adar Rhiannon sing to them. These are the Birds of Rhiannon as prophesied by Bendigeidfran as he was dying. They are here numbered as three, and they are clearly agents of enchantment as they control perceptions of distance. For although they are far away across the ocean, they can be seen as vividly as if they were close by. This power is of the same order as Rhiannon’s anomalous speed of pacing when she made her extraordinary first appearance in Dyfed. Both make Rhiannon a locus of relativity.
The second power of the Birds also expresses a previously met description of Rhiannnon. To the Seven Survivors every other music ever heard is rendered unlovely compared to the song of the Birds, just as Rhiannon’s beauty renders all other women unlovely to Pwyll when he first looks upon her face. Both descriptions suggest the kind of charisma which commands absolute focus.
In the legend of Culhwch the Birds are described as having powers to wake the dead, and send the living to sleep. It is significant that Rhiannon’s son is a shattered survivor of a most terrible war. A modern view would speak of PTSD (Post Traumatic Shock Disorder). Not only that but he and his few associates return as veterans so often do, to a transformed world where old rights and privileges have been taken away. The throne of Britain has been usurped, and their old comrades left behind as regents, have been slain. Finally the Survivors are thrust into an uncanny relationship with a talking head cut from a corpse, albeit a companionable head; and their king has laid a profound mission upon them to take the Head to London. Pryderi therefore cannot go home. It is not surprising if Rhiannon as a devoted mother sends her Birds to suspend her son in a healing hiatus, while being soothed by their son with the soulful harmonies of perfect music.
Pryderi does return to Dyfed, bringing his friend Manawydan with him. A new stage in Rhiannon’s life opens.