Most readers of the famed Irish and Welsh tales focus on the male characters and their great feats. Celtic literature, however, features a full complement of female characters that deserve recognition; from warriors and rulers, to helpmates and daughters. These women function as either their own entity, or extensions of their male relations. All play crucial roles in their perspective texts, essentially driving the action of the plot and setting into motion a series of events that affect the male characters.
Flirtation is one means to incite action. Rhiannon from branch one of The Mabigoni employs the tactic in order to escape an unwanted marriage. The otherworldly Rhiannon appears to King Pywll and his retainers halfway through the story. In a single exchange, she both declares love for Pwyll: “I have never desired any man, and that because of loving you”, then announces her unavailability (“Pwyll,” 45). Rhiannon ensnares Pwyll by captivating his attention and inspiring lust through her looks and words, ensuring he will go against her current suitor, Gwawl son of Clud. This strong female character even directs Pwyll’s actions in attaining her hand, laying out direction for him to follow, helping him to gain victory.
The placements of geasas by women also drive the plots of stories. Aranrhod and Culhwch’s stepmother from The Mabigoni both employ geasas, resulting in the attempted murder of a male protagonist in one story, and a hero’s quest in the other. A powerful woman who lives on her own without male support, Aranrhod places geasas on her unwanted son. The last geis states that he will never attain a wife from a race on earth. Because of the importance of progeny, and extending the familial line, King Math and Aranrhod’s brother Gwydion create a wife, Blodeudd. However, this wife is lusty and seeks attention from another. In order to remain with her lover, she attempts to kill her husband. The stepmother from “Culhwch and Olwen” owns no name, but functions as the reason behind Culhwch’s heroic journey. She curses her stepson to never marry until he attains Olwen daughter of Ysabaddaden Chief-giant, setting into action his quest to unite with his Cousin Arthur, and retrieve his bride.
The characters Ceridwen and Macha create action in their plots via their anger. Ceridwen, from The Mabigoni, actually births a cultural hero out of her anger. She creates a magical potion that will give her ugly son knowledge, but learns someone other than her son received the brew. “In a frenzy” she pursues the thief, Gwion Bach, in multiple forms, eventually assuming the shape of a hen and swallowing him while he exists in the shape of a grain (“Gwion Bach,” 164). Nine months later, Gwion Bach, now the cultural hero Taliesin, is reborn from her womb. Macha, from The Táin, helps create part of the setting for the Great Cattle Raid. In the prelude, the...