Mary Leader’s novel, the Triad, is the book that Stevie borrowed the name Rhiannon from. However, there is no further information given about the name, the type of novel or the plot. After being mislead into thinking it was a romance novel, it was a shock to me when I was lucky enough to get a copy to read that Robert Bloch, author of Psycho, said “Much more powerful than ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ because it presents a more terrifying truth!” and that it says “for the millions of readers who enjoyed ‘The Exorcist’”.
In the novel, Branwen Ericsson, has lost her baby boy (Timmy) from what appears to be SIDS or “unexplained crib death”. She lives with her husband, Alan, in a large, old house on Lake Michigan. Much of Branwen’s time is consumed by her free-lance writing (mainly reviewing books), however she badly wants another child.
Branwen has several unexplained incidents, the first of which is a returned book review for Dr. David Reuben’s “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex and Were Afraid To Ask”. As Branwen had not even read the book, much less written a review which was full of typographical and spelling errors, she was more puzzled when she got an overdue notice from the library, for the same book. Other incidents included the rearrangement of furniture that Branwen had not remembered, disappearances of food and the kitchen appearing to have “repainted” itself orange, when Branwen was sure she had painted it pink.
The most chilling of these happening to Branwen, is Alan telling her that she had told him to call her “Rhiannon”. At this point in the story, Branwen goes to a narrative of the summer she spent in Wisconsin with her cousin. She was nine years old, and her cousin was thirteen. In this narrative, we discover that Branwen’s parents and her cousin’s parents are twins (the two mother’s are identical twins and the two fathers are identical also). The two girls look very alike because of the circumstances, however the cousin is much better than Branwen at basically everything except reading and spelling. The cousin is a brat and tends to use her mother’s favoritism for her to her advantage over Branwen.
During the summer, Branwen gets a cat from her Uncle Peter whom she names “Purrcival”. The cousin resents not getting the cat for herself and teases Branwen more than ever. A few weeks later, Branwen’s aunt finds the cat dead in the oven. It is decided that it was an accident, the cat simply jumped into the oven and was trapped, later the oven was turned on to prepare for cookies. The cousin suggests that they play hide-and-seek to take Branwen’s mind off of it. When Branwen goes to find the cousin, she goes to the cellar she happens across the mudcaked form of Purrcival (the cat had already been buried and then dug up). Shrieking she picks up the body and hears a muffled laughter from the unused freezer chest. Aggravated, Branwen pushed the freezer door shut with the intent of containing the cousin long enough to give her cat a proper burial. Not realizing the danger of locking freezers, Branwen goes off and buries her cat, coming back to see the freezer shaking as the cousin tries furiously to escape. Branwen goes for help, but is not able to reach anyone in time as the nearest farm is a mile out and the phones were down from a summer storm. The dead cousin’s name – was Rhiannon.
Carrying the guilt of having a role in Rhiannon’s death, Branwen starts to hallucinate and having more incidents of blackouts where she is told she did something but can’t remember doing it. Branwen becomes pregnant and travels with her husband to Colorado where she confesses to a priest who tells her to pray for Rhiannon’s soul.
Soon after returning home, Branwen is confronted by a spirit that she believes to be Rhiannon. ‘Rhiannon’ tells her that she is living inside of Branwen and that she is the murderer of Timmy. She tells Branwen that if she jumps over the cliff and kills herself than she will be responsible for the death of two of her children, Rhiannon and the spirit of Rhiannon. ‘Rhiannon’ also implies that she can control Branwen when she chooses and that she slept with the painter, making Branwen’s child illegitimate. After this encounter, Branwen seeks help from Dr. Ambrose, a physiologist.
At one of the sessions with Dr. Ambrose, the myths of both Branwen and Rhiannon are revisited. They are as follows:
Branwen was the sister of Bran (King of Wales) and was married to Matholwch (King of Ireland). Branwen had another brother, named Evnissyen who was a troublemaker. After the marriage feast, Evnissyen caused a fight in which the Irish king’s horses were killed. Matholwch and Branwen had a son. The resentful Irish eventually drove Branwen to the kitchen to cook for the court and the butcher boxed her on the ear every day. After a year, Branwen tied a note to the foot of her trained starling to take to Bran, who invaded Ireland. There was a huge fight and almost everyone died. Branwen’s son was thrown into the fire, Bran was shot with a poisoned arrow, and Branwen died of grief. [Notice the “thrown into the fire” reference in the book, the cat was put in an oven and the obvious dislike of Branwen with the boxing of ears parallels the Branwen in the book’s own plight with her relatives.]
Rhiannon was another Welsh queen. She married Pwyll, son of Dyved, who she met while riding. She could move so swiftly on horseback that she was only walking while Pwyell was galloping and he still could not catch her. They had a son, Pryderi. A few nights after his birth, someone stole him from the cradle. Rhiannon’s maids, fearful that they would be accused, smeared Rhiannon’s face and hands with puppy blood. They swore she had eaten her child and Rhiannon was sentenced to sit by the front gate of the castle and carry visitors in on her back. Several years later, Pryderi was discovered and Rhiannon was once more honoured as a queen. After Pwyell died, Rhiannon was married to Manawyddan, who was yet another brother of Branwen. Thus Rhiannon and Branwen were sisters-in-law.
The connection of the two goddesses, Rhiannon and Branwen is this. Branwen’s father was Llyr, the sea god. Manawyddan was a sea deity too. Both Rhiannon and Branwen are associated with water. They are in the trinity, in the same way that Persephone, Demeter and Hecate (Greek) and Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva (Hindu) are. The Great Goddess of the Celts was Rigantona (Rhiannon is a contraction of which). As the maid she is generous and represents birth, hope and untarnished life. As the woman, she is lustful and erratic. In death, she is spiteful and dreadful. This tradition of Rigantona was carried into Morgan le Fay (sorceress and half-sister of Arthur). As Mordred, she was the woman and as the crone she is the Lady of the Lake. The same is true in the Rhiannon myth. Branwen – meaning “white crow” is the innocent form of Rigantona (Rhiannon). The name Rhiannon is also thought to be corrupted into “Niniane” or “Nyneve” the Lady of the Lake, being the third part of the Trinity.
After this discovery of the connections between the Rhiannon and Branwen myths, the doctor hypnotizes Branwen and calls forth her inner self, which is in fact, named Phoebe. Phoebe (who used the name Rhiannon to taunt Branwen) is the woman third of the triad inside of Branwen, and refers to the third piece, a darker part that has not the strength to come forward. Phoebe also admits to doing things that Branwen would not have the courage to do. She affirms that she did not kill Timmy, as she had once said and in a sense apologizes for the troubles she has caused. After several sessions with Phoebe and Branwen, Phoebe begins to meld into Branwen.
The final piece of Branwen then can come forth – the Lady of the Lake. Her Rhiannon – which she has yet to confront. The novel ends with this, “Nothing ever happens until the time is ripe – and who is to predict the ripening? But one thing I do know – Rhiannon and I will meet again and again until someday, at some turn of the spiral, we will come together in our last struggle, and I will win.”