‘Rhiannon’ is indeed a magical kind of song. Not only because the actual 45 is lilting, haunting, and exquisite but also in terms of how it came to realisation. ‘Rhiannon’ is the name Stevie read in a book called ‘Triad’ by a woman named Margaret Righter.
“She’d really like to think that I got the story from her, but I didn’t. Her Rhiannon is evil and mine is really good. ‘Triad’s’ about a modern lady with two personalities, and has nothing to do with history. I just fell in love with the name, sat down, and wrote the song in about ten minutes, and found out later that the whole story is already written in Celtic mythology, Welsh mythology. It’s very strange… and Rhiannon onstage is very, very weird.”
Ever heard of the collective unconscious? I think I’ve got the phrase right – it’s all about a shared racial/tribal memory, kind of a shared reference file of information referring back to pre-history and beyond. Like Bunny Wailer says, "we are reincarnated souls from time to time”; if that’s so and Stevie very definitely thinks it is, then what could be more natural than that something you’d never even been aware was filed away should suddenly turn up in your conscious mind? Walt Whitman puts it thus: “I was there…” Stevie puts it like this: “I’m sure that I was there at the time, and Rhiannon somehow came through me.”
The following chain of inter-related events backs up Stevie’s theory. “I started collecting butterflies in L.A., after I’d joined the band, and Rhiannon was recorded. Then, a year and a half later, somebody gave me this book. I’d never read anything on Rhiannon at the time. This book was called ‘The Song of Rhiannon’, and there’s a picture of her at the beginning. She’s sitting like this; she has really long flowing hair, and out of her mouth is flowing butterflies.”
"You turn the book over and there’s these little nooks and crannies and there’s butterflies on all the ledges… and I’m going, this is very strange.” There’s further links involving visions of “corridors, high ceilings, stone doors opening and closing, echoes…” seen by a student at a gig, who later researched a thesis into ‘Rhiannon and related subjects’ which bore out Stevie’s lyrics so exactly that she applied to Stevie for further information.
“I said, Lindsey, I’ve never read any of that stuff, but it’s all there in the song. I figure I really didn’t need to read it, I just think I was around at some point.” I won’t elaborate; I know that if, like me, you believe in those kind of supernatural things you’ll believe it, and if you don’t you won’t.
– Sounds, October 30, 1976.
Thanks to @headersonline for the beautiful graphic.