Contributors to this interpretation included: Jessica Morgan, Rhiannon, Gabi, Erik, Janet, Joanne, Lauren, Ryan, Ali, and the 'Stevie Nicks in her Own Words' and 'Gypsy Poet's Legend of Rhiannon' web pages.
"......Stevie chants amidst a wonderful stagelit luminescence about her noble, golden head. Ten rows back are her true fans, clad in top hats and chiffon scarves; they remember the days when Rhiannon the Welsh mare-goddess alighted onstage like a dark-winged apparition in Fleetwood Mac shows past. "
-- Stephen Davis, 1988
Rhiannon is doubtless Stevie Nicks' signature song. When she performs it live, she IS Rhiannon up there on the stage, in her own world, really. "She was basically possessed," Mick Fleetwood said. Rhiannon is also the song that threw Fleetwood Mac into the stratosphere as a band. The song's popularity became more like a cult following. Thousands and thousands of young women wanting to be like Stevie, dressed like her, singing along with her. Each performance we drain Stevie, as she completely gave herself to the song. This became the mystical attraction that drew people to Stevie Nicks.
Rhiannon is a song that is never left out of any Fleetwood Mac or Stevie Nicks concert and also one that is very special to Stevie herself. She often changes the lyrics. As one person said, perhaps this is because she herself has changed. As she has told the story, while she was a struggling musician in 1974 (shortly before joining Fleetwood Mac) along with her then-boyfriend, Lindsey Buckingham, young Stevie Nicks read a novel, called Triad, about a girl named Rhiannon. She thought it was a beautiful name and decided to write a song about it. She later became fascinated by the story of the Welsh goddess Rhiannon and learned a great deal about her. Her version was slower, much like we heard it on The Dance. In order for it to be a hit single for Fleetwood Mac, it became the rock & roll classic that is heard on the Fleetwood Mac album. Stevie began to sing the version with the piano intro a number of years later. She did not want Rhiannon to be one of the singles from the Fleetwood Mac album because she was afraid that Rhiannon might not make it. Her Rhiannon was not for sale.
It is difficult to put into words the magic the song can evoke. The story of Rhiannon is an interesting one. Rhiannon is the maker of birds, the goddess of steeds, and the protector of horses. Her music has the effect of a pain pill. A person wakes up and hears the birds singing her song and the danger has passed. Stevie has said that she always thinks of that when she sings the song. Stevie wrote her song without prior knowledge of legend. She was pleasantly surprised to realize that the Rhiannon of her song bore a striking resemblance to the actual story. You cannot catch Rhiannon, no matter how close she appears to be wandering. Only when you cry out to her does she respond. Rhiannon left her magical world to marry a mortal king and lost her powers. She did not lose knowledge of them, she knew what would happen and could do nothing about it, which was difficult. As punishment for a crime she did not commit, Rhiannon was forced to carry people around on her back, thus she was called the Mare-Goddess. Stevie often introduced the song by saying, simply, "This is a story about a Welsh witch." And so it is.......
Rhiannon rings like a bell thru the night
And wouldn't you love to love her
She rules her life like a bird in flight (or Takes to the sky like a bird in flight)
And who will be her lover...
And who will be her lover...
Rhiannon is a mystical and hypnotic character, and the silent night is her setting. She commands attention, like a ringing bell, because she is special, as does Stevie. As one person noted, Stevie's voice resembles the reverberations of a bell. In literature, a bell is often used to beckon. People beckon Rhiannon when they need her to help them. The song itself "takes flight" with the opening chords. Stevie may want to be able to live freely, like Rhiannon, who "Rules her life like a bird in flight." Birds are heavenly creatures, so this is an excellent analogy, as Rhiannon is one also. When she asks "And who will be her lover, " it could be a reference to her relationship with Lindsey Buckingham, which was already stormy. Rhiannon is unnattainable, like a bird in flight. "Wouldn't you love to love her." Rhiannon is unattainable. She is the one with the power. Rhiannon does the choosing. Will anyone be the lucky one she chooses to be with?
And he says, "Rhiannon, don't go."
And he says, "Rhiannon, stay."
And he says, "I still cry out for you. Don't leave me, don't leave me."
These lines are often added at the end of the piano intro. They refer to the people that call out for Rhiannon to end their pain. She helps them and then they want her to stay. She can't, of course. The people think that they will still need her. She may well also refer here to Lindsey. Maybe she has threatened to leave him, and he is begging her to stay.
All your life you've never seen
A woman - taken by the wind (or taken by the sky)
Would you stay if she promised you heaven
Will you ever win... (or would you even try)
This shows Rhiannon's uniqueness. No one like her has ever been seen and likely does not exist. She is on the wind like the bird in flight that she is. You can't get to Rhiannon or keep her. She is like the wind, she cannot be captured. She is in the sky where goddesses belong. She is there one moment and gone the next. Of course you would stay if she promised heaven, but then you remember you can never win her. Why would you even try when you know she will vanish? This may also refer to Stevie's relationship with Lindsey. If she promises him paradise, will he try to make things work?
She is like a cat in the dark
And then she is the darkness
She rules her life like a fine skylark-
And when the sky is starless-
This shows just how mystical she is. She can blend into her surroundings like a cat in a dark, and she moves stealthily like one, as well. Cats are associated with witches, and Rhiannon is a witch of sorts. Cats are independent, like Rhiannon, and you never know what they are thinking. The next moment she flies away like a skylark. When the sky is starless, that is when Rhiannon is most strongly present.
Once in a million years a lady like her rises
Oh no, Rhiannon, you cry, but she's gone
Your life knows no answer, your life knows no answer
Stevie often adds these lines in here, which differs from the original studio recording. It is just stressing again that Rhiannon is special, one in a million. When you cry out to her, she comes, but then she must go. You cannot understand why it must be this way. She is desired by many, but kept by no one. Stevie could also be telling Lindsey that one of these days, she is going to be gone. He'll want her back, but she won't come back.
The 2nd verse repeats here again, reinforcing the message.
Love's a state of mind.
You wake up from your dream and Rhiannon is gone. You realize what has happened and wonder if it was all a dream. Is love really a feeling? Or, is it just a way of thinking?
Stevie often continues on......
Your dreams unwind and still it's hard to find, I know.
Your dreams unwind and still it's a state of mind, I know.
Take me like the wind child
Take me with the sky
Take me now
Take me like the wind, baby
Take me with the sky
All the same
All the same
All the same, Rhiannon
All the same
Baby, all the same
And he still cries out for her,
"Don't leave me now."
This may now be Stevie crying out to Rhiannon to show her how to be like her. She wants to live free like a bird too. The man who has cried out to Rhiannon throughout the song does not give up. Perhaps he never will give up. He is just a "silly dreamer" as Stevie occasionally says during this part of the song. He will never attain Rhiannon. What she does is always the same.
Rhiannon is always the same.
(The interpretations to these lyrics were compiled through discussions on the message boards of the Penguin, The Ledge. It is entirely possible that the artists had something completely different in mind.)