Supernatural creature of the week: The woman who inspired the witch Rowena

The Scottish witch Rowena from Supernatural was possibly based on a Pagan woman who seduced and ruined a king, opening the door for the Anglo-Saxon invasion of Britain.

Supernatural lost a beloved character and ally this week. Rowena was a standout from the very beginning when she first appeared as Crowley’s hilariously horrible mother, but this week in “The Rupture” she became the ultimate hero. Sacrificing herself for both the world and the boys. In honor of her, let’s look at the woman who may have inspired her character.

Rowena had an interesting backstory on Supernatural. She was first mentioned by Crowley in Season 8 when he explained that his knowledge of witchcraft came from his mother who was a witch. However, it isn’t until Season 10 when she finally appeared as a minor antagonist turned anti-hero turned fan-favorite Winchester ally.

Unlike those who sell their souls or make deals to learn magic, Rowena was a natural-born witch, making her incredibly more powerful than other witches. Despite her power though, Rowena lived life as a peasant. The daughter of a tanner who had an affair with a married man and got pregnant with her son Fergus (Crowley). Once he was born, the man left Rowena and went back to his wife.

Rowena later abandoned Fergus and fled her village after she was caught practicing magic, something he never forgave her for. She was later discovered by another witch, Leticia D’Albioni, and offered a place in the Grand Coven but was later expelled for practicing extreme magic. While all that is very nice and interesting, the real Rowena had a much different story.

Rowena the Pagan woman

The real Rowena is like King Arthur, in that no one knows if she was actually real or not. There is little to almost no information on her and the little that’s given is jumbled up with historical confusion and literary rewrites. But throughout her many revisions, one thing always remains the same, she played a role in the Anglo-Saxon settlement of Britain and was a symbol of both paganism and treachery.

She appears in the Matter of Britain as the daughter of the mythological Anglo-Saxon chief Hengist and as the second wife of Vortigern, “King of the Britons”. The Matter of Britain is the body of Medieval text that tells the stories of legendary kings and heroes associated with Britain, most particularly King Arthur and the tales of Camelot.

In the text, Rowena is presented as being an enchantress who won her husband, and his kingdom, through potions and seduction. Once he falls for her, her father gains control over the Kingdom of Kent and the Saxons begin to work their way into Britain.

Supernatural — “Funeralia” — Image Number: SN1319a_0372b.jpg — Pictured: Ruth Connell as Rowena — Photo: Diyah Pera/The CW — © 2018 The CW Network, LLC. All rights reserved

In another version of the story, written by Geoffrey of Monmouth, Rowena plays a larger role in the invasion and poisons one of her stepsons, Vortimer, when he takes over his father’s throne to better drive out her people. Once he dies, the Saxons return to kill all the British leaders, sparing only Vortigern at Rowena’s insistence.

Other versions of her exist but they aren’t any more explanatory. In the Welsh Triads and in medieval Welsh poetry, Rowena is referred to as “The Mother of the English Nation” and personifies Saxon treachery. In the Frisian text, Spiegel historiael, Rowena’s father was the founder of the city of Leiden and she was actually a Frisian princess.

It was custom for women in Frisia to greet all visitors with a kiss and the Frisians believed that it had been Rowena who introduced the custom. According to the Frisian historian Pieter Winsemius, it was Rowena’s Frisian kiss that seduced Vortigern into marrying her.

Rowena is also believed to have served as a basis for the Morgan le Fay, another magical seductress who played a massive role in the Arthurian legends and one of the most famous sorceresses in history.

Don’t miss the next episode of Supernatural Thursday night at 8:00 p.m. EST. Bye Rowena, you’ll miss you.