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Goddess of the week - Ceridwen - Episode 2

Posted: Mon Mar 19, 2007 11:59 am
by Jescissa
Ceridwen of the Cauldron; Mother or Crone?
Ceridwen is one of the central figures in the Welsh myth of Taliesin the Bard. Her name, I am told, comes from Welsh cerydd+wen meaning 'fair chiding love'. The story goes that Ceridwen, wife of Tegid Foel, mother of a beautiful daughter called Creirwy and sons called Morfran and Afagddu (in some tellings Morfran and Afagddu are considered to be the same person), one an expert hunter, handsome and strong, the other hideously ugly and stupid.

Ceridwen's cauldron is a familiar concept in many Pagan faiths, not always limited to those of Celtic origin. It is considered to be the traditional source of inspiration, or awen, and modern Pagans do make reference to her cauldron as the holder of all the secrets of the universe and the place where wisdom is brewed. The concept of a womb can also be applied to the cauldron, where life, wisdom and beauty are allowed to grow, similarly to the way a baby (considered to be lively, beautiful and potentially wise at a future date) grows inside its mother.

The cauldron is an important part of the myth of Taliesin the Bard. In her cauldron, Ceridwen brews a potion to help her son, Afagddu, by bestowing him with the innovation, wit and wisdom of bardhood when he swallows the first three drops of the potion. She employs the young Gwion Bach to stir the concoction in her cauldron and ensure that it does not spoil as it is made. The tale takes a sudden turn when Gwion Bach is injured, burning his hand with a splash of the potion and sucking three drops of the potion off his scalded hand. Instantly he is endowed with the bardic wisdom and knowledge destined for Afagddu.

In rage, Ceridwen set out to kill Gwion Bach for stealing the wisdom meant for her son, but he was now extremely wise, so he took off ahead of her. In their chase, the two shape-shifted into different pairs of animals; When Gwion Bach became a hare, Ceridwen chased him as a greyhound; when Gwion Bach became a salmon, Ceridwen chased him as an otter; when Gwion Bach became a bird, Ceridwen chased him as a hawk; when Gwion Bach became a seed, Ceridwen became a hen and ate him, becoming pregnant with a child she knew to be the reincarnation of Gwion Bach.

We think of Ceridwen as a crone looking very much like the Granny-Weatherwax-type stereotypical witch, long grey hair, occasionally a hooked nose, clad all in black, perhaps a few warts…however…perhaps this is not actually the case. She is primarily a mother in the tale of Taliesin, the mother of two (occasionally three) children and then the mother of Taliesin by magical means, Ceridwen embodies the protective, warrior spirit of archetypical mother, rather than the archetypical crone. We've seen that she knew Afagddu to be ugly and stupid and wanted to make his lot in life better by trying to give him the skills of a bard, it is understandable then that perhaps she would be enraged that Gwion Bach stole the potion that would change her son's life.

Christy Taylor, however, suggests that the crone aspect is correct too, equating Ceridwen with death
Christy Taylor wrote:chasing the soul in a continual serious of death and rebirth. The soul seeks to escape the chase by moving from one species to another, but all species are involved in the same cycles of death and rebirth. Note how fluidly the boy switched from one creature to the next. This, I think, is a reminder that all animals walk the same circle of death and rebirth.
Taylor's equation of the fluid shapeshifting with seamless reincarnation from one species to another is attractive, as is her description of Ceridwen as Goddess of Death, not as a Goddess to be feared, but as a Goddess to be respected, considered and consulted. Taylor suggests we should respect the power of death as a force for change, but within that respect there should not be any fear, as we have the example of Gwion Bach's shapeshifting as proof of our cyclical birth-life-death-rebirth nature. She also believes that,
Christy Taylor wrote:If Ceridwen represents death then the soul is liberated from the chase by being accepted into Death and reborn of Death. Could this myth be saying that it is through rebirth we gain the knowledge needed to liberate ourselves from the cycles of life and death?
I believe this to be a very valid point. Gwion Bach being accepted into Ceridwen's very body and then reborn into the eminent bard, Taliesin, indicates a setting aside of the ego and allowing the self to be reborn into the world through the process of 'death as change', which is very different from 'death as an ending'. Gwion Bach actively became a seed, knowing with his new wisdom that Ceridwen would become a hen and swallow him. He set aside his self, the part that is afraid of change and embraced being reborn into the world through the power of death.

Death is not usually considered an aspect of mother-archetype goddesses, however, as I said before, Ceridwen embodies the mother aspect through her cauldron (womb), through her potion (her ambition for her son) and through her rage (intense protective feelings for Afagddu). As Taylor has indicated though, the death aspect along with her association with knowledge and wisdom does mark Ceridwen as a crone; there have been many goddesses of death and goddesses of wisdom, but generally speaking the goddesses combining the two aspects are depicted as crones, although that is not always a hard and fast rule.

In doing my research for this week's goddess, I have become torn about where she fits in the archetype structure. She is definitely not a wide-eyed young maid, pure as driven snow, she is a mother of a flawed son eager to ease his flaws and to make his path a little easier. She is also associated with death and the bringer of change, as many crone goddesses are. In Taylor's page, Ceridwen is treated as a goddess of death; through the power of her cauldron, she brings the dead back to life, rebirthing them into this world...however the rebirth aspect brings me back to her mothering aspect! :lol: I'm a little tied in knots now, I've gone from perceiving Ceridwen as a crone goddess to actually beginning to perceive her as a mother, with all the motherly attributes of typical mother goddesses such as Danu or Isis, they are the primary carers of their children, in Isis' case, similarly to Ceridwen, she was willing to do whatever it takes to support her son and ensure his future...but that's another story :-D

Well, thank you for reading and I look forward to reading next week's goddess article :-D Please feel free to ask any questions or pick apart my arguments :-D

Posted: Mon Mar 19, 2007 1:57 pm
by SageWolf
It sounds to me that As a mother, she should have excepted the fact that her son was not a normal child and that he would always be abnormal, you can't change who you are. I think there is something to this, I'm not sure exactly what but that is the first thing I thought of when I read the story, It was well written and researched, Jessiaca thank you for that.


Posted: Mon Mar 19, 2007 2:21 pm
by Jescissa
I don't think that's what the myth is getting at with Afagddu, but it's a fair point, SageWolf. Ceridwen wasn't rejecting him for who he was, but trying to help him along and to beat it. It's no different to parents of Dyslexic children doing all they can to make sure their kids have the right support in school and things like that. At least that's they way I read it because it wouldn't make Afagddu any prettier, but it would have given him a bard's way with words and make him acceptable at the courts of the land because as a Goddess' son he should have a place at court.

Thank you :-D

Posted: Mon Mar 19, 2007 3:21 pm
by forgotten oceans
Oh wow! Very good!! =D> =D> The part where she chases down Gwion Bach reminds me of a song I heard once about a maiden and a magician, very amussing. :-D

Posted: Mon Mar 19, 2007 3:40 pm
by iriseyes

This is awesome.. I love it..

I have a Goddess book I have been using along with web sites..

"The book of Goddesses, A Celebration of the Divine Feminine Kris Waldherr.

Cerridwen is not in this book, would she have another name she might go by.

Posted: Mon Mar 19, 2007 5:05 pm
by daibanjo
This really is an excellent article Jescissa. Ceridwen is one of my personal favorites. She's the keeper of the cauldron of Awen. If anyone wants to know what the symbol of Awen is, just look at Katsu's avatar.
The story of Gwion Bach (His name means Little Innocent) is one of the most profound of the Celtic tales. Follow the journey of Gwion as he becomes the Hare (Earth) the Salmon (Water) the Wren (Air) then finally the grain of wheat in the fire of Ceridwen's belly. There he is nurtured in the womb of the goddess. After birth he lives in another kind of womb because she puts him in a sack and casts him into the sea.
He is reborn as Taliesin (Radiant Brow) he had the fire in his head. The fire of inspiration and creativity.
Imagine the ancient Gods, knowing that the future would see them all but forgotten, yet not willing that the ancient lore be lost. So they fashioned tales, stories that would live on so that when the time was right we could hear these stories and once again learn the ancient ways.
The tale of Taliesin the twice born and of his schooling from Ceridwen herself is very deep.
Diolch yn fawr iawn chwaer fach. mae'n pleser bendigedig i ddarllen d'eich erthygliau.

Posted: Tue Mar 20, 2007 2:28 am
by Windwalker
I've always felt terribly drawn to Taliesin, ever since I first read the name, and I'd love to learn more about him.

Hee, Daibanjo, way to wax poetic :-D

As for the mother vs. crone thing.... I thought at first that she was a crone, but she's clearly just as equally a mother. Possibly we assign things to categories too much... the folly of the human brain.

Thanks for the very well-written article. :-D

Posted: Tue Mar 20, 2007 8:18 am
by Kitsune
That was wonderful, Jescissa. Very informative. I've always thought of Ceridwen as a mother goddess... With crone aspects.

It seems to me that only a mother who has birthed a child, and known that death may claim the thing most important to her at any time, may be a Mother. It is that knowledge of death, while still being able to acknowledge the power of life to reconquer even when all is in shambles, is what the Arctypical Mother is all about!

I had heard the story about her and Talisien before, but I must admit, I never thought to equate the transformations with the elements, and the return to spirit at the end. Thank you for that insight, Daibanjo. :-D

Posted: Tue Mar 20, 2007 9:47 am
by SageWolf
I'm not sure if I wrote my thoughts right, let me clarify a bit, Changing a person is not to be done. If a person is dyslexic then yes they can learn to read propelly, But they have to work on it. I think that for her son to become a bard then he has to do it like any other bard has too, to study hard and earn his bardhood, Nothing is handed to you it is earned, if you are a lazy person, and never did a day of paperwork in your life, why would the office even keep you for not doing what your suppose to do? You have to earn the job,The same holds true for Gods this story even says it as well, Although the other guy got the Bard stuff in the spell, but maybe he was destined to be one to begin with, or had the knowledge of it. And that was his reward, But I'm going on again and not making much sense.

Oh Sorry Ragnar, I know you hate me not doing paragraphs, I got into my typing.

So deal with it for now :-D But I still Love the Badge, except when he bites, then I gotta bite him back


Posted: Tue Mar 20, 2007 1:46 pm
by Jescissa
Daibanjo wrote:Diolch yn fawr iawn chwaer fach. mae'n pleser bendigedig i ddarllen d'eich erthygliau.
Diolch brawd fawr, dwi ydy ifanc ag y stori Ceridwen ag Taliesin sy'n hen, hen iawn. Dwi eisiau chywainwch a helpu pawb yn deall y gwawr complecs o dan y wyneb y stori. Fy Cymraeg sy'n araf heddiw, :lol: , fy pen sy'n llawn efo gwaith prifysgol!

Windwalker and Kitsune, thank you :-D I feel a lot more closer to Ceridwen having written the article too!
SageWolf wrote:I'm not sure if I wrote my thoughts right, let me clarify a bit, Changing a person is not to be done. If a person is dyslexic then yes they can learn to read propelly, But they have to work on it.
I guess it's all down to personal interpretation :-D I think one of the reasons we've all gone down this path is because questioning is allowed. I think one of the things I like about the old myths is that Gods are divine and they are very powerful...but their emotions are just as controlling as ours can be, after all...our feelings come from Gods are not always right 100% of the time, and they can get up to some pretty questionable stuff (if you don't believe me, check out the story of Math ap Mathonwy and the ways his nephews plotted to get his poor foot-bearer into bed, also there's plenty of examples of Greek Gods taking advantage of nymphs!)

Posted: Tue Mar 20, 2007 4:38 pm
by Willow
thisis awesome, thank-you very much

Posted: Tue Mar 20, 2007 7:48 pm
by daibanjo
These stories are fascinating. All cultures share stories of gods and heros behaving in peculiar ways.
For instance, there's a story in Hebrew mythology that Jacob had 12 sons, the fathers of the tribes of Israel, and a daughter named Dinah. It seems that a prince took a liking to Dinah and had sex with her. The brothers were most put out and went to the prince to complain. He told them that he really loved Dinah and wanted to marry her. The boys said that it was ok as long as he and all his household got circumcised.
The prince agreed and then while the prince and all his gaurds were feeling very sore the boys burst in and kill them all.
The challenge for us is to look beyond the literal tale and discover the lesson behind it. In the story above I don't think there is a lesson. I really think it's a sick joke.
Some of these tales are like this library. A lot of deep wisdom with a forum for humor. Unfortunately the labels have been edited out.

Back to Ceridwen. Jescissa said her name means "Fair chiding love" that's because her name is a play on words. "Wen" means Fair or white. The first part of her name comes from "Cerydd" which means "to rebuke" and "Ceri" which is a form of the Welsh word for love. As in the Welsh saying "Cas yw gwirionedd lle nis ceri" (Harsh is truth where it is not loved)
The lake where Ceridwen lived is today called by the English "Lake Bala" but we Welsh still call it "Tegid" after the husband of Ceridwen. The son Afagddu, it means utter darkness, was deprived of the potion and the old man who aided Gwion before he drank the Awen was beaten by Ceridwen for falling asleep.
A part of Druid training is to take this story and see if you can continue it where the legend stopped. What happened to Afagddu? what happened to Morda, the old man? There have been some great tales weaved around these threads.
I could go on forever about the tale of Taliesin so I'd better stop. :oops:

Posted: Wed Mar 21, 2007 7:00 am
by Ragnar
SageWolf wrote: Oh Sorry Ragnar, I know you hate me not doing paragraphs, I got into my typing.
Don't hate any of the genuine people here. Mildly irritated on occassion.

But that goes with living in a set and only coming out after dark.

Plays HAVOK with the eyes. :-D

Posted: Thu Mar 22, 2007 2:32 am
by Jescissa
Iriseyes wrote:Cerridwen is not in this book, would she have another name she might go by.
Her name is usually spelled Ceridwen/Cerridwen, but sometimes people do spell it Kerridwen or Kerridwyn, so you could check out those names. (although, what tickles me is that names ending -wyn in Welsh are always masculine names, so people who spell her name Kerridwyn are making her male!) Don't worry if she's not in the book, there are plenty of places you can find out more about her. Wikipedia actually has quite a good article on her.
Daibanjo wrote:I could go on forever about the tale of Taliesin so I'd better stop. :oops:
:lol: Why not? I linked to a website with an online Mabinogion, it would be nice to talk a bit more about y chwedlau hen!
Daibanjo wrote:A part of Druid training is to take this story and see if you can continue it where the legend stopped. What happened to Afagddu? what happened to Morda, the old man? There have been some great tales weaved around these threads.
Perhaps there's some Druid in me :lol: I love to do that with old legends. Sometimes the story cuts off just when you really want to know what happens next.

Posted: Thu Mar 22, 2007 3:47 am
by iriseyes
Jessica I agree. I have done a lot of reading on her LOTS. Some sites even place her cauldron as the Holy Grail?

Daibanjo please go on.. I find Talisman a very interesting subject..