The Story of Ceridwen

The name Ceridwen comes from the Welsh – cerdd – meaning poetry or song and – wen, (a contraction of gwen) – meaning white, fair or holy. Ceridwen, according to Welsh legends and folklore, was a white witch or goddess, and is considered to be the goddess of poetry, inspiration and of the cauldron of transfiguration.

Ceridwen was mother of and employer to the famous 6th century Welsh bard Taliesin. She was married to the giant Tegid Foel and lived on the shores of Bala Lake with their two children, the very beautiful daughter Crearwy and their extremely ugly and stupid son, Morfran. No magic of Ceridwen had yet been able to cure Morfran but she kept on trying and one day, she was making up once again, in her cauldron, a potion to make him both handsome and wise. Tegid Foel and Ceridwen had a servant boy, Gwion Bach, who was given the job of stirring the brew for a year and a day. According to the legend, only the first three drops of the brew were effective; the rest was poisonous. Gwion Bach started getting bored and a bit slapdash and the three first crucial drops fell onto him. He put his hand to his mouth to stop the burning and instantly he became clever, good-looking and capable of changing his shape.

He ran away, terrified of Ceridwen’s temper, and turned himself into a rabbit; but Ceridwen followed and transformed herself into a dog. So the boy changed himself into a fish and jumped into the river, swiftly followed by the otter formerly known as, Ceridwen. Gwion changed from fish to bird and Ceridwen turned her ottery self into a hawk and continued the chase. Finally, the bird became a grain of corn; the hawk became a hen – and swallowed him up.

When Ceridwen returned to her normal witchy self she discovered that she was pregnant and she knew that the baby was Gwion. She planned to kill him as soon as he was born, but the baby was far too beautiful so she just put him into a large leather bag and threw him into the sea. The bag was found in the nets of the fishers of the annual salmon catch on the Dovey River, which was presented to a thus far extremely unlucky prince, Prince Elffin. On opening the bag, Elffin discovered the baby boy – Gwion, who had been reborn as Taliesin. This foundling was something of a child prodigy, because no sooner had poor Elffin placed the baby in front of him on his saddle than Taliesin, (which means ‘how radiant his brow is’), started first speaking, then reciting, poetry and then making predictions about how Elffin would now defeat all his enemies. How could he do otherwise now he had Taliesin’s help?

Elffin’s luck changed from that moment and Taliesin, through his poems and his prophecy, became the most famous bard in Britain, inspiring the Celtic warriors against their Saxon invaders.

And towards the end of his life, Taliesin made a prophecy about the fate of the British which still has resonance today. Loosely translated it goes like this:-

Their Lord they shall praise,
Their language they shall keep,
Their land they shall lose –
Except wild Wales.

So, welcome once again to West Wales, to Carmarthenshire, to the Teifi Valley and to Ceridwen!