A Cymric Goddess of the Ystoria Taliesin, also known as Ceridwen, Caridwen: Blessed Poet or Beloved
Ceridwen (Ceridwen, Caridwen, Kerridwen) is a Cymric (Welsh) goddess known from the tale of the Ystoria Taliesyn as the mother of Afagddu who brews the potion of inspiration that Taliesin accidentally imbibes. The interpretation of her name hints at her role in providing divine inspiration.
Cerridwen’s tale occurs in the mediaeval Ystoria Taliesyn (the tale of Taliesyn) and tells of how the bard came to be born. During the early days of Arthur’s reign there lived in the region of Penllyn, by Llyn Tegid, Bala a man called Tegid Foel and his wife, Cerridwen. Between them they had a daughter, Creirwy, the fairest maiden in the world and a son, Morfrân, who because of his dark skin and hideous aspect was also known as Afagddu.
Morfrân was the least favoured of all men and to compensate for his looks Cerridwen, who was versed in all three of the magical arts: mage-arts, witchcraft and sorcery, decided to create a special brew in her Cauldron of Inspiraton so that her son would gain clear sight, poetic majesty and knowledge of the future.
Such a powerful brew required careful tending as the potion had to seep for a year and a day. As a result Cerridwen appointed the blind man, Morda, to tend the fire whilst Gwion Bach was set to stir the brew. After a year and a day of tedious stirring and Gwion approached exhausion, Cerridwen placed Morfrân next to the cauldron in readiness and prepared herself for sleep. Annoyed that Morfrân was in his shadow Gwion shoved him out of the way and as he did so three drops of the brew accidentally flew from the cauldron and fell on Gwion’s finger, scalding him. Instinctively he placed his finger in his mouth to suck at the burn and immediately he gained the knowledge of all things and the potion remaining in the cauldron was converted to poison. With seething toxin within, the cauldron immediately burst and Afagddu had to remain ill-favoured.
Hearing the cauldron burst Cerridwen awoke as if from a trance. Touched by the potion’s power Gwion immediately saw the dangers that would befall him and he immediately feld to his own lands where he tried to hide himself against Cerridwen’s wiles. Cerridwen now came across the scene of the shattered cauldron. With some difficulty she managed to persuade Morfrân to tell herwhat had happened. Flying into a rage she chased after Gwion He quickly used the powers gained from the brew and changed himself into a hare and hopped off as quickly as his legs would carry him. Cerridwen took the form of a greyhound and followed in swift pursuit. But just as She was about to catch him, he changed into a fish and slipped into a river. Cerridwen quickly became an otter and continued after Gwion. About to be caught again, he once more changed his form, this time into a bird and flew off into the sky, only discovering the Cerridwen was close behind, having taken the shape of a hawk. Fearing for his life, Gwion noticed a pile of wheat on the land below and changing himself into the tiniest of grains, dropped into the pile. Cerridwen’s sharp eyes saw what he had done and taking the form of a black crested hen, She pecked at the grain until She found and ate the seed that had been Gwion. But the tiny seed took root within her womb and began to grow. For nine months, Cerridwen proclaimed that on the day that Gwion would be reborn She would destroy him, but when that day arrived She relented. She placed him in a leather sack and threw him into the raging waters of the river, this just two days before the first of May.
Many interpretations have been made of the meaning of Cerridwen’s name based on the roots caru (to love) cerdd (poem) caer (fortress) and cerru (cauldron). This last interpretation I found most dubious and the frotress interpretation doesn’t make much sense either, given Cerridwen’s properties. In poems of the Llyfr Du Caerfyrddin Cerridwen is invoked in several poems as the patronness of inspriation. Hence I would plump for the root of her name being derived from the Cymric word for poem or song. The feminine termination wen literally means white but in the names of deities it usually connotes ‘sacred’. Thus her name probably means ‘Blessed Poet’ or ‘Blessed of the Verse’. Cerridwen, as the guardian of the cauldron of inspiration and the awen (muse) she may be have been a Muse figure ab=nd this may be her original mythos.
In later folklore Cerridwen became the Hag figure with some of her attributes similar to the Irish and Scottish Cailleach. This may have been because she was seen as a sorcerer and therefore became demonized. In local folklore the wheat-straw was considered sacred to Cerridwen and used for the process of divination.