Cerridwen is a prominent figure from Welsh mythology revered by druids, witches, and pagans all over the world.
She is known as a mother, wife, shapeshifter, witch, healer, powerful initiatrix and bestower of the Awen– the divine force of flowing inspiration that permeates all existence.
Cerridwen has been the source of inspiration for bards of history through to today, as she is believed to brew the Awen in her magickal cauldron and bestow it upon those who wish to channel it.
She is therefore instrumental in the creation of art, song, poetry, music and all forms of creative communication.
Cerridwen is also a Goddess of spiritual initiation, transformation and change. Her myth depicts the process of her initiating a young boy named Gwion going through several stages of death and rebirth, eventually transforming him into Taliesin, who grew up to be the great Chief of Bards.
She is sometimes referred as a goddess of Inspiration, the Mother of Awen and the Keeper of the Cauldron, for her cauldron is a vessel of great power and change.
Cerridwen’s Myth in a Nutshell
Here is my brief version of Cerridwen’s story (derived from ‘The Tale of Taliesin’):
Cerridwen was married to Tegid Foel and lived in Llyn Tegid (Bala Lake) with her two children- a breathtakingly beautiful daughter named Creirwy, and an ugly-looking son named Morfran (meaning ‘sea crow’), which she later changed to Avagddu (meaning ‘utter darkness’). Cerridwen loved her son dearly, but like any mother, she worried about him.
She wanted so badly for her son to have the respect and opportunities in life he deserved, so she set about creating a potion that would bestow him with great powers of wisdom, inspiration and prophecy to give him hope for a better future.
Cerridwen was well versed in the practice of magick, and so spent time collecting the appropriate herbs, while assigning a young peasant boy named Gwion Bach to stir the cauldron and a blind man named Morda to tend the fire continuously for a year and a day- this potion was quite a commitment!
It was also a very particular potion in that once three drops of it were consumed, the rest of it became poison.
Gwion and Morda worked tirelessly, and Cerridwen mustered all her magickal knowledge and energy for this very special brew for her son. Eventually, she became tired and had a little nap.
During this time, three drops of the hot potion splashed from the cauldron onto young Gwion’s thumb. Instinctively, he brought his thumb into his mouth to soothe the burn.
Upon ingesting those three magickal drops, Gwion was immediately filled with the magickal abilities and wisdom intended for Avagddu- he could see the past, present and future with complete clarity. He knew Cerridwen would be very angry and seek her revenge.
Soon after, the cauldron split and broke open, spilling the now poisonous remains of the potion onto the land, where it flowed and killed horses nearby.
Cerridwen, awakened by the commotion, saw what had happened and in a rage, she began to chase Gwion Bach.
Gwion, now possessing the ability to shapeshift, took the form of a hare to run quickly away from Cerridwen. But Cerridwen was more powerful and took the form of a greyhound in pursuit.
As she got closer and closer to Gwion, he panicked and as he came to a body of water, he quickly transformed into a salmon, swimming as fast as he could. But Cerridwen then took the form of an otter and quickly gained on him.
Gwion then rose out of the water, taking the form of a wren, flying through the air. But Cerridwen took the form of a hawk and again began to catch up quickly.
As Gwion flew over a mill, he decided to turn himself into a grain of wheat and hide amongst a large pile of grain, thinking Cerridwen would never find him there.
However, Cerridwen was very determined, so she transformed into a black crested hen and proceeded to eat each and every last grain of wheat there, swallowing up Gwion into her belly.
She was relieved and satisfied to have gotten her revenge.
However, things did not go as she planned. By some biological oddity, the grain of wheat that was Gwion implanted itself like an egg within Cerridwen’s womb and began to grow.
When Cerridwen realised she was pregnant with this new form of Gwion, she was furious, and couldn’t wait to kill him once he was born.
Nine months later, Cerridwen birthed the most beautiful little boy. When she peered into his radiant face, she was overcome with love and could not bring herself to kill him. But she could not keep him either, after what had happened with the potion. So instead, she placed him in a coracle and set him out into the sea to meet his fate.
The young baby floated out in the sea for months or some say years, until one day a Welsh prince named Elphin was fishing for salmon and noticed something unusual caught in the nets. It was the coracle with the babe in it.
He brought it in, and when he saw the baby’s face, was overwhelmed by his brightness and exclaimed ‘What a radiant brow!’ In Welsh this was Taliesin, which is the name he then took. Taliesin eventually grew up to be the most famed and talented bards in history.
Cerridwen’s Character & Roles
This myth is so rich and full of symbolism, far too much for one blog post. However, these are some key things that stand out for me in regards to Cerridwen:
She is a protective mother, who wants the best for her child
She is a witch– (swynwraig in Welsh), as she is very skilled in herbs, potions and magick.
She is an initiatrix– She pushed Gwion through stages of spiritual growth and evolution- through the shapeshifting animals of land, sea and sky. Then he is consumed into the great dark womb of transformation through her pregnancy, after which he is reborn into a completely new form.
She is a transformer and incubator of energy, like the cauldron itself and the womb. There is a strong theme of transformation, incubation and rebirth throughout the story. There are three ‘wombs’ in which this takes place- the cauldron, Cerridwen’s womb and the coracle.
She is Mother of the Awen– She is connected to the song of the universe- the flowing inspiration that moves through all things, which enables her to make such a powerful potion as she did, bringing all that knowledge, wisdom and magickal ability to Gwion Bach in an instant.
She can teach us lessons around control & surrender– There is a strong theme in the story of surrendering to a power larger than ourselves. Cerridwen’s best laid plans, skills and intentions did not prevent her spell from going awry. Something bigger was at work. Her plan to kill Gwion was also twisted by fate. Gwion himself thought he was just going to obediently stir a witch’s cauldron when in fact, what awaited him was a massive initiatory journey of death and rebirth.
Cerridwen in my life
I have only been working intentionally with Cerridwen since spring of 2020. Interestingly, that was the beginning of the pandemic. I had felt her presence before that, particularly on a trip to Wales, but I hadn’t put a name to her yet.
On my path, I seem to have periods of time where a deity calls me- I see or sense them in a vision, meditation journey or place, and feel very drawn to them. I work with them for however long I am meant to- to learn their lessons and integrate their energies into my life.
In some ways, starting a relationship with a new deity is like starting a new intimate relationship with a person. I go deep, I let the relationship transform me and my life. It may be long term, it may be shorter term. But I am touched forever.
It makes sense that Cerridwen would call during this collective time of such upheaval and change. We are all in her cauldron, in some way or another. We’ve had to surrender and let go of things, parts of ourselves, and people. We’ve been pushed out of our comfort zones and initiated, tested and challenged, like Gwion.
Working with Cerridwen has brought me face to face with my fears- of persecution, of rejection, of the unknown. She has helped me transmute them and liberate myself, layer by layer. She helps me to trust myself- my connection with the Awen and my skills as a witch. She challenges my love of knowing, stability and control- she has been eroding my need for certainty and transmuting it into a deepened acceptance and trust in the unknown.
Cerridwen beckons us to see the beauty in the unformed potential that exists deep in the darkness of the cauldron and embrace this potentiality as fuel for new life.
Working with Cerridwen also seems to activate my voice. I would not consider myself a confident or talented singer or poet. I also struggle with much caution and fear in communicating my truth. Yet, whenever I meditate with Cerridwen, I am always compelled to sing and sound. She seems to love this, as an offering. She also doesn’t let me stop writing, communicating and standing in my power. She ensures that the truth be communicated, in service of the Awen. I thank Cerridwen for keeping me an open channel for the Awen to flow through. For being my protectress, my wise guide and teacher and my dark mother during this potent time.
I will share more of my experiences with Cerridwen and my journey with her in the future. For now, here is a simple song prayer I made up and sing to her:
- Sing to me
- Mother of Awen
- Teach me the Mystery
- Mother and Crone
- Lady of the Deep
- You dwell in my bones
- Shine your light
- Hold me by the hand
- In this dark night
*If you are interested in learning more about Cerridwen, I highly recommend Kristoffer Hughes’ book: Cerridwen-Celtic Goddess of Inspiration.
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As a Witch who makes her home and practice in Tkaronto (Toronto) Ontario, I deeply thank the original stewards of this land: The Mississaugas of the Credit, Mississaugas of Scugog, Alderville, Hiawatha & Curve Lake; The Chippewas of Beausoleil, Rama & Georgina island, the Haudenosaunee and Wendat nations. I acknowledge the resilience of the First Nation, Inuit and Metis people who live and work here in the present, in a system of inequity and oppression. I am working on uncolonising my own practice, amplifying Indigenous voices and supporting Indigenous communities in whatever way I can.