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Cerridwen by Sandra M. Stanton


Cerridwen, the Celtic Goddess of Witchcraft and the Underworld, lived on an island in the middle of Lake Tegid with her two children. Her daughter, who she named Creidwy, was a truly beautiful child; while her son, who was known as Afagdu was, perhaps, the ugliest child to ever grace the face of this Earth.

Like any other loving and caring mother Cerridwen wanted only the best for her children. It was obvious that Creidwy would do well in life. Unfortunately, however, Cerridwen knew all too well that Afagdu’s looks would only act as a detriment. So, in order to counter her son’s physical appearence, Cerridwen began to brew a magickal formula which would give him all the knowledge, wisdom and prophecy in the world, making him the most brilliant and inspired of men.

Cerridwen continued to work on that formula for one year and a day, simply to produce three drops of that precious liquid. It was kept simmering in her cauldron under the care of a young boy named Gwion.

Then one day it happened. While Cerridwen was out in the forest gathering herbs, the three drops of the boiling liquid accidentally flew up onto Gwion's finger, burning it and causing him great pain. In what appeared to be a typically automatic response, Gwion stuck his burned finger into his mouth in order to ease his pain.

All at once Gwion’s whole world quickly began to change, once the formula’s mighty powers began to work their magickal spell. Suddenly, he was able to hear everything that went on in the world. In fact, in that one brief instant, he was able to understand all the secrets of the universe, as well as the knowledge of the past, the present and the future. Luckily for Gwion, the sudden increase in his perception made him well aware of exactly what Cerridwen would do to him once she realized that it was he, rather then her beloved son, who had acquired the formula’s magickal powers. Fearing Cerridwen’s wrath, Gwion quickly fled away, but the all-knowing, all-seeing Cerridwen immediately realized what had happened, and she began to pursue Gwion with a vengence.

The race was on. When Gwion used his new shape-shifting abilities to change himself into a hare, Cerridwen pursued him in the form of a greyhound, and the two of them continued to play a game of cat and mouse, in a long and ongoing pursuit. If Gwion changed himself into a fish, then Cerridwen would change herself into an otter; and when he changed himself into a bird, she immediately became a hawk. It was not until Gwion changed himself into a grain of wheat, that Cerridwen knew for certain that he was hers. Immediately, she changed herself into a hen and then she quickly ate the grain of wheat that was Gwion.

Something unexpected happened, however, when Cerridwen ate that grain of wheat. By ingesting it Cerredwen became pregnant, and nine months later she gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. There was little surprise, and no doubt about the fact that the child born to Cerridwen was actually Gwion. It was, however, the Gwion that he had previously been, when he was nothing more then a very young child.

Cerridwen soon made the decision that enough was enough, and that all the intrigue finally had to come to an end. She was, however, unable to find it within her heart to kill the child. So she placed him inside a leather pouch, and then set the pouch afloat in the sea. Luck was definitely on Gwion’s side because Elphin, the son of a wealthy squire, discovered the pouch with the sleeping Gwion inside of it. Elphin and his wife happened to be childless, so they decided to adopt the boy, and because he was such a beautiful child they named him Taliesin, which means "beautiful brow." Even at an extremely early age, Taliesin had the most wonderful gift for poetry, and when he grew into a man, the poet Taliesin became known, far and wide, as the greatest poet to ever come out of Wales.

This is a tale which the people of Wales could easily identify with, because to them, death and rebirth are normal and necessary parts of existence, if true inspiration is to occur. It appeared to be completely natural to them, as well, that Cerridwen, the Goddess of True Inspiration, was also the poet's Muse.

That was the famous Myth of Cerridwen and her Cauldron. Unfortunately, Cerridwen, just like many other Goddesses, is remembered solely for the way that she appears in one particular myth. That is not only unfair, it is also unworthy and extremely unfortunate. Goddesses, just like human beings, are complex creatures and it is impossible to judge either one of them by any single act or action. If people truly wish to learn about Cerridwen, or about anyone else for that matter, then they need to take the time and exert the effort to do just that. Once that happens, then they will be able to see Cerridwen as she truly is, and they might also discover that she actually has some important qualities to offer them.

Cerridwen takes on the role of the Crone in the typical Welsh Triple Goddess Trinity in which Arianrhod is the Mother and Blodeuwedd the Maiden. Cerridwen has also been known to have dark prophetic powers and, since her totem animal is the sow, she is easily identified as a Goddess of the Underworld, with all the dark and frightening powers that are associated with it.

Like many other Celtic Goddesses, Cerridwen had two children: one child representing the dark aspects, and the other representing the light. Cerridwen’s daughter, Creidwy, represented everything that was beautiful and light, while her son, Afagdu, represented everything that was not.

Cerridwen is also known as the Keeper of the Cauldron of the Underworld, from which divine inspiration and knowledge flow. In the ancient Celtic tradition, the cauldron is its central religious mystery or theme of regeneration, which grows deep within the womb of the Goddess. Although Cerridwen may only be one, out of many Dark Goddesses, she has one particular aspect which makes her truly unique. Cerridwen is the womb of potential from which all manifestations flow, and because of that, she is believed to represent the Wheel of Life: the beginning, the end, and then the beginning once again.

People seem to have no trouble picturing Cerridwen standing there, stirring her cauldron, and brewing within it life and death. Stirring her cauldron is not something that Cerridwen just happens to do, nor it is even something that she chooses to do. Rather, the act of Cerridwen stirring her cauldron is one of necessary obligation. She has no choice in the matter, nor would she ever desire one, because by Cerridwen constantly stirring the souls of the dead, it is then, and only then, that rebirth will come forth from her cauldron.

Cauldrons have always served as important symbols in Celtic mythology, since they have so frequently been associated with wisdom, knowledge, life and death. In Welsh mythology, Cerridwen is the Goddess of Dark Prophetic Powers, and the Keeper of the Cauldron of the Underworld, continuously brewing inspiration and divine knowledge, within her cauldron.

As the "white sow," Cerridwen takes on the aspect of the Great Crone Goddess, and she is also the Dark of the Moon. The most important thing, however, is that it is Cerridwen’s cauldron that we must enter if we are going to be reborn, and then reborn, again.

Cerridwen has appeared as the Washer at the Ford, which is an aspect of the Irish Goddess of War, The Morrigan. She has also appeared as the dark Hag known as the Calleach. It is truly unfortunate that people all too frequently misunderstand Cerridwen and the amazing regenerative powers that she has, because it is that which causes them to fear her. People must actively take the time to get to know Cerridwen, because it is then that they will begin to understand how much she has actually given the world. Once that happens, all of their fears will quickly disappear. That is because, from out of Cerridwen’s cauldron comes Awen, which is better known as inspiration. Without inspiration, mankind would have no purpose, and life would have no meaning.

Cerridwen has been known by many names, including the Dark Moon Goddess, the Great Mother, the Goddess of Nature, and the Grain Goddess. She has also been known as a patroness of death, fertility, regeneration, inspiration, magick, enchantment and knowledge.

Her cauldron, and the white, corpse-eating sow, both connect Cerridwen to the Moon, and after Taliesin came forth from her womb, bards from all over Wales began to call themselves “Cerridorion,” or “Son of Cerridwen,” in the hope that any connection to her, however slight, might help them gain recognition and fame.

Different forms of transformation have always been necessary and important aspects of Celtic Mythology, and it is the cauldron which brings them all together. Three different types of cauldrons exist in the Celtic Mystery Tradition. They are the Cauldron of Transformation; the Cauldron of Rejuvenation and Rebirth; and the Cauldron of Inspiration. Cerridwen's cauldron, however, is the most important and unique of all the different cauldrons, because it is Cerridwen’s cauldron that represents the synthesis of those three cauldrons combined together into one archetypal cauldron.

The Celtic Underworld, also known as the Otherworld, has often been referred to as the “Land of the Ever Young,” and it is Cerridwen’s cauldron which offers people a way of getting there, so that they might gain immortality. They have no fear of death, because death to them is simply an integral part of the constant cycle of life. For every death there is a rebirth, and for every end a new beginning.

Cauldrons have always been important symbols in Celtic mythology. That is because they have been associated very closely with femininity. Cerridwen’s archetypal cauldron represents the great importance and power of the Divine Feminine, which symbolizes rebirth, renewal and transformation. Cerridwen’s cauldron also represents the great power that women held in the pre-Christian, Pagan world, because it is Cerridwen’s cauldron that represents the womb of the Great Mother Goddess, from which all life is born, and then born again.

Cerridwen has always been considered an extremely important Goddess, standing tall in the company of such other Goddesses as Danu, Isis and Demeter. Indeed, Cerridwen is more then just the Celtic Goddess of Inspiration, Intelligence and Knowledge. She is also an extremely powerful example of the Divine Feminine, and it is for that reason that she will always represent freedom for each and every woman who chooses to follow in her path.

Painting by Sandra M. Stanton
Used With Permission

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