The Legend of Kerridwen
The Birth of Taliesin


(I decided some long time ago to tell in a more evocative style the tale of Kerridwen and how she came to give a second birth to Gwyion.   Although bearing malice and murderous intent in her heart, she was to spare the life of her newborn by placing him in a bag and casting him into the waters of the weir of Gwyddno Garanhir.

Gwyddno's son Elphin rescued Gwyion from drowning as he was attempting to net fish, the young child being his only catch of the day.  On seeing the child's fairness of face, Elphin named him Taliesin - "the beautiful brow."  Taliesin was to play an important role in Elphin's life as his chief bard - but that's another tale.

Kerridwen was the Goddess venerated on Eryri [Snowdon] at Broich Y Ddinas by the ancient druids.  Her chariot was said to have been pulled by the Dragons of Beleu Mawr.)

In days hid by the mists of time, dwelt the Lady Kerridwen on an isle 'mid Tegid mere.  There did She Her daughter Kreirwy bear, the fairest e'er conceived, and Afagddhu, the most hideous son a mother's womb had known.
Such was his appearance, that The Lady vowed to bless him with all wisdom, that his lack of beauty matter not.   Then did She repair to mysteries of ancient lore and so determine Y Pair Yr Awen*to prepare.  Therefore did Kerridwen bid Morda 'the blind' to tend with wood the blaze beneath, and gently fan the tongues of flame that they die not.

(*the cauldron of inspiration)

Gwyion, young son of Gwreang, did She charge to stir the waters constantly for year and day according to the mysteries.

Lo through all, The Lady toiled faithfully.  Season upon season, hour by hour, with planets' aid and Her own craft did She herbs of enchantment cull to grant the draught full power that but one sip all knowledge might impart.

Ere yet the year was o'er, as Gwyion stirred, three scalding drops from out the cauldron flew and on his finger lay.  Then came, with the wet fire, pain and gnawing burning  that the countenance contorts and to relieve the agony, as done by all, was finger put to mouth.

And with the abating scream of flesh came soothing comfort, but yet more - o'er the calm of childhood mind flashed leaping rays.  An inner sunrise all his being blinded, and fast to noonday rose the orb. The mind's sky - blue, turned burnish gold, unclouded and ablaze; and, as the spirit's eye grew wide in awe and wonderment, lo writ across this panoply of splendour - 'Knowledge' - of all that was, of all that had e'er been or yet should ever be!  With all revealed, young Gwyion knew his end would be whene'er his task was done.  And so in terror fled.

With stirring stilled, the Pair then overflowed and broke asunder; and from its shattered vault the draught flowed earthwards, thus forever lost.  This did Kerridwen find on Her return and, understanding what had passed, She in pursuit and  hatred flew.

By  virtue of his new-found power did Gwyion change his form into a hare, but She to hound did turn and swifter still pursued.  As hound's jaws closed upon its prey, he leaped and changed again upon a river bank.  The hare a fish became, but hound into an otter turned to brave the river's flood.  Then fish to bird and She to hawk, while flight for life continued still.  And faster beat the wings of one in terror wrapped, of other with blind fury spurred, till hawk's triumphant swoop brings death more near as eye locks on to where the beak will strike and rend.

'Twas in this plight that Gwyion spied a barn below, and swift as pebble's fall did wing to where the winnowed wheat did lie, and, in an instant, changed into a grain and lay full still.

No movement now but downward spiralling glide of silent  hawk which soon alights.  The feathered form slow changes till, with fuller breast and body round and ever darkening plumage, stands a hen as black as night.  And from the eyes glow hatred and victorious gleam.   Kerridwen's wiles makes Gwyion's hidel of no worth.  The beak is wide - She sees, stoops, strikes!

The grain is gone - Gwyion consumed.  Gwyion no more.

In a trice stands a lady - Kerridwen as before.

Quoth She with malice dread: "Where now the blazing noon, O Gwreang's son?  Where now the inner light of wisdom's fire?  All is eclipsed and twilight shrouds the mind, and deeper shadows the spirit.  The senses dim, the senses still and darkening waves, like ever-nearing sleep, break o'er thy soul.  Black is Death's night where no stars shine. All is as naught and naught is all, save gentle sway of Death's chill flood."

Yea Gwyion art thou deep within a mere, and gentle light the darkness breaks.  Thine heart yet beats, 'though faint, and thy mind's terror gone - for peace exchanged.   Comfort glows within thy being, joy within thy breast as heart beats on.

But two hearts dost thou hear; thine own and one yet stronger and above.

The waters that do bear thee up are those of strength - waters that succour and revive, the mysterious tides of life and of the womb.  Thou art conceived anew by thine own Huntress, and She too knows Her gift of death hath brought thee life - life anew within Her very frame.

And so did Gwyion grow as nine moons waxed, as nine moons waned, and to Kerridwen the pangs of birth appeared.

Her moaning ever stronger grew and, as She lay in travail and in pain, the waters flowed.  And with the flowing came Her cry of agony as womb descends, and with the cry - a child, Her son.  Gwyion who wert - Gwyion who art - Gwyion reborn.

(Llyn Tegid = Bala Lake in North Wales)

The cauldron shatters when Gwyion
ceases to stir the mixture.

      Copyright Gareth Pengwerin 1965