As the wheel turns toward Samhain, we begin to embrace the dark. It is a time of rest and introspection. A time of releasing and letting go. A time of death and rebirth. This is the time of year when the Goddess Cerridwyn most calls to me.
This past winter, I led a virtual ritual for my local Pagan group for the February Full Moon on a practice that Cerridwyn had guided me to during the pandemic. As part of this ritual, I was called to write my own version of Her story. Part of this was for the sake of practicality – to introduce Her to those in my group who may not be as familiar with Her as a Goddess – but part was also magick. The magick of storytelling. The magick of creation. The magick of breathing new life into an old myth.
This is my retelling of the Tale of Cerridwyn.
Long ago, the witch Goddess Cerridwyn lived on the shores of the Bala Lake in Northern Wales with her husband Tegid Foel. She was known far and wide for Her magick, power, and wisdom. The couple was blessed with a beautiful daughter named Creirfyw and cursed with an ugly son named Mofran. Due to his hideous countenance, Her son came to be known as Afagddu, meaning “utter darkness.”
But She loved him, like any mother would, and sought to make Her son’s life better. Though She could not change his looks, She discovered a spell to brew a magickal potion that would impart the knowledge and wisdom of all worlds upon the drinker. This was the brew of Awen – of divine inspiration. The first three drops would be a blessing – The rest of the potion would be poison.
She set about gathering the herbs for the potion, setting them to boil in the largest cauldron the world had ever seen. The potion needed to simmer for a full year and a day’s time, so she enlisted the help of Morda, an old blind man, to keep the fire stoked, and a young man by the name of Gwion Bach to stir the contents of the cauldron.
Cerridwyn worked tirelessly throughout the year and a day, constantly adding more herbs to the sacred brew. On the final day, Cerridwyn finally sat down to rest. Her work was done, all that remained were a few hours for the potion to finish cooking. As Cerridwyn rested, the cauldron came to a mighty boil. Amid the roiling bubbles, three drops lept out of the cauldron, landing on the thumb of Gwion Bach. He instinctively stuck his thumb in his mouth at the burn, and immediately realized his mistake. As his mind and spirit began to fill with Awen, he knew he had just consumed the three drops meant for Cerridwyn’s son.
The giant cauldron cracked, straining against the caustic poison now contained within. Cerridwyn came over to see what the commotion was, and upon seeing Gwion Bach, She knew. Anticipating the Goddess’ rage, Gwion took off, running through the hills. Through his newfound magick, he took on the form of a hare, dashing through the grass. Cerridwyn tailed him in hot pursuit, changing into a greyhound to hunt the hare.
Gwion came to a river, and shifted into the shape of a salmon to navigate the waters. Cerridwyn dove into the river as an otter, gaining on him in speed. Gwion lept from the river in the form of a wren, and Cerridwyn tailed him as a mighty hawk. Gwion desperately looked for a way to evade her, and found a pile of wheat in a nearby farmer’s field. He dropped to the ground as a single grain. Cerridwyn, however, was not deterred. She transformed into a black hen, and pecked at the grain until none remained, swallowing Gwion Bach.
The chase was over, but Awen is powerful. Cerridwyn soon found that she was with child, and nine months later gave birth to a boy. She could not bring herself to harm the child, as his beauty shone brighter than the stars. The boy was named Taliesen – He of the radiant brow – and through this gift of Awen, he became the greatest bard of Celtic legend.