The keeper of the cauldron of inspiration and mother of poetry.
The earliest references to Cerridwen seem not to be from the Book of Taliesin or the Hanes Taliesin, but from the Black Book of Carmarthen, from two poems by the bard Cuhelyn:
A successful song of fruitful praise, relating to the bustling course of the host,As can be seen, the invocations are nearly identical, and seem to be imitative of the classical invocation of the Muse--and thus it seems that Cerridwen is goddess of inspiration, at least in thirteenth-century literature. The identification of Cerridwen with the word ogyrven (elsewhere gogyrwen) also indicates the medieval belief in Cerridwen as a spirit of inspiration. This identification also appears in the Llyfr Taliesin, thus possibly demonstraiting the age of the Hanes Taliesin before it was ever recorded.
According to the sacred ode of Cyridwen, the goddess of various seeds,
The various seeds of poetic harmony, the exalted speech of the graduated minstrel
According to the sacred ode of Cyridwen, the Ogyrven of various seeds,—
The various seeds of poetic harmony, the exalted speech of the graduated minstrel,
Cuhelyn the wise, of elegant Cymraec, an exalted possession,
Will skilfully sing;
In the earliest version of Hanes Taliesin--Elis Gruffydd's "Ystoria Gwion Bach" and "Ystoria Taliesin"--Cerridwen is a witch living in Llyn Tegid in Penllyn (her aquatic status is strange enough), who has two children: Creirwy (who was beautiful) and Afagddu (who was ugly). In order to help her ugly son, she concocts a potion in her cauldron, working towards obtaining the three drops of Awen for Afagddu. She employs the boy Gwion Bach ("fair boy") to stir the cauldron for a year and a day; he accidentally swallows the three drops when it splatters on his thumb, and becomes enlightened. Cerridwen, angry, chases him, transforming to meet his every transformation:
And she went forth after him, running. And he saw her, and changed himself into a hare and fled. But she changed herself into a greyhound and turned him. And he ran towards a river, and became a fish. And she in the form of an otter-bitch chased him under the water, until he was fain to turn himself into a bird of the air. She, as a hawk, followed him and gave him no rest in the sky. And just as she was about to stoop upon him, and he was in fear of death, he espied a heap of winnowed wheat on the floor of a barn, and he dropped among the wheat, and turned himself into one of the grains. Then she transformed herself into a high-crested black hen, and went to the wheat and scratched it with her feet, and found him out and swallowed him.He is then impregnated in her, and she bares him for nine months before setting him out to sea in a leather bag, either on Samhain or Beltane (depends on the redaction).
Her name is confusing; it may mean "Crooked-backed woman" or "Bent white one"--either the image of a witch, or a sickle, or even a moon.
The impression is one who certainly can give inspiration, but not without danger; moreover, those who are inspired are thus her children.
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Mary Jones © 2004