Wednesday, March 11, 2009

“The Mabinogion” - Welsh folklore

Cerridwyn is in her isolated island home, in the middle of Llyn Tegid (now known as Bala Lake) in the northwest section of Wales. Her daughter and husband play no part in her story and, presumably, due to their respective beauty and size, are making their way peacefully through the world. Her son, Morfran, on the other hand, plays a prominent role. Also known as Afagddu, or “utter darkness”, Cerridwyn’s son has a gloomy disposition and an ugly outward appearance. She fears for him once he leaves the protection of her island home. Believing he will never be afforded the respect he deserves, she seeks to award him with other gifts that will compensate for his ugliness.

Cerridwyn studies long and hard, delving into her books of magick and sorcery, and finally alights on a spell that will help her son. She must gather herbs, whose properties will impart intellect, wisdom, inspiration, and skill. Through knowledge of the stars, she must throw them into a boiling cauldron at varying times throughout an entire year plus one day. The cauldron of inspiration and knowledge must be continually boiling during this entire time. After a year and a day, the combined power of the herbs and the stars will coalesce into three drops of the potion, forming a heady magickal brew. The rest will be deadly poison and will cause the cauldron to explode, seeping into the earth.

Armed with the information, she works non-stop for a year, gathering herbs, consulting her books, and reading the stars. She pours the waters of prophecy and inspiration into the cauldron, along with each herb and root and the foam of the ocean waters, all according to the movement of the stars. So that she can focus on her magickal goal, she employs a young boy, Gwion Bach, to stir the cauldron, and an old blind man, Morda, to tend the fire. Her son, during this year and a day, does not help at all. And so, in the end, he receives exactly what he deserves, according to his work ethic. Absolutely nothing.

Near the end of the year and a day, Cerridwyn, exhausted from her labours, having said all the incantations and added all the herbs, takes a much-needed rest. And somehow, during her slumbers, the three drops of power and wisdom and inspiration fall on the hand of the servant boy Gwion instead of her beloved son Morfran.

As the cauldron explodes from the powerful poison still inside, Cerridwyn wakes to find her son deprived of the potion’s power. Gwion, with his new knowledge and wisdom, realizes the full extent of Cerridwyn’s power and her rage and tries to escape to the lands of his family. Incensed with having worked an entire year for nothing, Cerridwyn beats the old man Morda with a heavy log, causing one of his eyeballs to pop out. “Mistress,” Morda says, “wrongfully hast thou disfigured me, for I am innocent. Thy loss was not because of me.” Cerridwyn acknowledges his wisdom and races off after the boy Gwion Bach.

The chase becomes a battle of magickal wills as each magician shape shifts from one animal to another. Gwion, upon seeing the furious Cerridwyn running after him, changes himself into a fleet-footed hare. Cerridwyn counters with the speed and grace of a greyhound. Just as her teeth nip at Gwion’s fuzzy hind legs, he morphs into a slippery fish and slides into a nearby river. Cerridwyn responds by transforming into a sleek, sharp otter and deftly glides after him. Feeling her pointed nails on his scales, Gwion alters his shape into that of a bird and rises above the earthbound Cerridwyn. She replaces her otter skin with that of a bird of prey, a sharp-eyed, sharp-taloned hawk, and soars after him. Realizing his mistake and tired from hours of using his new shape-shifting skills, Gwion spots a pile of newly winnowed wheat on a barn floor. Dropping close to the ground, he shifts into a grain of wheat and burrows amid all the other grains, sure that his disguise will confound the enraged Cerridwyn. However, Cerridwyn is more comfortable morphing from one animal to another and does not feel as tired as Gwion. Sensing his deception, Cerridwyn lands on the ground and changes into a high-crested black hen. In her new form, she promptly eats all the grains of wheat in the pile, including Gwion.

In seed form, Gwion takes root inside Cerridwyn, and before long, she is pregnant with him. Understandably upset and feeling thwarted, Cerridwyn vows to destroy Gwion as soon as he is born. She carries him for nine months, but after his birth, she does not have the heart to destroy the beautiful, golden-haired baby. Instead, she wraps him in a leather bag and tosses him into a raging river on April 29th. He is found a day later by the son of a wealthy nobleman. Struck by the beauty of the boy, he names the baby Taliesin, which means “radiant brow”. Taliesin recalls all of the knowledge and inspiration that he learned from Cerridwyn’s cauldron when he was Gwion. With such wisdom, he becomes the most noted, most talented of Celtic bards and poets.

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