Cerridwen, Dark Goddess of Transformation, Inspiration and Knowledge by Judith Shaw

judith Shaw photoCerridwen, Dark Goddess of Transformation, Inspiration and Knowledge is best known as the mother of Taliesen, the greatest of all the Welsh poets.   But Her story is much older and Her powers run deep.

Cerridwen (“White Sow”, or “White Crafty One”) has many other names:  Dark Moon Goddess, Great Mother, White Lady of Inspiration and Death, Goddess of Nature, and Grain Goddess. She rules the realms of death, fertility, regeneration, inspiration, magic, enchantment and knowledge. Her ritual pursuit of Gwion Bach symbolizes the changing of the seasons, nature’s yearly cycle of death and rebirth.

Cerridwen, Celtic Goddess, painting by Judith ShawCerridwen, as a powerful Underworld Goddess, is the keeper of the cauldron of knowledge, inspiration and rebirth.  She and Her cauldron most likely appear in the Welsh legend of Bran the Blessed. She came from Ireland to the Land of the Mighty disguised as a giantess named Kymideu Kymeinvoll with her husband Llassar.

In Ireland they had emerged from a lake, which always signifies the Otherworld in Celtic mythology. Ultimately the Irish, who were terrified of the power of life and death they represented, violently expelled them from Ireland.  Bran, offered them safe harbor in exchange for Cerridwen’s magical cauldron. That cauldron had the power to resurrect the corpses of dead warriors which were placed in it.  Bran the Blessed gave this same cauldron to the Irish King, Matholuch, when he married Branwen, Bran’s sister.  Later in the story this cauldron figured in the total destruction of the two tribes.

The cauldron is a central image in the Celtic Mystery Tradition.  There are three different types of cauldrons: the Cauldron of Transformation, the Cauldron of Rebirth, and the Cauldron of Inspiration.  Cerridwen’s cauldron combines all three into one quintessential cauldron.  Cerridwen, as the keeper of this quintessential cauldron, represents the womb of the Goddess from which all life manifests into this world.  She labors continually at Her cauldron, stirring up the forces of inspiration, divine knowledge and the eternal cycle of birth, death and rebirth.  She is the Wheel of Life. She is also associated with the sow and grain. The sow symbolizes good luck and spiritual growth. Grain symbolizes abundance and nurturance. Her color is green, the color of life.

Cerridwen lived on an island in the middle of Lake Tegid (named for Her husband) with Her two children – a daughter named Creidwy who was beautiful and bright and a son named Afagddu who was ugly and dark. Even in Her role as mother, Cerridwen ruled both the light and the dark.  But like all mothers She wished only the best for her children.  She was determined to use the powers of Her magical cauldron to improve the life of Her afflicted son.

She set to brew a magical potion that with three drops would transform Her son into the most brilliant and inspired of all men.  This potion had to be brewed for one year and one day to reach its full power.  During this time she added six different herbs at the correct astrological times. For that whole time the fire had to be kept at just the correct temperature and the potion had to be stirred at just the correct speed.  As this was more the Cerridwen could do alone, she hired a young boy named Gwion Bach to help.

On the final day of its making while Cerridwen was out gathering herbs an unthinkable accident occurred.  Perhaps the fire got too hot, perhaps Gwion Bach stirred to hard, but three drops of the portion flew out of the cauldron and landed on his thumb.  Scalded by the hot liquid, he instinctively put his thumb in his mouth to ease the pain.  In this way all the power that Cerridwen had intended for her son, Afagddu, was instead transferred to Gwion Bach.

Now with the power of knowledge and prophecy, Gwion Bach knew everything that would come to pass, including that Cerridwen in Her anger would seek his death.  So instantly Gwion Bach fled.  Cerridwen gave chase.

Both underwent many transformations during this chase: he became a perch and She a pike; he became a hare and She a greyhound; he became a salmon and She an otter; he became a small bird and She a hawk and finally he became a grain of wheat and She a hen.  Determined to end his life Cerridwen, as a hen, ate the wheat where Gwion Bach had taken his final refuge.

The story did not end there. The grain took seed in Her womb.  She knew Her child would be Gwion Bach reborn.  She was resolved to kill him upon his birth.  But once he was born Her mother heart gained dominance over Her anger. She could not bring Herself to kill the radiant baby boy She held in Her arms.  She placed him in a leather pouch and set him adrift on a river where he was rescued by the prince Elffin.  Elffin and his wife, who were childless, decided to adopt the beautiful baby.  They named him Taliesin which means beautiful forehead.   Taliesin grew up to be the greatest Welsh poet ever whose words could  heal all wounds and foretell the future.  In the Welsh worldview, death and rebirth were necessary for true inspiration to exist.

When Cerridwen calls your name, know that the need for change is upon you; transformation is at hand. It is time to examine what circumstances in your life no longer serve you.  Something must die so that something new and better can be born.  Forging these fires of transformation will bring true inspiration into your life.  As the Dark Goddess Cerridwen pursues her version of justice with ceaseless energy so can you breathe in the power of the Divine Feminine She offers, planting your seeds of change and pursuing their growth with a ceaseless energy of your own.

Sources:  http://www.angelfire.com/journal/ofapoet/cerridwen.html, http://mydailygoddess.blogspot.com/2008/03/cerridwen-death-rebirth.html, http://www.dragonskeepfarm.com/Bardic/Cerridwen.htm, http://spheresoflight.com.au/index.php?page=keepers_cerridwen, http://www.thaliatook.com/AMGG/cerridwen.php, The Mabinogion Tetralogy, by Evangeline Walton

Judith’s deck of Celtic Goddess Oracle Cards is available now.  Celtic-Goddess-Oracle-cards-by-judith-shawYou can order your deck on Judith’s website. Experience the wisdom of the Celtic Goddesses!

Judith Shaw, a graduate of the San Francisco Art Institute, has been interested in myth, culture and mystical studies all her life.  Not long after graduating from SFAI, while living in Greece, Judith began exploring the Goddess in her artwork.  She continues to be inspired by the Divine Feminine in all of Her manifestations. Originally from New Orleans, Judith now makes her home in New Mexico where she paints and teaches part-time. Her work, which expresses her belief in the interconnectedness of all life, can be seen on her website at http://judithshawart.com

Categories: Goddess Spirituality, Myth

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21 replies

  1. As ever, Judith retells the myths and re-inspires us all. The portrait of Cerridwen is just lovely. I think she would approve.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for the story and the painting. (I love the little piggy sitting beside the cauldron.)


  3. I love your stories, Judith. And your beautiful art. It never ceases to fascinate me how cultures from around the world held on to many of the same beliefs, in this case the stories of transformation in the autumn. And the transformation of a mother’s heart — yes, that is so lovely. Thank you.


  4. Reblogged this on Jessica A Bruno (waybeyondfedup).


  5. A wonderful blog entry. Thank you.


  6. Thanks everyone. Somehow or another a response I posted earlier isn’t showing up. Must be user error. Anyway just wanted to say that I love that little pig also. After all the white sow is a manifestation of Cerridwen. And they both present the challenge of how to depict that which is often perceived as ugly in the light of beauty.
    Yes the transformation of a mother’s heart is wonderful as is the concept that true inspiration is gained only through the willingness to allow oneself to transform, to let the old die and the new be reborn.


    • Thanks, Judtih. A perfect story for this time of year, when the colorful fall leaves are being replaced by the brown and gray world of Hallows/Samhain. Seeing the positive in what appears to be a loss (of beauty and warmth, in this case) — i.e. that we need to grieve our loss in order to transform or allow something new into our lives — is an important point to remember.


  7. Nancy that is very true. Loss, be it of a loved one, a thing,a position, or a way of being is always hard. We miss what we no longer have. Grieving that loss is very important. Without going through the grief we are unable to move on. Thanks so much for the reminder on that point.


    • Grieving loss. Such a poignant theme isn’t it? Years ago I studied with an elderly and very special teacher, and talking with her, I knew one day I would greatly miss her. As I was thinking that, I could hear music outside in the courtyard from an adjoining apartment. And I began to weep, though the loss was a long way off at that time. When she passed on, I was not as devastated as I might have been, because I had already suffered that loss from the very beginning. Nothing else in my life has ever unfolded like that, and I think some guardian angel, or her spirit had gone back in time and prepared me.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Sarah, that’s a very interesting experience of loss. Loss and all the poignancy it involves is certainly ripe for contemplation during this time of year.


  9. This article and your painting of Cerridwen are glorious, I love’d learning about Her. Seems the more Goddesses I study, they more there are to study!


    • Free Sophia, There are really so many Goddesses to explore and study. I have enjoyed my journey with the Celtic Goddesses as I created my deck of Celtic Goddess Oracle Cards. I do love continuing to learn and feel their wisdom.



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