I am not a boy-mom. As much as I wish I was, I am just not. I gave birth to three wondrous little things; first, a girl and then later, boy-girl twins. I have a son, but even after years of shared life, he remains, in so many ways, a complete mystery to me.
With my eldest, I could feel she was a girl with absolute certainty from the moment we created her. Everything about a girl child guiding me across the initiatory threshold of motherhood felt perfect and holy to me. She was typical in her baby and toddler needs for the most part, but she also had a quiet independence about her that permeated our days together. She gave me the precious gift of simple confidence that comes sometimes much more hard-fought to first-time mothers.
From early on in my second pregnancy though, my twins carried such a different energy with them as they grew, changing and stretching first my body and then my heart, mind and spirit past every preconceived limit I’d ever held. They were riotous, intense, restless, filled with joie de vive and an impatience to run free. They were, they are, in a word—wild. They shook down the tower of my confident motherhood, bursting into life, huge and hungry, literally clawing at my breasts for the sustenance they craved from me. They challenged me in labor, in infancy, in toddlerhood, and still.
But as they’ve grown older, the emphasis has become less on the survival of two small creatures the same age and more on nurturing the development of two separate beings. I’ve felt the bond with my younger daughter become more intimate, strengthened by our shared femininity. At the same time, a sense of helplessness sometimes steals over me as I witness the gulf that widens between me and my son. I am not a boy-mom. How, I find myself praying, does a girl-mom properly mother a boy?
In winter, I rest deep within Ceridwen’s Great Cauldron, sitting in stillness to brew the spark of potential change. During each turn of my Cycle of Healing, I make time to re-explore the mythos of that Station’s Lady. Doing so gives me the opportunity to filter the familiar mythology through the current lens of my life; to glean a different lesson from the tale that is uniquely connected to who I am and what I experience in that moment.
I return to Ceridwen’s tale after a very long day; tea, a blanket and Welsh mythology promising solace. Ceridwen creates Her potion for her hideous son, Affagdu, so that he might at least be gifted enough that the world will overlook his physical deformity and grant him a good life. She sets Gwion Bach to the task of stirring the potion while She rests after a year’s intense labor. When Her back is turned or Her eyes closed for a moment, somehow the magic of the potion transfers to Gwion instead.
Some say it was the potion that leapt from the Cauldron, burning his fingers, which he, unaware of the consequences, instinctively put in his mouth. Other versions I have read are very clear in Gwion’s conscious decision to intentionally appropriate the magic of the potion for his own. It is a small detail and one I am not qualified to speak to scholastically. But these competing explanations of transference strike me as important. Which was it? An accident or intentional disobedience? How many times have I looked at the aftermath of my son’s actions, struggling to discern the same?
Suddenly, the power of the tale shifts. Always viewing the transference of the potion to Gwion Bach as a given, in the past my focus was on the correspondences of the ensuing transformations within myself. But this story isn’t only about internal matters of individual healing. Shifting perspective, it also becomes external, intensely relational- the story of a mother’s struggle with Her mercurial son. Not the son She understood fully, but the son She never saw coming; the son She was wholly unprepared for as he began to challenge Her with every step of his growth.
Just as I sometimes find myself unable to discern clear truth to my son’s actions, I still don’t know whether to believe Gwion chose willful disobedience or whether happenstance created his situation. But when I apply the Hermetic Principle of Cause & Effect, I don’t think it really matters. There are no coincidences. Nothing truly happens by chance. Either way, Gwion Bach and Ceridwen were both transformed, becoming forever mother and son.
The course they pursue through the rest of the tale is fantastical. Gwion, shape-shifting into the nimble Hare. Ceridwen, pursuing immediately as the agile Greyhound. Then, the slippery Salmon, racing away from the sleek Otter. Followed by the swift Wren, barely outpacing the sharp-eyed Hawk. And at last, the Seed. The kernel of Grain devoured by the very patient & determined Great Mother Hen.
I’ve sometimes taken the pursuit and its transformations for granted. But something about the struggles with my son, makes me consider them in a different light. Many times this tale is focused on Ceridwen pushing Gwion Bach higher, faster, and farther. We see Her as the catalyst behind his growth, creating the pressure necessary to trigger his, and subsequently our, change. The Hermetic Principle of Polarity, however, suggests we may consider the entire pursuit in reverse and still gain insight. What if it’s Gwion Bach’s behavior, the ever-changing son, which drives the changes in his Great Mother? What if She changes primarily to meet the needs of Her sacred child’s continuing development?
Assuming that possibility, I begin to wonder, what are the son’s needs? Gwion Bach the Hare is trying to tell his Great Mother what he needs Her to be. As he runs every which way, he reminds me of my son as a babe, new to self-propulsion. eager to see the world, but clueless as to how to navigate it in a straight line and quick to be distracted. As the Hare, he also reminds me of my son when he is anxiously anticipating an upcoming event or when he is attempting to persuade me to give in to something he wants by peppering me with scattered rational.
The Salmon in my son appears when he is trying to slip away without completing a distasteful task I’ve asked of him. He also appears when his quicksilver mind slides smoothly through rapids of complicated mathematics that ought to be beyond a child his age. My son, the Wren, pushes himself to new heights, attempting to master his newest trick. He also flits from one task to another, not able to focus long enough to complete any of them. But even with all that activity, the whirl of constant motion, at his core he is still so young. He is still the Seed.
The Great Mother challenges me to meet his needs. To look through Her eyes and discern his ever-changing form as ever-present divinity. To be willing to surrender, to shift my shape to meet his, to allow him to drive the transformation of our relationship. One day, his brow will shine and he will be his own Taliesin. For now, he still needs his Ceridwen. He still needs me.
Kate Brunner is a writer, healer, ritualist, & member of The Sisterhood of Avalon, studying at the Avalonian Thealogical Seminary. She is a somewhat nomadic American, homeschooling her children with the world as their classroom. She holds a BA from Tulane University, where she studied Economics, International Relations, & Religious Traditions. Kate volunteered as a presenter for monthly Red Tents and semi-annual women’s retreats before relocating overseas for several years where she hosted seasonal women’s gatherings, facilitated labyrinth rituals, and led workshops on an assortment of women’s spirituality topics. She recently returned to the US and is breathing into the potential of this new chapter of her life.