Night becomes day, winter becomes spring, children become adults who become elders who become ancestors – transformation is a theme that appears again and again in our myths, legends and natural world.
But transformation is not easy as it requires us to let go of the old, the comfortable, the familiar and make way for the new and unknown. We can look to myth and legend with their many instances of transformation for guidance through these difficult moments.
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 Inspiration, and the Cauldron of Rebirth. The cauldron of Cerridwen, Goddess of Transformation, Inspiration and Knowledge, combines all three into one quintessential cauldron. She is associated with both Sow (female pig) and with Hare – also associated with transformation.
The story of Cerridwen and Gwion Bach, which I have retold in a previous post, begins with Cerridwen’s desire to transform her son, who was born blighted with ugliness, into a being of great wisdom. For love of her son she used her magic cauldron to brew up an elixir that would deliver Awen, the source of knowledge, wisdom and inspiration, to her unlucky child. But accidentally Awen fell on her assistant Gwion Bach who immediately possessed all knowledge of what had been and what would be. Immediately he took flight. In great anger, Cerridwen pursued Gwion Bach during which many transformations occurred for both – the first being Gwion Bach’s transformation into Hare and Cerridwen’s into a greyhound. Finally he turned into a grain of corn and was eaten by Cerridwen as a hen. But that was not the end as Cerridwen became pregnant and Gwion Bach was born anew. Ultimately the re-incarnation of Gwion Bach became the greatest Welsh poet ever, Taliesin.
Cerridwen’s pursuit of Gwion Bach represents, the changing of the seasons, the changing nature of our own lives, and opens our hearts to receiving inspiration. Cerridwen inspires us to transform – to make positive changes in our lives.
Hare, the first animal that Gwion Bach shape-shifted into, is an animal symbolic of transformation and inspiration – plus fertility, regeneration and more.
Celtic mythology associates hare with the Otherworld – those places found outside of normal time and space – places where transformation often occurs. It was taboo to eat hares in Ireland as it was believed that goddesses of the Otherworld often shape-shifted into Hare. This connection made it dangerous to harm a hare. In one legend Oisin, the famous warrior poet wounded a hare in its leg while hunting. He followed it into a thicket where upon he found a door leading into the Otherworld. He entered a beautiful hall and found an attractive young woman sitting on a throne bleeding from a wound in her leg. The legend ends there. I like to imagine that Oisin, realizing the hare he had wounded was no ordinary one, bent one knee and begged forgiveness for having harmed the stunning woman. Perhaps this encounter transformed Oisin just a bit in the direction of his poet/lover side and away from his warrior side.
Both Hare and Rabbit are strongly associated with spring – a fertile time when the barrenness of winter transforms into the growing greenness of an abundant Earth.
Kaltes, Moon Goddess venerated by the Ugric peoples of western Siberia, was a shapeshifter often transforming into Hare. She was associated with childbirth and the beginning of life.
The Germanic goddess, Holda, was accompanied by torch bearing hares. A fertility goddess, she reigned in the long winter months, lighting the way from darkness to light. Myth recounts that she and her torch bearing hares led women on nocturnal, shamanic journeys – journeys of spiritual transformation.
For all of us the past few years have been ones of great change and transformation. It’s as if we’ve been thrown collectively into Cerridwen’s cauldron, experiencing the brew of transformation while waiting for the brew of inspiration and rebirth to take place. From the shut down of life as usual due to the COVID19 pandemic, to the ongoing growth of technology and the disruptive effects it has on our social order, to the breakdown of institutions and systems, to what at times appears to be the breakdown of human decency – we are all still reeling in the in-between time that transformation creates. We know life has changed but we don’t yet know what the world will be when the dust of all this transformation finally settles. It is up to us to grab this moment and open our hearts to inspiration then move forward to rebirth – leaving behind the old oppressive ways of hatred, division and power-over that has produced a world of violent manipulation for millennia – instead moving toward a world transformed into the sharing place of beauty and love it most certainly can be.
May the wisdom of Cerridwen, Holda, Kaltes and Hare be with you all as we complete our journey through these transformative times.
Post Script: Postings on my YouTube channel continue to grow – You can learn a little more about Cerridwen on a recent one – Click Here. And I just posted one on Hare if you’d like to learn a bit more about its symbolism and life – click here
After almost 5 years of work Judith’s new oracle deck, Animal Wisdom Oracle, is now available. Experience the wisdom of our animal kin. Order it here.
The Celtic Goddess Oracle Deck is still available. Order your deck here.
14 thoughts on “Myth and Legend – Guides for Transformational Times by Judith Shaw”
Judith – lovely pictures as always but truly i think transformation has become an overused word – tadpoles transform into frogs – a whole different reality where as humans move in cycles with each round bringing more challenges and joys… transformation? I’m just not so sure.
Well human consciousness and cultures do most certainly transform or change. Whether or not we like the direction of the change is another matter. Tadpoles transform into frogs as part of their biology and they have no ability to change that reality just like children grow into adults. But where consciousness is concerned we alone seem to have the ability to make the choice to change the way we perceive things. The human world is very different than it was 100, 200, 500, 1000 years ago. I do feel strongly that we humans are once again at a cosmic type change as the heavens line up with the much heralded Age of Aquarius. The question is will we move with the positive side of Aquarian energy – the collective and collaborative or will we move with its shadow side – technology and the ever increasing power of AI. That’s what I am no so sure about myself. I hope the former and fear the latter.
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Hey Judith, thanks from me also for your engaging post. And, in reply to Sara, transformation for me is very much an action-word. To transform unhelpful thoughts, behaviour patterns, emotions in which we might be stuck etc, to release their energy and create something new in place, as conscious act towards greater wholeness and alignment. Sometimes transformation happens indeed unintentionally, through growth stages and biology (the pupa of the butterfly; hair growth in puberty; the transformation of the womb in the menstrual cycle), but I very much underline the psychological growth and power of shape-shifting by choice. Like we can’t always choose what happens to us, but we can choose how we deal with it… do we emerge from a lonely darkness with a torch of hope, with wings that uplift us, with hands reaching out to be in community? That too is the power of transformation for me!
What a beautiful way to view transformation – as an action word. I agree completely that it is the energy type of transformation that impacts us humans deeply and is the only thing we have control over. Funny synchronicity – I just posted another video using my Animal Wisdom Oracle deck to explore our inner knowledge in how to deal with these times and I said in it exactly what you said here – “we can’t always choose what happens to us, but we can choose how we deal with it”.
Sara, perhaps you feel that transformation is an overused word because being in such intense transformative times that word is being used a lot these days.
Great food for thought everyone!!!
Consciousness is not restricted to humans – this is a patriarchal assumption that we all inherited – consciousness is certainly present in all living beings on this planet at the very least westerners are finally being introduced to this idea through science- as for transformation -a new age term – most definitely shifts in perception do occur and hopefully we will come to experience this as we live through collapse – but transformation involves changing actual FORM – dying is transformation as is birth – unless you are a non human creature – then transformation really does occur – quite frequently.
Of course animals have consciousness – I never said they didn’t. But it seems to me that the main thing that separates human consciousness from animal consciousness is that humans can make a decision to not act on instinct. If a lion is hungry then it will hunt and kill as is its nature as a carnivore. But that same lion has consciousness and emotions. Humans are omnivores and our instincts drive us to eat both plants and animals. But humans can also make the decision to eat only plant-based matter. I also believe that rocks, stones, crystals are alive and have their own type of consciousness which science does not yet recognize.
As to the word transformation and it’s meaning we will have to agree to disagree.
Perhaps transformation can be thought of as the spiral, where one comes to the same place repeatedly but with a different perspective each time.
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I think a spiral is a good way to think of it but in a spiral you never come to the same place. As the spiral moves outward there are points that correspond to the previous loop of the spiral but are in fact in a different place. I guess we could think of it as similar energy or patterns but on a different frequency level.
Animals and plants have both instincts and awarenesand can change their behaviors just as we can…
This is a beautiful and timely post Judith as we navigate such dramatic current social, political and environmental upheaval. I agree that transformation is like a spiral that allows us to change and to revisit that change while continually moving forward. Women have a particular relationship with the cauldron of transformation every month as we experience the ups and downs of our monthly moon cycles that take place within the cauldron of our womb.
Your post was also helpful to me personally as I have been exploring the idea of the cauldron for my own writing. I was reading Kristopher Hughes’s book “From the Cauldron Born” this morning and was interested that he pointed out that there are three types of cauldron in Cerridwen’s story: the cauldron that she uses to brew the cure for her son Morfran, the cauldron of her womb where the poet Taliesin is conceived and born from and finally, the coracle that she sets Taliesin adrift in and where he is eventually “rebirthed” in.
Thanks for reading and for your comments. What you discovered in Hughe’s book is really interesting. Though I was aware of Cerridwen’s cauldron being the one that combines all forms of mythic cauldrons I had not seen it looked at in that way in the story of Gwion Bach with her womb being the 2nd cauldron and the coracle the third. I love so much the rich symbolism found in myths and the viewing of our wombs as cauldrons.
Hope you’ll share your writings, which use the symbology of the cauldron, with us here on FAR.