Cerridwen - The Divine Witch: Goddesses and Gods

The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005

The Divine Witch: Goddesses and Gods

Cerridwen is a shape-shifting lunar deity, master magician, and herbalist. Described as the “Old One,” she can take any form but favors that of a woman or a great white sow. She is described as a witch and Keeper of the Cauldron of Knowledge, Inspiration, and Transformation. Cerridwen’s most famous myth is preserved in the Book of Taliesin, a thirteenth-century manuscript named for the sixth century Welsh poet.

In this myth, Cerridwen is married to a giant, Tegidfoel, by whom she has two children—a daughter Crearwy, whose name means “Beautiful” or “Light,” and a son Afagddu, whose name means “Ugly” or “Dark.” Her children may represent the complementary forces that fuel Creation: yin and yang, female and male, night and day, summer and winter.

Cerridwen wishes the best for her children. She doesn’t worry about her daughter but fears that her son lacks sufficient gifts for success, and she decides to brew a potion for him to compensate.

Once tasted, this potion bestows all knowledge, magic power, oracular and shamanic powers. Only Cerridwen knows the formula: it takes a tremendous variety of botanicals, which must be carefully gathered and then added at just the right moment. In addition, someone must continually stir the brew, which must be kept steadily boiling for a year and a day. Cerridwen finds a poor, ignorant child to watch the pot.

Gwion is an orphan, completely unloved: no one misses him. Cerridwen, a wonderful mother to her own children, abuses the boy, barely feeding him, forcing as much labor out of him as possible, sometimes beating him. Gwion doesn’t understand the contents of the cauldron or its purpose.

The year and a day just about complete, Gwion gets careless (or is blessed by his constant proximity to Cerridwen’s cauldron). A few drops of scalding liquid fall on his hand. In pain he sucks his finger. At that very moment, from those few drops, Gwion knows all: he is instantly transformed into a master shaman, shape-shifter, and seer. He understands everything and knows that Cerridwen is on her way to kill him.

He escapes by shape-shifting. She pursues him similarly. If he becomes a fish, she becomes a bigger one, if he becomes a bird, she becomes a raptor, and so on, until finally Gwion transforms into a grain of wheat, hiding in a bushel. Cerridwen transforms into a hen and eats him. He gestates in her belly (Cerridwen is the Cauldron of Generation) and is re-born as a beautiful, shining child, still in possession of the magical powers attained.