I have named my medieval lady – meet Ceridwen – isn’t she absolutely heavenly? She was helped into the world by the marvellous ceramacist Midori Takaki , whose work I have adored since first finding it. I had told Midori how much I loved her work, and she was the most kindhearted seller -offering to save me the particular item I wanted until I was ready. I didn’t do that at the time as we were pennypinching and I couldn’t justify an art purchase.
Quite a long time later I mentioned to my husband how much these works meant to me – how I longed to own one. He knows it is not often that I see something I want to own, mainly I am happy to just be in the world alongside what I have. So being the romantic he is, he immediately asked me to choose the one I liked for Valentine. I did.
Midori is a busy lady, so I waited a while before the mask arrived. And I wasn’t disappointed. Now I never anticipate. It is something of a strange attribution and connected to memory or lack of it. I cannot see things that are in the past of the future, only the present. So in the same way I hadn’t named my sons prior to their birth, neither had I given Medieval Lady a name. I had to come up with something that meant something to me, and that suited her.
After some reflection, and some of Keat’s ‘negative capability’ I remembered a poem that goes back to the myths of Celtic Britain which I had fallen in love with moons ago.
I am Taliesin. I sing perfect metre
I am Taliesin. I sing perfect metre,
Which will last to the end of the world.
My patron is Elphin…
I know why there is an echo in a hollow;
Why silver gleams; why breath is black; why liver is bloody;
Why a cow has horns; why a woman is affectionate;
Why milk is white; why holly is green;
Why a kid is bearded; why the cow-parsnip is hollow;
Why brine is salt; why ale is bitter;
Why the linnet is green and berries red;
Why a cuckoo complains; why it sings;
I know where the cuckoos of summer are in winter.
I know what beasts there are at the bottom of the sea;
How many spears in battle; how may drops in a shower;
Why a river drowned Pharaoh’s people;
Why fishes have scales.
Why a white swan has black feet…
I have been a blue salmon,
I have been a dog, a stag, a roebuck on the mountain,
A stock, a spade, an axe in the hand,
A stallion, a bull, a buck,
I was reaped and placed in an oven;
I fell to the ground when I was being roasted
And a hen swallowed me.
For nine nights was I in her crop.
I have been dead, I have been alive.
I am Taliesin.
I wanted my lady to be Taliesin , the bard in the Tales of Taliesin but I couldn’t cross the gender gap. Taliesin is a man. So it made sense to me that if she couldn’t be the bard, then she would mother the bard. She would be responsible for bringing into the world this legendary bard whose tales would ring through history. She would give birth to Awen – the Welsh, Cornish and Breton word for the inspirational muse of creative artists in general.
It is not all pretty though – Ceridwen in the stories of Celtic myth had given birth to a son, Morfan who was deformed, hideous to look at. In order to somehow compensate for this misfortune Ceridwen went to work to make a potion which would give her son wisdom and poetic inspiration. This was no simple task – it was to take a year and a day to brew in her magical cauldron, and she had helpers – a blind man and a young boy Gwion. Gwion’s task was to stir the concoction, and as luck would have it three drops of the mixture spilt onto his thumb, which he instinctively sucked. Now only the first three drops of the mixture would have the transformative powers, the rest would be fatally poisonous. So Gwion did waht any young man would do faced with a powerful woman fatally disappointed. He ran. As Ceridwen gave chase , he used the powers of the brew to turn himself into a hare, and was then pursued by Ceridwen transformed into a greyhound. He became a fish and jumped into a river. She transformed into an otter. He turned into a bird; she became a hawk. Finally, once he became a single greain of corn Cerdwen ate him as a hen. Even this did not destroy him because of the power ofthe potion – Ceridwen became pregnant, and knew the child was Gwion, deciding to kill him when she gave birth. Of course she could not do it – he was so beautiful, but she did set him into the sea in a leather-skin bag. Fortunately for the child a passing prince rescued him on a Welsh shore, and this infant became Taliesin.
Some tale – the celtic tales are full of magic and imagination- powerfully romantic and date as far back as the 6th century. It is from the 12th century that the stories of the Mabinogion appear , and these were translated into English in 1849 when Lady Charlotte Guest’s version was produced. The tale draw upon the myths and history of Celtic Britain, with four branches of a storyline mainly set within Wales and the otherworld. They have a dreamlike atmosphere, preserving the primitive, imaginative world of Celtic myth. A link to The Harvard Classics Volume 32 will fill you in further on the importance of this body of work on European literature that followed. Link to Harvard Classics page 146 Volume 32
For those interested in researching the work of Midori Takaki , her website is wonderful.-website of artist Midori Takaki
4 thoughts on “Meet Ceridwen”
What a great story! I truly enjoy reading it. Thank you, Anne. X
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I thought you would Midori – i know you like a story . xxxAnne
I love your Ceridwen and your post.
Is the poetry Keats? I know that you are particularly fond of his poetry. This one is, indeed, magical.
Thank you for sharing the mythology of the mother of, and the eventual birth of Taliesin. I have a copy of The Mabinogion, but I have never taken the time to really read and understand it. All the Celtic or Gaelic names confuse me, especially because I haven’t the faintest clue how to pronounce them.
I also get confused between the seemingly entwined mythologies of the Celts, the Gael, the Welsh.
I am very, very glad that effort is being made to keep the old languages alive. Somethings are simply not translatable.
I will have to look up Midori Takaki’s work. Masks are very beautiful to me in their own right, but also for the psychology they represent.
I am a fan of the works of Joseph Campbell,,especially his four-volume work, “The Masks of God.” In these works he goes through a great many of the world’s mythologies. I’ll have to put those books on my pile of books to read or retread again.
All best from across the pond, Janet
Sent from my iPad
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Hello Janet – lovely to hear from you again. thank you for your comment – the poetry is a translated version from the MAbinogion – and we don’t know who actually wrote the original version. I know what you mean about confusing mythologies – they are all intertwined, as the stories were generally passed on verbally, and as travellers related their tales, the storytellers all sort of used the same pot of ideas I think. The wonderful thing about the literature of the Celts is the sorrowful nature and the mysticism that incorporates the natural world. Fascinating.