Taliesin: a retelling

Written by Chris Hickman on 14 August 2010

“Come on Gwion Bach”, said Morda impatiently, “we have work to do, I’ve received a message from the witch Cerridwen offering us a years’ work so hurry up as we can’t afford to miss an opportunity like that”.

So I gathered up my meagre belongings and ran after Morda, who although blind was already yards ahead of me.

We headed north for Penllyn to the home of Tegid Foal and his wife the well known wise woman called Cerridwen. We approached the lake about noon the following day and although the Sun was high in the sky the lake was still veiled by mist. As we approached an austere looking hut we were greeted by a beautiful looking young woman.

“Welcome” she said softly,” my name is Creirwy and I have been sent to meet you and take you to my mother Ceridwen. Please follow me into the woods”.

I had no hesitation in following such a fair maiden as she. As we followed her we walked close to the window of the hut where I heard a scurrying sound from inside the hut which I found quite disconcerting. The inside of the hut was unlit and dark but as I peered in I was certain that I could see a small figure crouching in the darkest corner of the room.

“Hello” I called.

“He won’t answer you” said Creirwy “that is my bother Afagddu, once known as Morfran until his ugliness caused my mother to cast him into the shadows out of the sight of men. As a reminder of her shame at having produced such a creature as he she renamed him as Afagddu which means utter darkness”.

“Can nothing be done to heal his life” I asked.

“That is why you are here” she replied. “come let us go quickly, Mother has been busy collecting the herbs required for your work and has little patience since returning from her visit to the Fferyllt. You do not want to anger her or test her patience” she added.

Leaving the pathetic figure behind us we were led by Creirwy into the depths of the forest, eventually arriving at the small hut that was to be our home over the next year and a day. The dark and imposing silhouette of a bent figure could be seen standing by a large cauldron into which she appeared to be pouring in water.

“At last” she cried, “my work can begin. Come sit and I will tell you about your task”.

She pointed a long crooked finger towards a fallen log that was to be our chair. We sat and she began to tell her tale.

“Afagddu, my son, was born ugly and I am afraid to send him out into the world for fear that he will be rejected and my shame increased. Tegid, my husband, has not solution to offer so I have devised a plan that will bestow great knowledge and wisdom on to Afagddu who will become so wise and knowledgeable that men, so overwhelmed by his wisdom, will not see his ugliness. To achieve this” she continued “I have obtained the recipe for a magic potion that will bestow great wisdom onto Afagddu”. “This” she said “is your task, for the potion must be tended for a year and a day. On the last day I will come and take from the cauldron the potion but it is important that no-one else tastes the potion or corrupts it in any way”.

“Well lad” said Morda “get stirring and I will go and I will gather wood for the fire”.

Ceridwen began casting her herbs into the cauldron careful not to let me see what herbs she had used or to hear what incantations she whispered over the boiling water to begin the mystical process I was now committed to.

I took hold of the rather imposing stirrer and began to stir whilst Morda tended the fire. We toiled day and night for what seemed an age whilst Ceridwen visited occasionally to add herbs or recite incantations over the steaming cauldron. Morda said we toiled for a year and a day but try as I may I couldn’t remember if the moon rose or set or even if night followed day, but each day Morda continued to stoke the fire and I continued to stir the cauldron.

“Well” said Morda “Our work is nearly done, as the Sun rises on the morrow our task will be complete and payment will be made”.

I sighed with relief and anticipation of the completion of our task as the Sun rose above the tree tops and began to cast light into the clearing that had been our home for the past year. With one last mighty stir the task was done. All I can remember from the first searing pain and the relief I felt when I sucked off the three drops of boiling potion that had fallen onto my thumb was the overwhelming darkness that engulfed my senses as I slipped into unconsciousness.

I became aware of a light slowly getting brighter as my consciousness began to return. This was quickly followed by the sound of a man screaming for mercy. I opened my eyes and found that I had fallen into the thick undergrowth that surrounded the clearing. Peering through the bushes I saw Morda fallen next to the broken cauldron those contents had spilled onto the surrounding soil, the stench was almost unbearable as the potion poisoned all that it touched. Standing above Morda was the figure of Ceridwen now tall, mighty and fearful. The power of her form shocked me.

“How dare you destroy my works, I am the bringer of life but in my wrath I am also the bringer of death, I will have payment for this crime” she screamed as she beat Morda with her staff.

I heard Morda pleading for his life and telling Ceridwen that it was I who had cheated her and destroyed her years work.

“I must flee to save my life” I thought.

I turned and ran, I could hear Ceridwen close behind me and visions of my impending doom filled my head. Suddenly I sensed a change to my body, my legs grew long and slender and my skin became covered with a downy fir and within an instant I took the form of a hare. My long legs now carried me speedily away from Ceridwen whose howls of anger could be heard in the distance. Suddenly I saw Ceridwen’s form change into that of a hunting hound and the ground I had made was suddenly lost as she sprinted towards me. Try as I might I couldn’t run any faster and just as I could feel the heat of Ceridwen’s breath on my neck I leapt into the air and instantly changed into a salmon. Falling towards a nearby river I was sure that this would be my escape. I felt the coldness of the water along my scales and the rush of the water against my fins as I swam up the river leaping high into the air to ascend the rushing waterfalls that impeded my escape. I sensed Ceridwen’s anger but knew that she would not give up easily. I felt her presence behind me and saw her in the form of an otter bitch, she was once again gaining on me.

“When will this chase end” I screamed as I leapt out of the water and high into the air. I felt my scales change as I ascended and within an instant I was now in the form of a small wren.

“Surely this is my escape” I thought.

It was not to be, for as I flew fast through the air I saw Ceridwen leave the water and transform into a hawk. She was now only yards behind me, her talons within moments of searing into my flesh. Looking for a new escape route I noticed a field of corn below me.

“Surely I will find a hiding place amongst the corn” I thought.

Lying amongst the corn I was sure Ceridwen wouldn’t be able to find me but just as I thought I had escaped from Ceridwen’s wrath she appeared above me in the form of a black hen. It was too late to transform again as the sight of Ceridwen’s beak descended and I was once again surrounded by utter darkness.

Blackness engulfed me and all I can remember is a warm all encompassing darkness that wrapped around my form for what seemed an endless immeasurable amount of time. Floating in a sea of warm darkness I had no sense of who or what I was or what I was to become. At some point, I can’t recall how, I found myself beside Ceridwen. I was now in the form of a baby and although I was still Gwion Bach I was also somehow different. Ceridwen’s anger no longer seemed to be there and had been replaced with a sorrowful countenance. I lay next to her helpless and at her mercy.

“Child” she said “I cannot bear to look at you and see you as a reminder of what I have lost”

With that she placed me inside a black leather bag. The darkness once again enveloped me as she tightened the cords around the neck of the bag. I lay amid the darkness and felt the sudden shock of cold water against the bag pressing the soft leather tightly against my skin. It appears that Ceridwen had cast me adrift into the seas that surround the Isle of the Mighty.

As I floated through the waters visions began to form before me, I saw explosions of light and myriads of stars formed before my eyes. I had dreams of visits to mighty forts and towers where mystery and adventure would be my fate. I swam with the fish of the sea and flew with the birds of the air; I became cloud and rain and felt the pain of death and the joy of birth. I was silence as a tear fell and the sound of drums beating as I strode into battle. I was the grass beneath my feet and the tree tops that reached with joy towards the morning sky, I was content.

Eventually I drifted into a timeless sleep only to be awoken by the sound of a voice and the sudden weight of my body as the bag I was within was lifted out of the water.

“Look Elphin, I have found a bag” sounded a muffled voice.

Light suddenly streamed into the darkness and filled the void with sunlight. The face of a young man appeared in front of me as I looked out from the darkness, a look of wonder fell across his face.

“Look at the brow of this child” he said “It is radiant with light, therefore I shall name him Taliesin, he of the radiant brow”

Here ends the tale of my creation and how I was transformed from innocent Gwion Bach to the wisest and most knowledgeable bard of the Isles of the Mighty through the transformative power of the Goddess.