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Article #2 Samhain

The Goddess Cerridwen

Samhain, commonly known as Halloween, is the eve of All Hallows Day, or the eve of All Saints Day; 31st October. For Pagans, winter begins at Samhain and it heralds the new year.

It is a time of death and decay, plants begin to die as the earth begins its sleep in order for it to be renewed, animals begin to prepare to hibernate, and the nights begin to draw in.  Fallen leaves decay on the ground, and mists creep across the fields, bringing an ethereal feel to the world. 

We too begin to draw within ourselves, we look back at the year that is dying, we take stock, we see what we no longer need in our lives, what no longer serves us.  

Spirits will be amongst us as the veil between this world and the Underworld (the Summerlands), where the dead are to be found is at its thinnest, so we are able to glimpse this otherworld and its inhabitants at this time.

Witches will lay places for those who have passed at their table on this night, for this is the time of the Great Gathering when all come home. It is a Witches celebration as this is a festival of the dead where we honour our dead ancestors.  The ghosts that manifest in our homes are kindly ones, old friends, grandparents, kindred from many ages, bringing their ancient knowledge and wisdom.  This is not as grim as it sounds, for Witches believe that death is the door that opens onto another life, for we believe in re-incarnation.

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Witches will lay places for those who have passed at their table on this night, for this is the time of the Great Gathering when all come home. It is a Witches celebration as this is a festival of the dead where we honour our dead ancestors.  The ghosts that manifest in our homes are kindly ones, old friends, grandparents, kindred from many ages, bringing their ancient knowledge and wisdom.  This is not as grim as it sounds, for Witches believe that death is the door that opens onto another life, for we believe in re-incarnation.

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Strangely, as this is considered the ‘New Year’, we celebrate the Goddess as an old woman; and so begins the dark time of the year and we meet the Dark Mother, as the Goddess becomes the Crone.

The Dark Mother comes at Samhain and stays through Yule until Imbolc.  By Yule She has become much older, made of bone and stone.  She has many names:- Sheela na Gig, The Beansidhe, Lilith, Hecate, Persephone, The Cailleach, The Hag, The Morrigan, Isis, Kali, Hella and Skadi. 

 

On the Wheel of Andraste we call Her Cerridwen the Crone: - the bringer of death,          transformation and rebirth.

She is the Queen of the Underworld: - an old cackling hag living in Her cave, brooding

over Her cauldron, surrounded by bats, spiders and toads!  Clothed in black, Her old

sow by Her side, Her hawk on Her shoulder.......Is She the Grandmother with the k

nowledge of the ancestors, or the Wicked Witch of fairy tales, the stuff of nightmares?

Old Women are portrayed in fairy stories as wicked witches, wicked stepmothers, and

old cackling hags, this image, reinforcing the patriarchal disregard of age and women

is perpetrated by the media with its ignorance of paganism, and its obsession with

sound bites and celebrity.

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Cerridwen is associated with:-

 

The Cauldron

From the earliest time the Cauldron has been a magical symbol for the Crone Goddess and it has several functions; it can be a cauldron of healing and plenty, always full of whatever is needed.  It is the boiling cauldron of death and rebirth as well as being

the Cauldron of poetry and inspiration.

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The Sickle

The sickle cuts the grain, the last person to cut the grain is courting bad luck, but the grain has to be cut in order for new grain to

be sown and grown.  It is believed that Cerridwen’s sickle is used to cut the thread of life at the moment of death, which She then plunges into the Cauldron of death.  This does not mean physical death, but death of the old.

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Yew Tree

Cerridwen is known as the Lady of Yew.  The Yew is one of the most ancient trees of the ancestors and transformation.  It is associated with death; it can be found growing in churchyards, because as I understand it cattle will not eat!  But I also understand that there is a belief that a Witch cannot pass by it, a strange idea as it is known as the Witches Tree! 

The Yew is the longest living of all the native trees, it can live for at least 2000 years, an evergreen with red berries, every part of the tree is poisonous. It is one of the guardians of the underworld that assist in guiding souls from one world to the next, it is known as the Tree of Life, as it symbolises immortality, longevity, rebirth, change, strength, divinity and protection. 

In the Celtic Tree Ogham, Yew is associated with Saturn and Mercury, both elements of transformation; it gives access to the ancestors and the Otherworld, representing death, rebirth and transformation.

Cerridwen’s animals are:-  

     

The Great White Sow. 

The Sow is the sacred animal of the Pregnant Death Goddess; she is pregnant both with life and with the souls of the dead.  Like the mother sow who eats her own young, we associate the Samhain Goddess as the Mother who eats up the souls of the dead that are placed in Her care; indeed wild pigs have long been associated with death for they are the scavengers who eat the corpses.

Some underworld goddesses of other cultures are associated with the sow; Ereshkigal in the Sumerian myths, Freya who is called Syr or Sow, Demeter was known as Phorcis the Sow, and one of the most revered Dakinis in Tantric Buddhism is Vajravarahi, the Diamond Sow. 

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The Toad

The Toad or Frog, have long been associated with the Goddess of Death and Regeneration.  As a messenger of death a toad may crawl onto the chest of a sleeping person and suck their breath from their body, causing certain death. Toads are familiars of Witches and of Hecate the Underworld Goddess who in Greek legend was known as Baubo meaning toad.  

The Crow

The Crow a large black bird, that are naturally associated with Witches, and certainly Witches are associated with the Dark Goddess.  

We saw in Her myth that Cerridwen consumes Gwion; as the Goddess of Fate who eats up souls She is associated with the Keres or the Fates of Death of Greek myth, who are death dealing black bird women or black hens.

The Hawk

A bird of prey, a noble bird, strong and powerful; Cerridwen is strong and powerful, and noble in Her wisdom of Her age, She sees all, as the sharp eyed hawk does.

In the Welsh myths and legends of The Mobinogion, we see the legendary story of Cerridwen. She has a young boy named Gwion in charge of stirring and watching over a cauldron, known as Amen (which later became Awen, a Welsh word meaning “poetic inspiration”), the cauldron was full of a magickal brew that She was making for her son Morfran that would make him very wise and knowledgeable in order to make up for his physical failings as he was very ugly. 

In the Welsh myths and legends of The Mobinogion, we see the legendary story of Cerridwen. She has a young boy named Gwion in charge of stirring and watching over a cauldron, known as Amen (which later became Awen, a Welsh word meaning “poetic inspiration”), the cauldron was full of a magickal brew that She was making for her son Morfran that would make him very wise and knowledgeable in order to make up for his physical failings as he was very ugly. 

Cerridwen’s elixir of six herbs would need to brew within her cauldron for a year and a day and needed to be watched constantly.  She instructed Gwion.​

 

On the last day Gwion accidently splashes drops of the hot liquid onto his thumb, and      without thinking he sucks on the burn only to suddenly become enlightened with this      great power and wisdom intended for Morfran.  The brew becomes poison and knowing  that the contents of the cauldron will be of no use to Cerridwen, Gwion flees in fear.

 

From here we see a wonderful and magickal dance of shape shifting and transformation  as Gwion who now has wonderful powers transforms himself into many different                creatures as Cerridwen gives chase. Gwion changed himself into a hare and fled.

Cerridwen changed herself into a greyhound and chased after him, he ran towards a river and changed into a fish, She became an Otter and swam after him, he turned himself into a bird, and She became a hawk swooping after him, just as She was about to gain on him he spied a heap of wheat on the floor of a barn and he transformed   himself into a grain of corn, whereupon Cerridwen became a red hen and swallows him, taking him within to transform him further. 

Nine months later Cerridwen gives birth to a boy, She doesn’t want to keep the child, but She cannot bring Herself to kill him, so She places him in a wicker basket and floats him out to sea, he eventually comes to rest in the bullrushes where Prince Elfin discovers him and is so enchanted with the child, he adopts him and names him Taliesin, one of the greatest poets to ever live, and this was Merlin.

The concept of brewing knowledge for a year and a day, tending to the fires, letting it simmer and marinate; we can see that through taking in this knowledge deeply and letting it do its work, flowing with it and letting it transform and change us, we have the ability to experience many different things.  Perhaps we need to chase after what we truly desire as a result of desiring knowledge, like chasing down your dreams.  Once we make this transformation we need to nurture and care for our projects or knowledge and when the time is right the fruits of our labour will be born.

Is Cerridwen our grandmother of time, or the wicked witch who screams our fears into the night?  Certainly, She is a Goddess not to be messed with, but do we fear Her because She represents change, and reminds us of our own mortality, are we afraid because we are conditioned to fear the old woman, the crone? 

I find comfort in Her age and wisdom; I respect what She is telling me, as I respect Her for Her knowledge of the ancestors.  I love that Her sense of humour has allowed Halloween to be so popular, and I love Her season, as I love Her.

 

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Copyright © Christine Watts 2022

'THE VISITOR'
- a story by Janice Brading

 

Samhain had not past more than a week ago and already a bitter wind was blowing across from Martha’s Down. The first frosts of winter greeted us in the morn, covering the earth in a sparkling icy mantle, and a bugger to dig.

 

That particular day the heavens had opened soon after dinner. he unrelenting rain had driven the men folk in from the fields early, if it wasn’t bad enough having them under my feet, they insisted on sitting by the hearth attending to essential repairs to their tools... 'they said' but I noticed a fair few quaffs of ale going down at the same time and not a great deal of ‘fixing’ going on.

 

The preparation for the evening repast was well under way. Jack’s young lad had trapped a couple of rabbits in the morning and the thought of rabbit stew had lightened their moods considerably, not to mention the ale!!  Stories and tales were being recounted of their own heroic deeds and others misfortune, amid the chatter and laughter I almost missed the tentative knock.

 

Opening the door, I peered out into the black night, the rain still pouring down was being lashed all ways by the north wind, it was like the inside of Cerridwen’s cauldron out there! 

 

I almost missed her in the dark, the bent figure of a woman well past her prime standing there wrapped up tightly in a black cloak. 

 

She came into the light and requested a seat and a sup, ‘if possible, just until the storm abated’. 

 

I ushered her inside poor thing, where WAS she going on a night like this?  Once inside I could see her more clearly, her weathered skin was etched and lined with the passing years, she lowered the hood of her cloak, her silver hair was pulled loosely back in a bun, it glimmered in the firelight reminding me of the frosty mantle I’d seen that very morn.

 

But it was her eyes that drew my gaze, the brightest blue, like a mid-summer's day sky, they belied her years, but they seemed to hold a deep sorrow. 

 

She held my gaze for a while then smiled, her whole face shone! It glowed brighter than 100 candles - she glowed as if being bathed in golden sunlight!

 

“May I sit?” she asked, - of course silly me.  I made a space for her by the fire, she accepted a bowl of stewed vegetables. “No rabbit, thank you” and some bread. 

 

She listened to the stories and songs, smiling now and again at someone’s exploits as they became more elaborate with each telling.

 

Someone struck up a song about Herne and the Great Hunt. The mood sobered somewhat and when I looked over at our guest, I thought I saw tears glistening in those bright blue eyes. 

 

The end of the song signalled the end of the evening. 

 

As people prepared to retire for the night, I suggested to the old dear that she spend the night here; after all the rain had not let up any and whilst I couldn’t offer her a bed, she was more than welcome to lay by the fire at least she’d be warm and dry. 

 

She accepted gladly and wrapping her cloak tightly around her she settled down. 

 

She thanked me for supper and a place to rest. I assured her it was no problem and that she should get some sleep.

 

I couldn’t help notice that she looked older, more worn than when she first arrived, her hair seemed not to shimmer as much and the light in her eyes had faded.  Strange, must just be a trick of the light.

 

The following morning the autumn sun streamed in through the window. I rose begrudgingly, leaving the warmth of my bed to face the biting chill of the new day as I started the breakfast.  I expect there’ll be a few sore heads and grumbles this morning, I thought as I looked over at our visitor still asleep on the floor, her cloak covering her bent body. 

 

I went over to wake her, bending over her I touched her lightly on the shoulder, the cloak crumpled to the floor, the aroma of wild summer meadows and rich deep loam wafted up towards me, she was gone!!

 

But how?  Where? 

 

I picked the cloak up suddenly feeling the need to be close to Her……. and there, where she’d lain was a handful of seeds and a promise of things to come. 

Copyright © Janice Brading 2022

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