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The Goddess Cerridwen

The Goddess of the North West on the Wheel of Andraste

Cerridwen

Artwork by Willow Wand

The Goddess at Samhain

 Samhain, commonly known as Halloween, it is the eve of All Hallow's Day, or the eve of All Saints Day; 31st October.

For Pagans autumn 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 into another life. For we believe in re-incarnation.

Strangely, as this is considered the ‘New Year’ we celebrate the Goddess as an old woman; so begins the dark time of the year and so 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 Banishee, 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 knowledge 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.

                               

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.

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.

Yew Tree

 Cerridwen is also 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 cattle will not eat

it. But 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 and 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

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 Phorcys the Sow, and one of the most revered Dakinis in Tantric Buddhism is Vajravarahi, the Diamond Sow.

 

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 the 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

 A large black bird that is naturally associated with witches, and certainly witches are associated with the Dark Goddess.   We see 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.

Cerridwen's Herbs

Rowan

 In Celtic mythology, Rowan was known as the Tree of Life and symbolises courage, wisdom and protection.

Belladonna

 Deadly Nightshade, Death’s Herb, and Murderer’s Herb. A poisonous plant that should be treated with great caution.  Belladonna means beautiful lady. Probably because drops of the herb extract  were dropped into the eyes of ladies to make their eyes appear darker and beautiful. It has been used by Witches as a flying ointment and is an hallucinogen. 

Elder

 Always treat Elder with respect. Use for natural healing and protection from spiritual and psychic attack. Elder signifies endings and rebirth, especially at Samhain.

Mullien Leaf

Connects us with our inner voice to help overcome falsity to self and others. Aides protection, courage, good health and love.

Myrrh

Ancient Egyptians used Myrrh to embalm bodies of the dead. Myrrh is sacred to the Great Mother. It is a herb of the Goddess. Is good for meditation and healing personal sorrow.

Valerian

Lifts the spirits as an anti-depressant. A herb of peace. Used for healing and protection. 

Black is the colour associated with Cerridwen.

Cerridwen.jpg

Design by kind permission of

Michael Thompson

The Legend of Cerridwen

In the Welsh myths and legends of The Mabinongion, we see the legendary story of Cerridwen. 

She has a young boy named Gwion in charge of stirring and watching over the 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 not to spill anything out of the cauldron; for only three drops of the brew would be needed as the rest would then become poison. 

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 changes himself into a hare and flees. 

                           

Cerridwen changes herself into a greyhound and chases after him. He runs towards a river and changes into a fish. She becomes an otter and swims after him; he turns himself into a bird and She becomes a hawk, swooping after him. Just as She is about to gain on him, he spies a heap of wheat on the floor of a barn and he transforms himself into a grain of corn, whereupon Cerridwen becomes 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 bulrushes 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 fire, letting it simmer and marinate means 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 project or knowledge and when the time is right the fruits of our labour will be born.

 

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 Blessed Be!

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