The Tale of Ceridwen

It is said that, about one and a half thousand years ago, in the island of Britain, there lived a woman called Ceridwen. Like many in those heathen days, Ceridwen practised witchcraft. She had two children, one a girl, who was very beautiful, and a hideously ugly boy, by the name of Afagddu. To compensate for her son's deformed visage, Ceridwen decided to concoct a potion that would transform her otherwise socially disadvantaged son into a man of high intelligence and great vision. Carefully gathering together certain herbs with magical properties, she placed them in her enchanted cauldron, and, no doubt with the help of some water from a sacred spring, or even some mead left over from the previous Beltane, she began to brew the mixture.

Unfortunately the prescribed cooking time was a year and a day, and not even Ceridwen, despite having two children who constantly kept her awake, could go that long without sleep. So she entrapped a boy named Gwion, and made him stir the mixture.

Whether or not Gwion knew from the beginning what the bubbling and steaming liquid he was in charge of could do does not seem to be known, but towards the end of the year he succumbed to temptation and took a tiny droplet of the burning syrup from his finger. At once he was filled with knowledge and wisdom, leaving none for Afagddu. Ceridwen noticed the change in the boy, but didn't act soon enough, and Gwion fled, leaving behind him the now worthless contents of the cauldron.

Gwion changed himself into a hare to escape Ceridwen, but the witch matched him by becoming a greyhound. Into the river they plunged, Gwion becoming a trout, his enraged employer an otter. Again Gwion escaped by changing form, soaring from the water as a swift, but followed by Ceridwen as an eagle. In the end, Gwion turned himself into a grain of wheat, hoping he would not be noticed, but Ceridwen metamorphosed into a hen and ate him up.

Yet it appears that Gwion had managed to pull off the most skilful transformation of all, for when Ceridwen resumed human form she found she was pregnant. Some months later she gave birth to Gwion. Although she still hated the boy for robbing Afagddu of his inheritance, he was now her own flesh and infanticide was suddenly beyond her. She put him in a leather bag, and threw him into the turbulent waters of the River Wye.

As luck would have it, the bag was caught in a weir belonging to Prince Elphin, who found it and opened it. Struck by the appearance of the baby, he cried "Radiant Brow!" and that duly became the boy's name, or rather, as it was said in the tongue of those parts, Taliesin. Of course, Taliesin grew up to become one of the greatest bards of Britain.

Some centuries later, an Oxford undergraduate found herself in need of a name for the magazine of the Arthurian Society, which she had started under a name already being used by another publication. Staring into the plastic cup from which she had just quaffed some mulled wine, she was put in mind of the above legend. If the magazine could contain all the knowledge that Ceridwen had tried to transfer to her son, she would be very happy! And that is why the Oxford Arthurian Society magazine is now called CERIDWEN'S CAULDRON!