The cauldron is one of the oldest Celtic symbols and one that has come down to us over the centuries in various forms. The best known story of the cauldron comes from Wales and is about the great bard Taliesin and his birth.
The goddess Cerridwen had a magical cauldron, which was stirred by a boy named Gwion. One day Gwion burned his hand on the cauldron and put his hand to his mouth. As soon as his lips touched her burned hand, he was transformed by the magic of the cauldron and acquired all the knowledge of the world in a single instant.
Cerridwen was furious that a mere servant had taken this knowledge and pursued Gwion, who now had the power to change form. Gwion turned into a hare and ran out the door. Cerridwen, being a powerful goddess, also had the power to change shapes and transformed into a hound to chase the hare. Before she could catch him, Gwion dived into a river and turned into a fish. Cerridwen then became an otter and set off behind him again. So Gwion turned into a bird and took to the sky, after which Cerridwen became a ferocious eagle. Gwion, realizing that no animal form could provide safety, tried a different strategy. Seeing a pile of wheat, she turned into a tiny grain and fell into the pile of wheat. Cerridwen, however, in her eagle form managed to find him. By turning into a hen, she devoured the grain, ending the chase.
The story doesn’t end there, though. Nine months later, Cerridwen gave birth to a son. Knowing this was Gwion, reborn, has sworn to destroy it once again. She couldn’t bring herself to do it, though. Instead she put the baby in a leather sack and threw him into the river. The bag was found by a boy named Elffin, who claimed the baby had a glowing forehead, which translates to Taliesin. Taliesin began his life by reciting brilliant poetry and became the greatest bard in the world.
Taliesin’s story continues from here, of course, but the point here is to focus on the meaning of Cerridwen’s cauldron and how it relates to Taliesin. The cauldron is a symbol of death and reborn. It may be related to the Holy Grail of Arthurian legend. We can also see traits common to Taliesin’s birth with the biblical figure Moses, also found floating in a river.
We could also compare Gwion’s “theft” of knowledge with Prometheus, who was punished by the gods for bringing mankind the gift of fire. Cerridwen, although she is a wise and powerful goddess, is also jealous and protective of her magical cauldron. However, we can also see that she is necessary and instrumental in the process, as she gives birth to Taliesin and allows him to live.
The cauldron is one of the deepest Celtic symbols with many esoteric meanings. At the most basic level, the point of this and similar stories seems to be that in order to gain knowledge or understanding it is necessary to “die” or at least give up your former form, such as Gwion, which first transforms into various animals and finally into the great Taliesin.
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