Extracted from “Mabon and the Mysteries of Britain – an exploration of the Mabinogion”
By Caitlin Matthews and published by Arkana (Penguin)
In the days of Arthur there lived a man called Tegid Foel and his wife Ceridwen. Their daughter Creirwry, was the most beautiful maiden, but their son Morfran (Great Crow) was so ugly that he was nicknamed Afagddu (Utter Darkness). In order to compensate for his appearance, Ceridwen prepared a cauldron of inspiration so that he might be possessed of prophetic insight and secret knowledge. This was distilled from numerous herbs and plants, and the cauldron was to be kept boiling for a year and a day. She set Gwion Bach, son of Gwreang of Llanfair in Powys, to stir it and an old man, Morda, to tend the fire under it. Near the end of the year, three drops flew out of the boiling cauldron and fell on Gwion’s finger. To cool the scald, he put his fingers in his mouth and so received the inspiration intended for Morfran. The cauldron burst in two, since the remainder of its contents were poisonous, the liquor flowed into a stream, and so the horses of Gwyddno Garanhir were poisoned.
Perceiving Ceridwen’s wrath, Gwion fled in the shape of a hare, but Ceridwen followed as a greyhound. He became a fish, she an otter. He turned into a bird, she changed into a hawk; finally he fell from the sky into a pile of wheat, becoming a grain himself, but Ceridwen became a hen and swallowed him. He was born of her womb nine months later. So great was his beauty that she did not kill him, but set him adrift in a coracle on 29th of April.
Gwyddno’s son, Elphin, was a spendthrift courtier in the service of King Maelgwn. His luck and fortunes were so bad that his father allowed him to go and catch the salmon which were annually caught in the weir on May Eve: their value was £100. He saw nothing but a coracle. Opening its leather wrappings, he exclaimed, “Behold the radiant brow” (tal-iesin) – and so the child was named. The child sang to Elphin, consoling him for the loss of the salmon and prophesying that what he had found would be worth far more. When asked who he was, Taliesin sang of his transformations. Elphin’s fortunes improved, and the child was given to his wife to nurse.
In a lengthy poem Taliesin explained in prophetic and analeptic verse his true nature: he had been existent since the creation of the world, present at all its works; he knew all knowledge; he should be until the end of the world…..
Taliesin was brought before Maelgwn to sing of the creation. He sang of Adam and Eve, of the Fall, the mystery of Christ’s sacrifice. He sang of the fate of Troy’s descendants, the invasion of the Saxons, the servitude of the Britons, and of their final liberation.