3071 – Black resin plaque of Cerridwen: Ceridwen, Cerridwen or Kerridwen
- Physical description:
- Black resin plaque of Ceridwen, riding in a cauldron
- Museum classification:
- Goddess / Images of Witchcraft
- 19 cm x 14 cm
- Ceridwen is mentioned in the Mabinogion, a collection of Welsh tales compiled from two late-medieval manuscripts ' the Red Book of Hergest and the White Book of Rhydderch. The collection is best known today in its early nineteenth century form edited and translated by antiquarians William Pughe and Lady Charlotte Guest.
In the Mabinogion Ceridwen is married to Tegid Voel and they dwell in an underwater Elysium, Lake Tegid, with their three children: the fair maiden Creirwy, a son, Morvran, and the 'most ill-favoured man in the world', Avagddu. To bestow knowledge upon Avagddu, Ceridwen prepared a cauldron of inspiration from which three drops of inspiration were produced. One of these drops falls upon the finger of Gwion Bach (a male servant) whom Ceridwen set to stir the cauldron. He put the finger in his mouth, received the inspiration and fled, pursued by Ceridwen. After a long pursuit, Ceridwen assumed the form of a hen and swallowed Gwion as a grain of wheat. She gave birth to Gwion anew, and threw him into the sea. Elphin rescues Gwion, and renames him, Taliesin.
In terms of Ceridwen's role in ancient Welsh religion and culture, it is unclear whether she may be accurately called a pre-Christian deity. What it is certain is that she was a powerful enchantress who featured in a vibrant bardic, and then later, literary culture in Wales. J.A. MacCulloch writing in 1911 suggested that Ceridwen was 'worshipped' by bards in a manner similar to that of Brigit/Brigid. He goes on to state that Ceridwen may have also been a corn-goddess, 'since she was called goddess of grain, and tradition associates the pig ' a common embodiment of the corn-spirit - with her.' See J. A. MacCulloch, The Religion of the Ancient Celts, 1911. A site associated with Ceridwen is the chambered cain or cromlech of Pentre Ifan which was known as 'The Womb or Court of Ceridwen' according Professor Evans-Wentz, although it is unclear what source is being used to make this statement; see Walter Evans-Wentz, The fairy-faith in Celtic countries, (University Books, 1966). The archaeologists Anne Ross (1967), and more recently Miranda Green in her book Celtic Goddesses (British Museum, 1995), have both robustly asserted that Ceridwen was almost certainly a goddess. Ronald Hutton recently argued that Ceridwen was not considered to be a goddess until the late nineteenth century, when a tradition of writing emerged that reflected 'a need to conceive of a single Great Goddess, related to motherhood and the natural world'. Hutton quotes the Welsh scholar Sir Ifor Williams, who suggested that the name Ceridwen derived from 'Cyrriddfen' meaning 'crooked woman', which places her in tradition of witchcraft and magic (see Hutton, Pagan Britain, Yale: 2013).
Of course, the issue of Ceridwen's origins as a goddess or witch can be seen as part of a wider cultural debate as to the role of women in history and religion. Ceridwen's role as an enchantress, as a mistress of a seemingly elven submerged realm, her ability to transform into animals, her role as a giver and taker of life, and finally, her contested claim to divinity and the political ramifications of this ' firmly place her in a modern living witchcraft/Goddess tradition.
The following is from an interpretive card from GoddessGift.net that accompanied the object:
"Cerridwen is a great earth Goddess associated with the eternal cycle of life, death and rebirth. We worship her at harvest time. She tends her cauldron of wisdom and inspiration. Her totem animal is the white sow and she is a shapeshifter, able to be seen as a greyhound, an otter, a hawk, and a black hen. She was mother to the great Celtic bard Taliesin (often thought to be Merlin) according to a favourite Celtic regeneration myth. He attribute[d] his magic talents to her."
- Resin, metal