Taliesin the Bard

Taliesin is probably the most famous Bard to have lived. He lived between 534 and 599 and was chief Bard in the courts of at least three kings of Britain. He is associated with the Book of Taliesin, a text from the 10th century that contains some of his poems. You can actually view this online with the Welsh Library.

the life of Taliesin is fascinating and was mythologised in the mid 16th Century using existing Celtic folklore and oral traditions.

Taleisin’s life began as Gwion Bach, a servant boy on the shores of Lake Bala ,where the giant Tegid Foel and his witch wife Ceridwen lived. Tegid and Ceridwen had a beautiful daughter, Crearwy, and an ugly stupid son, Morfran.

Ceridwen brewed a potion to try and make Morfran handsome and wise and Gwion Bach was given the job of stirring it in a cauldron for a year and a day. A blind man called Morda looked after the fire beneath the cauldron to keep the potion brewing.

According to legend, the first three drops of the liquid give wisdom; the rest are poisonous. As Gwion stirred the potion, three drops fell onto him and in an attempt to stop the burning he took his hand with the drops on to his mouth and ingested them, instantly claiming great knowledge and wisdom.

Terrified of what Ceridwen would do to him, he fled and using the poition power turned himself into a hare. Ceridwen in her attempt to chase him, turned herself into a dog.

Gwion then turned into a fish to jump into the river and Ceridwen became on otter in response. Next he turned into a bird and she became a hawk to chase him. Finally in a last attempt to escape he turned himself into a single grain of corn but Ceridwen ate him!

As Ceridwen returned to her witch form, she discovered out she was pregnant and knew it was Gwion inside her. She planned to kill him after the birth but he was born so beautiful that she couldn’t bring herself to do it. Instead, she threw him into the ocean in a large leather bag.

Elffin, son of Gwyddno lived around the same time and was given a large estate in his father’s kingdom to rule over, yet as he was so unlucky, the sea brpke the defensive dam and the estate was lost to sea. To try and compensate him, his father gave him the annual salmon catch. However, when the fish was presented, there was no fish in the net, just the leather bag containing reborn Gwion Fach. Elffin was taken back by Gwion’s beauty and as he rode home with him, the child began to recite poetry to him. The poems he told were prophecies of how Taliesin had been sent to guide him and help him defeat all the enemies of Elffin.

After this day, Elffin’s luck changed and he became prosperous. Taliesin became the most famous Bard and foretold the death of the evil King Maelgwyn Gwynedd at the hands of a ‘yellow beast’.

Interpretation

The mythical struggle of Taliesin’s birth through transformation gives us an opportunity to reflect.

Within the story there are startling changes, the animals in the hunt are all in response to adversity and are helping him prepare for challenge. How do we change ourselves in response to adversity?

There is deeper meaning behind the animals in the hunt, they go through the elements – hare (Earth), Salmon (water) and Bird (Air). Each elemental transmutation leads Gwion into a new phase, culminating in his change to an embryonic seed.

Are we all going through similar change ourselves?

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