Pagan Paths

Profundity, profanity and frivolity; the business of serious thinking and joyous expression through the wisdom and traditions of the Celts in the company of Kristoffer Hughes, Head of the Anglesey Druid Order.

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The Chair of Cerridwen


The Chair of Cerridwen


The eminent Celtic scholar John Morris Jones wrote in the early 20th century – “I think enough has been said to show that these poems, which were mist and mystery to those who looked at them though glasses focussed on the ninth century, become clear when we focus at a distance, and the mist, with most of the mystery, vanishes”

This is a pretty bold statement, but one which has revolutionised future immersive experience of the Celtic mysteries, for in it, and together with the work of other scholars and visionaries one is offered a starting post, a stage from which to perceive and engage with the jigsaw of Celtic mysteries.

The current New Age trend of spiritual commercialism has dissected the mysteries to their component parts, where each aspect of the mysteries can be focused upon with a magnifying glass. This has profoundly affected our relationship with the mysteries. From this evisceration it is tempting to direct one’s attention to the individuation of the archetypes/deities that swim within the mysteries. And from this we attempt to place meaning and attributes upon them as individuals. However, the paradox of this evisceration is that we may fail to see the bigger picture.

In this discourse I shall be focusing on the Goddess Cerridwen, but this in itself is a fickle task for Cerridwen does not exist in a vacuum. She is an aspect of a much larger mythological landscape. To fully understand and develop relationship with Cerridwen, we must also understand the mythological landscape that she is inherently an aspect of. The permanent individuation of the gods to the exclusion of the landscape in which they exist does them a disservice.

The magic that we find in our connection to Cerridwen is made so much more complete and extraordinary when we rise above the individual archetype/deity and perceive them as an inexorable component of the wider mysteries. Removing an element of the mysteries from its landscape shatters them into ever smaller pieces that become increasingly difficult to stick back together again. So rather than looking at Cerridwen through glass, as John Morris Jones expressed, one must rise above the landscape of myth and magic, and climb every higher into the blue sky that shines light upon their countenance. At this distance, the mists that lie at the edge of fragmentation vanish, and the mysteries swim into focus.

The mystery and magic of Cerridwen cannot be separated from the Taliesin material which breathes life into our understanding of the mysteries. They are inexorably connected. The result of the Cerridwen, Gwion Bach/Taliesin saga is the birth of the prophetic spirit, and without exception, all references to Cerridwen come from the mouthpiece that is Taliesin.

The Welsh scholar Ifor Williams made a rather bold statement in the first half of the twentieth century, one which was quite revolutionary at the time. And whilst he was, to an extent mocked for such a revelation, he held fast and firm, and slowly transformed the way future scholars and visionaries alike connected to the mysteries. He said that the Taliesin material, i.e. all the mysteries, and sometimes baffling poems, cannot be explained without reference to a folk-tale, which he called Hanes Taliesin (The story of the birth of Taliesin).

The realms of mystery are difficult to enter, to begin with they are invisible to human eyes, you may find clues that allude to them, but they are elusive and enveloped in mists of secrets. To access them we must find the keys that unlock the appropriate doors, and this entire tale is one of those. But, even when we find the keys that match the mysteries we must still find the locks into which they fit. The material may at first seem compelling yet incredibly baffling, leaving one scratching the head in confusion. This is a typical symptom for the majority of folk who approach the doors of the Celtic mysteries. But there is a significant key that allows all other keys to find their matching locks with ease. The riddled poems of Taliesin and other Celtic verse and mythologies cannot be explained unless one refers to a folk tale, which the scholar Ifor Williams identifies as being the tale of Cerridwen and Taliesin. He claims that the shape shifting Gwion Bach, who is transformed by means of successive initiations and a triple birth, is the key to accessing the mysteries. The legendary and prophetic myths and poems, without exception, require this key to activate their power. When activated; the mysteries begin to glow with a light that shines to the furthest recesses of the spirit. The process is quite simple once the key to mystery has been acknowledged, and Gwion Bach is only half the story – the rest of it is fulfilled by you.

For all that is to follow to make sense, a deep and profound acknowledgement must be accepted at this point. By all means, the study of Gwion Bach, the etymology and the interpretation of his part in the story, both visionary and scholarly – is a worthy exercise. But, for the tale to be incorporated as experience, not simply a mental exercise,  we must accept that the role of Gwion Bach is indicative of you, the hero on his or her own quest to inspiration and the divine receipt of Awen. This is achieved by seeing oneself in the role of Gwion Bach, and accepting the tools that he provides along with his fellow archetypes to embark on the journey. This is a journey in the true sense of the word, for it involves a deep commitment to the study of mystery and immersion in the teachings of our ancestors. The quest becomes a source of knowledge; and our heartfelt attempt to access the blissful rapture of connection to the mysteries and the Gods of the Celtic continuum. From this we are reborn as those with radiant brows – Taliesin. But remember that the title Gwion means divine or prototypic venom or poison, this can only be your experience, to attempt to ride in the slipstream of someone else’s experience will serve only to poison your journey. We must embark on the journey alone. Supported, yes, but ultimately the journey can only be solitary in nature.

Again, I reiterate, your perception of the mysteries will be skewed unless you place yourself in central positon, as the initiate. This is an allegory of initiation, and it is Cerridwen and her position within the mythological landscape that has the ability to transform the initiate. But she does not perform this task in a vacuum. She too is held by the mysteries whilst simultaneously expressing them. 

In the tradition of the Anglesey Druid Order the archetypes and deities fit neatly in 4 categories, the first 3 are indicative of the spiral arms of the Triskele, the realms of land, sea and sky. The gods of which are as much an expression of our apparent world as we are. Llŷr is the ocean of our home world, Dôn is the mother Goddess of the land and rivers, and Beli is the blue and midnight blue of our atmosphere. Their uniqueness lies in their finite nature, in that, when our sun swallows the inner planets and destroys our home world,their story also ends. However the 4th category are not necessarily indicative of the subtle powers of our world but rather are classified within our tradition as the Andedion, the Underworld gods or the Infernal Ones. They stand at the edge of the cauldron, between our universe and the deep, un-manifest potential of the Cauldron.


However, the mysteries of the Cauldron are too vast, the potential within the void is beyond our grasp. So standing at its edge, hands out in greeting and warning stand the Andedion, and Cerridwen is one of these. She is the conduit by which we can break down the mysteries into a form that is more readily digestible by the human mind, without overwhelming us to the point of insanity.

In our ready-made society, where everything is available on a plate or at a price, the fact that we must sometimes take time to absorb anything is almost insulting. But the mysteries take time, the process of initiation takes time. As Taliesin says –

Myfi a gefais Awen,
O Bair Cerridwen,
Ac ni wyddais beth yw fy ngahwd,
Ai chig neu pysgawd,

A myfi a fum naw mis haiach,

Ynghroth Cerridwen y wrach,

Myfi a fum gynt Wion Bach,

Neithyr Taliesin wyf I bellach.


I received the Awen

From the cauldron of Cerridwen,

And it is not known what is my flesh,

Whether it is meat or fish,

I was nine months gestating,

In the womb of Cerridwen,

I was Gwion Bach once,

But now I am Taliesin.


Our relationship with the mysteries of Cerridwen serves a vital, and often overlooked function – to bring about the birth of the Radiant Brow. To initiate one into becoming the prophetic spirit. The end goal of this initiatory function is to become Taliesin.

Whilst we will explore many facets of the landscape and teachings of Cerridwen, we must start with this process of initiation.

Who are you? What are you? And what is it that you seek? What makes you – you?

I do not believe that the invisible, subtle realms are any more aware of our world than we are of theirs. People are busy, they have busy lives, and this profoundly affects our perceptive powers. As far as I am concerned, those who occupy the subtle realms are equally busy – they have shit to do! As have we. In order for those worlds to collide and for the mists that separate them to vanish, one must somehow cause a shift in that veil, to bring about a viscosity of the divide so that one world becomes aware of the other and vice versa. In the Druid and Pagan traditions we have a name for this process – Ritual. 

This ritual is simple yet profound.

Settle yourself, and begin by invoking this image -

You enter a grove in a forest, a circle of stones 11 in total stand as guardians between the dense dappled light of the forest and the brightness of the grove. Standing in central position is a gigantic Oak tree. Upon its branches you can see the procession of all the seasons. It is ancient and holds within it the wisdom, magic and sciences of the mysteries.



A cauldron stands at its base, it is steaming. A fire burns brightly beneath it. Standing behind it is a figure in a dark hooded cloak, words of power spill from her lips as she casts herbs into the belly of the cauldron. This is Cerridwen. She stands in this position. Pivoted between the apparent world as represented by the tree above ground, and the unconscious world that lies beneath in its roots.

Approach the cauldron and consider…

Cerridwen did not act alone –

What are the Tegid Foel qualities of your life? What is it that hold you, supports you, and how do you support others?

What are the Creirfyw qualities of your life? What is it that brings joy and beauty to your life?

What are the Afagddu qualities of your life? What is the nature of your shadow? How does it impact on your life? Consider whether or not Cerridwen actually asked her son if he wanted to change?

What are the Morda qualities of your life? How to you employ liminality in your work, and in your magic? What is the function of liminality?

What can you use as symbols of the above? When you have them in mind, approach the cauldron and cast them in. Will Cerridwen readily accept them? Remember – the cauldron will not boil the food of a coward.

Ponder within this space, and then slowly in your own time, bring your awareness back to the here and now. 


Until next time…….

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Kristoffer Hughes is Head of the Anglesey Druid Order in North Wales. He is an award winning author and a frequent speaker and workshop leader throughout the United Kingdom, Europe and the USA. He works professionally for Her Majesty's Coroner. He has studied with the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids and is its 13th Mount Haemus Scholar. He is a native Welsh speaker, born to a Welsh family in the mountains of Snowdonia. He currently writes for Llewellyn Worldwide specializing in Celtic studies and death and bereavement.


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