Mabinogion: Gwion Bach and the Cauldron

This story is part of the Mabinogion unit. Story source: The Mabinogion, translated by Lady Charlotte Guest (1877).

Gwion Bach and the Cauldron

IN times past there lived in Penllyn a man of gentle lineage, named Tegid Voel, and his dwelling was in the midst of the lake Tegid, and his wife was called Caridwen. And there was born to him of his wife a son named Morvran ab Tegid, and also a daughter named Creirwy, the fairest maiden in the world was she. And they had a brother, the most ill-favoured man in the world, Avagddu.

Now Caridwen his mother thought that he was not likely to be admitted among men of noble birth by reason of his ugliness unless he had some exalted merits or knowledge. For it was in the beginning of Arthur's time and of the Round Table.

So she resolved, according to the arts of the books of the Fferyllt, to boil a cauldron of Inspiration and Science for her son that his reception might be honourable because of his knowledge of the mysteries of the future state of the world. Then she began to boil the cauldron, which from the beginning of its boiling might not cease to boil for a year and a day until three blessed drops were obtained of the grace of Inspiration.

And she put Gwion Bach, the son of Gwreang of Llanfair in Caereinion in Powys, to stir the cauldron, and a blind man named Morda to kindle the fire beneath it, and she charged them that they should not suffer it to cease boiling for the space of a year and a day. And she herself, according to the books of the astronomers, and in planetary hours, gathered every day of all charm-bearing herbs.

And one day, towards the end of the year, as Caridwen was culling plants and making incantations, it chanced that three drops of the charmed liquor flew out of the cauldron and fell upon the finger of Gwion Bach. And by reason of their great heat, he put his finger to his mouth, and the instant he put those marvel-working drops into his mouth, he foresaw everything that was to come, and perceived that his chief care must be to guard against the wiles of Caridwen, for vast was her skill. And in very great fear, he fled towards his own land.

And the cauldron burst in two because all the liquor within it except the three charm-bearing drops was poisonous, so that the horses of Gwyddno Garanhir were poisoned by the water of the stream into which the liquor of the cauldron ran, and the confluence of that stream was called the Poison of the Horses of Gwyddno from that time forth.

Thereupon came in Caridwen and saw all the toil of the whole year lost. And she seized a billet of wood and struck the blind Morda on the head until one of his eyes fell out upon his cheek.

And he said, "Wrongfully hast thou disfigured me, for I am innocent. Thy loss was not because of me."

"Thou speakest truth," said Caridwen, "it was Gwion Bach who robbed me."

And she went forth after him, running.

And he saw her, and changed himself into a hare and fled. But she changed herself into a greyhound and turned him.

And he ran towards a river, and became a fish. And she in the form of an otter-bitch chased him under the water, until he was fain to turn himself into a bird of the air. She, as a hawk, followed him and gave him no rest in the sky.

And just as she was about to stoop upon him, and he was in fear of death, he espied a heap of winnowed wheat on the floor of a barn, and he dropped among the wheat, and turned himself into one of the grains. Then she transformed herself into a high-crested black hen, and went to the wheat and scratched it with her feet, and found him out and swallowed him.

And, as the story says, she bore him nine months, and when she was delivered of him, she could not find it in her heart to kill him by reason of his beauty.

So she wrapped him in a leathern bag and cast him into the sea to the mercy of God on the twenty-ninth day of April.


(700 words)

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