Ceridwen and Gwion Bach's Transformations, Mabinogion in Welsh folklore and mythology, a tale from Llanfair Caereinion Wales
Cartref >  
Category: Mabinogion
Sub Category: Witches
Title: Ceridwen and Gwion Bach's Transformations


The prevalence of the belief that witches could transform themselves into hares is seen from a remark made by Giraldus Cambrensis in his topography of Ireland. |He writes:--|"It has also been a frequent complaint, from old times, as well as in the present, that certain hags in Wales, as well as in Ireland and Scotland, changed themselves into the shape of hares, that, sucking teats under this counterfeit, they might stealthily rob other people's milk."|Giraldus Cambrensis, Bohn's Edition, p. 83.|This remark of the Archdeacon's gives a respectable antiquity to the metamorphosis of witches, for it was in 1185 that he visited Ireland, and he tells us that what he records had descended from "old times."|The transformation fables that have descended to us would seem to be fossils of a pagan faith once common to the Celtic and other cognate races. It was not thought that certain harmless animals only could become the temporary abode of human beings. Even a wolf could be human under an animal form. Thus Giraldus Cambrensis records that a priest was addressed in Ireland by a wolf, and induced to administer the consolations of his priestly office to his wife, who, also, under the shape of a she-wolf was apparently at the point of death, and to convince the priest that she was really a human being the he-wolf, her husband, tore off the skin of the she-wolf from the head down to the navel, folding it back, and she immediately presented the form of an old woman to the astonished priest. These people were changed into wolves through the curse of one Natalis, Saint and Abbot, who compelled them every seven years to put off the human form and depart from the dwellings of men as a punishment for their sins.|Ceridwen and Gwion (Gwiawn) Bach's Transformation|Ceridwen was the wife of Tegid Foel.  They had a first son named Morfran, and a daughter named Creirwy, who was the most beautiful girl in the world. They also had another son named Afagddu, the ugliest man in the world.  Ceridwen, seeing that he should not be received amongst gentlemen because of his ugliness, unless he should be possessed of some excellent knowledge or strength, ordered a cauldron to be boiled of knowledge and inspiration for her son.  The cauldron was to be boiled unceasingly for one year and a day until there should be in it three blessed drops of the spirit’s grace.| These three drops fell on the finger of Gwion Bach of Llanfair Caereinion in Powys, whom she ordered to attend to the cauldron.  The drops were so hot that Gwion Bach put his finger to his mouth; no sooner done than he came to know all things.  Now he transformed himself into a hare and ran away from the wrath of Ceridwen.  She also transformed herself into a greyhound and went after him to the side of a river.  On this, Gwion jumped into the river and transformed himself into a fish.  She transformed herself into an otter and chased him under the water until he was forced to turn himself into a bird of the air; she, as a hawk, followed him and gave him no rest in the sky. Just as she was about to swoop upon him and he was in fear of death, he noticed a heap of wheat on the floor of a barn and he dropped among the wheat and buried himself into one of the grains.  Then Ceridwen transformed herself into a high-crested black hen and went to the wheat. She scratched it with her feet, found him and swallowed him.|The tale of Ceridwen, whose fame was such that she can without exaggeration be styled the goddess of witches, resembles in part the chase of the witch-hare by the black dog, and probably her story gave rise to many tales of transformations.


Find information on "Ceridwen and Gwion Bach's Transformations", and Mabinogion, in Llanfair Caereinion Wales. Celtic and Welsh mythology and folklore in the Walesdirectory.co.uk.