Soul Stories: Ceridwen’s Cauldron

Within the Bardic grad of OBOD’s (Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids) first year of study, we work a lot with stories, particularly the Welsh tale of Ceridwen and her cauldron. There are different versions of the story, but essentially goes that the Goddess brews a potion in her cauldron that will bless her son Morfran (sometimes also known as Afagddu), who is hideously ugly, with wisdom and poetic inspiration as a compensation for his aesthetic shortcomings.

The potion has to cook for a year and a day, so Ceridwen entrusts the cauldron to a young boy, Gwion Bach, to tend. She warns Gwion that the first three drops from the cauldron will bestow wisdom, but the rest are fatal. One day, as Gwion is stirring the potion, three drops spill, burning this thumb. Instinctively, he puts his it in his mouth to so soothe the burning and ingests the gift meant for Ceridwen’s son. Immediately, he knows the Goddess will be livid, and indeed she is. There is a chase with both Gwion and Ceridwen turning into different animals until Gwion turns himself into a grain of corn. Ceridwen transforms herself into a hen and eats it, but because of the power of the potion, Gwion doesn’t die. Rather, Ceridwen becomes pregnant and Gwion is reborn as the great poet, Taliesin.

The story is, of course, a tale of initiation. It is Gwion and not Morfran who receives the gift of Awen, because it is he who has tended the cauldron and done all the work. The business of transformation requires effort. Sometimes we plan it and sometimes the cauldron just boils over. The catalyst may come out of nowhere, but the process is never just over night. In fact, according to the story, it takes a year and a day. And I’m not sure it ends even then. So far, in my plenty-nine years, it seems pretty apparent to me that learning, growth, and transformation are a rewarding, but never ending effort.

The thing about these stories that is wonderful, though, is that they mirror the human experience. We all have initiation and transformation stories. In fact, I would daresay I haven’t talked to a single person on a Pagan, earth based or just plain old human path who didn’t have some story about how they were initiated onto it. I’m not talking about initiation into a group, but rather a kind of soul initiation, or maybe better yet, dedication. After all, initiation requires someone to let you into the group. That’s all nice if you’re joining a coven or maybe the Masons, but true personal transformation comes from within. And that’s what I’m talking about is a kind of personal, heart based commitment via which we begin a new cycle in our life. For me, that moment (or at least the most recent one) came well after I started down the windy path of spiritual discovery. And, as it goes for many people, it took getting burned to get me back into alignment.

In my case, the Goddess didn’t chase and eat me, but she sure threw a lot of obstacles in my way to slow me down – an injury, the loss of a furry family member, an unpleasant health diagnosis for my mom, and losing a good, steady, but uncompelling job I had stayed in for far too many years. It was like the universe gave me a couple extra kicks after already shoving me down. There were many times when I thought, “Seriously? What the fuck was I thinking, delving into shadow work last summer before all of this began?” And I’ll admit it, I did feel sorry for myself at first. Even now, there are still some struggles that go with it, but every day I am grateful. If it hadn’t happened, I would have gone on working 65-70 hours a week, cultivating some crazy high blood pressure numbers, and never taking time to really live or find the work that makes my heart sing.

Without a giant headlong shove into the cauldron, I would have never acknowledged that staying true to my spiritual path means living in a way that mirrors its teachings — and that is not just talking and learning about esoteric things (though I DO love that!), but MAKING A DIFFERENCE in my world. The truth is that injuring myself and losing my job and insurance were both catalysts. Thorny, ugly catalysts, but catalysts nonetheless.

Without them, I would have never had to change insurance, started going to physical therapy or found a new doctor who helped me bring my BP under control. I would have never started working with a shamanic practitioner or started really thinking about what would help foster wholeness in my health and life. I would never have enrolled in some of the amazing Earth Medicine School and aromatherapy classes I’ve been taking or the coaching certificate program I will be completing in December or rededicated myself to completing my druidic studies, because I wouldn’t have had time to devote to any of that. And I certainly wouldn’t be in the middle of planning a really exciting career change or the healing practice I want to open in January. And I know that’s all only the beginning. There is SO much that I want to do! I seriously have not been this excited in YEARS! Frankly, if the Goddess hadn’t forced me, I would not have stopped to take a breath to even contemplate any of this, let alone be doing the work to make it happen.

And, so, you never know. Everything can lead to rebirth. The answers are there within us. Sometimes we just need to quiet ourselves to hear them.  And if we don’t, the universe is not above giving us a good, hard kick in the ass, if that’s what it takes to make us listen.

The thing is, we can do it the hard way or the easy way. I’m sure I would have reached all these wonderful epiphanies a lot sooner, if I’d just taken the time to be with myself, meditate and connect with my inner voice, instead of living with feeling vaguely ill at ease, like I was living someone else’s life all these years. So, I’d invite you to do it the easy way.

Be still…

Listen…

What is it that you need to hear?

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