The life of the bard Taliesin is shrouded in deep mystery and those who want to penetrate his history will encounter many contradictions.
The name Taliesin is said to mean “radiant eyebrow” or “radiant forehead” and it is believed that he was born in the 6th century.
Taliesin speaks of himself of an extraordinary birth and says that he comes from the “land of the summer stars.” Legend has it that he sang and spoke like a bard when he was a child.
The historic Taliesin is a son of St Henwyg the Bard and has royal blood in his veins.
According to the beautifully pictorial myth, he is initially named Gwyon Bach and was destined by the goddess Ceridwen to stir the magic kettle Cauldron.
Ceridwen is brewing a herbal potion in the Cauldron, that her ugly son Avagdu might be inspired by three drops of this liquid.
A man was born not only from the mother, but also from the lunar shell or from the “moist sphere” around the earth, the spiritual-astral world through which man descended to the womb of the mother. Now, if a person could free his consciousness from the pull of the body, he could again, through initiation, “enter into his mother’s womb” and that is, not into an earthly realm, but into a spiritual world with different laws which then would be revealed to him.
The experience of the element of water, the moist substance and, moreover, also the other elements are associated in Celtic mythology with the kettle or the Cauldron of Ceridwen. The coward’s food could not be cooked in this cauldron; one who drank three drops of this precious liquid was given spiritual initiation.
While Gwyon stirs the Cauldron, three drops accidentally fall on his hand. These drops are so hot that Gwyon licks them up and the next moment he is able to foresee what is about to happen. He knows that he must flee from Ceridwen: she will get angry and chase him, for the potion was not meant for him.
He then flees to his ‘own country’, but Ceridwen pursues him. Since he now has magical powers, he turns himself into a hare, but Ceridwen magically becomes a hunting dog and goes after him. He flees to the river and turns himself into a fish, whereupon Ceridwen turns into an otter and chases after him in the water. Then he becomes a bird, but she a hawk chasing him in the skies. Finally, he turns himself into a grain of wheat and Ceridwen becomes a chicken that eventually swallows him. She carries him for nine months and then gives birth to him. He is then so beautiful that she cannot kill him and she puts Gwyon in a leather bag and throws him into the sea. He is found by Elphin who is fishing. Elphin takes care of him, but later Elphin is thrown into prison by his rich and powerful uncle, Maelgwyn. Taliesin frees him with his mighty voice and singing talent and predicts Maelgwyn’s demise.
This legend describes in allegorical language from beginning to end the processes of an initiation.
The first stage is that of the antenatal existence of Taliesin as he travels through the four elements and shares the divine activities of the world-soul. Ceridwen, the dark giantess who is the mother goddess of nature. It prompts him to go to his “own land” which is the Earth.
Obtaining the vision of the antenatal life was one of the necessities a bard must have and was called the “memory of Annwn.” This is the reading of nature’s memory, recorded in what is known as the Akashic Record.
Elphin who takes Taliesin – or Gwyon who he was then – from the water, the physical womb, can be seen as Taliesin’s own, earthly personality. In him, in this son of man, lives Taliesin, the immortal spirit, who has sucked up the three drops.
He describes his antenatal life as follows:
I was first modeled on the form (spiritual archetype) of the pure man in Ceridwen’s hall….Although small in disposition and modest in demeanor, I was tall. (Consciousness of the spirit world extends to the entire circumference of the universe.) A shrine carried me above the face of the earth. Enclosed within his ribs, the lovely Awen (the kettle of Cauldron’s) furnishes me full relief, and my law (Fate) was communicated to me without audible language by the old giantess, who smiled darkly in her wrath.
Elphin is powerless to remain protector of Taliesin, for he has become entangled in his worldly destiny. He is captured by the worldly cares and is (temporarily) separated from Taliesin, his Higher Self, the spiritual principle in man. Maelgwyn, who has thrown Elphin into prison, does not believe that Taliesin can sing better than the 24 bards at his court. But when Taliesin begins to sing, the other bards are confused and silenced by the magic of his voice. Inspiration awakens in Taliesin and he sings about his own spiritual origin. When Elphin hears Taliesin sing, a desire awakens in him and Taliesin achieves his liberation.
This section is the next stage of initiation. Some lines of verse about this stage are as follows:
My ordinary Country
is the land of the Cherubim.
John the Fortune Teller
I was called by Merddin,
after all every king will
call me Taliesin.
I was with my Lord
in the highest sphere
fell into the depths of hell.
I carried the banner
even before Alexander;
I know the names of the stars
from north to south.
I was in Canaan
when Absalom fell;
I was in the court of Don
before Gwydion was born.
I was the teacher
of Elijah and Enoch;
I was at the crucifixion
of the gracious Son of God.
I used to be a supervisor
in building the tower of Nimrod;
I am a resident three times
of the castle of Arianrhod.
I was in the ark
with Noah and Alpha;
I saw the devastation
of Sodom and Gomorrah.
I was with my King
in the donkey’s manger;
I supported Moses
by the waters of the Jordan.
I was in the firmament
with Mary Magdalene;
I got my inspiration
of the Cauldron of Ceridwen.
I am taught
in the whole system of the universe;
I will until the day of the last judgment
be on the face of the earth.
I sat on the restless seat
above Caer Sidi,
I was in the whirling round dance without movement
between three elements.
(Gwydion is Hermes or Mercury. Arianrhod is Earth’s rainbow-colored aura)
The whole story is an exposition of the process of an initiation that is threefold and forms the now well-known triad.
First, there is the journey through the world of the elements and the memory of a pre-birth existence. Second, we are confronted with the loss of the earthly personality. (Elphin, the lower self is imprisoned.) Third, finally, the spiritual nature in man is recognized and he is then liberated and the lower self in the personification of Maelgwyn becomes then destroyed.
Thus, the three personalities Taliesin, Elphin and Maelgwyn are three aspects of the same being.
Elphin is the human being in his absolute humanity and is like all human beings coming to know his true destiny. He becomes aware of his captivity in the material world. He is liberated by his desire by Taliesin, his Higher Self, who has been in Caer Sidi. He is redeemed and all that belongs to the lower nature is destroyed. Taliesin sings of the destruction of Maelgwyn over something akin to the wind that rises everywhere in an unknown way and has terrible consequences. That’s when the law of fate reveals itself that spells the end of Maelgwyn.
The secret of many legends lies in the fact that many personal events that are in the realm of the soul’s life keep pace with outward occurrences. This explains why at first many legends seem to have sprung from fantasy, but are in reality allegories of the spiritual life.
The historical character of Maelgwyn died of the plague that ravaged the country like a hurricane and wreaked havoc between 552 and 557.
Taliesin left a large amount of works. Whether these were actually made by the historical Taliesin is immaterial. What is important is the overall artistic structure in which ancient inspired clairvoyance is combined with the appearance and recognition of Christ on earth.
Taliesin, whether we recognize him as a poet or as a representative of an important mystery school, shows us, as one of the latter, that Christ could be experienced through the ancient clairvoyance. This knowledge sank and was lost to make way for new forms.
In the following poem, Elphin, whose initiatory name is Taliesin, shows that he awaits redemption with all of humanity’s creation:
At the end of our effort
languages will die out.
The fiery soul
will travel through the clouds
with the children of the Seraphim.
Your people will ascend
To the redemption of Elphin.
Source: from ‘Royal Cadeir’ (Myvyrian Collection)