• Richard Ingate

The Tale of Taliesin - folklore for today




The Tale of Taliesin - Introduction

This is a traditional tale from the folklore of Wales. It is, I think it is part of some versions of the Mabinogin but is mostly known from later translations. I have included a shortened version of the story that I have taken from BBC Wales (2014).


I am writing about this to draw out some themes which I think are important for our own personal development and certainly as part of deep coaching work.


“The life of Taliesin the bard

Taliesin is believed to have lived between 534 and 599. He was chief bard in the courts of at least three kings of Britain, and is associated with the Book of Taliesin, a text from the 10th century containing his poems.

The life of Taliesin was mythologised in the mid 16th century by Elis Gruffydd, whose account drew from Celtic folklore and existing oral tradition.


According to this mythologised version, the bard begins life as Gwion Bach, a servant boy on the shores of Bala Lake, where the giant Tegid Foel and his witch wife Ceridwen live.


Tegid and Ceridwen also have a beautiful daughter, Crearwy, and a son, Morfran, who is so ugly and stupid no magic can cure him.


Ceridwen brews a potion to make him handsome and wise, and Gwion Bach is given the job of stirring it in a cauldron over a fire for a year and a day. A blind man, Morda, tends the fire beneath.


According to the legend, the first three drops of the liquid give wisdom; the rest are poisonous. As Gwion stirs the concoction, three drops fall onto him. He instinctively puts his hand to his mouth to stop the burning, instantly gaining great knowledge and wisdom.


Frightened of Ceridwen's reaction, Gwion flees. The potion has given him the ability to change shape, and he turns himself into a rabbit. Ceridwen in turn becomes a dog.


Gwion assumes the shape of a fish and jumps into a river; his mother becomes an otter. Gwion turns into a bird; she becomes a hawk and continues her chase. Finally Gwion becomes a single grain of corn. Ceridwen, assuming the form of a hen, eats him.


After Ceridwen resumes her old shape she finds she is pregnant. She instinctively knows it is Gwion. After the birth, although she has plans to kill him, the child is so beautiful she is unable to. Instead she casts him into the ocean in a large leather bag.


The baby is discovered by Elffin, son of Gwyddno Garanhir and the unluckiest prince in Wales' history. Elffin (or Elphin) is given a large estate in his father's kingdom in Mid Wales to rule over, yet almost immediately the sea breaks through the defensive dams and the estate is lost to the sea.


Gwyddno presents his son with the annual salmon catch of the Dovey River in compensation. But when the river keeper draws in his nets there is not a single fish in them - just a large leather bag.


Inside the bag is the reborn Gwion Fach. When Elffin sets eyes on him he is so shocked by the whiteness of the boy's brow he cries out 'tal iesin', meaning 'how radiant his brow is'.


As he rides home with the boy on his horse, the child begins first to speak, then to recite poetry. The poem he recites tells Elffin that Taliesin has been sent to guide him, that he's not only a great poet but also a prophet, and that by using his gifts all Elffin's enemies will be defeated.


Elffin's luck changes thereafter and he prospers in all he does. Taliesin becomes the most famous bard in Britain…” (BBC Wales, 2014)


Themes (according to me)


Gwion Bach is given the job of stirring it in a cauldron over a fire for a year and a day. The power that he has later does not come for free, Gwion shows up and does the work. The cauldron needs a year and a day to be ready and constant stirring of its contents without any visible result.


According to the legend, the first three drops of the liquid give wisdom; the rest are poisonous. As Gwion stirs the concoction, three drops fall onto him. He instinctively puts his hand to his mouth to stop the burning, instantly gaining great knowledge and wisdom.


The ‘gifts’ that Gwion receives are accidental,spontaneous and not even intended for him. He is in the right place at the right time and has been showing up and doing the work.


I also wonder if someone else receiving those three drops would have received different gifts?


Perhaps we receive what can be uniquely expressed through us and so may be different for each of us?


The gifts Gwion receives are suited to his situation which is not an ending but actually the beginning of his ordeal.


Frightened of Ceridwen's reaction, Gwion flees. The potion has given him the ability to change shape, and he turns himself into a rabbit. Ceridwen in turn becomes a dog.

Gwion assumes the shape of a fish and jumps into a river; Ceridwen becomes an otter. Gwion turns into a bird; she becomes a hawk and continues her chase.


Finally Gwion becomes a single grain of corn. Ceridwen, assuming the form of a hen, eats him.

That expression must be tested in the world. Gwion is not using his shape changing skill randomly but in order to escape from danger. The expression of his ability is very much in the world. At this point in the story it is also very much only about him and his needs are in the foreground.


“Elffin's luck changes thereafter and he prospers in all he does. Taliesin becomes the most famous bard in Britain” - Now Talesin, having been through his own transformation, which was a matter of his life and death, is able to be of benefit to others. So it’s only after he has been transformed through trial that he can offer his gifts in a way that brings rewards for him and others.


What this may mean for you


Do the work - whatever you are about, show up and put in the time over the long term. This is true for business ventures, of course, but more importantly for whatever transformational/spiritual path we are on. Do the work as intelligently as you can, reflect, learn and do some more.

The expression will be unique to you. I wonder if someone other than Gwion Bach would have gained/accessed other gifts? The transformational journey will be “you flavoured”. Of course if you are practising within a tradition it will also be in the container of that tradition. Someone doing Tai Chi will have their realisations and insights within that container, someone doing meditation will have their insights within that tradition and in both cases they will be personal.


End thoughts


So, what I take from this story and offer for your consideration is that it is important to do the work, the repetitive daily development that will either develop the skills you are seeking or provide an environment for them to happen within.


The expression of those skills as they do ’come online’ will be yours, particular to you yet in the container of context. For example if you are a Karate practitioner your insights and skills will look like Karate practice first and then be extended into principles that go beyond the individual vehicle used - the way becomes the Way. The insights you have (more than motor skill development, which is really the context) will have application to you and your whole life situation.


Over to you


So, let me know how you respond to this article. What meaning do you take from it? Take part in the conversation and share your thoughts/insights.


If you want to read more of the story, here is the link to the BBC Wales page:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/wales/history/sites/themes/society/myths_taliesin.shtml


©2019 by Richard Ingate Coaching. Proudly created with Wix.com