Notes on Welsh Mythology and Lurianic Kabbalah
In 2015 my patron god, Gwyn ap Nudd, showed me a cauldron filled with stars. Shortly afterwards I was transported into the scene in The Story of Taliesin, where Gwion Bach steals three drops of awen (1) and the cauldron breaks, spilling the deadly remnants of the brew across Gwyddno Garanhir’s lands. With it I saw the stars pouring out and was told by Gwyn my task was to gather them.
This story continues to play a guiding role in my path as an awenydd. I was recently astonished when I found similarities between my personal gnoses and Lurianic Kabbalah. This system was created by the Jewish Rabbi, Issac Luria (1534 – 1572) the Ari or the Holy Lion, who lived in Safed in Israel.
According to Luria Or Ein Sof ‘God’s Infinite Light’ was withdrawn in the Tzimtzum ‘contraction’ that made possible the creation of this finite world. The light continued to emanate through the ten eyes of Adam Kadmon ‘Primordial Man’. Each point of light formed the keter ‘crown’ of a sefirot ‘emanation’ in the world of Tohu ‘Chaos’. These lights were contained by ten vessels. Because the seven bottommost vessels could not contain the intensity of the lights they died, shattering, descending into Tohu. This was known as shevirat ha-kelim ‘the shattering of the vessels’. The three vessels at the top were more powerful and those lights continued to shine, emanating the Infinite Light.
Notozin ‘sparks’ of light clung to the fragments of the vessels. By the act of tikkun, the repair of the world above and below by gathering the sparks (seen both as divine light and holy souls)and returning them to the Creator the unity of the shattered God-Head could be re-established.
Parallels can be found between the broken cauldron and the shattered vessels and between tikkun and the task I was assigned by Gwyn, Gatherer of Souls, gathering the stars back into the cauldron. The three remaining vessels, emanating the Infinite Light, resemble the modern symbol for awen /I\.
In the Welsh myths the cauldron is the womb of Ceridwen. She is replaced as the source of awen and as a creator goddess by God in medieval poetry (2). Her cauldron lies in Annwn ‘the Deep’ and its guardian is Gwyn/Pen Annwn ‘Head of the Otherworld’. In ‘The Spoils of Annwn’ it is stolen by Arthur and his men. We find the lines: ‘cledyf lluch Lleawc idaw ry dyrchit, / ac yn llaw Leminawc yd edewit’, ‘Lleog’s flashing sword was thrust into it, / and it was left in Lleminog’s hand’ (3). This potent image of violation is suggestive of the shattering of the cauldron in a lighting-flash and the theft of its pieces.
This scene might originate from an older creation myth akin to the Mesopotamian story of the slaying of the dragon-goddess, Tiamat ‘Deep’, by the lightning-god Marduk, and Indra’s release of the waters from the dragon, Vritra, by a thunderbolt in the Hindu tradition. In Genesis, before God creates the world, we are told ‘the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters,’ suggesting the existence of an older water-deity.
The shattering of Ceridwen’s cauldron is the Big Bang, the moment of creation, when the waters spill out with the stars (4). Ceridwen may have created of her own will before Lleog broke her sacred vessel.
The cauldron is shattered repeatedly in Welsh mythology and these instances are bound up with the near-destruction of the world. In the Second Branch the cauldron breaks after pouring out the speechless dead in a battle that leaves only seven Britons alive and five pregnant women in Ireland. In The Story of Taliesin its breaking poisons Gwyddno’s lands. The survivors are left to pick up the pieces.
My task as an awenydd living in the Anthropocene, this Sixth Mass Extinction, precipitated by Lleog’s sword and Gwion’s theft of the awen shattering the cauldron, is to regather the stars. By gathering constellations of stories in service to Gwyn and Ceridwen I strive to repair the cauldron, the womb of Old Mother Universe, and mend the ways between Thisworld and Annwn. This is my Tikkun.
(1) The Welsh word for poetic inspiration stemming from the Indo-European *uel ‘to blow’ and sharing its root with awel ‘breeze’.
(2) This is evidenced in ‘The Chair of Teyrnon’ and ‘The Childhood Achievements of Taliesin’ from The Book of Taliesin and the poems of Cuhelyn Fardd and Prydydd y Moch.
(3) Lleog ‘death-dealer’ (from Lleawc) and Lleminog ‘the leaper’ (from Leminawc) may be names of the same person, who may also be identified with Lleu Llaw Gyffes ‘the Fair-Haired One with the Skilful Hand’. It would certainly take his skill to steal the cauldron. All may be reflexes of the Pan-Celtic god, Lugus.
(4) This was suggested to me by an initiatory experience. After my first dedication to Gwyn, before the star cauldron (the candlelit White Spring at Glastonbury), I experienced swimming through a sea of stars.
Howard Schwartz, ‘How the Ari Created a Myth and Transformed Judaism’, Tikkun
Kristoffer Hughes, From the Cauldron Born, (Llewellyn, 2013)
Laurence Fine, ‘Tikkun in Lurianic Kabbalah’, My Jewish Learning
Marged Haycock (transl), Legendary Poems from the Book of Taliesin, (CMCS, 2007)
Moshe Miller, ‘Shattered Vessels’, Kabbalah Online
Patrick Ford (transl), Mabinogi and Other Welsh Tales, (University of California Press, 2008)
Genesis 1., New International Version, The International Bible Society