Shattered Vessels and Scattered Sparks

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According to Luria Or Ein Sof ‘God’s Infinite Light’ was withdrawn in the Tzimtzum ‘contraction’ that made possible the creation of this finite world.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.

Photo by Marika Vinkmann on Unsplash

(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.

SOURCES

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

Annuvian Awen

Annuvian Awen

Allan o dywyllwch caf fy ngeni
Allan o waed caf fy ngeni
Allan o ysbryd caf fy ngeni

Yn canu o Annwn

Tri phelydryn golau
Tri phelydryn llais
Tri phelydryn wirionedd

I oleuo â rhyfeddod
Ac yn torri’r galon wytnaf

Yn canu o Annwn

~

Out of darkness I am born
Out of blood I am born
Out of spirit I am born

Singing from Annwn

Three rays of light
Three rays of voice
Three rays of truth

To illuminate with wonder
And break the hardest heart

Singing from Annwn

~

About a month ago I awoke with the symbol above in my mind with the name ‘Annuvian Awen’. Awen derives from the Indo-European *-uel ‘to blow’ and has the same root as the Welsh awel ‘breeze’. It is the primordial breath that binds all things, as Kristoffer Hughes says, ‘the voice of the universe speaking to itself’.

The Awen symbol was popularised by Iolo Morganwg in the 1860s. He claimed it was derived from a Welsh alphabet recorded by Nennius in the ninth century and that its meaning was ‘I am that I am’. It has been used by Neo-Druids since.

In medieval Welsh poetry ‘the ogyrven of threefold inspiration’ originate from the cauldron of Ceridwen. Crochan means both ‘cauldron’ and ‘womb’. It is the place from which all beings of the universe are born and to where they return at death.

The cauldron of Ceridwen lies in Annwn, ‘Very Deep’, the ancient British Otherworld. It is guarded by the Head of Annwn: a god with many names who I know as Gwyn ap Nudd. Gwyn guides the souls of the dead and of living initiates to the cauldron.

The black background of the Annuvian Awen represents the origin of Awen from the darkness of Ceridwen’s cauldron in the depths of Annwn. The red stands for the blood of the dead (human and non-human) whose sacrifices have made it possible the living can have Awen. The white is spirit: the breath, the voice of truth, the misty otherlight of the ogyrven ‘spirits’ contained in the person of Gwyn ‘White’ who is also known as the giant Ogyrven.

When I had created the design I received the gnosis I must write a poem to accompany it in English and Welsh. My Welsh is very basic. Having written the English version with an eye to how it looked and sounded in Welsh, translating as I went, I contacted fellow awenydd and Welsh-speaker Greg Hill for help with the translation.

Greg corrected my grammatical errors and helped me with choices of individual words. Interestingly this led to changing the tense of the English poem from past to present which was a big improvement. This fortuitous exchange of Awen between awenyddion gave birth to the poem in its present form. We decided to use it with the symbol on the front page of ‘Awen ac Awenydd’: a website providing a repository of information on the awenydd path.

For me the Annuvian Awen forms an expression of the path of the awenydd that acknowledges the importance of depth in our increasingly superficial world; the need to recover the inspiration that lies in the deeps of Annwn and in the deep places of our souls to combat the soullessness that allows the destructive systems that are wrecking Thisworld to thrive.

The ways to Annwn are dark, misty, uncertain, steeped in blood, for the most part forgotten. Yet there are gods and guides who offer to walk with us and share our quest. So we go with them through the darkness, across the river of blood, to return with the otherlight to illuminate the beauty of Thisworld because not only our lives but the lives of our souls depend on it.

SOURCES

Angela Grant, ‘A Short History of the Awen’, The Druid Network
Greg Hill, ‘Awen’, Awen ac Awenydd
Greg Hill, ‘Taliesin, the Bardic Tradition and the Awen’, The Way of the Awenydd
Greg Hill, ‘The Girl in Ogyrven’s Hall’
Kristoffer Hughes, Natural Druidry, (Thoth Publications, 2007)
Kristoffer Hughes, From the Cauldron Born, (Llewellyn, 2013)
Marged Haycock, Legendary Poems from the Book of Taliesin, (CMCS, 2007)
Awen’, Wikipedia

The Theft of the Cauldron

In the second verse of ‘The Spoils of Annwn’ the cauldron of the Head of Annwn is stolen in one swift move:

‘Lleog’s flashing sword was thrust into it,
and it was left behind in Lleminog’s hand.

These lines have been interpreted in many different ways. Cledyf means ‘sword’ and lluch ‘flashing’. Lleawc (‘Lleog’) has been taken to mean ‘destroyer’ or ‘death-dealer’.

Lluch Lleawc has been identified with Llen(n)l(l)eawc Wyddel ‘Llenlleog the Irishman’ from Culhwch and Olwen. There is a strong case for this because parallels exist between Lleog’s role in the theft of the Head of Annwn’s cauldron and Llenlleog’s in stealing the cauldron of Diwrnarch Wyddel.

In Culhwch and Olwen, Arthur and his men must attain Diwrnarch’s cauldron to boil food for the guests at Culhwch’s wedding feast. (In an earlier post I mentioned that the cauldrons of Diwrnarch and the Head of Annwn share the quality of only boiling meat for the brave).

Arthur sends a message to Odgar, King of Ireland, to tell Diwrnarch, his steward, to hand the cauldron over. Diwrnarch refuses. Arthur and his men set sail for Ireland and make for Diwrnarch’s house where they eat and drink. After feasting, Arthur asks for the cauldron.

Diwrnach says no again. Bedwyr seizes the cauldron and puts it on the back of Hygwydd, Arthur’s servant. Llenlleog Wyddel grabs Caledfwlch (‘hard breach / cleft’ Arthur’s sword) and by swinging it round kills Diwrnarch Wyddel and all his retinue. They escape with the cauldron filled with Irish treasure.

It seems possible the flash of Lleog’s sword as he thrusts it into the cauldron parallels its death-dealing swing, killing or blinding and incapacitating the Head of Annwn and his company as they feast and drink in Caer Vedwit.

Some scholars equate Lleog with the Irish god Lugh whose name may derive from the Proto-Indo-European *leuk ‘flashing light’. Lugh’s epithets include Lámhfhada ‘long arm’ or ‘long hand’, Lonnbeimnech ‘fierce striker’ and Ildánach ‘skilled in many arts’.

To complicate matters further, Lleog has been identified with Lleminog, in whose hand the cauldron of the Head of Annwn is left. Lleminawc may be translated as ‘leaping (one)’ or ‘leaper’.

In ‘Teithi etmygant’* (‘They admire qualities’) Llyminawc bears the meaning ‘keen, eager, ready.’ It refers to ‘an eager leader of an army’ who is a prophetic figure. Some scholars identify Lleminog with Arthur.

So… the Head of Annwn and his people are defeated by Lleog’s flashing sword and the cauldron is left in the hand of Lleminog (who may be Lleog or Arthur). We don’t find out whether there is further conflict or how Arthur and his men escape with the cauldron.

The next line of ‘The Spoils of Annwn’ reads: ‘And in front of the door of Hell’s gate lamps were burned’.

One assumes the escape has been made, ‘hell’s’ door slammed shut and lamps lit outside it. The word translated as Hell here is Vffern. ‘Uffern’ is borrowed from the Latin inferno and appears frequently in medieval Welsh poetry as a negative appellation for the otherworld.

‘What is the measure of Hell? (translated from Uffern)
how thick its veil,
how wide its mouth,
how big are its baths?’**

‘Madawg…
Was taken by fierce Erof…
Among the hideous fiends
Even to the bottom of Uffern.’***

Doors between the worlds are also a regular feature in Welsh mythology. In ‘The Spoils of Annwn’, Ynys pybyrdor has been translated as ‘isle of the strong door’ (ynys ‘island’, pybyr ‘strong’ + dor ‘door’). In ‘The Second Branch’ the Assembly of the Noble Head takes place in an otherworldly stasis on the island of Gwales until a forbidden door is opened.

The name of Dormach, the dog of Gwyn ap Nudd, has been translated as ‘death’s door’ by John Rhys (dor ‘door’ and marth ‘death’). Dogs are frequently guardians of the otherworld. There are no dogs in ‘The Spoils of Annwn’ but Taliesin speaks of monks congregating and howling like wolves and dogs in the final two verses.

Emphasis is placed on closing the door between the worlds and keeping it shut. The people of Annwn and its spatio-temporal laws must be kept separate. We recall that if Gwyn did not contain the fury of the spirits of Annwn, they would destroy thisworld.

The second verse of ‘The Spoils of Annwn’ ends with the refrain ‘save seven, none returned from the Mead-Feast Fort’. This is repeated after the visit to each fort and conveys the terrible cost of raiding the otherworld. Its repetition suggests the names of seemingly individual fortresses are perhaps names for one fort and the verses refer to different parts of the same journey.

The forces of Annwn are shut out yet the presence of the cauldron represents the destabilising power of Annuvian magic in thisworld. The cauldron of the Head of Annwn has been stolen from the mead feast in Caer Vedwit: the revolving fortress, centre of the mysteries of day and night, the seasons, birth, life, death and rebirth, time itself.

Diwrnarch’s cauldron is taken from Ireland to the house of Llwydeu son of Cilcoed in Dyfed where it is remembered by Mesur y Pair (‘the measure of the cauldron’). It is then presumably used to brew food for Culhwch and Olwen’s guests at their wedding feast. Later it is taken by Myrddin to ‘the glass house’ with the other Treasures of the Island of Britain.

What happens to the cauldron of the Head of Annwn after it is stolen next nobody knows. It is never seen again. It may be worth contemplating the question “where is it now?”

P1140789 - Copy

*In Skene’s translation this is the second part of ‘Canu y Cwrwf’ (A Song to Ale’)
**‘The First Address of Taliesin’ (transl. Marged Haycock)
***‘The Death-song of Madawg’ (transl. William Skene)

SOURCES

Caitlin and John Matthews, King Arthur’s Raid on the Underworld, (Gothic Image, 2008)
Marged Haycock (transl.), Legendary Poems from the Book of Taliesin, (CMCS, 2007)
Rachel Bromwich (ed), The Triads of the Island of Britain, (University of Wales Press, 2014)
Sarah Higley (transl.), ‘Preiddu Annwn’, (Camelot, 2007)
Sioned Davies (transl.), The Mabinogion, (Oxford University Press, 2007)
William F. Skene (transl), The Four Ancient Books of Wales, (Forgotten Books 2007)