The Tale of Taliesin — Traditional lore in a modern world

Richard Ingate
6 min readApr 4, 2020

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.

Richard Ingate

Coach and owner at Coaching Works Online Ltd