Week 3: On Becoming an Otter

Week 3: On Becoming an Otter

The darkening year invites us on an inward journey below the surface of ordinary awareness. Curiosity about our inner nature – those fleeting thoughts, images, traces of dreams, and feelings – often encourage an introspective turn of attention. Sometimes this is to simply acknowledge what is there, or it may be for an insight of truth into something pressing, or even an answer to an unknown question. Then again, we may turn inward in the hope of finding a key to open us more to Mystery.

Darkness nearly always draws us in but may promise no more than a refuge from life’s busyness which in itself is a welcome gift. Yet there are times when inner enquiry brings to the surface glimpses of who we are and of who we may become if only we were to live these insights. Certainly, there is more below the surface of our life than is lived.

From: Ventures into Deep Imagination

Who we may become often means letting go of some aspect of who we are. Celtic tales are full of metaphors which demonstrate this, not least of all the Welsh fable of Ceridwen and Gwion Bach.

Ceridwen by Christopher Williams (1910)

Ceridwen, the shapeshifting goddess keeper of the Cauldron of Inspiration or Wisdom, lived with the giant Tegid Foel (‘the bald’) and their children – the beautiful Creirwy and the odiously ugly Morvran (Morfran or Avagddu) – at the bottom of Lake Bala (or Llyn Tegid) in Wales.

To compensate for Morvran’s ‘sea crow’ ugliness, Ceridwen prepares a potion to confer him with godly wisdom. Her young servant, Gwion Bach (‘little Gwion’), is given responsibility to feed the fire of the cauldron containing the potion for a year and a day. But Gwion fortuitously spills three ‘marvel-working drops’ of the potion on his thumb which he puts in his mouth. This instantly wins him the gift of poetic inspiration meant for Morfran.

Gwion tries to escape the grave consequences of this accident. But in her fury, Ceridwen races after him. To out-run her, Gwion discovers he is able to shapeshift, so he turns into a hare. To keep pace, Ceridwen transforms herself into a greyhound (perhaps it is now Samhain). To escape, Gwion becomes a salmon in the lake, as the goddess turns into an otter (maybe it is now Imbolc). To avoid being caught, Gwion becomes a bird, possibly a wren, as Ceridwen becomes a hawk in that same moment (possibly it is now Beltane). Then a while later Gwion transforms into a grain of wheat amongst thousands of other grains, but Ceridwen, as a high-crested black hen, identifies and consumes him (by now it is Lughnasadha).

Magically pregnant by the grain of wheat, nine moons pass before she gives birth to a boy. Unwilling to keep him, the goddess sets the infant adrift in a basket on the sea. Eventually rescued by the fisherman Elffin fab Gwyddno at a salmon weir, he is given the name Taliesin, meaning ‘radiant brow’, and immediately amazes people with his poetic and prophetic wisdom.

The Finding of Taliesin by Henry Clarence Whaite (1876) from The National Library of Wales
From: Ventures into Deep Imagination

This tale is about transformation and alludes to the many parts of ourselves that we inhabit in life, which include possibilities to awaken into a more spacious and spiritually aware version of ourselves. Ventures into Deep Imagination reflects on the detail of this tale and compares it with the process of initiation. Briefly, initiations are transformative thresholds through which we pass (e.g., rites of passage, conversion experiences), where we leave an aspect of ourselves behind to embrace more of our potential. These often set us on a unique journey in life.

Gwilym Morus-Baird’s Taliesin Origins: Exploring the myth of the greatest Celtic bard (2023) also provides in-depth reflection on the tale and draws out some of its meanings.


This week reflect on the different roles you play in life. Which of these is more aligned to your deepest nature? Also, considering your spiritual journey, at least once this week meditate on the question: What is awakening? Then think about awakenings in your life. These may be momentary insights or understandings or more transformative perception-shifting experiences. It is also worth noting that awakenings often occur as ‘big dreams’ which stay with you for a long time, and arise out of important and even difficult circumstances and turning-points in life.

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