Approaching the small town of Y Bala in North Wales from almost any direction means a trip through wilder lands: mountains and moors, liminal landscapes that somehow do little to prepare one for that first view of the lake, Llyn Tegid, giant mirror of the sky in all its moods, angry or calm, grey or glas – a Welsh word meaning anything from azure to greenish-blue and thus not easy to translate. Not only sky, the lake also mirrors the surrounding hills and mountains, forming the sides of a huge cauldron, and so we have mystery within mystery and face the impossibility of separating Cerridwen’s own cauldron and the Goddess Herself from the essence of the land here, from Her people and mythology. Something of the “great enchanted garden” of the traditional societies that Max Weber1 wrote of and in which people and land, rocks and soil, trees and animals and of course the lake itself share in sacred community, survives here.
Llyn Tegid is the largest natural lake in Wales, nearly four miles long and 35 metres deep, set within a geological fault that still occasionally groans and shifts a little. The name of this little town on its north shore simply means “outflow from a lake” and the sacred River Dee, whose true name is Dyfrdwy – the waters of the divinity – flows both out of and into the lake, which formed at the end of the Ice Age in a glacial valley along the fault line.
Keli, who conceived of and created Cerridwen’s Temple in Bala, says that she felt the presence of Cerridwen immediately on entering Her landscape, and adds: “Cerridwen very clearly told me: ‘Build my Temple!’, and in quite a peremptory tone!” We went on to discuss how, unlike in many modern religions, the people of Cerridwen don’t approach Her on bended knee, but on our feet: proud to be Hers. “I could certainly see the need for a temple”, Keli added, “Before I had been here for very long I was troubled by how many people I met in Bala who knew little or nothing of Cerridwen, although of course I later came to know many local people who not only shared my love of Her but knew a great deal!” It’s also true that Bala’s population of a little over 2,000 includes a fair proportion of people who moved here from England or further afield.
Perhaps we should be surprised that anyone in Bala knows anything of their Goddess, given the many English efforts to wipe out the old ways, going so far as to discourage and even forbid people from using their own mother tongue from the 16th century until quite recently. Or should we start with the Romans, who were determined to eradicate the Druids from these lands? Fortunately, and despite its success, Rome did not leave this beautiful land devoid of magic, beauty or inspiration, nor of belief in fairies – not the gossamer-winged tiny creatures of later children’s tales but mischievious folk who you’d be well advised not to offend in any way. Magic, too, was understood differently and the Welsh Swynydd – charmers and diviners – were often loved and respected by their communities, with people travelling long distances for their help, even from England. It’s worth remembering too, how few doctors would have been available in rural Wales at this time.
Scholars puzzled for a long time about why witchcraft trials and convictions were so rare in Wales compared to England and Scotland around the early 17th century. Kristoffer Hughes2 notes that in 130 years only eight guilty verdicts were recorded in Welsh courts (a number that contrasts starkly with the hundreds of successful prosecutions over the same period in England) and even those cases brought to trial were mostly in border areas where English influence was greater. He also points out that before the mid-sixteenth century Cerridwen was never referred to as a witch, adding that what was perceived as witchcraft in England, where even magic intended for good was seen as the work of the devil, was irrelevant in Welsh culture where ill-luck was blamed on malicious action by fairies rather than demons.
Despite everything, the Awen– the inspiration of Cerridwen–remained alive and accessible but eventually efforts to impose a rigid Calvinist Christianity appear to have driven it so far underground it may have seemed to be gone for all time. Central to these efforts was the Reverend Thomas Charles. Ordained as a priest in the Church of England, Thomas moved to Bala on his marriage in 1783, where we’re told he was forcibly struck “by the spiritual darkness that surrounded him”.3 Thomas was sacked no less than three times from local curacies4 because of his extreme views but eventually found success as a preacher under the banner of the Methodist Society.
What can be sadder than reading Thomas’s own words about how he found what seems to have been a happy community in Bala, with young people who loved to dance, sing and play the harp – and destroyed it, so that in December 1791 he could boast:
This revival of religion has put an end to all the merry meetings for dancing, singing with the harp, and every kind of sinful mirth, which used to be so prevalent amongst young people here. And at a large fair, kept here a few days ago, the usual revelling, the sound of music, and vainsinging, was not to be heard in any part of the town; a decency in the conduct, and sobriety in the countenances, of our country people, appeared the whole of that fair, which I never observed before; and by the united desire of hundreds, we assembled at the chapel that night, and enjoyed a most happy opportunity.6
To be fair to Thomas, he did set up schools so that Welsh children could learn to read both in Welsh and English.6 But even so – sinful mirth! One can only imagine the reaction Thomas and his successors would have had to a temple to Cerridwen in the town.
Today people are once again making pilgrimage to this land, and Cerridwen’s song and power are valued anew. The Awen, which is indistinguishable from Her, is beautifully described by Kris Hughes, and with that we’ll leave you:
Awen: the creative, transformative force of divine inspiration that sings in praise of itself. It is an eternal song that sings all things into existence, and all things call to the Awen inwardly.8
Rev. Thomas Charles5
1 Weber, Max, Sociology of Religion, 1920
2 Hughes, Kristoffer, Cerridwen, Llewellyn, 2021
3 https://www.anngriffiths.cardiff.ac.uk/bible.html accessed 31/11/22
4 https://ukwells.org/revivalists/thomas-charles accessed 30/11/22
5 Photo: Graeme Walker / Bala – The Rev. Thomas Charles B.A.
6 https://dawnsio.cymru/dances/traditional-dance-in-c18 accessed 31/11/22
7 https://www.anngriffiths.cardiff.ac.uk/bible.html accessed 31/11/22
8 Hughes, Kristoffer, Cerridwen, Llewellyn, 2021