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Excerpt from "Grail Alchemy"

Seeking the Caldron: The Nine Maidens and the Cosmic Mill

by Mara Freeman

To fully understand the significance of the nine maidens and the cauldron of the deeps we must turn to Scandinavian mythology. In Norse tradition the axis mundi was sometimes pictured as he “World-Mill,” whose handle extends from the Pole Star in the heavens all the way to the bottom of the ocean. This kind of mill is called a “rotary-quern,” which was invented in late prehistoric times. It has a flat, non-moving, lower millstone and an upper stone that is rotated by turning a handle at the center. In early Northern cosmology, the lower stone was seen as the Earth, a stationary disc, whereas the upper stone was seen as the sky, revolving around the celestial axis and marked by the Pole Star. The World-Mill is rotated by nine maidens at the bottom of the sea, who create the material universe by grinding out the blood and bones of Ymir, a dead giant who was made of clay.

In another version of this tradition, the nine maidens kindle the Cauldron of Annwn. This mythology belonged to a long-extinct cosmology of the Northern world, where the maidens were seen as creative forces of the physical universe, continually engaged in the cycles of destruction, transformation, and re-creation. They are primal creator goddesses, continually giving birth to the world of Form out of Chaos. With their breath—a metaphor for the cosmic life-force—they kindle the cauldron of creation and bring our world into being. “Awen” also derives from the word for “breath,” just as “inspiration” literally means to breathe in, or in-spire. This means that we as human beings can also imbibe the generative power of the divine feminine to ignite our own inspiration and bring other creations into manifest form.

Arthur’s quest for the Cauldron of Annwn is revealed as a search for the cosmic power that underlies all manifest life and is embodied by the divine feminine and her sacred vessel. It is this which lies at the heart of all later stories of the Holy Grail.

Vision Journey 1

The Cauldron of Creation

Journeys to the Celtic Otherworld usually involve a

crossing by water. This invisible country lies beneath a

spring, at the bottom of a lake, or below the waves of

the sea. The crossing by water is an esoteric reference to

the change of consciousness from the sensory world to

the astral plane, wherein only the inner senses can be our

guide. This first VisionJourney takes you over the inner

seas to Caer Sidi, the faery island of Annwn.

Sit in a comfortable position, relax, and quiet your mind. Take deep breaths and imagine you are breathing in a beautiful, silvery-violet light. The light fills your body and swirls around you like a mist. . . .

The mist lifts, and you see that you are standing on a beach at dusk, looking out to sea. The waters stretch away toward the horizon, which is streaked with the crimson-purple afterglow of the sunset.

A Full Moon like a gleaming pearl sheds its light over the vast expanse of the sea, creating a path of dancing silver lights on the water that leads right up to where you are standing. Your feet are bare and you are aware of the sharp stones beneath them. You listen to the waves sucking at the pebbles as they draw back from the shore and then crash as they break once again just a few feet from where you stand, spraying you with foam.

You start to count the wavelets as they break, 1 . . . 2 . . . 3 . . .

When nine waves have passed, you find yourself floating across the waves. Before too long, you arrive at the shore of an island, and you know that it is Caer Sidi, the Faery Island of Annwn. Here you discover a clearing in the center of which stands an immense cauldron, the Cauldron of Annwn, dark blue and rimmed with pearls. Around the cauldron is a circle of nine standing stones made of white gleaming quartz.

Now up from the cauldron gushes a fountain of light, rising higher and higher in a radiant column that reaches to the heavens. And from the bowl of night, the circling constellations pour down an answering river of light that comes streaming down to meet it. You gaze upward to watch these streams of light that spiral up and down in ceaseless motion. Sometimes they seem as great winged Beings of Light ascending and descending a spiral stairway, and sometimes as two luminous serpent shapes weaving a double helix pattern of creation.

A tall, graceful woman dressed in midnight blue robes enters into the circle: Morgen, the Lady of Annwn. Smiling, she beckons you forward to gaze into the Cauldron of Creation. Within its depths you see the infinite ocean of probabilities in which swirl the etheric waters of potential reality, countless waves of possibilities waiting to be brought to shore by the tides of time. The cauldron is also a mirror of your own subconscious mind, and so you also see swirling within all your dreams, fantasies, and illusions. The choice is yours as to which dreams to nurture into being and which to let dissolve back into the flowing waters. . . .

Now the Lady dips her hand into the water and from it brings something from the depths of the cauldron, which she offers to you as a gift. Take it in your hands and ponder well upon its meaning. She may have words to say to you as well.

When this experience feels complete, the waters within the cauldron start to wrinkle and move like the sea, while the rim of pearls becomes the white waves about its shores. You fall into its depths and fetch up on the shore where first you stood.

Now open your eyes and come fully back to present time and space.

Mara Freeman has studied British and Celtic sacred traditions and mythology for more than 40 years. She has given workshops and lectures and presented at conferences throughout the U.S. and the U.K. since the 1990s. Initiated in the Western Mystery tradition, she is the founder and director of the Avalon Mystery School. A psychologist and astrologer, she has a private practice in spiritual counseling and also leads retreats and pilgrimages in Britain and Ireland. She is the author of Kindling the Celtic Spirit and lives in West Wales.

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Grail Alchemy: Initiation in the Celtic Mystery Tradition by Mara Freeman© 2014 Destiny Books. Reprinted with permission from the publisher Inner Traditions International. www.InnerTraditions.com

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