History of Cerridwen Salon

Marcia Miller and Gloria Orenstein

(Note: The text below is reproduced as closely as possible to the original. It includes page numbers, which in the original appear at the top of the page. This history was written probably in late 1980.)

It was in February of 1980 that Marcia Miller called Gloria Orenstein on the phone, mentioning that she was a frequenter of The Woman's Salon for Literature and that she thought there was a need for a new salon in the city. Gloria responded with an incredulous exclamation, for only that morning she had been thinking of expanding the Woman's Salon to include all women's arts. But it was not until the gathering at The International Festival of Women Artists in Copenhagen the following summer that Marcia and Gloria began to discuss this idea concretely. Inspired by women from so many countries sharing their visions and their arts, they both determined that upon their return to the U.S. they would begin working on specific programs.

Our first idea was to bring a bit of "the Copenhagen experience" back to the States with us. Because some of our most moving experiences in Copenhagen took place in the shrine created by Betsy Damon in the Glyptotek Museum, where rituals were held commemorating women is lives from many nations, we wanted to begin our first salon with a ritual.

We were fortunate that Hallie lglehart and Romilly Grauer, two ritualists who had worked with Betsy in Copenhagen, were coming to New York from California. We thus planned our first event celebrating women is myth and ritual with their presence in mind.

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Hally and Romilly's ritual created a special atmosphere, for the inauguration of the Cerridwen Salon because, by a special alchemy, they managed to fuse 130 women, most of whom did not know each other, into a participating , organic whole. One of the main differences between the Cerridwen Salon and the Woman's Salon was the involvement and active participation of the women present. They joined hands in singing, weaving slow dances, and in invoking the powers of the Celtic Goddess, Cerridwen, who presided over the sacred cauldron of wisdom and inspiration. Hallie and Romilly brought with them Mary Curtis Ratcliffe's wind sculpture, which had also been in Copenhagen with us, and which hung directly over the center of the circle. Romilly played the guitar and chanted shamanic prayers, while Hallie invited us to bless the powers of the North, South, East and West, with corn, seeds, candies, incense, shells and volcanic ash from Mt. St. Helens.

Eleanor Johnson, co-director of the feminist experimental theatre Emmatroupe, graciously invited us to use her loft for our first event. Two actresses, Stephanie Richmond-Low and DeeDee Wild performed excerpts from Part 2 of a 5 part work-in-progress, as yet untitled, conceived and directed by Eleanor Johnson and Judah Kataloni. Eleanor Johnson has written that:

"Emmatroupe's understanding of Political Theatre requires that we go back in time to reclaim our lost legacy, a history denied to women, in order to form the broad base of analysis and understanding necessary to expose, challenge and change the social-sexual-political

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view of women which has defined them in a man-made world. New research into history continues to reveal the erasures, exclusions and misrepresentations of women's lives. In spite of the vital force and progress of today's feminist movement and the last 100 years of women is political activity, it remains unclear that women have, in fact, a history, a psyche, a world view radically different from the patriarchy in which they live. Emmatroupe will, in dramatic form, investigate, reveal and define this history."
Susan Schwalb, Project Director and visionary behind the Copenhagen project at the Glyptotek, is a silverpoint artist who now works with images of fire. She presented a slide-show which traced the evolution of her art. In her personal diary of February 19, 1979, she wrote: "My work has evolved through the 70's from personal dream fantasies done in watercolor and ink to an orchid series done in silverpoint and metalpoint. I have been trying to find and explore a center or inner place where the sensual and spiritual meet and to then reach beyond into the unknown. My Shrines, Tablets, Headdresses and Parchments speak of a lost space that is being reclaimed by women today. As I light a candle to burn and smoke a work, I am performing a ritual that often lasts only for a moment. The artwork is a memory both of the recent action and of the past. Out of the ashes, a sacred image of woman, liberated, not destroyed by a holocaust."

Following Susan's presentation, Karen Malpede, Co-founder and Resident Playwright of the New Cycle Theatre, and who was also one of the original co-founders of the Woman's Salon for Literature,

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presented a scene from her most recent play A Monster Has Stolen the Sun. The actresses Dolores Brandon and Jeanne Morrissey played the roles of Macha and Etain in a play set in a Celtic island country around the 6th century. In the scene that they portrayed, two pregnant women meet. Karen writes that

"they touch each other's bellies and share their intimate feelings about the quickening lives inside themselves. For a moment they give and take a woman's mothering love. And in the character of Macha we are given a glimpse of a most miraculous love - the love of a woman for her unborn child. The love of the future she holds within her, the love of what must outlive her and surpass her."
Karen says about the New Cycle Theatre that "by developing new lyric, epic plays and training actors in their presentation, New Cycle Theatre performs a special service to the American theatre."

Our last artist of the evening was Merlin Stone, author of When God Was A Woman and Ancient Mirrors of Womanhood, Vols. I and II, who read from her chapter on Cerridwen.


The name of Cerridwen has been translated both as Cauldron of Wisdom and Fortress of Wisdom, caer meaning fortress, cerru meaning cauldron. Although references to Cerridwen occur as fragments in several texts, most of the information about Her to be found in the work of the Welsh Elis Grufydd done in the sixteenth century A.D. Grufydd relied upon oral traditions and earlier texts in compiling his treatises on ancient Celtic literature. The powers attributed to Cerridwen, who was described by Grufydd as a witch, reveal Her nature as one imbued with great wisdom, prophetic foresight and magical shapeshifting abilities. This account, of the theft of these powers by the male Gwion, may offer some insight into the otherwise puzzling accounts of Merlin's capture by The Lady of the Lake (see Morgan le Fay and The Lady of the Lake).

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"Mighty in magic, enchantment and divination, the ancient Cerridwen lived upon an island in a lake, some say on the waters of Llyn Tegid in Penllyn in County Caernarvon in Wales, while others say that it was on the island of the Sidhe, the place known as The Land Beneath the Waves.

It was on the island that a son was born to Cerridwen, a boy that She named Morfran, because he was a black as a raven. But some called him Afagddu saying that his darkness was ugly, so that the dark Cerridwen worried that the life ahead of him would not be one of ease or pleasure. Thus Cerridwen decided to give Her son a birth gift of the magical powers that She knew so well, hoping that this might make Morfran's years on earth easier for him to live. For this reason, She began to prepare the Cauldron of the Deep, the cauldron known as Aven, from which three drops of liquid providing foresight and magical powers could be given to Her son.

Some say that She followed the Books of Pherylt. Some say that She followed those of Vergil. Yet none say that the magic cauldron Aven was not Hers. Into it, She poured the water of prophesy and inspiration and then carefully observing the movements of the moon, the sun and each and every star, She was able to add each herb, each root, even the foam of the ocean, at the proper planetary moments. As the ingredients began to boil, cress and wort and vervain simmering in the waters, She arranged for a blind old man to keep the fire burning, and for a young lad named Gwion to stir the contents of the cauldron.

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Nine women stood close by, just as the nine women of Bridget tended the ancient fire of Kildare. Some say that those at the cauldron of Cerridwen were the Druidesses of the Isle of Sein, sacred island off the coast of Brittany, lived upon by women who could take the form of any animal, ban filid who could blow the seas into a rage with their perfect poetry, ban fathi who could heal all wounds and illnesses and foretell the events of the future. All agree that the nine women breathed upon the magic cauldron as it boiled night and day for one entire year.

But a year and a day was the time the formula required. When the day finally came in which the three drops would be ready, Cerridwen placed young Morfran by the cauldron to receive the legacy that She had prepared for him. Then in fatigue, after all that She had done, Cerridwen fell asleep in the woods nearby. But young Gwion, seeing that the year and the day were drawing to a close and that Cerridwen was still asleep in the forest, shoved the child Morfran to one side and scooped the three precious drops on to his own fingers, which he quickly thrust into his mouth--as the poisonous remainder of the waters split the very sides of the cauldron apart and poured out upon the ground.

The thundering noise of the cracking cauldron woke Cerridwen from Her sleep. Soon realizing what had happened, She moved to punish Gwion who used his new gained powers to change into a hare and hop off as quickly as his legs would take him. Cerridwen took the form of a greyhound and followed in swift pursuit until She was


about to catch the lad--when he changed into a fish and slipped into a nearby river. Cerridwen then took the body of an otter and diving into the water She was soon close to the tail of Gwion, who in terror that he might be caught, changed into a bird and flew off into the sky, only to find that Cerridwen was still close behind him--in the form of a great hawk.

Fearing more than ever that the time of his punishment and death were growing near, Gwion noticed a pile of wheat upon the land below and changing himself into the tiniest of grains, he dropped upon the pile. Cerridwen's sharp eyes saw what he had done and taking the form of a black crested hen, She pecked at the grains until She found and ate the seed that had been Gwion--thinking that would be the end of him.

But the tiny grain of Gwion took root inside Her womb and soon began to grow. Cerridwen swore the nine months long that on the day that Gwion would be reborn, She would destroy the infant, yet upon the day of birth She relented, hesitating to strangle the new born child. So it was that with the intention of leaving him to his fate, She placed him in a leather sack and threw him into the raging waters--two days before the first of May.

The ancient poet Taliesin, spoken of by many as the wisest and most profound of Gaelic prophets, claimed that he had once been Gwion, born from Cerridwen's womb. Saying that his leather sack had been fished from a lake on All Hallow's Eve, holy Samhain when

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dead souls rise, Taliesin also claimed that he had once been the wizard Merlin, thus making it most clear that Celtic wisdom, poetry, magic and foresight, the riddles beneath which divine knowledge lies, had long ago been stolen from the cauldron of the ancient Cerridwen."
The enthusiasm and exaltation of those 130 women present was indescribable. It was only because of fire laws that we had to turn 40 others away.

In planning our second salon, we decided to continue our commitment to a thematic event. Our choice of a theme for the next Salon was inspired by a reading we attended given by Meridel LeSueur at the New York Marxist Society. Speaking about aging, she said, "Women do not age, they ripen." A poet, novelist and political activist, Meridel is 82 years old, a committed socialist who was arrested many times, beginning at age 16. She is passionate and vital, and her dynamic presence makes one realize that maturity can be a blooming and a gathering together.

Doan Ket

By Meridel Le Sueur


How can we touch each other, my sisters?
How can we hear each other over the criminal space?
How can we touch each other over the agony of bloody roses?
I always feel you near, your sorrow like a wind in the
great legend of your resistance, your strong and delicate strength.

It was the bumble bee and the butterfly who survived,
not the dinosaur.


None of my sons or grandsons took up guns against you.

And all the time the predators were poisoning the humus, polluting
the water, the hooves of empire passing over us all. White
hunters were aiming down the gunsights; villages wrecked
mine and yours. Defoliated trees, gnawed earth, blasted embryos.

We also live in a captive country, in the belly of the shark.
The horrible faces of our predators, gloating, leering,
the bloody Ford and Rockefeller and Kissinger presiding over
the violation of Asia.

Mortgaging, blasting, claiming earth and women in the chorale
of flayed flesh and hunger, the air crying of carbon and thievery.

Our mutual flesh lights the sulphur emanation of centuries of
exploitation. Amidst the ruins we shine forth in holy mutual
cry, revealing the plainest cruelties and human equation,
the deprivations of power and the strength of numbers and
endurance and the holy light from the immortal wound.

The only knowledge now is the knowledge of the dispossessed.
Our earth itself screams like a bandaged, roaring giant about
to rise in all its wounds and bear upon the conqueror.

Lock your doors in the cities.

There are no quiet dead - and no quiet deed.
Everything you touch now is ticking to its explosion.
The scab is about to infect.
The ruined land is dynamite. Cadmus teeth of dead guerrillas
gnaw the air. Nature returns all wounds as warriors.
The Earth plans resistance and cries, "Live".

What strikes you, my sisters, strikes us all. The global earth
is resonant, communicative.
Conception is instant solidarity of the child.
Simultaneity of the root drives the green sap of the flower.
In the broken, the dispossessed is the holy cry.

We keep our tenderness alive and the nourishment of the earth green.
The heart is central as lava.
We burn in each other. We burn and burn.
We shout in choruses of millions.
We appear armed as mothers, grandmothers, sisters, warriors.
We burn.



Sisters, the predators plan to live within our bodies.
They plan to wring out of us unpaid labor.
Wrench their wealth from our bodies.
Like the earth they intend to bore inside the woman host,
open the artery like weasels, use, consume, devour, drill for
oil, eat the flesh of the earth mother.
Like the earth they will consume all woman flesh and the
commodities of her being.
The harbors of the world will be for the sale of her body.

The sweat shops will multiply stolen wealth of her living skin.
They slaver at the cheap labor of women around the world.
They will ground us on the metate, like living corn.
We will be gutted and used by the Companies to make wealth.
General Motors, Ma Bell, Anaconda, pickers of cotton and
coffee, hanging our babies on our backs, producers of hand
and brain and womb.
The world eaters sharpen their teeth.
Out of the unpaid labor of women they will triple their wealth.
Women far down under are trashed, pressed into darkness,
humiliated, exploited.
Half the women of Puerto Rico sterilized, the salt savor
of our sweat tiding like an ocean.
Brothels called meat markets in all the ports of the conqueror.

We are the wine cast struck to the ground, spilled.
We are a great granary of seed smashed, burned.
We are a garroted flight of doves.
We are face out of bone. Years of labor bend the bone and back.
Down the root of conquest our bodies receive the insult.
Receive a thousand blows, theft of ovum and child.
Meadows of dead and ruined women. There is no slight death.
After the first death there is no other.
The Body trashed, dies.
There is no abstract death or death at a distance.
Our bodies extend into the body of all.
Every moment is significant in our solidarity.

In solidarity I stood at the gates of Honeywell where the "Mother
Bomb" is timed and triggered. I hid my grandsons from the gun.
I crouched under the terrible planes of Johnson, Nixon and
I felt the boots on your throat as my own.
I saw the guns pointed at us all.
It was the gun used on my sister.


Now in the "White house" another mask of white criminals
turn upon us, on our native people at Wounded Knee, cut food for
our children and promise us a bigger army. Children are shot
down, I hear mothers crying from the black belt.

Women of the earth, bear the weight of the oppressor,
bearing us down into deep to glow upward from the dark,
from the womb, from the abyss of blood, from the injured
scream, from below we glow and rise singing.


I saw the women of the earth rising on horizons of nitrogen.
I saw the women of the earth coming toward each other
with praise and heat
without reservations of space.
All shining and alight in solidarity.
Transforming the wound into bread and children.
In a new abundance, a global summer.
Tall and crying out in song we arise
in mass meadows.
We will run to the living hills with our seed.
We will redeem all hostages.
We will light the bowl of life.
We will light singing
across all seas
The resonance of the song of woman,
lifted green, alive
in the solidarity of the communal love.
Uncovering the illumined fruit
the flying pollen
in the thighs of golden bees
We bring to you our fire
We pledge to you our guerilla
fight against the predators of our country.
We come with thunder
Lightning on our skin,
Roaring womb singing
Our sisters
Choruses of millions

We invited Betsy Damon to create a new Ripening Ritual in honor of our second salon. She brought banners, posts and bags - a Tree of Lives - and spoke of connecting us to our 6,000 year old history.

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Once again, women present participated in the ritual, by approaching the Tree of Lives and putting an offering of a thought, vision or object which they had nourished for a long time into a bag on the tree.

The literary feature of this Salon was Virginia Scott, a well known poet, teacher and founder of Sunbury Press, who read several poems by Meridel as well as some of her own works.

As a highlight of the evening, Alida Walsh, filmmaker and performance artist, gave a moving slide-presentation of autobiographical encounters with her aging mother through the simultaneous use of tapes and family album photographs. She and her mother reviewed the past and shared memories and images of their lives together and apart.

Susan Kleckner, filmmaker and photographer, showed her film, Bag Lady, which described the evolution of a middle-class-primadonna into an ancient bag lady. The showing of this film was followed by an enthusiastic open discussion about her aims and perceptions of this phenomenon, as several women in the audience were currently researching homeless women.

In the setting of Rachel Rolon de Clet's Cosmic Vioman as an Abstraction of Incidental Gravity, works on paper, our last salon of the season, on the theme of Woman & earth Ecology, began with a concert given by the Crescent Quartet, composed of Alicia Edelberg (violin), Nancy Diggs (violin), Jill B. Jaffe (viola), and Maxine Neuman (cello). They played the American premiere performance of String Quartet #3

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in four movements composed by Lucie Vellere (1896-1966), and Sara Aderholdt's String Quartet (1955- ) which was written for her Master's degree at the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill). Sara lives in Minneapolis and is presently studying for her her Ph.D. in composition.

The Crescent Quartet, a meeting of four unique talents, brings to the string quartet repertoire a wide range of experience in many aspects of musical performance. Since its formation in October, 1979, they have been heard on WQXR, WNYC and WBAI in New York City, and over more than 200 National Public Radio stations across the nation; in Europe they have broadcast over the West Deutsch Rundfunk, the Schweizer Rundfunk and Voice of America.

They have performed in the String Quartet Conference on Music by American Women Composers, the First National Congress on Women in Music and on their recent tour of Germany they were invited by the city of Bonn to participate in the Frau und Musik Festival. In addition, the Crescent has recorded for Universal Pictures and made a special appearance playing Mozart in the movie "Nighthawks." Their first record, for Leonarda Productions, is scheduled for release late in 1981.

The standard quartet repertoire is of vital importance to the Crescent, as is the exciting search for unpublished, unrecorded contemporary and traditional music. The violinists alternate, adding yet another dimension of interest. The Crescent Quartet aims to bring important women's works into the performance mainstream.

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Penelope Schott, a poet and Professor of English who is particularly inspired by Earth Geography and land-formations, read selections from her poetry written during her trip to Iceland, as well as poems from her more feminist works.

When you phoned home from California
to tell me it had started

by Penelope Schott

A brilliant globule of blood
rolled out over the surface of the desert
up and down the Continental Divide
through the singing prairies
parting the Mississippi
leaping the Delaware Water Gap
until it spilled into this tall red kitchen
in Rocky Hill, New Jersey
where it skittered across the linoleum
and cracked into hundreds of little faceted jewels.

I will not diminish this day with labeling
I will not say foolishly
“now you are a woman"
I will never tell you
"don't talk to strangers"

because we are each of us strangers
one to another
mysterious in our bodies
the connections between us
ascending like separate stone wells
from the same dark waters
under the earth

But tonight you delight me like a lover
so that my thigh muscles twitch
and the nipples of my breasts
rise and remember your small mouth

until I am laughing to the marrow of my bones
and I want to shout
Bless you, my daughter, bless you, bless you;
I have created the world in thirteen years
and it is good.

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Beinakerling Arvisa
(Bonelady Rhyme)

by Penelope Schott

-- for a designated cairn in Iceland
in which travelers have
traditionally left obscene limericks

One could disappear in this valley
one could become stone

high between old glaciers
in Kaididalur,
the cold valley,
beside the bare road
stands a heap of old stones:
beinakerling, beinakerling
old stone bone lady
cairn of old poems

one could
disappear in this valley
disappear without words

Never traverse it without paper
never travel without spells

to put a rhyme
in the long dry hollow
of a horsels thigh

tucked among stacked rocks
first stuffed in a bone
later kept in a box

all forms brittle
silent as human speech
rolled up in a used coke bottle

Oh, stop and write to the bone lady
whatever you write is ok
limericks and rhymes, absurd or sublime
anything goes anything goes
anything anything anything goes

Lady of stones, without any grass
Lady of bones, without any ass
I wish you peach, I wish you joy
but best of all, a rock-hard boy.

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Never travel undefended
here where once a traveler wended
weaving words a windy way

make a splendid heap of stone
in Kaididalur penned a poem
how ill, how well this journey ended:
if you dislike my verse, go mend it.

One could
in a long narrow valley
where the wind is ungentle
disappear without words
one could
I could
disappear into stone

Old lady
stone lady
my lady
pile me no stones
cast me no lies

in this chill gust of sun
between twin glaciers
where my bones like glass
contain the steps of strangers
where my heart repeats, repeats
the tight box of breath blurring before my eyes
you, lady
beinakerling, you
unroll old rhymes from my thighs

Our other literary event for this salon was Roberta Gould's poetry reading. Roberta shared both published and unpublished works with us dealing with our theme of Woman and Nature.

For the first time this year we decided to feature the scholarly work of an Art Historian, Ruth Ann Appelhof, a Professor of Humanities at S.U.N.Y., Auburn, who presented a slide-lecture of her unique collection of works about nature from contemporary women artists.

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One of the discoveries we made in Copenhagen was of the imaginative work being done by women Architects who, to our knowledge, are the only ones exploring innovative relationships between fantasy and reality pertaining to urban and exurban living environments. Phyllis Birkby, a feminist Architect, had created a summer program for women in which she encouraged them to make drawings of their ideal shelters and abodes. She has gathered together a group of slides which show the most interesting of their drawings as well as some already constructed habitations in trees, caves, box-cars, and remote country settings. This collection stimulated the women present to question existing housing solutions and to draw up their own unique plans for obtaining more satisfaction in their chosen life-styles.
To round off our evening, Diane Churchill, painter, and Sarah Lechner, poet, collaborated on an artistic presentation of their work bearing on the ecology of the Pine Barrens. They handed out to everyone small samples of rich earth from the Pine Barrens, a region now endangered by commercial development. Alternately reading poetry and showing slides evoking the natural wonders of this precious area of New Jersey, they created a necessary consciousness-raising which naturally led to an animated discussion, and closed our program for the year.

Through this exciting venture, we have personnaly discovered many women in this city whose talents were previously unknown to us. Since making these discoveries, we have encouraged support

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for the work of these artists in other settings. Just recently a group of us attended The Crescent Quartet's first paid performance in New York City at St. Stephen's Church. Our sense of satisfaction at bringing together women from all the arts must be contagious, for wherever we go we encounter women who report new collaborations between artists who previously knew little about each other's work.

In concluding our first year's programs, we feel joy in our creation and hope for the future.



Gloria F. Orenstein

In order to complete the history of my participation in the East Coast salons, I would simply like to explain the reasons for my move to the West Coast at this time. In Sept. 1980, the Douglass College English Department met to vote on my tenure, and the result of that decision was that I did not receive tenure in the English Department of the new, reorganized Rutgers University. Because of this turn of events, I was obliged to seek employment elsewhere. During the course of my job search I found an announcement for a position in Comparative Literature and Women's Studies at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. Although I had no desire to leave the East, I could not resist applying for a job that described my qualifications exactly, for my doctorate had been obtained in Comparative Literature, and for two years (1976-78) I directed the Douglass College Women's Studies Program.

In March 1980 I was flown out to an interview at U.S.C., and several months later I was informed that I was selected for the position. For the first time in my professional career I would be teaching courses in my field. The chairman of Comparative Lit. informed me that a course in the history of literary salons would be perfect for U.S.C. Thus, I was convinced that my work on salons, although transmuted, would continue, and I happily accepted this new position as Associate Professor of Comparative Literature and Women's Studies.


I consider the Salon concept as integral to my vision as a feminist, and whatever form it may take in my future work, it will be a prolongation of the ideas I have developed through my work on The Woman's Salon for Literature and CERRIDWEN. Marcia and I plan to be in close touch with each other, and wherever possible, to plan bi-coastal events in the arts. In passing CERRIDWEN on to Marcia Miller, I feel assured that New York will continue to have a center for the visibility of new works in all the arts of the highest quality, created by a true "salon woman" whose dedication to both Feminism and the arts is unique. I foresee a bright salon future for women artists in the East, and I rejoice in that vision.

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