Cover image for The song of Taliesin : tales from King Arthur's bard
The song of Taliesin : tales from King Arthur's bard
Matthews, John, 1948-
Personal Author:
First Quest edition.
Publication Information:
Wheaton, Ill. : Quest Books, 2001.
Physical Description:
xii, 234 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
General Note:
Originally published: London : Aquarian Press, 1991.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PR6063.A86325 S66 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



Everyone knows of Arthur--the "once and future" legendary warrior who held off the invading Anglo-Saxons and preserved the Celtic identity of sixth-century England for forty years. But few know of Taliesin, who may have been poet to Arthur, and like Merlin, was said to have shamanic powers. Behind Taliesin's story lies a vast legacy of initiatic wisdom, much of it now lost. But enough remains to convey much of the ancient Celts' passionate spirit and religious practice. To create these tales, John Matthews has brilliantly mined medieval and premedieval sources, embellishing them where fragmentary with the rich heritage of Celtic folklore. Part legend, part fiction, part mythology, they are alive with the power of one of the most compelling mystical/literary traditions. "It is my hope," says Matthews, "that they provide a key to the secret lore of Britain, where once the Grail and the Cauldron were sought, and where the Sleeping Lord still awaits the One Who Is to Come, who will blow the Horn three times in the Cave of the Sleepers." Reading these lyrical, mysterious stories, we thrill that it is so.

Author Notes

John Matthews was born in the North of England in 1948. He has been a professional writer since 1980, and has produced over forty books ranging from Celtic and Arthurian legends to collections of stories, essays, and poetry

He has given workshops in Britain, Central Europe, and America and is primarily concerned with the interpretation of myth. He is an internationally renowned authority on mythology and folklore with a special interest in the Arthurian and Grail traditions and Celtic lore. Matthews best known works are The Grail: Quest for Eternal Life, Taliesin: Shamanism and the Bardic Mysteries in Britain and Ireland, and The Celtic Shaman. Other books include Arthur and the Grail Quest, Within the Hollow Hills, and The Winter Solstice, which won the Benjamin Franklin Award in 1998.

Matthews has also co-authored with his wife, Caitlin Matthews, a study of the Western mystery tradition, The Western Way. Together they designed and wrote the best-selling Arthurian Tarot, which has sold more than 50,000 copies and has been translated into several languages.

(Bowker Author Biography) John Matthews is the author of more than fifty books. He is a lecturer and teacher in the U.K., Europe and the U.S.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

The Welsh bard Taliesin figures in several important Celtic myths, notably in one in which he is transformed into a poet by accidentally drinking a drop of the wisdom potion brewed by the great goddess Cerridwen. Half poet, half magician or shaman, Taliesin is quasi-historical, and scores of poems existed that are said to have been composed by him during the period when King Arthur was said to have reigned. Inspired by the powerful bardic figure, Matthews has constructed a series of fictions that illuminate Celtic pagan spirituality. Readable and vivid, the short pieces intertwine like Celtic knotwork and are linked together by an imaginary monkish narrator who, like the real monks of Celtic lands, ponders the meanings of paganism while holding to the newer Christian vision. A finely wrought and inspiring book. --Patricia Monaghan

Publisher's Weekly Review

Told in the voice of King Arthur's mythic bard, The Song of Taliesin, by John Matthews (The Winter Solstice), gathers 20 stories from Arthurian legend. The Sacred Pigs of the Isle of the Mighty, a cauldron with frightening powers, murderous lords and a giant who is responsible for the rising and setting of the sun are among the many fantastical details of these new interpretations of ancient stories. 12 b&w illus. () (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Those who have encountered the work of the prolific Matthews (The Quest for the Green Man) will know what to expect of this work, previously published in the U.K. in 1991. Those unfamiliar should note that the author of this work is Matthews, not Taliesin, and that on his web page Matthews describes himself as a "Celtic shaman." Although he has studied the surviving texts of Celtic literature, Matthews here stresses the popular and spiritual rather than the scholarly. "Most of the stories [attributed to Taliesin] are fragmentary and difficult to understand. I have taken the liberty of `completing them.' " Since the link between the Arthur mythos and the possibly mythical Taliesin is tenuous, the Arthurian name here seems just window-dressing. There are better translations and interpretations of these poems, both scholarly and popular, which Matthews cites in his "Sources" and "Notes," and many popular works on Arthur and related subjects, some by Matthews himself. Not a necessary purchase, except for comprehensive collections of Matthews. Shelley Cox, Southern Illinois Univ. Lib., Carbondale (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. ix
Note on Pronunciationp. xi
Introductionp. 1
The Song of Taliesin
1 The Scribe's Storyp. 11
The Planetary Spheres
2 The Cauldron-Bornp. 25
Taliesin's Creed
3 The Journey to Deganwyp. 33
At the Weir
4 Ogma: The Search for the Lettersp. 51
The Unicorn
5 The Salmon and the Cranep. 61
The Night-Hawk
6 The Entertainment of the Noble Headp. 71
The Doctrine of Intuition
7 Culhwch's Dayp. 83
The Reconciliation of Opposites
8 Iskander and the Show-Stonep. 97
The Song of the Wind
9 The Battle of the Treesp. 107
The Tree
10 The Inundationp. 117
The Lost Light
11 Amairgen's Storyp. 129
In Winter's Shadow
12 The Contention of Llud and Llevelysp. 135
The Raid on Annwn
13 The Crow, the Salmon, and the Oldest of the Oldp. 143
The Voices in the Grass
14 The Fall of the Great Treesp. 151
The Silence of Winter
15 The Hunting of Hen Wenp. 163
Taliesin and the Alternatives
16 The Defense of the Chairp. 169
The Mysteries of Seven
17 The Protection of the Honey Islep. 179
Taliesin and the Dark
18 The Death of Aneurinp. 191
At the Weir Again
19 The Voyage to Annwnp. 199
The King's Moon-Rite
20 The Doorway to the Summer Starsp. 211
Taliesin's Song of the Apotheosis of Britain
Sourcesp. 217
Notesp. 221