by Gerina Dunwich
In contemporary Witchcraft, the cauldron is an important magical tool that symbolically combines influences of the ancient elements of air, fire, water, and earth. Its shape is representative of Mother Nature, and the three legs upon which it stands correspond to the three aspects of the Triple Goddess, the three lunar phases (waxing, full and waning), and to three as a magical number. Additionally, the cauldron is a symbol of transformation (both physical and spiritual), enlightenemnt, wisdom, the womb, of the Mother Goddess, and rebirth.
Since early times, cauldrons have been used not only for boiling water and cooking food, but for heating magical brews, poisons, and healing potions. They have also been utilized by alchemists and by Witches as tools of divination, containers for sacred fires and incense, and holy vessels for offerings to the gods of old.
If a large cauldron is needed in a ritual, it is generally placed next to the altar, on either side. Small cauldrons, such as ones used for burning of incense, can be placed on top of the altar.
In Middle Ages, most of the population believed that all Witches possessed a large black cauldron in which poisonous brews and vile hell-broths were routinely concocted. These mixtures were said to have contained such ingredients as bat’s blood, serpent’s venom, headless toads, the eyes of newts, and a gruesome assortment of animal and human body parts, as well as deadly herbs and roots.
In fourteenth-century Ireland, a Witch known as Lady Alice Kyteler was said to have used the enchanted skull of a beheaded thief as her cauldron. Also in the fourteenth century, a male Witch by the name of William Lord Soulis was convicted in Scotland for a number of sorcery-related offenses. His peculiar form of execution was death by being boiled alive in a huge cauldron.
According to an old legend, if a soreceress dumped the vile contents of her cauldron into the sea, a great tempest would be stirred up.
Ancient Irish folklore is rich with tales of wondrous cauldrons that never run out of food at a feast, while an old Gypsy legend told of a brave hero who was boiled in a cauldron filled with the milk of man-eating mares.
It is said that bad luck will befall any Witch who brews a potion in a cauldron belonging to another. If the lid is accidentally left off the cauldron while a magical brew is prepared, this portends the arrival of a stranger, according to a superstitious belief from Victorian-era England.
The cauldron and its powers are associated with many goddesses from pre-Christian faiths, including Hecate (the protectress of all Witches), Demeter/Persephone (in the Eleusinian mysteries), the Greek enchantresses Circe and Medea, Siris (the Babylonian goddess of fate and mother of the stars, whose cauldron was made of lapis lazuli), the Celtic goddess Cerridwen, from whose cauldron bubbled forth the gifts of wisdom and inspiration.
Although the cauldron has traditionally been a symbol of the divine feminine since the earliest of times, there exist a number of male deities from various Pagan pantheons who also have a connection to it. Among them are the Norse god Odin (who acquired his shape-shifting powers by drinking from the cauldron of wise blood), the Hundu sky god Indra (whose myth is similar to Odin’s), Bran the Blessed (the Welsh god of the sacred cauldron), and Cernunnos (the Celtic horned god who was dismembered and boiled in a cauldron to be reborn).
Depicted on the famous Gunderstrup cauldron (circa 100 B.C.) is the stag-horned Cernunnos in various scenes with different animals. Believed by many to be of Celtic origin, this large silver cauldron may have once been used in sacrificial rites.
The use of sacrificial cauldrons can be traced to the ancient religious and magical practices of various European cultures, as well as to some shamanic traditions. Human and animal victims would first be beheaded over the cauldrons and then have their blood drained out into the cauldron, where it would be boiled to produce a mystical substance. Among the Celts, a potion of inspiration was said to have been brewed in such a manner by the priestess of the lunar goddess.
The cauldron is linked to the Holy Grail – a chalice that is beleived by Christians to have been used by Jesus Christ at the Last Supper. However, prior to its incorporation into Christian myth in the twelfth century, the Grail belonged to British paganism as a symbol of reincarnation and the divine womb of the Goddess.
Many Witches pour a bit of ordinary surgical spirit (rubbing alcohol) into their cast iron cauldrons and light it carefully dropping in a lit match. This is often done as part of healing rituals, invocations to the elemental spirit of fire, scrying divinations, sabbat fire festivals, and various working rituals. (Note: A quarter cup of alchohol will burn for approximately three minutes.) Be sure that the cauldron is resting securely on a fireproof stand and is not close to any flammable substances. Do not touch the cauldron while it is hot unless you cover your hands with protective oven mitts. If the fire must be extinguised before it burns itself out, smother it by covering the cauldron with a lid or by sprinkling salt or sand over the flames. Remember, whenever working with the element of fire, use caution and common sense, and respect the spirits of the flame.
The sight of a cauldron blazing with fire can be very magical and mesmerizing, and when the alcohol has ben steeped in aromatic herbs, a sweet but gentle incense-like fragrance is produced. To make an herbal cauldron spirit, put a small bunch of any or all of the following into a glass bottle: fresh lavender flowers and leaves, fresh mint leaves, fresh rosemary flowers and leaves, and fresh thyme flowers and leaves. Fill the bottle to the top with the alcohol, cap it tightly, and then give it a good shake. Keep it in a cool place for thirteen days, shaking it twice daily (every sunrise and moonrise). Strain it through a double thickness of muslin into clear bottle. Cap it and store it away from heat and flame. Cauldron spirit will keep indefintely.
Using a cauldron, symbol of inspiration and rebirth, has brought new dimensions to both group and solitary work. A cauldron decorates the center of the Circle during Lesser Sabbats. An air cauldron at a spring rite creates a misty, magical quality for the ceremony. In summer, the cauldron will flash and spark. A blue flame burns mysteriously within the Water cauldron during the autumn festival. Throughout Yule, the Earth cauldron burns steadfast and constant. During moon rites, when magick is done, we write the purpose of our working on flash papers and toss them into the burning cauldron while chanting.
A working cauldron should be of cast iron, with a tight-fitting lid, three sturdy legs, and a strong handle. Season your cauldron before using it for the first time. Pour in generous helping of salt and lighter fluid, slosh it up to the rim and wipe dry. For indoor use it MUST have a fireproof base or your workings will summon up yellow-coated salamander spirits from the fire department.
Layer salt, wax shavings, three powdered or ground herbs, lighter fluid and ivy leaves in the cauldron while focus and chanting. Use a candle to light it. When the smoke starts to roll, extinguish the cauldron by putting the lid on.
Using tongs, put a chunk of dry ice is a small glass or ceramic bowl and place the bowl on a cloth in the bottom of the cauldron. Allow the cauldron to smoke as long as the ice lasts. The mists create excellent images for scrying.
Cover the inside bottom with dirt or sand to dissipate heat. Light incense charcoal and add either salt-peter for flame and spark or flash powder for a different but spectacular effect. To assist in releasing or firing off peak energy, try using flash “bombs”. Make a small pocket in a piece of flash paper, fill with flash powder and tie with thread. The “bomb” should be about the size of your smallest fingernail. The results are spectacularly bright, so use the powder sparingly. Don’t look directly at the flash as you drop the “bomb” in the cauldron.
At least seven days before the ritual, place equal quantities of three appropriate herbs in a pint glass jar. Fill the rest of the jar with Everclear (200 proof alcohol), cap tightly, and shake gently while concentrating on the purpose of the ritual. Add a chant if its feels right. Let the jar rest in a dark, warm spot and shake twice daily, charging with purpose. Before the ritual, place a fireproof ceramic or glass bowl in the cauldron. Pour in the herb mixture, being careful none spills into the cauldron. Light with a candle to produce a beautiful blue flame.
The cauldron, as the fifth elemental spirit, symbolizes inspiration, rebirth, illumination and rejuvenation. Use a Fire cauldron with salt-peter to cast a Circle. Use the mists of an Air cauldron for an initiation. Burn away hate, prejudice and negative self-images, with a Water cauldron. The Earth cauldron is ideal for indoor Beltane rites.
Remember to place a burning cauldron on a fireproof surface. Practice safety when using any volatile materials and you will enjoy your cauldron for many rites.
The cauldron or pot symbolizes cyclical time and the lunar calendar.This is because the cauldron represents the womb of rebirth, the bowl of blood held by the Hindu Kali and other goddesses. This blood is the Wise Blood from the Cosmic Womb. It has been called soma by the Hindus, red claret by the Celts, and greal by the Welsh Bards. In Vedic myth, Indra stole the soma so that he could rule over all the gods, a reference to the stealing of importance and power from the Goddess for a patriarchal god.
The Goddess and Her cauldron is the center of all feminine power andevery female group. Spiritual transformation can only come through Hercauldron,or belly-womb. Ancient tradition says that only women can tap into the great power of the cauldron, for only women are made in the image of the Goddess with Her all-renewing womb of rebirth and transformation. This tradition remains in the figure of the witch and her cauldron.
The cauldron is also the repository of inspiration and magick, asseen in Cerridwen’s cauldron which was sought by the Bards. The Goddess has long been considered to be the source of inspiration and the Mistress of Magick. When a true initiation takes place, the initiate willingly descends into the cauldron, she is often filled with ecstatic emotions when she returns to her present state. She may sing, play music, dance, prophesy, see visions, or become creative in poetry and prose. In short, she is filled with Goddess spirit and inspiration, the type of power that only comes from the sacred cauldron. Such Bards as Taliesin stated that they regularly “drank”from the cauldron to promote their creativity and divine inspiration.
Magickal Meaning: development of psychic gifts; creative talentsbeing used Coming to terms with physical death, either through the death of someone close to you, or a very personal experience in dreams and/or meditation.”