The Encyclopedia of Celtic Wisdom ~ By Caitlin Matthews, and Matthews John, p. 229
Circle Round: Raising Children in the Goddess Tradition ~ by Starhawk, Anne Hille and Diane Baker
On cauldron magick the comparison of certain kinds of magick and divination that can also be done where chalices or bowls are employed.
The cauldron’s life began as a simple cook pot. It was a practical well of nourishment to a family. To the herbal wise woman or man, that definition was extended as a vessel for boiling healing brews and poultices. To the witch, its use moved a step away from the practical to the magickal where potions were brewed. The lines over the centuries have blurred trying to define when it took on magickal properties.
At its very essence, the cauldron is made of metallic earth, heated by fire, cooled by air, and tempered by water. It is a vessel of the elements. In contemporary Witchcraft, a cauldron will be a pot made of cast iron which stands on three legs and has a handle. For safety’s sake, it should also have a lid.
In modern witchcraft, the very shape of a vessel evokes the feminine divine, the sacred womb, and the origins of life. This tradition is evoked and repeated in many cultures.
“This nine-fold power of the goddess, known as the Torah of Ana, is especially potent in wells, springs and sacred vessels, such as cauldrons. The specific components of the Torah are described in:
“Nine Gifts of the Cauldron”
The Cauldron of Life-Work gives and is replenished, promotes and is enlarged, nourishes and is given life, ennobles and is exalted, requests and is filled with answers, sings and is filled with song,
preserves and is made strong, arranges and receives arrangements, maintains, and is maintained.
“Good is the well of measure.”
More than just a symbol of the goddess, the cauldron and its contents have specifically represented abundance, poetic inspiration (i.e. knowledge, wisdom, and eloquence), physical restoration, regeneration, alchemical transformation, spiritual or psychic awakening or vision, and the ability to discern the truth.
In Celtic mythology, these abilities were gained from being near or in the cauldron or eating or drinking the contents mixed in a cauldron. Similar stories can be found using a chalice, a bowl, or a horn.
The most commonly known stories of the cauldron can be found in Celtic mythology. In Irish lore, Eochaid Ollathair, also known as the Dagda, possessed a cauldron that was one of the four sacred objects brought to Ireland by the Tuatha De Danaan. Its name was Undry and it had the magical capability of providing infinite sustenance doled out by each man’s merit. In Tara, the home of the High Kings of Ireland, this was used to magically grant a royal claimant the authority of divine kingship after eating a meal prepared within it. Sacred vessels of the goddess often bestow sovereignty and kingship in the myths of Irish High Kings.
In Welsh lore, Cerridwen’s cauldron, Amen, bestowed knowledge and inspiration. Bran the Blessed had the Cauldron of Rebirth which resurrected slain warriors. His legend may be the forerunner to the Keeper of the Holy Grail, the chalice of Jesus.
On the Gundestrup cauldron, a Celtic horned God popularly believed to be Cernuous is depicted being reborn after having been torn apart and boiled in a cauldron.
In Norse mythology, a drought which bestowed poetic inspiration and knowledge was brewed in the kettle/cauldron, Odhroerir.
In Greece, even today, every four years the modern Olympic flame is lit in a cauldron during a ritual at the site where the Greek temple of Hera used to stand. The great flame that oversees the games is carried by a torch but the vessel that holds that overseeing flame is called a cauldron.
The Gundestrup Cauldron is thought to have been crafted in Gaul circa. 100 BCE. It was discovered in a peat bog in Denmark in 1891 where scholars suggest the Druids may have placed it as an offering to the deities of Nature. One of the cauldron's 13 panels clearly shows the Celtic horned God known as Cernuous.
Other forms of a cauldron with identical or similar lore include fire pots which have historically symbolized the god himself and were special pots made for the protection of a sacred flame. Censors are another form of cauldron used as a fire pot or bowl to hold either sacred fire or sacred incense.
Magickal Vessel uses:
The modern use of a witch’s cauldron is to represent God on an altar or on the ground representing the element of Fire within the ritual circle. Placed on an altar or on the grass one must make sure it sits on a fireproof ceramic tile or hotplate.
Pour rubbing alcohol over the salts until the alcohol is about an inch higher than the salts. Hold a lighted match just above the alcohol. The liquid will light and produce a strong orange flame. The flame burns cool, unlike a wood fire, and is difficult to burn things in. When the flame gets low, cover to snuff out completely. Add more rubbing alcohol to the cauldron and relight carefully. The warmer the rubbing alcohol, the quicker it ignites. This fire recipe leaves a significant amount of sediment in the cauldron.
Other times the cauldron is filled with soil or sand to hold a small charcoal brick which is lit for loose incense to be burned upon. Cone incense can also be simply placed on the sand or stick incense is stuck into the sand and burned that way.
Letters to the divine or the ancestors, burnt spells, and burnt offerings are often lit and place in the cauldron to burn.
Divination is one of the key uses for the cauldron given its historical nature to impart vision and truth. Several forms of cauldron divination can be done with fire or dry ice.
Create the cool alcohol fire as above and look into the flames for images and their symbolic meaning.
In a cauldron filled with sand, (or as in my tradition use a sand-filled ceramic bowl) we do smoke divination. We judge the curl of the smoke from dried herbs or incense burnt on a charcoal brick placed in sand. Blow the smoke softly away from you as you concentrate on a question.
Smoke twisting deosil (clockwise) means NO. Smoke twisting widdershins (counter or anti-clockwise) means YES. Burn dried Rose or Cherry blossoms for divination's of love. Use Pecan for questions of employment. Burn Mugwort to ask about prophetic dreams and Lilac for questions concerning the ancestors. Use Mint, Clove, or Basil for money questions. Use Cinnamon or Sandalwood for questions of success. Try Carnation, Apple, Bayberry, or Cedar for insights into health issues.
You can also fill the cauldron or a bowl with warm water and, with a pair of tongs, drop many small pieces of dry ice into it. (Dry ice can be purchased from a grocery store.) Keep adding warm water and more ice as needed to create a steady rise of mist. As the mist rises, look for images and their symbolic significance that may reflect your hidden desires.
Scrying with a cauldron or bowl filled with water or wine is an ancient practice. It is a meditation device whereby, if you can relax your mind and eyes, you may see images or get impressions of those things you need to attend to or might be calling to you to investigate further. If meditation is more difficult for you, add a teaspoon of olive oil or other sacred oil to the water. Stir with your finger and watch how the oil merges and separates to mesmerize or form symbolic pictures.
In my tradition, we never used a cauldron. We use a ceramic bowl on the altar for sympathetic or small burnt offerings such as herbs or flower petals. (Cauldrons were way too witchy for witches in hiding. A magickal bowl could be left on a table unnoticed.)
I often place glass-enclosed spell candles dressed with oils in the bowl then surround them with stones and sprinkle appropriate herbs. Here, I place written spells under the candle at the beginning of a spell or burn them before or after the completion of the spell. The bowl becomes a magickal altar unto itself, much like the cauldron which is used for many sacred purposes with or without an altar. Like the cauldron, the bowl is feminine in nature but is largely used with an element of Fire in the tradition of Helios, the sun god, who completed his daily rounds “floating” back to his Eastern palace in a golden bowl.
Bowls called Phials were also used by the ancient Greeks for oil or wine libations, poured into the ground or river to honor the dead or the gods. The Patera, a broad, shallow dish was used for ritual drinking and was thought to impart a blessing. Much like the food or drink from the sacred cauldron, these vessels were first designed for material sustenance and later interpreted for use in spiritual sustenance. The cauldron or bowl can also be used filled with water for a floral offering to celebrate joy or to burn flowers in to denote sorrow.
Chalices of oil were burned on ancient Greek and Roman altars. In modern witchcraft, the chalice is another vessel of the goddess or feminine divine and not often used with the element of fire, but it could be with the same precautions of sand and fireproofing that metal cauldrons and ceramic bowls use. However, never try this with glass chalices. Chalices may also be placed on an altar or on the ritual ground as a symbol of the element Water. Magickal chalices evolved in history much the same way cauldrons did, imparting the gifts of transformation, healing, and immortality.
Ardagh Chalice, c. 800-899 AD. Found in 1847 by a small boy digging for potatoes
The most famous chalice is the cup of Christ as told in Arthurian lore which bestows immortality to anyone who drinks from it. The Cup of Jamshid was a cup of divination and also bestowed immortality in Persian mythology. In Greek mythology, the cup of Circe brings Ulysses under her control. Apollo had a magickal cup called Crater. And Dionysus had a magickal cup called a kantharos that like so many magickal vessels, would never empty.
What is stated in James Joyces’ Finnegan’s Wake is a long-established tradition that “every hollow holds a hallow.” These “hollows”, be they cauldron, bowl, or cup, have been used throughout mythology as magickal tools for divination, transformation, and rejuvenation. Let these serve you this Samhain, to evoke abundance, poetic inspiration, restoration, regeneration, transformation, spiritual or psychic awakening or vision, or the ability to discern the truth. Or if not these, use them to connect you to the history of your magickal heritage.