The cauldron is used by many Pagans to represent the element Water, the direction West.
Once upon a time, a large cauldron would have been part of nearly every kitchen. It could be seen hanging from a hook over the fireplace or sitting on its tripod legs above the coals. And it would have been used every day, for cooking soups and stews, for heating water to wash clothes, and for other necessary purposes.
I will admit to sometimes having a bit of cauldron envy. I would love to have a kitchen with a fireplace large enough to hold a large cast iron cauldron. But I don’t.
Alas, right now I don’t even have a fireplace and my kitchen isn’t big enough to swing a cat let alone a huge pot on a hook.
Since most people don’t have room for one of those huge cooking pots, we make do with smaller substitutes. I have three small cauldrons that I use for various purposes. The smallest, which you can see in this altar picture, is a little copper pot that I keep sea salt in. Two slightly larger cauldrons usually sit beneath the altar, neither is water-tight so can’t be used to hold liquids. One is currently empty, the other is used to hold spent matches.
We know that the cauldron was of great importance both because of the stories which abound with a cauldton as a main focal point and because of the ornately decorated cauldrons which have been found across Europe in archeological digs. Perhaps one of the best known is the Gunestrup Cauldron that was found in a peat bog in Denmark.
Celtic mythologies are filled with caudrons. Magical cauldrons, transformative cauldrons, healing cauldrons. Cauldrons which could bring a man back to life, and cauldrons which overflowed with food.
One such tale is the story of the Welsh Shaman-Bard Taliesin.
The Tale of Taliesin
Once there was a witch named Ceridwen, and she had two children. The one, her daughter, was as beautiful a child as you could ever hope to see; the other, her son Morfran, was so ugly, ill-favored and stupid that he sickened everyone who saw him.
Ceridwen was grieved that Morfran was so horrible, and resolved by her magic arts to make him into such a great bard that no-one would mind his ugliness. She began to cast a great spell. Many were the plants that she cast into her cauldron, many the incantations said over it. An old blind man named Morda was set to keep the fires burning beneath it, assisted by a young boy, Gwion.
The Cauldron of Wisdom and Inspiration must be kept boiling for a year and a day, and then the first three drops from it would impart ultimate knowledge to the one who drank them. But the rest of the liquid would be deadly poison.
Long labored Ceridwen, roaming far to find the rare and exotic herbs she required, and so it chanced that she fell asleep on the last day of the spell. The boy Gwion was stirring the brew when three drops flew out onto his thumb, and they were scalding hot, so that he thrust it into his mouth to stop the burning. Instantly, he had the wisdom and inspiration of ages, and the first thing that occurred to him was that Ceridwen would be very angry.
He ran away from the house of Ceridwen, but all too soon he heard the fury of her pursuit. Using his new magical powers, he turned himself into a hare. She turned into a greyhound bitch, and gained ever more on him. He came to a river, and quick as thinking became a fish. She became an otter. He leapt from the water, and in the middle of his leap became a bird of the air. The witch Ceridwen became a hawk. In desperation, he looked down and saw a pile of wheat. He dived, landed, and as it scattered he turned into a single grain. Then she landed and became a hen, and pecked at the grain until she had swallowed Gwion.
Soon after, Ceridwen found herself with child, though she had lain with no man. When she realized that the baby was Gwion, she resolved to kill it, and Morfran wanted her to also, in revenge for his not becoming a bard. In due course, the babe was born, and Morfran would have slaughtered him on the spot, but the mother said no, because it was the most beautiful child ever seen. But she took him and, sewing him in a bag, set him adrift on the ocean.
Do you have a witch’s cauldron? If you don’t, what do you use to represent or hold the element of Water on your altar?