Cauldrons - Tools of Witchcraft

The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005

Tools of Witchcraft

The word cauldron is related to words indicating heat or to warm up. The English word is believed to derive from the Latin caldarium, “hot bath.”

Cauldrons metaphorically represent the female generative organs, the womb, uterus, and vagina. In old Egyptian hieroglyphics, the sign indicating “woman” was a pot.

Cauldrons and pots signify the universal womb.

Cauldrons are mythically identified with birth and resurrection. In an old Welsh poem, “The Spoils of Annwn,” King Arthur visits the Next World to bring back a magical cauldron of regeneration that will return the dead to life. Like a womb, the cauldron reproduces the birth process.

According to Roman writers, cauldrons were used in Teutonic human sacrifice. (As with the Druids, whom the Romans also accused of conducting human sacrifice, this may or may not be true: they were not necessarily impartial observers.)

Cauldrons are consistent motifs in Celtic mythology:

Image The Cauldron of Bran the Blessed is the cauldron of resurrection and rebirth

Image The Cauldron of Cerridwen brews the potion that confers all wisdom

Image The Cauldron of the Dagda leaves no one unsatisfied

Image The Cauldron of Diwrnach will not serve a coward

Various spirits and witches are closely identified with cauldrons:

Image Bran is the Lord of the Dead: ravens are his sacred bird. Bran resurrects the dead in his cauldron. Shamans are “cooked” in Bran’s cauldron, too. (Cooking may be understood as transforming raw material)

Image Branwen is Bran’s sister and the star of her own mythic saga. The Cauldron of Resurrection is her marriage dowry

Image Cerridwen brews the potion of wisdom within her cauldron. A cauldron serves as her primary attribute. Her name may derive from a word for cauldron. (See DIVINE WITCH: Cerridwen)

Image Medea rejuvenates an old ram in her cauldron; she then converts the cauldron into a murder weapon (See HALL OF FAME: Medea)

Image Ogun has among his primary attributes an iron cauldron (See MAGICAL PROFESSIONS: Metalworkers)

Image Teutates, an ancient Celtic (Gaulish) deity, drowned humans in his cauldron in the alder groves. Some believe he masquerades as the Grail legend’s Fisher King

Cauldrons were common grave goods throughout Europe and Asia. Hun graves, for instance, are often identified by their characteristic tall, slim bronze cauldrons.

Cauldrons were also spiritual offerings. Bronze and iron cauldrons were deliberately cast into lakes as votive offerings in the British Isles as well as throughout the European continent. Archeological evidence exists for the ritual depositing of cauldrons in lakes and marshes throughout the last millennium before the Common Era.

A great bronze cauldron filled with over two hundred pieces of bronze jewelry was discovered in Duchcov, Bohemia, now the Czech Republic. The cauldron and its contents, presumed to be an offering to a water-deity, were placed in the Giant’s Springs—a natural spring that was the focus of much ritual activity during the third-century BCE.

The most famous cauldron is the gilded silver Gundestrup Cauldron, so called because it was discovered in a peat bog in Gundestrup, Denmark, in 1891. It had been placed on a dry spot within the bog sometime during the first-century BCE. The Gundestrup Cauldron is now housed in the National Museum of Copenhagen.

This ceremonial vessel measures three feet in diameter and is constructed from 13 plates, each one bearing repoussé images of deities or mythological scenes. The images include an antlered male deity, deities wearing torcs, and a ram-horned snake.

It is unknown where the cauldron was crafted; scholars suggest that it contains combined Thracian and Celtic elements, perhaps the result of interaction between silversmiths. Some believe it was taken from somewhere in Central Europe and brought to Denmark as war booty.

Cauldrons are used for spell-casting. Ancient spells frequently assumed that one had access to a hearth or similar open fire. This is rarely the case nowadays and cauldrons provide the safest substitute.

A Greek spell to conjure up a lover (whether a lost love or a brand new one) suggests that one wreathe a cast iron cauldron with red wool during a waxing moon. Add dried bay laurel leaves and barley grains and burn them within.

Cauldrons rejuvenate: Mullo are Romany vampire-ghosts who return and hover around the living. They may assist their relatives or torment them, however they feel inclined. Among the most feared mullo are those who were stillborn infants.

Once a mullo, always a mullo. A mullo is eternal. Baby mullos are boiled in a cauldron every year on what would have been their birthday by compatriot mullo. This invigorates and rejuvenates them.

Cauldrons are used to cook brews and potions but are also used to contain fire. A fire may be built within an iron cauldron. Conversely candles may be burned within. Should one wish to burn candles within a cauldron, it is advisable to spread a layer of clean sand, rock salt or similar within the cauldron beneath the candles for firesafety and easier clean-up. A lidded cauldron enables you to smother the flames within easily.

See also Tripod.