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), enlightenment, 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 alter.
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 sorceress 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 preChristian 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 staghorned 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 believed 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 Grailbelonged to British paganism as a symbol of reincarnation and the divine womb of the Goddess.