The Witches cauldron is the stuff of legend and indeed cauldrons feature in folklore from many cultures. While cauldrons haven’t always been associated with witches (everyone had a cauldron back in the day) they have long been associated with abundance. Every good housewife throughout history was expected to be prepared to feed a guest or a hungry child or hard working husband on a moment’s notice and the cauldron resting on the hearth was a potent symbol of this. The cauldron contains the stuff of life and symbolizes abundance, the womb, birth and rebirth.
Many modern witches keep a tiny cauldron on their altar. This cauldron may be used as an incense burner, or as a container for water used in ritual. If it is used for liquid, it represents the element of water and the feminine principal and may be used to represent the Goddess in the symbolic Great Rite. If used to hold fire, it may instead represent the element of fire and the male principal and represent the God. It may more aptly be called a “fire bowl” instead of a cauldron in this case. A fire bowl cauldron can also represent the creative force; the cauldron representing the physical womb and the fire representing the spark of life within, effectively combining male and female energies.
While this may be good enough for symbolic ritual, many Kitchen Witches want a cauldron they can actually concoct magical (and perhaps not so magical) meals in. A full-sized cauldron or one of the modern variations on the theme is needed for this. You’ll have the best luck finding one if you do a search for a “cast iron dutch oven” or “camp dutch oven” rather than using the keyword “cauldron”. I highly recommend the Lodge brand.
The cauldron is closely related in form and symbolism to the chalice.
The Cauldron in Myth and Legend
See http://www.witchipedia.com/def:cauldron for a more in-depth treatment of this topic
The Cauldron Greek Myth and Legend
Tantalus cooked his son Pelops in a cauldron. (And he was reborn.)
The Titans cut up Dionysus and cooked him in a cauldron. (And he was reborn)
Medea used a cauldron throughout her story to revive, rejuvenate, heal, enchant, poison and kill.
Celtic Myth and Legend
Cerridwen has Taliesin stir her cauldron for a year and a day and drops from it gives him his talents.
The Dagda’s cauldron was one of the four treasures of the Tuatha de Dannan. No one ever went away hungry from this cauldron.
The Cauldron of Dyrnwch the Giant, one of the Thirteen Treasures of Britain, will not boil meat for a coward.
The Par Dadeni of Welsh lore is the cauldron of rebirth. Any dead man tossed into it would emerge alive again but lacking the power of speech.
Norse Myth and Legend
The Nordic version of the cauldron is a kettle. It had a rounded or conical bottom rather than legs and was generally suspended over the fire. According to Norse legend, Thor and Tyr were visiting Hymer in order to borrow his cauldron when they went on the famed fishing trip (when Thor caught the world serpent). A cauldron or kettle is mentioned in the Poetic Edda several times with poetic reference to sacrifice, the head (or skull) and the sea. In Norse lore, the source of all waters is called Hvergelmir, the boiling cauldron, perhaps the cauldron which caught the sacrificial blood of the giant Ymir whose body became the Earth and his blood the sea.
Modern Variations on the Cauldron
The cauldron or kettle was the primary cooking tool of our ancestors, but modern technology has made it somewhat obsolete. As such, finding an authentic cauldron may mean paying a pretty penny at a primitives antique store or a trip out to Pennsylvania Dutch or Amish country. However, depending on what you want to use it for, there are many cauldron and cauldron-like options readily available.
If you are looking for something small to put on your altar, you have tons of options. I have a small copper cauldron meant for storing potpourri that I use for burning incense (after putting some sand in the bottom) and many specialized metaphysical shops carry cast iron and copper mini-cauldrons in a variety of handy sizes. While these won’t work for cooking, they’ll often work fine for brewing small amounts of potions, for burning incense, for scrying and for symbolic uses.
Also, you needn’t feel that a cauldron for ritual use be authentic-looking. Our ancesters used a wide variety of cauldrons, kettles and pots and we can too. My ritual cauldron (for holding blessed water and the Great Rite) is made of stoneware and has served me well for decades. Apparently some witches have used human skulls as a cauldrons, so I think we too can be flexible. (Not that flexible though. Bone is entirely impractical- heat will char and crack it, acids will wear it down further.)
The Dutch Oven
The dutch oven is very much the modern equivalent of the ancient cauldron though its basic construction hasn’t changed in a few hundred years. It comes in various shapes and sizes and is made of various materials. Unlike the ancient cauldron, a dutch oven always has a lid. It is often made of cast iron, but ceramic and clay are also available and work out quite well. Cast iron is best for many purposes, but you should choose a ceramic coated dutch oven for anything that involves extended contact with acidic ingredients.
Take care to choose a dutch oven that best suits your needs. If you are using it over a fire, it should have three legs or a handle to suspend it from a tripod, or both. If you will be using it in your oven or on a range, these features are much less desirable, but side handles will be wanted. Also, you’ll want to make sure it fits in your oven.
Lots of great information about cooking using a dutch oven over an open fire or in a fireplace can be found at the Townsends Youtube channel, my current addition.
See also Caring for Cast Iron
The Electric Cauldron
Let us not neglect to mention the Crock Pot, aka, the electric cauldron. This magical item which I describe consists of a ceramic or clay vessel that is inserted into an electrical device which allows the heat to surround the dish completely. A similar creature is the slow cooker. A similar vessel (please choose ceramic or clay, not non-stick coated metal) fits snugly onto a heating element that maintains a steady heat from below.
These are perfect for safely keeping a pot on at all times to attract abundance into your life (if you keep it from touching anything and make sure its on a safe surface and contains plenty of liquid and that there are batteries in your smoke alarm, just in case.) The smaller ones are marvelous for melting chocolate & cheese for dipping, or for simmering oils for fragrance and the big ones are perfect for cooking down a carcass to make stock. Make no mistake, these are magical activities if you put intent behind them. If you are crafty, you may also want to designate an electric cauldron specifically for craft use, as they are quite good for candle making and for melt and pour soap-making.
I have one that was given to me by my grandmother that has become increasingly unreliable (even so, it’s as old as me and I too am unreliable these days). I have retired it from cooking and now use it for fermenting. It has sauerkraut in it right now and it is perfect for this use.
Other Things as Cauldrons
Please do not feel that you have to have a cauldron that looks like a Halloween Witches cauldron, especially for ritual purposes. If it holds liquid, is fire resistant and looks and feels good to you, it’s just right. Many people use ceramic bowls for ritual cauldrons. Our ancestors used lots of different vessels for mixing potions. A Kitchen Witch is practical (like our ancestors) and uses what works.
How to Use Your Cauldron(s)
10 Delicious Recipes You Can Make in Your Cauldron
Keeping a cauldron at the ready to feed a hungry guest keeps your home full of abundant and generous energy and also makes it smell great.
Fondue, whether cheese or chocolate, is the best meal to eat as a group for togetherness and joy and bonding. A small electric cauldron works lovely to keep the chocolate or the cheese melted but a small metal cauldron set over a candle can work well too.
Stock is the easiest thing in the world to make and yet so versatile. It can be used to cook grains for added nutrition, as a base for soups, stews, and sauces or you can just drink it straight, especially when you’re not feeling well.
I love that I am getting every last bit of nutrition I possibly can from an animal (but vegetarians can make veggie stock too, just the same) and nothing is going to waste. Whenever I cook something that has bones, I always make stock. After the party, while other folks are bagging up pie and turkey slices, I am bagging up the bones.
In the winter I almost always have some stock going in my ceramic glazed dutch oven. In the summer I like to make it in my large Crock Pot so it doesn’t heat up the house so much.
3. Baked Beans
Baked beans are a classic long-cooking cauldron comfort food. They are best cooked slow and low in a sealed container (like a cauldron), but I find it’s a good idea to check it often to make sure there’s still enough liquid. You’ll want ham stock for this, though there are vegetarian versions. Start with chopped onions, simmer them lightly. Soak the beans overnight, bright them to a boil for about five minutes. Drain and put them in the cauldron with some stock, mustard and molasses. Simmer until delicious.
4. Apple Butter (or Pumpkin Butter!)
I absolutely adore making apple butter and pumpkin butter in my electric cauldron. Just put in the fruit, add sugar and spices and a little apple cider, turn it on low and go to bed. In the morning I have warm, spicy deliciousness for breakfast.
5. Split Pea Soup
Another warm comfort food favorite best made with ham stock and plenty of herbs. Soak the peas and toss them in the cauldron with some ham stock, ham scraps if you have them, potatoes, onions and celery. Simmer until delicious. Season with salt, pepper and a bit of dill. Serve hot or cold with crusty bread.
What is chili? The diversity of chili amazes me. When I’m talking about chili to someone outside my family, I have to ask questions to make sure we’re talking about the same stew. Is there beans, is there meat? Both, neither? (I think there has to be one or the other) Either way, it benefits from the long cooking time best achieved in a cauldron, dutch oven or crockpot. I pre-cook my beans separately, then brown some ground beef with a variety of peppers, onions, and garlic, then add some stock and my pre-cooked beans, a can of tomatoes and some cumin. Simmer until it’s delicious. I like it with Mac & Cheese.
7. Fruit and Dumplings
This is a recipe I invented spontaneously while on a camping trip when my children presented me with a huge load of wild-harvested blackberries. It’s not unique and I’m not the first one to invent it. Made in a cauldron right over the fire, it will also work in the oven or crockpot. Just toss your fruit in with a bit of liquid and sugar and top it with your favorite biscuit recipe. Cook until done.
8. Pulled Pork
This is a lovely treat that I make from the trimmings after my husband prepares to make BBQed ribs. It’s usually done before the ribs. We make a similar dish out of rabbit. Simply put the meat scraps in your cauldron with some garlic, bell peppers and onions and some salt and pepper. Allow it to cook low and slow until the meat is falling off the bone. Remove the bones and mix in your favorite BBQ sauce. Serve on a bun.
9. Hungarian Goulash
Chop up some onions and peppers and toss them in the cauldron to cook lightly. Take some chunks of meat and dredge them in some flour seasoned with paprika, salt and pepper and garlic powder. Brown these in the dutch oven with the onions and peppers. Add a can of tomatoes and reduce the heat to simmer for an hour or so to allow the meat to become tender. Serve over noodles.
First, make a roux. Add chopped bell peppers, onions, celery and okra. Then add anduille sausage and other bits of meat, whatever you’ve got. Dump in some stock and let simmer until it’s delicious. You can serve alone or over rice. I like it with fufu.
10 Magical Uses for Your Cauldron that Aren’t Necessary Food Related
Our ancestors used their cauldrons as hot water heaters, washing machines and to make all manner of useful household items from soap to candles and it’s possible that many of them couldn’t afford more than one, but modern safety standards demand that you use a separate cauldron for non-food purposes. I think all of these uses will render your cauldron unsuitable for food-related purposes, or at the very least ruin the season, so get two. Or three. Or more!
1. Leave your candles to burn safely
Many spells require that you leave a candle burning for a certain amount of time or let it burn out completely. However, many of us do not live in a world where we have the leisure to supervise our burning spell candles for several hours. Placing the candle inside a metal or earthenware cauldron gives you an added layer of safety, just make sure the cauldron itself is in as safe and fire-proof a position as you can manage.
You will want to put a layer of sand in the bottom or you may never get the wax out. And remember to take a look at the pattern the wax made to divine the potential results of your spell.
2. Burn an offering
Many of our ancestors likely made offerings and sacrifices in or otherwise involving cauldrons. There is good evidence that the Norse people collected the blood of their sacrifices in cauldrons for use in divination and possibly to brew into a drink; some believe the Druids also did this. The Greeks tripods which may have a bowl or a platform for the placement of sacred objects and offerings (or cooking pots). Peoples of China had something similar (dings).
A cauldron is a convenient receptacle for offerings, especially for indoor ritual. If the offerings are to be libations that would ideally be poured on the ground, the cauldron can hold them until after the rite when they are carried outside. If the offerings are to be burned, a metal or earthenware cauldron can safely contain a small burnt offering until it has finished burning.
3. Scrying and Divination
Fill your cauldron with water and gaze into it. You may also wish to drip oil, ink or hot wax into it and interpret the shapes. It is believed that some of our ancestors likely used cauldrons for scrying after catching the blood of sacrificial animals in them. Particularly our Heathen ancestors.
If you cooked in your cauldron, peer into it after everyone has eaten their fill to interpret the shapes made by the stuff stuck to the bottom of the pan to get a reading for all who enjoyed the feast. (Much like the reading of tea leaves)
Another form of divination that may be used with a cauldron is to observe the way the smoke or steam rises from it. Smoke or steam that rises directly upward is a good thing, if it hovers around the mouth of the cauldron or creeps over the side and downward, not so good.
4. Burn incense
To use your cauldron to burn incense, put a somewhat thick layer of sand in the bottom of it to help diffuse the heat a bit. Put your charcoals on top and, once they are smoldering, sprinkle your incense on top of that. Be wary of picking it up though, they do get hot! A cauldron isn’t the best thing in the world for burning incense, a proper censer has air holes for ventilation to keep the charcoals burning. Your cauldron incense burner may have you relighting it often.
5. Make your own candles
A cauldron is ideal for melting wax, provided you are using it in a situation where you can easily control the temperature. A bonfire will not work for this, but once you’ve got your coals smoldering, it might work out. An electric cauldron is perfect for this.
Because you are using your magical cauldron to create candles with the intention of using them for ritual and spellwork, they will be the best candles available for these purposes.
I know a witch who melts the stubs of all of the candles she used for ritual and makes them into one candle to burn for her Imbolc ritual. She believes it is full of the energy of all of those rituals and burning it completely at Imbolc is very cleansing.
6. Perform the Great Rite
The symbolic Great Rite, that is. Many people use a cauldron and sword or athame to perform the Great Rite when it is called for at group ceremonies. When I do this, I like to let the blade rest in the fire for a few minutes before plunging it into the cool water in the cauldron at the climax of the ritual. It is very dramatic.
7. Make a magical potion.
That’s kind of the point, isn’t it?
8. Make a salve or ointment
Salves are made by melting wax and combining fat and the requisite herbs and oils under very low heat to avoid damaging the oils. An electric cauldron is ideal for this. These can then be used for healing and magical purposes. Think flying ointment.
9. Brew up some spirits for libations or the simple feast
If it’s good enough for the Norse Gods…
If you like to brew and are making something for the simple feast, break out your cauldron to make your mash. The more your cauldron is used for magic, the more magic it will impart to your beverage.
If you’re not up to brewing ale or mead, you can make mulled wine, or May wine, or mulled cider.
10. Raise the cauldron spirit.
The cauldron spirit is simply a high proof alcohol (or even rubbing alcohol) in which herbs of magical purpose have been steeped and the strained. This is poured into the cauldron, over a layer of salt until it covers over the salt and then set alight. You can watch the flames for divination, or just allow the flames to release the energies of the herbs to help your magical work.
I have not seen this, but I am told it is a sight and a scent to behold, very soothing and magickal. I will try this, as soon as I have a cauldron I am willing to destroy in this way and I will get back to you. It may be awhile.
10 More Crafty Uses for Your Cauldron
Again, most of these will render your cauldron, electric or otherwise, completely unfit for use for food. Don’t switch back and forth for your safety. Make sure if you’re using cauldrons for crafting and using non-food materials, that you never use that cauldron for food again.
Most of these are Crock Pot crafts; but what you can do in a Crock Pot you can do in a cauldron.
2. Age some paper (to make your Book of Shadows look cool)
3. Coat some paper in beeswax – Waterproof ritual notes anyone?
7. Use it as an aroma diffuser or an air freshener.
9. Remove paint from small things.
10. Lip balm
Some Random Cauldron Lore
- Always stir in a clockwise/sunwise motion to keep the energies flowing in a positive direction.
- It is said that emptying your cauldron into the sea will encourage strong storms to be stirred up.
- You should never use a cauldron belonging to another, bad luck and misdirected energies are sure to result.
- Some traditions state that cauldron magic is strictly women’s magic. Other traditions point out the Taliesin, Thor, Hymir and other males were all about cauldrons.
- If you spill some of your brew on the floor, you will quarrel with a friend. If you spill it on yourself it’s good luck. Even if it hurts.
- It is bad luck and invites poverty to throw away the herbs strained from a potion. Instead, burn them, compost them or leave them on your altar for Hecate’s feast.
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