The cauldron, like the broomstick and the black cat, is one of the features of any scene of witchcraft as pictured in the popular mind.
Some of the belief derives from Shakespeare’s play Macbeth, where the witches’ cauldron is introduced on the stage, with its accompanying dances and incantations.
Actors regard Macbeth, because of the witch-scenes in it, as an unlucky and uncanny play.
However, the connection between the cauldron and witchcraft dates back to a long time before Macbeth; back, in fact, to the days of Ancient Greece.
Greek legend contains the story of Medea, the witch of Colchis, whom Jason married in the course of his search for the Golden Fleece.
Medea was a priestess of Hecate, the goddess of the moon and of witchcraft; and not only did she have a cauldron, but she also had a coven too.
According to Robert Graves in his Greek Myths (Penguin Books, London, 1957 and Baltimore, Maryland, 1955), Medea was attended by twelve Phaeacian bond-maidens, who assisted her in her horrible plot to kill King Pelias with the aid of her magic cauldron.
In Ancient Britain and Ireland magical cauldrons featured largely in religious mysteries.
Heroes went into strange enchanted realms of the Other World to win a wonderful cauldron as a prize for their adventures.
It is the writer’s belief that a far-off echo of this survives in folk-memory as the custom of giving ornamental cups, usually of gold or silver, as the reward for sporting contests.
The delirious excitement of the Cup Final, when the victorious team raises the great, shining, hard-won Cup to the cheering crowd, has its origin far off in ancient myth.
The transformation of the cauldron into a cup is evidenced by the legends of the Holy Grail, which has its roots in pre-Christian Celtic myth.
With the coming of Christianity, the Cauldron of Inspiration and Rebirth, for which Arthur and his followers sought in perilous and uncanny realms of the shades, as sung of in bardic poetry, became the Holy Grail, for which the Knights of the Round Table rode forth upon the quest.
The witches, however, kept the old pagan version, and the cauldron, originally that of the Druidic moon goddess Cerridwen, became their symbol.
A cauldron is an all-embracing symbol of Nature, the Great Mother. As a vessel, it represents the feminine principle. Standing upon three legs, it recalls the triple moon goddess.
The four elements of Life enter into it, as it needs fire to boil it, water to fill it, the green herbs of earth to cook it, and its fragrant steam arises into air.
The cauldron in fact represented a great step forward in civilization.
Before man was able to make metal cooking pots, which would withstand fire, they had to be content with thick earthenware pots, which were heated by the laborious process of dropping very hot stones into them.
The metal cauldron, over which the woman as head of the household presided, gave men better-cooked food, more plentifiul hot water to cleanse themselves, and herbal medicines which could be decocted by boiling or infused in boiling water.
Hence the cauldron became an instrument of magic, and especially of women’s magic.
The cauldron also took on a sexual significance, as evidenced in the saucy old ballad about the lady and the wandering tinker, who offers to “clout her cauldron”, should she stand in need of his services.
Such have been the transformations of that which is itself the vessel of transformation because it takes raw uneatable things and transforms them into good food ; makes herbs and roots into medicines and potent drugs; and is the emblem of woman as the greatest vessel of transformation, who takes the seed of man and transforms it into a child.
In a sense, to the Pagans, all Nature was a cauldron of regeneration, in which all things, men, beasts, plants, the stars of heaven, the lands and waters themselves, seethed and were transformed.
“We claim the cauldron of the witches as, in the original, the vase or urn of the fiery transmigration, in which all things of the world change.”
The ancient British goddess Cerridwen, whom the Druids regarded as presiding over the Mysteries, brewed a Cauldron of Inspiration with magical herbs, which had to boil and bubble for a year and a day.
At the end of that time, out of it flew the Three Drops of Wisdom, the mystical Awen.
This word is pronounced AH-00-EN, which is reminiscent of the Eastern Aum. The Three Drops are identical with the Three Rays, or Tribann, which is one of the most important symbols of Druidic lore, and means Divine Inspiration.