The Cauldron- Sacred Symbol & Tool of the Witch

What comes to mind when you see a cauldron? Witches casting spells, a bubbling potion, or perhaps a hearty stew cooking over a fire? The cauldron is historically both a very mundane and mystical object that continues to be a powerful symbol of many things. It is one of my favourite tools as a Witch and a representation of my practice and path.

In celebration of The Cauldron Goddess’ birthday month (we are one year old!), I thought I’d share a bit about my own reflections and experiences with the cauldron- as a symbol and sacred tool of the Witch.

The Hearth & Cooking

At its most mundane, the cauldron is a cooking pot. A staple of our ancestors far and wide, this portable and durable vessel has served humanity for generations, providing nourishment, and sustaining life.

The pot cooking over the fire conjures deep memories of comfort, warmth, family, and home. It is for this reason that the cauldron is a strong symbol of the hearth. For nomadic peoples, I imagine the cauldron felt like an anchor of home while on the move. For those rooted to place, the cauldron held a central position to the home and served as faithful provider of nourishment and comfort.

The cauldron is the container where raw, unintegrated ingredients come together to create something delicious and sustaining for our work and growth. Cooking may seem very mundane yet cooking always involves a transformation of energy and materials. There is creative energy and magick weaved into the process.

Cooking has historically been deemed ‘women’s work’ because of its nurturing and domestic properties. Patriarchy has devalued these qualities and therefore the healing or magickal aspects of cooking are less valued than its artistic or competitive forms. There are currently so many competitive cooking shows taking centre stage, that it almost seems that for this ‘woman’s work’ to be valued, it must fit into the capitalistic/patriarchal paradigm, along with other art forms that have become more about competition than soul-nourishment and love.

There’s nothing wrong with refining one’s skills, of course. But, I suppose I think of cooking as something soulful, as our original magick, the mother of all rituals and witchcraft. It is where one thing becomes another and serves to heal and nourish us. We can add intentions, prayers, healing herbs and energy medicine into our culinary creations. There is power in the cauldron. It is here where we can connect the cauldron to the Witch.

The Witch

The Witch is the one who nourishes and sustains life, who heals and transforms, who makes magick and serves their family and community.

Healing and Witchcraft are deeply intertwined. Through history, the village Wise Woman was the healer and midwife everyone would call on when ill or in labor. With the influence of patriarchy, colonization and modern medicine, folks who followed the old ways, the Wise Woman ways were punished, ostracized or even killed. They twisted the healing, life sustaining Wise Woman into something evil, a repulsive and fearful death-bringer or spirit of chaos- a ‘Witch’ in the negative sense of the word. Yet the Witch is and always was simply a Healer. The word Witch is connected to ‘wit’ and wisdom, implying that witches were also sacred knowledge keepers.

Women’s power as healers and community leaders has been diminished over centuries and we are still in the process of reclaiming this power within ourselves. For me, using the cauldron is one way that I reclaim my power as Witch and Healer.

The cauldron remains a powerful symbol of healing and witchcraft to the modern psyche. Since we don’t use cauldrons much anymore, it also represents something ancient and mysterious from the past. We associate it with spells, potions, witches and some other mysterious things related to the sacred feminine…

The Womb & Creativity

The cauldron can be seen as representing the Mother energy. It contains, nourishes, sustains, and protects the creation within it. The pagan chant ‘one thing becomes another, in the mother, in the mother’ is one of my favourites to chant over my cauldron as I make a brew or do a spell. The cauldron is resonant with the womb, as a vessel of nourishment and protection of new life.

Within our womb space, in our pelvic bowl lies the energy of creation. Our sensual, sexual energy and our creative ‘flow’ stem from here, whether or not we have a physical womb. Those of us with wombs can also physically carry life here.

The pelvic bowl is very much like our own physical cauldron which holds our creative power.

An Embodied Cauldron Practice

In the Irish bardic poem, ‘The Cauldron of Poesy’, three internal cauldrons found within the body are referenced. The Cauldron of Warming, the Cauldron of Motion, and the Cauldron of Wisdom. I created my own personal grounding practice with these 3 cauldrons, even before I had heard of this poem, so I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered it.

The Cauldron of Warming sits within our pelvic bowl, where our creative ‘fuel’ resides. I like to think of this cauldron sitting within my pelvic bowl with its 3 legs energetically reaching to the earth like roots from my sitz bones and coccyx. I meditate on this cauldron, imagining its contents as fluid creative energies within me. I notice if they are stagnant, clouded, toxic or flowing, vibrant and well. I feel my connection the Earth Mother and imagine that healing energy flowing through my cauldron. I chant ‘oooohhh’ here, while connecting to the energies of the land. Chanting helps to transmute any negative energies.

The Cauldron of Motion sits in the heart centre. Here, we experience what ‘moves’ us, such as art, poetry, music, love, relationships, sorrow, and grief. I imagine this cauldron’s legs energetically connected to the cauldron below it, and its contents fluid again. Ideally, the energies flow clearly and vibrate with love. Chanting helps to transmute the energy. I chant ‘eeeeee’ here while connecting to the energies of water and sea. The combination of ‘ooohhh’, ‘eeee’ and ‘oooo’ sounds are one way to connect with the Awen- the Divine inspiration that flows through all life.

The Cauldron of Wisdom sits within or atop the head, and I imagine it open, facing upward to the skies above as a direct link to Spirit and the Awen- the divine inspiration that flows through all life. I imagine it receiving inspiration from above and its contents are the energy of flowing light. I imagine my thoughts cleared and stagnant energy released. Through this meditation I become a channel for the Awen, for divine inspiration, for the healing energy of the goddess Cerridwen- my matron goddess to come through. I chant ‘oooo’ here to transmute the energies.

Doing this practice helps me to become a channel for creative energies on the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual levels.

Cerridwen- The Cauldron Goddess Herself

Cerridwen is one of the main goddesses I work with, and she is the classic Witch from Welsh myth. I share her story and some of my thoughts on it here. Cerridwen is famous for her cauldron in which she brews a potion of Awen- divine inspiration and knowledge for her ugly son, Afagddu, for whom she wants a better life. The potion takes a year and a day to complete. After all this hard work it accidentally ends up going to a servant boy, Gwion, who through a process of initiation and transformation becomes the most inspirational of bards, Taliesin.

Cerridwen’s cauldron is important because her role is that of Wise Woman, Witch, Healer and Mother. Her cauldron is like an extension of herself.

When her potion went to the wrong boy, Cerridwen was quite angry her spell went awry. The cauldron cracked and broke, turning the potion to poison. Its breaking could symbolise Cerridwen’s emotions, or a forced breaking of her old self and initiation to a new level of spiritual growth. It could represent the laws of magick being broken, or the appearance of fate taking over.

Cerridwen is also an initiatrix of change and transformation. Not only does she push Gwyion to become more than he ever thought he could be, but she too, is transformed in the process.

There is much symbolism in Cerridwen’s story- about power, fate, the wise use of magick and the emotional intensity of motherhood. The cauldron can represent any of this as well.

Transformation & Rebirth

I think of the cauldron as symbolic of the transformational events in our lives. Those challenging times where we must change or be changed. Those times where we must surrender to a power greater than us to carry us forward. When we must let go of who we are to become who we are meant to be. The cauldron is like a crucible- an agent of change, transformation and rebirth. What goes in comes out as something new.

Can you think of a time in your life where you underwent deep internal changes that left you feeling like you died and were reborn? That’s a cauldron experience. I think these can also be felt as smaller and less dramatic as well, like when we are pushed out of our comfort zone and make changes to adapt.

I feel like I am undergoing some kind cauldron experience most of the time, in at least one area of my life. Some cauldron experiences are slow boiling and take time, like Cerridwen’s brew, for a year or several. Others are more fast-acting and short term.

Some cauldron life experience examples are: Undergoing an intense course or learning program where you learn new skills and change as a person; Becoming a mother or a parent; Losing a loved one and your sense of self being changed from the loss; Divorce or separation; Becoming ill; Healing from illness; Being in a relationship that tests you; Moving to a new place; Changing Careers, etc.

One thing about the cauldron is that what goes in comes out differently, in a new form. Our transformational experiences remake us anew. We are not meant to stagnate or stay the same forever.

The cauldron is the mother that pushes us to grow and become who we have the potential to be. She is also that safe container who enables us to be vulnerable while the change is happening.

I explore the relationship between the cauldron and holding safe space for healing & transformation in this post.

How to use the Cauldron as a Witch’s tool

The cauldron may not be used in everyday cooking anymore, but we can use it as a magickal tool to enhance our own personal healing and transformation. Cauldrons come in every size, from large dinner-size cauldrons to tiny purse-size cauldrons. I love them all. Here are a few ways I like to use them:

Smoke cleansing: The cauldron makes an excellent holder for herbs and resins. You can place a piece of charcoal within it and burns your smoke cleansing herbs on it or, you can place the herbs directly into the cauldron and light them. The smaller cauldrons are great for this.

Grounding practice: The cauldron is usually made of iron and therefore an excellent grounding tool. You can use it like I do in the above grounding ritual or make up your own!

Burning spells: The cauldron is a safe container to burn pieces of paper with words written on it or other objects that are part of your spells.

Scrying: The black cauldron is a perfect backdrop for scrying. Fill the cauldron with water and take your time to ground and centre before gazing into the cauldron to see visions. This works best with a medium to large cauldron.

Potions & Cooking: Use a larger cauldron to hold your potions or healing soups, the old-fashioned way. I purchased a couple of beautiful large cauldrons from Bristow Iron Works, including the stand and hooks for this purpose.

An altar in itself: The cauldron can make a wonderful keeper of sacred energy. A large cauldron can be filled with crystals, herbs, beautiful images, and objects to anchor the sacred into your space. A small cauldron makes a great travel altar- fill it with herbs and crystals to uplift your energy while away.

Salt Bowl or Centrepiece: I have used a cauldron as a salt bowl and centrepiece for my dining room table. I filled it with salt to absorb negative energies, and with herbs and crystals to help bring harmony to my dinner table.

Symbol: You can use the cauldron as a symbol on your altar, your desk or bedside table for anything we discussed in this blog- symbol of your inner Witch or Wise Woman, the womb, the sacred feminine or Mother energy, transformation & rebirth, etc. Keep it as a reminder of your magick!

If you are interested in the symbolism of the cauldron and its connections to myths, I highly recommend the book The Witch’s Cauldron, by Laura Tempest Zakroff.

What does the cauldron symbolise for you? Do you use one in your practice?

May the cauldron bring you the warmth and soul-nourishment you need in these transformational times.

xo

Serena

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As a Witch who makes her home and practice in Tkaronto (Toronto) Ontario, I deeply thank the original stewards of this land: The Mississaugas of the Credit, Mississaugas of Scugog, Alderville, Hiawatha & Curve Lake; The Chippewas of Beausoleil, Rama & Georgina island, the Haudenosaunee and Wendat nations. I acknowledge the resilience of the First Nation, Inuit and Metis people who live and work here in the present, in a system of inequity and oppression. I am working on uncolonising my own practice, amplifying Indigenous voices and supporting Indigenous communities in whatever way I can.

Healing Our Lineage, Healing Ourselves

It took a lot for us to be here. Our existence is due to the choices and sacrifices of those who came before us. Those who birthed us, nurtured us, taught us- however imperfectly- are the reason we are here.

Ancestry and lineage healing are hot topics these days, often frought with mixed feelings. Ancestors are often idealised or demonised. Family is complicated. We may have adopted family, step-family, blood family or soul family. Ways that our roots entangle with others can take many shapes and forms. They can be sources of comfort, love, deep pain or longing.

Something that we can probably agree on, is that tending our roots is deep inner work and part of feeling nourished and secure on this planet. It is also a major part of being a good ancestor for the generations to come. Whether or not you have biological children, we are all future ancestors of this planet. By living here, we make a mark.   

Making a connection with our Ancestors

Card from Wisdom of the Cailleach Oracle by Jane Brideson

Beliefs about our ancestors and the dead vary in different cultures and belief systems. Many believe that our ancestors watch over us, guide us and have hopes and wishes for us in our lifetime.  Ancestor reverence is common in many cultures, often including an altar with photos, candles and offerings to show respect. Some believe in reincarnation, some don’t. Some believe they will be reunited in death with their loved ones. Some believe that this life is all we’ve got and wish to leave the world a better place for future generations.

Since I can’t speak to the experience of being dead (that I can remember, anyway!) I am open to the variety of ways of looking at death, the afterlife and ancestors. I feel like I want to be a good ancestor for my descendants and future generations. I would also love the job of helping others on earth as a spirit guide one day. I have always been comfortable with the idea of reincarnation too, but with the way humanity is going, I am not sure if I want to back again anytime soon.

I have always felt very spiritually connected to my ancestors. I didn’t grow up with spiritual traditions of ancestor reverence, but I always had this feeling that I was being watched over and protected by ‘family’ beyond the veil. Especially when I was outside, I felt like my ancestors were with me, giving me a deep sense of home and belonging. I truly felt that my family extended beyond my living relatives and were very much in the unseen world. I still feel this today.

I also have been lucky to have access to my family tree and history, which is very well documented and recorded, on both sides. Thanks to the thorough recordkeeping of the Catholic Church and many living relatives on my mom’s side who had a lot of babies to keep track of, I have access to family trees, books and albums that go back hundreds of years. Thanks to the internet, the painstaking efforts of genealogists and genealogically-inclined relatives, I’ve found a lot with little effort and connected with family I haven’t met in person and have lots of info on both sides of my family.

Having access to all this information has made me feel that it is my duty in a way, to remember my ancestors, to read their names and wonder about their lives. To imagine their hardships and what the times they lived in demanded of them.

I know not everyone has access to this info. It can be hard to obtain records, especially if you are adopted or are far away from your birthplace. But I feel you don’t really need documented information to connect with your ancestors or to heal your lineage. Essentially, you ARE the record. Your ancestors live and breathe through you. You carry their gifts and wounds as you live your earthly life, walking the path they gave you.

Being a Good Ancestor

My paternal great-grandparents, Charles Oakley & Sarah McGillivray. Sarah was a descendant of Scottish highlanders who came to Glengarry, ON during the highland clearances. She died of the Spanish flu in 1918, a young mother leaving behind her 2 boys, who were then sent to an orphanage.

In doing my own healing and researching my ancestors, I thought I would feel a greater sense of belonging, but it has actually given me more of a sense of responsibility. A responsibility to use the freedom I have that my ancestors didn’t. To live a good life, to enjoy what I have and to let myself be happy. To be a good parent to my daughter and to be a good ancestor for the future. 

For me, ancestral healing is about identifying patterns that were passed down to me- ways of thinking, behaving, wounds and gifts- and create new patterns that are healthier and more life-affirming for my descendants and the next generation.

Some believe that by healing ourselves, we heal not only those who come after us, but those who came before us as well. I like to believe this too.

Whatever healing work you do on yourself– going to therapy, healing and caring for your body, shifting unhealthy inherited patterns of thinking or behaving that your parents modeled- are all ways of healing your lineage. You break the chain and give new freedom to your descendants.

Those of us who are parents often don’t realise we are repeating a pattern until we finally hear ourselves and see the effects we have on our kids. I am mostly proud of myself as a mom for being conscious of my patterns and trying not to repeat them. However, I’m nowhere near perfect and know that my daughter will still have her share of lineage stuff to work through. We all make our own little contribution to the path and hope that it provides more opportunity for those to come.

Healing my Lineage- In my Bones and Blood

Collage of some of my family

My experience living with endometriosis felt like a direct energetic line to my foremothers. I felt that I held all their grief and pain from lost babies, lost dreams and hardship in my own uterus. I can’t prove such a connection, but I feel deep in my bones and blood, that this was true and that I carry a lot of ancestral patterns in my body and energy field. I believe that healing myself is healing my line- before me and after me.

My mother’s lineage holds a strong faith, an ability to be humble and believe in magic and the Divine. We are a lineage of spiritual, hard-working, nurturing mothers and healers. These are gifts passed down to us. But with the gifts, come wounds. Hard-working humility and over-reliance on faith can also become toxic. We can get into a pattern of putting ourselves last, a pattern of feeling guilty or sinful, a pattern of martyrdom that weakens our own creative power and agency. Part of my work is to notice this in myself and shift into new ways.

Learning From the Past, Looking to the Future

Creating new pathways forward

Another part of my lineage healing is to take back my own creative power and co-create with the Divine, rather than being subservient to a religion or church. Being a Witch is a major part of this for me. While I respect the beliefs of my ancestors and family members, I feel my healing work comes from breaking away from that institution and following a path that is authentic and free.

I realised at a young age that I didn’t like the formalities of religion and just wanted to be outside where I could hear the whispers of the spirits of nature. I know many of my ancestors resonated with this, too.

My mother eventually broke the mold and veered off her Catholic path to find her authentic way forward, which made it easier for me to go my own way too. At thirteen, I refused my Confirmation and got into Tarot, astrology, Yoga, energy healing, Paganism and never looked back. Sometimes, I feel as though my ancestors are applauding me for this, (maybe not all of them, but some of them, haha) as I am living out their subconscious desires.  My older ancestors from times before they were Christianised whisper me encouragement in reviving the old ways.

As a Witch, I reclaim the inner Wild Woman, Creatrix and Wise Woman that my foremothers could not- because of the limitations of the times they lived in. I am still a hard-working, nurturing mother, just one who is trying to balance that with self-care, magick and engaging her creative power.

When the voice of guilt and shame comes up, I gently remind her that by taking care of myself and doing what I love, I am healing my lineage. By following my own path and trusting the Divine as it flows through me, I am healing my lineage.

What gifts and wounds does your lineage carry?

Oaks at Llyn Tegid, Wales

We all have baggage and skeletons in our family closets. We all have victims and perpetrators in our families. We all have those archetypes within us as well. Idealising and demonising doesn’t really do us any good. It is important to remember that no matter who our ancestors were, or who we are, they were human, we are human, and we decide what aspects of ourselves we nurture and which we discontinue.

If you wish, take a moment to reflect on your own family:

What natural gifts or strengths do your parents or grandparents possess?

How are you like them? How are you different?

Do you know the stories of your ancestors?

If you believe your ancestors are watching over you now, what do you think they would say about you? What would they wish for you in this life?

What wounds or challenges run through your family? What did you inherit?

Are you consciously or unconsciously trying to heal this wound?

How are you changing the patterns passed down to you to make a better world for the next generation?

As we enter the time of Samhain, the veil between the worlds is thin, and we can connect more easily to those on the other side. It is a ripe time for ancestral connection and lineage healing. I’d like to invite you to join me for our upcoming Online Samhain Circle on Friday Nov 4th, 2022! We will do a guided meditation journey to connect with our ancestors, discover more about our inherited wounds, gifts and how to get the healing process going. First timers are free! Hope to see you there.

Xo

Serena

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As a Witch who makes her home and practice in Tkaronto (Toronto) Ontario, I deeply thank the original stewards of this land: The Mississaugas of the Credit, Mississaugas of Scugog, Alderville, Hiawatha & Curve Lake; The Chippewas of Beausoleil, Rama & Georgina island, the Haudenosaunee and Wendat nations. I acknowledge the resilience of the First Nation, Inuit and Metis people who live and work here in the present, in a system of inequity and oppression. I am working on uncolonising my own practice, amplifying Indigenous voices and supporting Indigenous communities in whatever way I can.