SCENE I. A cavern. In the middle, a boiling cauldron.
Sound of thunder, Enter the three Witches.
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.
Those of you that are fascinated with the darker side of life will no doubt like me be very interested in so called witches. I want to divert your storied attention away from these worthy subjects and have you focus on something we all probably associate with witches. The Caldron is a regular part of stage plays and Halloween decorations that if you are like me you know very little about. In the spirit of the season let me try to enlighten you with the fascinating stuff I have discovered.
The word caldron is a modernized spelling of the Middle English cauldron which itself is a derivative of an Old Northern French term caudron or chaudron, which is itself from Latin calidarium translated as “cooking-pot” declined from calidus translated as “hot”.
A caldron is a large metal pot for cooking and/or boiling over an open fire. They usually have a large mouth and frequently an arc-shaped hanger. they are often made of heavy metals such as cast iron or steel. Cauldrons have largely fallen out of use in the developed world as cooking vessels. While still used for practical purposes, a more common association in Western culture is the cauldron’s use in witchcraft—a cliché popularized by various works of fiction, such as Shakespeare’s play Macbeth. In fiction, witches often prepare their potions in a cauldron. Also, in Irish folklore, a cauldron is purported to be where leprechauns keep their gold and treasure. Cauldrons never were those large huge pots that illustrators fancy when they draw old hags brewing up potions. Rather, the cauldron had to be small so it would heat quickly and evenly over a wood fire.
Ah Shakespeare, one of my favorite authors and I must admit the main source of this witch caldron connection. Now where the heck could Shakespeare have drawn such a conclusion as to associate witches with bubbling caldrons? This was the primary question I wanted an answer to. We must look to the celts and their rich mythology to find our answer.
In some forms of Wicca which incorporate aspects of Celtic mythology, the cauldron is associated with the goddess Cerridwen. In Welsh medieval legend, Ceridwen, also spelled Cerridwen, was an enchantress, mother of Morfran and a beautiful daughter Creirwy. Her husband was Tegid Foel, and they lived near Bala Lake (Llyn Tegid) in north Wales. Medieval Welsh poetry refers to her as possessing the cauldron of Poetic Inspiration (Awen) and the Tale of Taliesin recounts her swallowing her servant Gwion Bach who is then reborn through her as the poet Taliesin. Ceridwen is regarded by modern Wiccans as the Celtic goddess of rebirth, transformation, and inspiration. Cauldrons symbolize not only the Goddess but also represent the womb (due to the fact that it holds something) and on an altar it represents earth because it is a working tool. Cauldrons are often sold in new age and metaphysical stores and may have other symbols of power inscribed on them.
Celtic forces appear in Shakespeare’s plays from the beginning to the end of his career. They brood on the margins of the Lancastrian tetralogy, haunt Mercutio in the form of Queen Mab, exert latent, maternal power in Hamlet (Aguirre 1996), and get renounced when Prospero gives up his Druidical staff and charms, relinquishing the aid of his “weak masters”–those “elves of hills, brooks, standing lakes and groves” who work by moonshine (The Tempest, 1616, 5.133-41). Thusly we can see how he arrived at witches brewing and brooding over enormous pots of unknown ingredients.
Now you and I both know more than we ever wanted to about the witches favorite pot. Happy Hallowe’en