Cauldron—The word “cauldron” is derived from the Latin caldarium, meaning “hotbath.” Cauldrons are Halloween symbols usually displayed with WITCHES, who stand over them preparing their odious brews.

The special significance of cauldrons probably dates back to the CELTS, for whom cauldrons figured prominently in everyday life, mythology and artwork; the Celts also used cauldrons in ritual feasting and even in burial practices. Perhaps the single most famous Celtic artifact is the Gunderstrup cauldron, found in Denmark and probably made in the first or second century B.C. from panels of silver. The cauldron’s beautifullysculpted side panels show scenes of Celtic life and deities.

In the lore of the Celtic otherworld, magical cauldrons could not only protect warriors, but could even resurrect them, or provide endless food. In one tale, FINN MACCUMAL of the Fianna sends the Lad of the Skins to the King of the Floods, to take the great cauldron that is never without meat, and return with it. Through magic and wile the Lad succeeds, but Finn hears a magical voice telling him to return the cauldron. Finn and the Lad attempt to return the cauldron, but the King of the Floods raises his army on their approach. The Lad destroys the army, and they return home with the cauldron, but on the way the Lad is attacked by an old enemy. A shapeshifting battle ensues, and finally both the Lad and his foe die while in the form of birds. The Lad’s wife raises him, then they take the Lad’s final wages from Finn and leave.

In another Celtic legend, the hero Mac Cecht even uses a cauldron as a weapon, when he uses one to slay a band of outlaws.

Cauldrons also figure in later British tales: For example, in the old Welsh poem “The Spoils of Annwn,” Arthur visits the Otherworld to try to obtain the magic cauldron of regeneration (which brings the dead back to life). It’s possible that a panel on the Gunderstrup cauldron may depict this cauldron, since one scene shows a large god-like figuring lowering a smaller human figure into a pot or cauldron. The cauldron may even have been eventually transmuted into the Holy Grail.

Cauldrons also figure in modern-day WICCA rituals, in FORTUNE-TELLING games (a popular event at parties of the 1930s was to have a host dress as a witch, and pull the guests’ fortunes from a cauldron), and in contemporary decorating (plastic cauldrons are used in displays or as candy holders for TRICK OR TREAT).


The Halloween Encyclopedia Second Edition written by Lisa Morton © 2011 Lisa Morton. All rights reserved