“I sing of the Cauldron of Wisdom, which bestows the merit of every art” – The Cauldron of Poesy.
You’ve probably come across the idea of “Chakras”, found in traditions of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. Deriving from the Sanskrit for “wheel”, these Chakras are perceived as being energy centres, focal points, or nodes in the body.
Whether we believe them to be literally existing points or a more metaphorical mode of thinking about the body is less important than what ideas like this represent: a sense of the human as microcosm of the macrocosm, a wholistic being greater than the sum of their parts.
While many modern Pagans have adopted (or appropriated depending on your point of view) Chakras into their spiritual practice, for those of us practicing Druidry or another Celtic-based path, there is a similar mythopoetic understanding of the body we can make use of instead.
Based on the medieval Irish poem, “The Cauldron of Poesy”, preserved in a 16th century manuscript but written around the 7th century, we can find the concept of the Three Cauldrons. Ian Corrigan (2009) states:
“In the very small list of remnants of Celtic culture that suggest actual Pagan mysticism or spiritual symbolism the complex of the Three Cauldrons stands out plainly…we describe theree Cauldrons or “boiling places” in the human system, into which the Power of Inspiration can flow and be held”.
Again, these three Cauldrons do not need to be taken as a literal description of human anatomy to be of value to modern Pagans. The three Cauldrons, like the Eastern Chakras, sit in particular locations in the body and relate to different properties:
The Cauldron of Warming is thought of as being in the belly, and is the source of physical health and strength.
The Cauldron of Motion is thought of as in the heart, and is associated with vision, work and skill.
The Cauldron of Wisdom is considered to be in the head, and holds spiritual and creative inspiration.
In “The Cauldron of Poesy” it is said that:
“The gods do not apportion the same to everyone – tipped, inverted, right-side-up; no knowledge, half-knowledge, full knowledge.”
The Cauldrons are not always aligned correctly to be filled with the blessings of health, inspiration etc. and so they must be “turned” as we go through our lives. Turning, either right way up or askew, happens naturally as we encounter powerful emotional and physical events, both joy and sorrow.
The four sorrows are described in the poem as longing, grief, jealousy and the discipline of pilgimage or hard travel: “It is internally that these are borne although the cause is from the outside”.
Corrigan (2009) describes the joys as twofold: human joy and divine joy:
“Human joy is fourfold: Sexual delight, physical health, the joy of prosperity from one’s vocation, the joy of success in one’s efforts. Divine joys are the delight of the Blessings of the Gods, and the joy of eating the Hazels of the Well of Wisdom”.
The three Cauldrons can provide a mythic framework for understanding how life experiences can affect us, both positively and negatively, in terms of our physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing.
The significance of the number of Cauldrons is worth noting: rather than the seven Chakras, here we have three central points. Triplicity is a common and profound occurence in Celtic spirituality and usually a good hint that there is something important to be communicated. You could link the three Cauldrons to the traditional Three Realms of Land, Sea and Sky, or the Three Worlds of Annwn, Abred and Gwynfyd, the “lower”, “middle” and “upper” world. The correspondence is not exact of course, but the associations are intriguing.
It is also interesting that these central “nodes” are depicted as cauldrons. The cauldron is a significant symbol in Celtic myth, from the Dagda’s vast cauldron of plenty to Ceridwen’s cauldron of Awen, to the Cauldron of Rebirth in the Otherworld, the image of the cauldron as an incubator of transformation is a recurring one. Looking at it with modern eyes, it is hard not to see echoes of the archetypal Witch’s cauldron, brewing some magical potion.
Thinking of these three Cauldrons as being within ourselves, with the capacity to be turned and moved, with the ability to hold various blessings and also to transform them, to create potions of health and strength, to brew the Awen, is to see ourselves and our bodies as being connected to the Three Realms and Three Worlds, and to be a source of magic and powerful change.
Checking in on our Cauldrons during meditation can be a way of scanning the self, seeing how we feel, physically, mentally and spiritually – where are the points that need to be worked on? What Cauldrons do we need to turn to acheive the health, insight or inspiration we need? How can we adjust our lives accordingly?
Joanna van der Hoeven (2018) writes that the Cauldrons will;
“only fully turn of their own accord when you live your life in principle with them. You must take care of your body and relationships with others to keep the Cauldron of Warming upright and stable. You must do the work, walk your talk to get the Cauldron of Motion from its tipped on the side state to upright. You must gain the wisdom from the combination of knowledge and experience to turn the Cauldron of Wisdom upright”.
Rather than simply a meditative exercise, using the three Cauldrons as a guide to how we look after ourselves, relate to others and learn from our experiences, can help give shape to our everyday life, and ensure that we are in balance, with body, mind and spirit all working together in harmonous relationship with ourselves and the world.
If anyone has any experience of working with the three Cauldrons, I’d love to hear about it in the comments!
Corrigan, I. (2009). “Druidic mystical practice pt 3: The Three Cauldrons”, Into the Mound, 19 January, accessed 19 January 2019, http://intothemound.blogspot.com/2009/01/druidic-mystical-practice-pt3-three.html.
Thompson, C.S. (2013). A God Who Makes Fire: The Bardic Mysticism of Amergin. Lulu.
Van der Hoeven, J. (2018). Unpublished Druid College course handout.