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Join date : 2010-10-30

PostSubject: THE SACRED CAULDRON   Mon Jan 10, 2011 5:21 pm

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by Michael Ragan
© 2000

From Muirias was brought the cauldron of Dagda;
no company would go from it unsatisfied.
Lebor Gabala Erenn

n examining the text, a couple of discordant notes sound. First is the Latin form used to designate the "cities, " which we have already addressed. "Muirias" is simply the word muir (the sea). The association of cauldron with sea is a common theme throughout Irish mythology. Further, we need only to examine the word used for cauldron, which we shall do directly.

A second questionable assertion is the implied ownership by Dagda. Throughout European mythology (including the Irish), the cauldron, chalice and cup are feminine symbols. It represents the womb of the Great Mother. It is the place of creation. How then can it be possessed by the epitome of male-dom? The answer is that it cannot be possessed as in ownership. It can only be protected and held in safety by the masculine figure. Thus, Dagda, as the archetype, was not the owner, but rather the protector of the Sacred Cauldron.

The Middle Irish word for cauldron is "Coiri," with "coire" and "caere" as alternate spellings. Sanas Cormach (Cormac's Glossary, 10th century) states that coire is a compound word taken from "cói úirre," or place of liquid (wetness). In other words, it was a thing identified simply by its' use, the holding or storage of liquids. Variations of the root coi include the modern "currach," or coracle (which holds liquids, (i.e. the sea), out rather than in; cailís (chalice); cora (weir); Corc (cork) and Cornu (chalice, cup or drinking horn). All of which have to do with containing or functioning within liquid. While the foregoing are all manufactured things, coire can also mean boiler, whirlpool and crater. With this information, we can better look at some of the other early references to cauldrons.

The "Magic Cauldron" is an essential theme throughout Celtic mythology, especially in Wales and Ireland. There is the quest for a cauldron in The Spoils of Annwn, which is regarded as the archetype for the "Holy Grails" stories. Also in Welch mythology is the "Cauldron of Rebirth," given to Bran.
In Ireland, the many cauldron tales all seem to emanate from the central theme established by the "Magical Cauldron" of Dagda. There is the "Healing Cauldron of Goibniu," in which wounded and slain warriors could be made whole to return to the field of battle. The Ruler of the Underworld had an inexhaustible cauldron to use at the grand feis.

Then there was the magic cauldron stolen by Cúchulain and Cú Roí from the mysterious castle. Moreover, let's not forget the three cauldrons needed to soothe Lugh's Spear from its battle fury. The first cauldron would split, the second would boil and the third would become warm.
In each of the cauldron tales, there is that underlying theme of magic and "other worldness." The magical cauldron(s) satisfies all who come in need. It can feed, give drink, heal, restore life, soothe raging spears, contains wisdom and throughout retains its otherworld connections.

The relationship between Muir (the sea) and the various cauldrons and other magical containers are well established in throughout Irish myth. What is not so well established is just what Muir symbolizes. Most modern scholars will quickly mention "water" and/or "spirit." In this they are only partially right.
The sea to ancient humankind was deep, dark and mysterious. Home to both siren and sea-monster, it lured as well as repulsed. Ancient mariners drew pictures of sea serpents and monsters to signal dangerous or uncharted areas of the sea. Dangerous, yet alluring, the sea could feed humankind or feed on those temerarious souls who dared enter its province.

Perhaps more than most people; the ancient Irish lived on and by the sea. Every migration to Ireland from the Neolithic onward came by sea. Further, by 4,000 BCE, the Irish Island had firmly established trading routs with England and the European continent to as far away as the Mediterranean Sea. Thus living on, by and at the mercy of the sea, the Irish saw it as much more than a mere body of water. Within its mysterious unknown depths were life, death and rebirth. Consider the Imram Bran and the Voyage of Mael Dunn with their otherworldly experiences.

Also remember the journey of Dagda to the mysterious undersea palace to retrieve his magical harp. Clearly the sea, its surface and contents, is part and parcel of the Otherworld.
In looking at all of the information above, it is quite clear that sea and cauldron are irrevocably connected to the Otherworld. Further, it is apparent that no representation of the unseen realm is complete without the symbolic cauldron. It is also obvious that the contents of the cauldron, as a symbol of the Otherworld, are of far more than just simple water.

Within that cauldron are healing, inspiration, wisdom, sustenance (both physical and spiritual), healing and the very essence of life itself. It is the symbol of primary creation, the Great Womb, the source, the Mother Goddess herself.
As we look at the qualities of the Cauldron, we now find a continuing thread. Notice that included in the Cauldron as the necessary elements of "Wisdom" (Sword) or Illumination and the "Fire in the Mind" of our Sword of Inspiration. What a lesson we have here. You must have knowledge and inspiration before you can create. You must apply yourself mentally to the task at hand. Just knowing what needs to be done is not enough.
The generally accepted symbolism of the western quadrant today is the cauldron,. water and the sea. To the ancient Irish it was a bit more. The west was the Great Void. Yes, its symbolism did include water, but it also included firmament. It was the primordial soup that provides the source and place of creation. How true it is that we must have illumination and inspiration to find that place of creation.
The size of your sacred cauldron is, of course, not an issue. The issue is the ancient and powerful symbolism attached to that special cauldron or bowl that you use in your circle.
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