Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Symbolism behind the Ancient Magic of the Cauldron

In my area of the South, no proper family reunion would be held without Brunswick stew. And, as everyone knows, a proper Brunswick stew is prepared in a cast iron pot over an outside fire. The stew needs that smoky flavor to attain its true heights of deliciosity. Yum!

I've been thinking about these cast iron pots since I incorporated one into a key scene in Southern Fried Wiccan. There's magic long associated with this old, simple cooking implement, and I began to wonder why.

Humans have always eaten, but only in the last million years or so have we transformed our food from its natural, raw state by the aid of fire. Some scientist credit this new cooking technology with the rapid expansion of the Homo brain into the modern humans we now are.

from spicycinderella.wordpress
Imagine for a moment that you are living in days long ago, before electricity, before solidly constructed homes and a reliable heat source. How amazing would the warmth and protection that a fire offers feel to you? Then to add to this magic, the transformation that occurs when tough, bloody meat is roasted over the crackling flames to bring out the tender, savory goodness. Or later, when technology had progressed enough to put a vessel atop those flames - a pot (of leather or baked clay initially) of hot liquid giving new life to leftover bones and discarded scraps of plants. Surely this was magic.

Gundestrup cauldron, from Denmark
Is it any wonder, then, that one of the most ancient, most universal symbols of magic is the cauldron over a fire? This simple, common pot that has nourished people for millennia? Long considered the domain of women and the goddess, the spiritual aspect of food transformation has been associated with Hestia as the hearth goddess of ancient Greece, to the Celtic Ceridwen and her cauldron, to Kamuy Fuchi the Japanese goddess of the hearth and gatekeeper to the other realm. In the mystical beliefs of Islamic Sufis, only those who attained spiritual enlightenment were fully "cooked."

In Southern Fried Wiccan, I employed the symbolism of this cooking vessel by two women who each use it to perform their own brand of magic. Mother Faith, the Wiccan priestess, uses a small altar cauldron to help her young witches focus their minds and energy on what it is they truly want to achieve, whereas G-ma, the protagonist's grandmother, uses the food and drinks she lovingly prepares to heal and strengthen all those she comes in contact with.

In modern times, women have fought to free themselves from the enforced bonds of hearth and home. Which, as someone who knows full well how time-consuming proper food preparation is, I 100% agree with. But I also believe it important to understand and embrace the original associations of this ancient symbol...for ALL sexes. The cauldron and the fire were born from the awe of those who wielded the magical abilities to transform one substance into something new and delicious. It's a symbol of power and knowledge.

For as long as we live, we need to eat. And as the modern re-movement to whole foods shows, WHAT we eat is important to how we live. I like to think that when I cook, I'm participating in a spiritual magic handed down from the dawn of human history.