Readers, please enjoy this guest blog post by Laura Tempest Zakroff, author of the new Witch’s Cauldron.
In The Witch’s Cauldron: The Craft, Lore & Magick of Ritual Vessels, my main focus is obviously the cauldron. But the subtitle might make some folks may wonder about the lack of chalice chat. I do mention a few here and there in terms of mythology and usage. However, cups are more of an accessory to the main subject of cauldrons. So I thought this would be a great opportunity to consider what makes them different!
First, let’s look at what makes them similar. Most obviously, they both can be used to hold liquid. You can also find rebirth, regeneration, transformation, or eternal life myths associated with both. You could consider them both “feminine” in nature, if you’re intent on connecting their “container” aspect with a vagina or uterus. (Note: I’m not a big fan of gendering my tools.)
So what makes them different? In terms of usage, the cauldron is far more of an “active” tool. It’s where brewing, cooking, mixing, purifying, and conjuring can take place, as well as divination and spellcraft. It is the matrix of creation. The cauldron is not designed or meant to be directly drunk from. That’s the job of the cup—to help dispense the brew of the cauldron. The cup assists and aids, almost passively.
Similarly, when you look at the transformation myths involving cups and cauldrons, there is a correlating theme. To reborn of the cauldron, you must be immersed in it—the brew doesn’t matter. For instance, the Cauldron of Dyrnwch the Giant was used to reanimate fallen soldiers by placing them inside of it. For gifts of the cup, it’s more often about the liquid that it holds: sacred wine, ambrosia, a poison brew, etc. For example, let’s consider the Catholic rite of Transubstantiation. While the chalice symbolizes the holy grail—the cup from the Last Supper, that may have caught the blood of Jesus (depending on the mythic variation)—the spoken words focus on the transformation of wine into blood.
Furthermore, while you could mix things in a cup, it’s not designed to be cooked in. You can certainly bless the liquid contained within (such as some variations of the Wiccan Great Rite where the athame is brought down into the chalice), but it’s largely a symbolic transformation. The cauldron is able to transcend being a symbol because it is designed to take on fire to change the contents within physically. It embodies both the physical and metaphysical easily.
Lastly, we find one more key difference in the practical function and accessibility of these two vessels. The cup is meant to be easily held, shared, and transported. Meanwhile, the cauldron is often stationary: a place around which to gather, an altar, or communal focal point. Through the cup, we can share our brew, but by the cauldron, we share in the company of one another.
Our thanks to Laura for her guest post! For more from Laura Tempest Zakroff, read her article, “Tending To Your Spiritual Cauldrons.”