Posted by on Apr 6, 2014

Double, double toil and trouble,
Fire burn and cauldron bubble


The Gundestrup Cauldron (200 BC – 300 AD)
National Museum of Denmark, Copenhagen


The bubbling cauldron is one of the most famous images from “The Scottish Play,” the witches’ nursery-rhyme jingle about it surely vying with “To be or not to be” as the most quoted bit of Shakespeare — possibly one of the most quoted bits of poetry the world over. But cauldron imagery was already ancient when Shakespeare got to it. The cauldron, after all, is an archetypal symbol of the womb and Woman. From time out of mind, cauldron magic has been all about creation:


“Celtic myth is scattered with cauldron magic, Kate. Cauldrons of plenty and prophecy, mostly. But the goddess Cerridwen’s cauldron is also, quite specifically, about poetry. Shorthand for inspiration of all kinds. For genius. The charismatic ability to conjure up shared dreams so bright and so strong that they move people to action. No amount of hard work or study or card-counting can buy you that. Nothing can buy it. It’s a flash of fire from the gods that you are given, or you are not.”

Haunt Me Still


In Haunt Me Still, the cauldron is a real object, as well. Lady Nairn’s cauldron is Iron-Age Celtic, dug up out of a Highlands bog in the eighteenth century. It was inspired by the Gundestrup Cauldron, an Iron-Age silver vessel found in a bog in Denmark, and decorated inside and out with scenes of myth and ritual.

Interior Panel A shows a horned man, usually thought to be the Celtic god Cernunnos:


Interior Panel E shows a large man immersing a smaller person head-first into a cauldron; it’s often said to be a scene of human sacrifice — though in Celtic mythology, immersion in a cauldron is part of a cycle of death and rebirth:

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