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Basic Information

A cauldron is a large metal1 cooking pot, designed to be heated over an open fire for the production of soups, stews and the like, cooking bulk grains like rice or maize or for the boiling of items such as meat or puddings. The cauldron is a significant part of pre-modern mass catering but, given that it is a large piece of worked metal, also an expensive and prestigious item by the standards of cookware. Highly ornate cauldrons, probably used for feasting and/or the feeding of a magnate's retinue are quite commonly found as grave goods. A cauldron could also be used for brewing or for heating large quantities of water for bathing (or, for that matter, to pour on people attacking your stronghold).

In ritual magic, the cauldron can act as a secondary tool - a group form of the chalice - and given its size it can also be used more effectively as a speculum for scrying and even (in extreme cases) for ritual bathing or as a symbolic womb for "re-birthing" ceremonies. Potentially the mouth of the cauldron could even serve as some form of portal or gateway2. Like the chalice it is said to be linked to the element of water and representing the "feminine principle". In this case the appropriate "spear counterpart" would be the ritual sword in its role as the group aspect of the athame.

The Celtic mythos takes this a step further with a cauldron (possibly known as the Cauldron of Annwfn) which would resurrect any dead warrior placed into it to a sort of soulless half life as one of the "Cauldron-Born". Various other, less ominous cauldrons also appear, including the Cauldron of Dagda, which expanded the mass catering theme by always providing enough food for those present, no matter how many, and the Cauldron of Dyrnwch the Giant (one of the Thirteen Treasures of Britain) which would boil meat quickly for brave men, but would never boil for a coward. Quests for cauldrons were quite common in Celtic myth and some of them may have been commandeered into the Arthur Legends as Grail stories. The Norse also like their cauldrons - including the one owned by Hymir, allegedly a mile wide and capable of brewing enough ale for all the Aesir to drink their fill.

Due to its ritual connotations, the cauldron is also a common part of a witches kit - in some cases they may even fly about in one in a similar fashion to Baba Yaga flying in her mortar3.

More prosaically, cauldrons were a common trade good in the colonial era - cast iron "guinea kettles" were popular amongst African slave dealers4 and played an important part in the triangular trade. These are, ironically, the large cooking pots in which missionaries were often depicted as being cooked in contemporary literature.

A cauldron can also be used as means of execution, torture or trial by ordeal - the ordeal usually involves seizing an object submerged in a boiling cauldron and the execution of death by boiling. Torture will consist either of dunking parts of the subject in the boiling cauldron or suspending them over it and forcing them to endure the steam and/or vapours from whatever is being boiled - or possibly by sampling the contents and pouring them onto the victim, although this is a somewhat tangential role for the cauldron.


1. full source reference

Game and Story Use

  • In a low TL campaign, these things are treasure, even when not magical.
  • Another good - if slightly offbeat - magic item.
  • A Zombie brewing cauldron might be a good way to give a low-powered villain an army of undead mooks. The real thing is almost certain an artifact of far greater power that produces far more capable undead.
  • A cauldron filled with the blood of a sacrifice (animal or otherwise…) may well serve a function in a ritual to gather spirits - the blood then being poured out as a libation payment once any deals have been struck.
    • Creepy as this sounds, this would be entirely commensurate with many pre-modern religions - Odysseus did something very similar with sheep's blood to summon the shade of the seer Tiresias for guidance. Literal necromancy but without any significant whiff of villainy about it…
    • Of course, it needn't be blood - benevolent ancestor spirits might well accept a sacrifice of traditional festival foods5 and many of the loa would probably rather have a big bowl of bumbo6 or something else with a lot of rum in it7.
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