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Cerridwen’s Cauldron

[1]The full moon this month, November, brings razorsmile and morrigan together to begin the Cerridwen’s Cauldron rite.  This is a year long (year and a day) cookfest, in which each month a cauldron is simmered up for 3 hours, certain things chucked in and cooked, the whole gradually forming a melting pot for the year.

The rite is one we picked up from a Druid at the local camp of the Anderida Grove, one of the central features of my families magical practice over the last half a dozen years or more.  The Grove holds open rituals at the Long Man of Wilmington, where we first encountered them.  The open rituals offered a space in which the whole family could attend a magical ritual and we took along our three kids on an intermittent basis.  As we got to know the Grove we found out about their twice yearly camps and these provided a weekend of intense community which has proven to be a central defining feature of our magical practice, both for me and morrigan and for our children, who have grown up with a pagan practice in their background life.  Within our culture it is difficult to enable a different spiritual or religious practice to exist in an unforced way because of the dominance of the organised religions.  This is all the more acutely felt perhaps with the raising of children.  It seems authoritarian to impose an alternative perspective on spirituality on one’s kids so the ability to allow such an alternative to simply exist in the cultural background activity is crucial, something the Grove and their camps has enabled and for which I’m profoundly grateful.

Neither myself nor morrigan identify as druids however, never having joined the Grove or any druid order such as OBOD.  Druids feel like fellow members of a community but that community is diverse and plural, of necessity.  I have long identified as a chaos magician, albeit that this is now unfashionable, and have always felt a closer affinity to the idea of witch craft or cunning.  The craft aspect, the rural and archaic nature of the mythology, the crooked path and the connections with the land form a distinct set of connection points that overlap with the druidic traditions but remain distinct.  In my own case this has perhaps most noticeably manifested itself in the relation to the Greek pantheon, Hekate in particular and later Aion.  These two names are central to my own personal practice although morrigan has, as may be evident from her name, a far closer resonance with the celtic mythologies and traditions.

The Cauldron rite was introduced to us at the Grove’s camp when it focussed on Cerridwen.  The camp organises a focussed ritual event that involves some 50 or more participants in large scale ritual work and the Cerridwen event involved a journeying ritual, enacted in a mix of psychodrama and physical movement, that recapitulated the story of the Cauldron of Knowledge.  Gwion Bach or Taliesin is a key figure for the druids and it is via the story of the Cauldron of Cerridwen that Gwions’ origin is told.  The Cauldron is a source object, one created by a witch or magician to intervene into the world.  Like most acts by a witch, however, the world has its own dynamics which can’t be foreseen and which take up and transform the initial intentions.  Learning to negotiate the desire and intention to intervene in the world with the unforeseeable intricacies of the worlds own responses to this intervention is a central aspect of the witch wisdom.

The rite consists of a simple enough procedure.  Each month, for a year, at full moon, a cauldron is heated, not boiled, with specific ingredients added each month.  The ingredients depend in part on the cycle of the year.  The end result is an alchemical mixture, rather than a simple chemical one, because whilst it will have a chemical substrate the length of time the mix is steeped, the continual background presence of the rite, the actual activity of watching the pot heat and the associations this activity builds all lead to a multilayered activity.  It is this multilayered nature of activities which is central to my own magical practice.  The chemical substrate of the cauldron’s contents, for example, are important and I will no doubt find more about these as I go through the rite.  The first ingredients are simple moonwater and pine resin, for example, which chemically produce a hydrocarbon rich liquid base, hydrocarbons providing an active ‘connection matrix’ for the coming ingredients.  The long strings of molecules created in the base enable further molecular connections to be established more easily.  To collect these ingredients, however, we went back to two specific places which have been important to us.  The water came from the first, Hekates Fountain in Brighton [2], a site of personal work from nearly a decade ago.  The other site, Stanmer Park, is another site of working as well as a place in which one of the family dog’s is buried and where my kids spent large amounts of time when they were young.  Moreover the rite itself and these particular ingredients were collected last year, immediately after the camp when we encountered the rite.  We had intended to begin the Cauldron work last November but the fates thought otherwise.  So the rite, simple enough on its own terms, traces a line of connections through a decade of activity, memory and intention.

As the candles burned down I covered the cauldron in red leather and tied it tight to seal it until next month, placing it gently back amongst the altar, a mixture of objects practical and symbolic.  I turned to pick up and clear away the candles only to burn my thumb and forefinger quite harshly.  Immediately I was sent into the future, to the end of the rite, which consists of us taking in 3 drops of the liquid, hot and fresh from the cauldron, by dropping them on our thumbs which we then plunge in our mouth to cool, in imitation of the way in which Gwion accidentally tasted from the cauldron in the story.  Still more layers.