This post is about the Irish mystical teaching known as the Cauldron of Poesy. In it, I cover a few topics to best prepare the reader for exploring the cauldrons as a meditation tool to better know how you are doing health-wise, emotionally and relationship with the external world, as well as mentally and spiritually.
I start off explaining how cauldrons fit into modern and ancient society, myths, the materials, and magic. Then I explore the three cauldrons with meditations to hopefully help you experience and better understand your own cauldrons and how to explore them within you and what they tell you. And finally, I finish up with some ways you can use the meditations and understand so what you’ve read can better help you.
In a separate post that builds off this one, I will go into depths for how to incorporate your work with your cauldrons as ways to interact with the gods through the Cauldron of Wisdom, the spirits of nature through the Cauldron of Motion, and the ancestors through the Cauldron of Warming.
I felt that the basic understanding of the three cauldrons and how to interact, understand, and work with them was important enough to stand alone. Also, I felt that the more advanced practice of working with the cauldrons to interact with the realms of sky (gods), land (nobles spirits we find in nature), and sea (the ancestors) might not necessarily be of interest to someone starting and could overwhelm them since it is a more advance way of working with the cauldrons when someone is just starting to understand how they connect with them.
I hope this post is of use to people who are curious about this Irish wisdom teaching or for those who know of it and want to either expand their meditation repertoire or are wanting to explore Irish mysticism.
Cauldrons in Usage, Myth, and Magic
Cauldrons have been used by our ancestors and are still even used to this day by some when cooking, camping (as in living in the rough), magic, and in ritual as well as other uses. They are essential symbols to our ancestors for warmth through what is cooked in them, hearth and home as they were used to cook soup or stew for one’s family or also for visitors, and also for transforming what was put into them into something else.
Cauldrons are used all over the world for cooking and have a wealth of cultural and mythological connections. The Dagda’s cauldron that made sure no one ever left unsatisfied (food, healing, whatever was needed). Cerridwen’s cauldron is the quintessential witch’s cauldron used to brew, distill, and transform very carefully added herbs and ingredients to create a brew that would bestow wisdom. The Cauldron of Rebirth was given as a gift as written in the second branch of the Mabinogion to the Irish who used it in a huge battle against the Welsh–they would throw their dead into the cauldron and they would be reborn, but unable to speak. Some view the Holy Grail in the Arthurian legends to be a cauldron. The Chinese viewed cauldrons as symbols of power and authority. The famous Gunderstrap Cauldron has a well known image of Cernunnos on it. The giant Hymir had a huge cauldron (supposedly a mile wide or so) that the Aesir wanted to use to brew beer in. Baba Yaga used a flying cauldron to travel across the skies.
Cauldrons can be made out of all sorts of materials: iron, bronze, steel, ceramic, decorative materials like gold or silver, glass, crystal, wood, or whatever materials the creator chose to work with. Each variation of what the cauldron is made up of can be used for differing purposes, but most that aren’t made out of iron, steel, or bronze shouldn’t be heated up, but serve more magical purposes, rather than both magical or mundane.
In modern times, witches use it for magic and ADF druids use it as one of three symbols of the cosmos as a symbol of a well which connects ADF druids to the ancestors. People use it for burning incense, boiling magical creations, collecting rainwater, scrying, and as the focal point for magical spell work as it holds the ingredients or items of the spell to name a few.
Metaphorically, cauldrons are associated with water which is what 60% of the human body is made up of. Water is tied into life-giving and necessary thing in our life. Water is tied into rain which feeds the crops and nourishes the land to grow and transform, oceans are teeming with life which nourish us and our ancestors as much as the crops do, rivers connect towns and cities and helped push civilization forward.
As a symbol of the well in ADF ritual, it connects to the Underworld and our ancestors. The Irish viewed their ancestors headed west into the horizon over the oceans much in the direction of the setting sun.
In our body, cauldrons are viewed as symbol of the womb where life takes hold and creates a child. Our bladder is a holding vessel like a cauldron. So are our stomachs where food and liquid are taken and transformed into nutrients which fuels the body. Our skulls are upside down cauldrons that shelter and protect our brains. Our lungs are like cauldrons in that they take oxygen and transmute it so the body can work with it and expels carbon dioxide from when the blood and body pass it on to them. There are probably more cauldrons one can imagine within one’s body if you put your mind towards it.
Cauldrons are everywhere in our lives, in nature, and in myth if we look for them. Sometimes what they hold when in use is just as important as the symbol it stands for itself. By understanding what cauldrons can be in terms of magic, myth, and possible uses will help with visualizing what cauldrons can be in our bodies as far as the three Cauldrons of Poesy are.
The Three Cauldrons of Poesy
In an old Irish mystical teaching called the Cauldron of Poesy as written down by a great Irish filidh (a poet/bard) known as Amirgen Whiteknee back in the 7th century or so, the poem (as transcribed in the 14th century) lists three cauldrons located in our bodies: the Cauldron of Warming (or Incubation), the Cauldron of Motion (or Vocation), and the Cauldron of Wisdom. Each has a position and connection to our lives depending upon where they are located.
From Erynn Rowan Laurie’s translation on her Cauldron of Poesy page, the poem asks “What then is the root of poetry and every other wisdom?” Amirgen goes on to explain that being able to properly interact with the three cauldrons and turn them upright is how people can become great poets.
(I encourage readers inclined to read the source material that Erynn translated which goes into detail into the poem and what the three cauldrons mean. Feel free to read more in the link above if you want to go straight to the poem and analysis she did.)
If you view the image above of the figure with the three cauldrons located on it, you can see where they are said to reside—the bottom one, the Cauldron of Warming (or Incubation), is located about three fingers width below the navel; the middle one, the Cauldron of Motion (or Vocation) is where people tend to feel their energetic heart is located; and the top one, the Cauldron of Wisdom, is located where one’s third eye is located in the middle of one’s brow.
What Amirgen describes in his writings is three locations within the body where energy is stored and gives a description of how these three cauldrons (energy centers) can be used and strengthened through work and understanding. Through work, experiences, or health (physical and mental/emotional), the cauldrons can turn depending upon what experiences one has
I have heard questions about whether the three cauldrons are like an Irish chakra system, which they aren’t. Interestingly enough though, the locations of the three cauldrons line up with the Chinese Taoist three tan-tiens (which are energy centers in the body separate from the chakras). Tan-tien translates to a furnace or cauldron. So while they aren’t a chakra system, they are acknowledged as energy centers that hold energy can are used to transform into use by a Taoist who works with and manipulates their body’s energy.
Activity: Put your hand on to the spot you imagine the lowest cauldron being as shown in the image above. Close your eyes and feel the warmth and the vitality. Just experience the feeling for a few minutes until you can easily sense the location even without your hands being there. There’s nothing wrong with always putting your hands on the cauldrons when meditating or trying to sense them if you need to; do whatever ways work best for you.
The Cauldron of Poesy describes the Cauldron of Warming (An Coire Goriath in Irish) (which is the lower cauldron) as being born upright in a person as it is a sign of one’s health and only tips over in situations of ill health or near death experiences. The Cauldron of Warming (or Incubation) is located where people tend to feel things in their “gut”. It is an energetic symbol of what keeps us alive. It is where our vitality comes from (in both the Cauldron of Poesy and in Taoist thought). The stomach has been found to be a second nervous system of sorts (the enteric nervous system) which helps explain why you feel things (emotions such as “butterflies in the stomach” and sometimes when something shocks us) in our Cauldron of Warming.
The Cauldron of Warming can also transmit wisdom and understanding to people in their youth through that feeling of fear in the pit of their stomach. Each cauldron can impact the other cauldrons. When you are feeling ill, your energy and life force is depleted. Most energy is routed through your body (both physically and metaphysically) to help the body make it through the illness. When you feel sick, you usually aren’t full of motion or feeling like interacting with people and you aren’t thinking at your sharpest.
When many meditation practitioners summon energy, they usually start by focusing on the same spot as the Cauldron of Warming. It is a central place for health and can be used to check in on how your body and health are doing in meditation.
Activity: Put your hands on where you sensed your Cauldron of Warming to be located. Close your eyes and feel the energy there. Start to imagine what your cauldron looks like. If you aren’t sick, it will be upright. What material is it made out of—iron, stone, copper, crystal, brass, glass, or what? What shape and size is it? Is it a standard cauldron size and shape or is it a cup or chalice or is it huge? Now mentally walk around it and examine it from all sides. Does it have any markings on it? Does it look old or does it look new? Is it well cared for or does it look rusted? Now take a step back in your mind and look at the surroundings. Is there a fire beneath it? What’s inside of it? Anything cooking or sitting there warm or even cold? Is it empty? What is the cauldron resting on if you can see what it’s on. Is it suspended over a fire or is it on the ground? Feel free to explore some more and see what your Cauldron of Warming is like and what state it is in. Before you open your eyes, think about what you noticed with your cauldron means to you—it could be that you are feeling healthy and connected or it might show signs of being run down and needing to take better care of yourself.
The cauldrons and meditations upon them allow you to check in with your cauldrons whenever you choose to in order to see how you are doing at any time to also get better connected to yourself and your body. Meditating on the cauldrons can help center yourself as well as be incorporated into magical work or other personal development.
Activity: Put your hand on to the spot you imagine the middle cauldron being (your energetic heart) as shown in the image above. Close your eyes and feel the warmth and how it feels like your emotional center. Just experience the feeling for a few minutes until you can easily sense the location even without your hands being there. As I stated before, there’s nothing wrong with always putting your hands on the cauldrons when meditating or trying to sense them if you need to; do whatever ways work best for you.
If you go back and look at the image at the top of the page, the middle cauldron we just connected to is known as the Cauldron of Motion (An Coire Ernmae in Irish) and is right about where people sense their heart (and some view the center of their soul) is located energetically.
The Cauldron of Motion is what connects us to our emotions. We experience emotions by interacting, usually, with the external world of people, animals, nature, and things. Through our experiences, we tend to experience the range of emotions from joy to sorrow.
The Cauldron of Motion is born in us on our laying on its side. The only emotions we experience as a toddler are basic emotions as we learn what happiness means to us (usually when we get what we want) or what sorrow means to us (usually when we don’t get what we want). As we mature and learn more about the world, our cauldron can start to right itself up a bit more and a bit more. The more in touch in an honest way of understanding our emotions and why we are feeling the way we are within our internal, emotional world, the more our cauldron starts to become upright.
The poem states there are two main things that turn this cauldron: sorrows and joys. People who haven’t experienced the wealth of emotions from sorrow to joy tend to have their cauldron stay on its side. Those who have experienced sorrow and joy, specifically the following sorrows and joys:
- “The discipline of pilgrimages to holy places”
- Human Joys
- Sexual intimacy
- The joy of health and exploration of artistic or creative pursuits
- The joy of combining wisdom within poetic constructions (or other artistic creations)
- “The joy of fitting poetic frenzy from grinding away at the fair nuts of the nine hazels of the well of Sedaris in the Sidhe realm”
I interpret the sorrows to not encourage of jealousy per se, but deep sorrow can include longing, jealousy, and grief. Those all come from human interaction of love and loss, as well as regret and growth that comes from understanding the sorrow. Many songwriters and poets have stated their best work came from when they were dealing with heart-wrenching sorrow over something with relationship. I’ve also heard more experienced writers state that while they previously thought their best writing came when they were having major relationship troubles or one had ended, they realized it was the growth from it which allowed them to remember the sorrows and tap into that while being in an enjoyable relationship or happily single.
The sorrow that stands a bit out of place is the sorrow of pilgrimage to holy places. Think about what happens when you travel to a holy place–anything from something like the cathedral of Notre Dame, the great California redwoods, Stonehenge, Jerusalem, as well as other places that are holy to various faiths or is just such a special place in nature that you become overwhelmed at the sacred beauty of it all.
Sorrow connects you to other humans and animals if you’ve experienced similar emotions to something they might be dealing with. Think about how the loss of a loved one helps you understand what someone else might be going through so you can feel your heart reaching out to them. Sorrow can deepen your empathy and compassion for others which strengthens relationships which can in turn turn the cauldron even more.
As for the human joys, sexual intimacy is a physical joy about connecting with someone else. The other three human joys are written down as being about poetry, but you can apply it to any truly creative endeavor and the joy that results from creation. Whether it be cooking a simple or complex meal, writing a song, knitting, carving something from wood, painting, gardening, or something that involves creation (but the written and spoken word or visual arts can have deeper impact on yourself and others as they get to be as impacted by what you created as you did creating it or even more so).
This extremely focused, in the zone state of creation or performance is known as the flow state. To sum it up, it is when you are in the zone either performing, creating, or doing something that sets your mind and soul on fire (proverbially speaking). What tends to happen is that you reach a mental and emotional state that is freeing and you are wrapped up in what you are doing. Even some people who are into logical pursuits (mathematics and scientists) can experience a flow state when they are lost in their studies and work. When you are doing something you love, you just immerse yourself so much into it that you lose yourself and time shifts for you so that you aren’t aware of its passage.
Also, the act of creation or hard work also can bring joy when you stop to see how much you’ve done and accomplished with what you are trying to do. That’s what taking joy and great satisfaction in your work or artistic creation does—it helps you strengthen your work with the Cauldron of Motion and help turn it. This is also why it is known as the Cauldron of Vocation as through work (or hobbies) that you truly enjoy, you can turn the cauldron upright.
The middle cauldron is about how you connect with the world, humanity, nature, and animals. It is how we connect with our communities, with our friends, and loved ones. When your cauldron is on its side, we tend to be withdrawn. When we are full of joy, we tend to want to share it with the world. When we are full of sorrow, we can also reach out to others for comfort and friendship. When someone else is full of joy, it can be infectious and help you feel happier and more connected, just as when someone is suffering from a loss or other sorrow, your heart can feel the connection and pain with them and help you connect with them on a very different level.
Activity: Put your hands on where you sensed your Cauldron of Motion to be located. Close your eyes and feel the energy there. Start to imagine what your cauldron looks like. Is it on its side, tilted somewhat upright, or is it upright? What material is it made out of—iron, stone, copper, crystal, brass, glass, or what? What shape and size is it? Is it a standard cauldron size and shape or is it a cup or chalice or is it huge? Now mentally walk around it and examine it from all sides. Does it have any markings on it? Does it look old or does it look new? Is it well cared for or does it look rusted? Now take a step back in your mind and look at the surroundings. Is there a fire beneath it? What’s inside of it? Anything cooking or sitting there warm or even cold? Is it empty? What is the cauldron resting on if you can see what it’s on. Is it suspended over a fire or is it on the ground? Feel free to explore some more and see what your Cauldron of Motion is like and what state it is in. Before you open your eyes, think about what you noticed with your cauldron means to you. Is there anything around the cauldron that gives you insight into how you are connecting with the world around you, with other people? Seeing what you see with the cauldron and the surroundings, does it make you feel that you are withdrawn and shutting your emotions down or looking at what is before you, does it feel like your cauldron is showing you just how connected you are with people and life?
As I’ve stated before, the cauldrons and meditations upon them allow you to check in with your cauldrons whenever you choose to. Meditating upon the Cauldron of Motion allows you to see how you are emotionally doing. Personally, I’ve noticed a strong connection with my emotional well being by examining both my Cauldron of Warming and my Cauldron of Motion. Since all three cauldrons are connected and impact each other in small and large ways, getting a better understanding of how each one is can help you gain insights into what is happening with your internal world.
Activity: Put your hand on to the spot you imagine the upper cauldron being which is your brow as shown in the image above. Close your eyes and feel what it feels like within the front of your skull. Just experience the feeling for a few minutes until you can easily sense the location even without your hands being there. As I stated before, there’s nothing wrong with always putting your hands on the cauldrons when meditating or trying to sense them if you need to; do whatever ways work best for you.
The top cauldron is known as the Cauldron of Wisdom (An Coire Sois in Irish) which is also known as the Cauldron of Knowledge. We all are born not knowing anything, so this cauldron is upside down when we are born. Through studies, understanding, practice, and hard work, we can learn and grow so that this cauldron will move towards being upright. You can take the analogy of being close minded as having one’s Cauldron of Wisdom being turned upside down and not accepting anything that challenges ones preconceptions and beliefs.
The way to turn the Cauldron of Wisdom according to the poem and analysis of it is through divine joys as well as the previously listed human joys. Human joys as listed above is what connects the Cauldron of Motion with the Cauldron of Wisdom and does also help turn the cauldron to an upright position.
The Cauldron of Poesy describes four ways to connect with divine joy:
- Speak prophetic poems
- Dispense wisdom
- Perform miracles
- Offer wise judgments as well as giving precedents and wisdom (which was the role that the druids of old fulfilled in Celtic society)
The four divine joys are a lot more tricky nowadays to fulfill, but I would say that by working with the gods and through striving for wisdom in the joy to learn more, we can start to turn this cauldron upright. Another way to turn it, according to the man who first introduced and taught me about the Cauldron of Poesy, was through gratitude.
There are number of articles out there about how gratitude impacts your mental and emotional states, as well as even your general health. Gratitude starts simple with thanking people and your pets (or other animals) for what they have done for you or even for just being in your life. You can continue even to thanking nature for even things like trees giving you shade on a hot day or a brief respite from a sudden rainstorm. By expanding our definition of how to show gratitude, we can deepen our connection with the world around us and our pagan connection to nature.
I also feel that by working with our spirituality and really diving into it, we can start to connect with the divine. Through prayers and devotional rituals, we connect ourselves to something bigger than ourselves. By learning, growing, and expanding our spirituality in whatever directions pull us, we deepen our connection to this world and also to our inner world.
Personally, through my own spiritual work, I’ve gotten a deeper connection to nature and our world which in turn makes me appreciate the simple beauty of the sunlight playing through the leaves of an old oak tree, how two birds fly from branch to branch in a dance of movement, to the gentle sounds of a stream flowing over rocks with the gurgles and sounds as the water courses around and splashes against itself and the natural obstacles it circumnavigates, as well as a myriad of ways nature interacts with me through my five senses. Nature becomes a way to connect with my spirituality (and therefore myself) and a way for me to appreciate the divine around me wherever I am outside as well experience divine joy.
Activity: Put your hands on your forehead where you sensed your Cauldron of Wisdom to be located. Close your eyes and feel the energy there. Start to imagine what your cauldron looks like. Depending upon your state of mind, it can be in all sorts of positions—what position do you feel it is in? What material is it made out of—iron, stone, copper, crystal, brass, glass, or what? What shape and size is it? Is it a standard cauldron size and shape or is it a cup or chalice or is it huge? Now mentally walk around it and examine it from all sides. Does it have any markings on it? Does it look old or does it look new? Is it well cared for or does it look rusted? Now take a step back in your mind and look at the surroundings. Is there a fire beneath it? What’s inside of it? Anything cooking or sitting there warm or even cold? Is it empty? What is the cauldron resting on if you can see what it’s on. Is it suspended over a fire or is it on the ground? Feel free to explore some more and see what your Cauldron of Wisdom is like and what state it is in. Before you open your eyes, think about what you noticed with your cauldron means to you. Is there anything around the cauldron that gives you insight into how you are connecting with wisdom, knowledge, and your spirituality? Seeing what you see with the cauldron and the surroundings, does it make you feel that you are open to the gods and goddesses and any messages they might want to share with you? Do you feel you are open to new thoughts that might challenge you or do you feel that you are closed to any new insights? Take all these thoughts and consider them.
One way the cauldrons tie into a bigger Irish spiritual view is the three realms of sea (the Cauldron of Warming), land (the Cauldron of Motion), and sky (the Cauldron of Wisdom). The sea can be viewed as the depths of the source of water for humanity and the lower realm—water to drink came from deep underground and brought up to the surface through springs or water is viewed as the oceans and seas that surround the land we inhabit. The Irish viewed the dead as sailing off to the west to join the ancestors. In our bodies, our guts, instincts, and the blood (our own internal sea) flowing through our veins we’ve inherited from our direct ancestors is how we keep alive through food, drink, and our blood distributing the nutrients throughout our body and helping wash away that which we don’t need anymore.
The land is where nature surrounds us as the middle realm. We interact with the land daily and the inhabitants of it—both supernatural and mundane. Land is where the spirits of nature can be found and where we can encounter the Fair Folk as we cross liminal boundaries. We interact with our communities, friends, families, and most of the external world in the realm of the land. In our bodies, our heart is how we connect with our outside world and the people we meet.
The sky is the realm of the gods and the upper realm where we have to reach up to communicate with the deities we work with (excluding chthonic deities). It is where we can get divine inspiration and flashes of insight. In our bodies, our minds (our personal realm of sky) store our wisdom that we learn over the years and through experiences and knowledge gained.
There are ways to interact with your cauldrons to help you in your day to day life. One way is to check in with your three cauldrons in the morning, anytime during the day, or at night to see how you are doing. You can also check in after something happens to you that either throws you off or brings you great joy and happiness to see how they have changed if they have.
Is your Cauldron of Warming feeling cold or otherwise something that communicates you aren’t feeling well at the moment or otherwise under the weather? Or is it warm or otherwise showing you that you are feeling healthy and doing well? Does your cauldron change when you are sick compared to when you just finished a workout or gotten some exercise?
If your Cauldron of Motion is communicating to you the feeling of being cut off from people and the world or does it feel like you have so much to share with everyone around you? There are many ways your cauldron might communicate how connected your inner self is feeling at the moment which very well might be different from anyone else’s way of communicating the same thing. Maybe someone said something that hurt your feelings, how has that impacted your Cauldron of Motion—has it impacted you by making your cauldron tip over some, shrink, grow cold, or otherwise impact it? What if someone said something that made you so happy in the moment, has that changed anything about your cauldron or helped it sit more upright?
If you are feeling inspired with what the Irish call imbas (inspiration) and the Welsh call Awen (poetic/artistic inspiration) and you want to create something, your Cauldron of Wisdom is probably tipped upwards or sitting upright or in some other way is communicating that to you. If you aren’t understanding something, feel cut off from your spirituality, or otherwise are feeling unable to hear differing opinions from your own, how is that reflected in your cauldron, its environment, and what’s going on with it?
One way to interact with your cauldron is to meditate on the cauldron and interpret what you feel is lacking and making it not working the way you want it to be. Is your health not doing so well? If so, look at ways of improving your health so your Cauldron of Warming can be working the way you want it to be. Do you feel cut off from people and the outside world? Try opening up your emotions and work with your Cauldron of Motion by watching a comedy, going out with friends that you feel strongly connected to, listen to music that makes you happy or otherwise moves you, or even spend time with a beloved pet to help you feel more connected to the outside world. Do you feel your spirituality is lacking or otherwise feel out of touch with the gods? Try using gratitude or go to a place that holds spiritual meaning to you which could be as simple as a park, going for a walk outside, or praying to the deities you work with.
Another way to work with your cauldrons as Penny Billington, an OBOD druid and author, mentioned in a talk at AnderidaFest 2016 as recorded in the Druidcast podcast #107 in her talk called “Kettles and Cauldrons”, is if the contents of your cauldron isn’t helping you, mentally empty it out and trust the deities you work with and trust to fill it back up after asking them to fill it back up with your best interests at heart. Another way I’ve also heard to do this is to mentally pour out the contents and then choose what to fill the cauldron back up with—whether it be to fill it with water and mentally add things to it or to light a fire beneath it—they are all ways to try and redirect your cauldron into being how you want it to be.
I hope this breakdown of the Cauldron of Poesy and how to make use of the teachings helps you in some way. I will put a direct link in this post as well once I complete my post about taking your cauldron practice to a place where you can interact with the gods, ancestors, and noble spirits in nature.
Thanks for reading!
Image of the three cauldrons on the body by the Urban Druid
One thought on “The Cauldron of Poesy”
Fascinating article on the three cauldrons – thank you for writing with such depth. I found this after reading a book called ‘Intuitive Herbalism’ and in one section it suggests looking at traditional models that map felt experience to medical pathology and went on to say that “The Three Cauldrons” was a way of exploring the intersection of spirit, soul and body from a Celtic roots perspective (the other methods are based on Chinese Traditional Medicine etc).
I’m studying Druidry, but also getting side tracked into Ogham and Irish Spirituality.