The word cauldron is first recorded in Middle English as caudroun (13th c.). It was borrowed from Old Northern French or Anglo-Norman caudron  (Norman-Picard caudron, French chaudron). It represents the phonetical evolution of Vulgar Latin *caldario for Classical Latin caldārium "hot bath", that derives from cal(i)dus "hot".
The Norman-French word replaces probably the initial Old English word ċetel (German (Koch)Kessel "cauldron", Dutch (kook)ketel "cauldron"), Middle English chetel. The word kettle comes from the Old Norse variant spelling ketill "cauldron".
Symbolism and mythology
Cauldrons have largely fallen out of use in the developed world as cooking vessels. While still used for practical purposes, a more common association in Western culture is the cauldron's use in witchcraft—a cliché popularized by various works of fiction, such as Shakespeare's play Macbeth. In fiction, witches often prepare their potions in a cauldron. Also, in Irish folklore, a cauldron is purported to be where leprechauns keep their treasure.
In some forms of Wicca which incorporate aspects of Celtic mythology, the cauldron is associated with the goddess Cerridwen. Celtic legend also tells of a cauldron that was useful to warring armies: dead warriors could be put into the cauldron and would be returned to life, save that they lacked the power of speech. It was suspected that they lacked souls. These warriors could go back into battle until they were killed again. In Wicca and some other forms of neopagan or pagan belief systems the cauldron is still used in magical practices. Most often a cauldron is made of cast iron and is used to burn loose incense on a charcoal disc, to make black salt (used in banishing rituals), for mixing herbs, or to burn petitions (paper with words of power or wishes written on them). Cauldrons symbolize not only the Goddess but also represent the womb (due to the fact that it holds something) and on an altar it represents earth because it is a working tool. Cauldrons are often sold in new age and metaphysical stores and may have other symbols of power inscribed on them.
The holy grail of Arthurian legend is sometimes referred to as a "cauldron", although traditionally the grail is thought of as a hand-held cup rather than the large pot that the word "cauldron" usually is used to mean. This may have resulted from the combination of the grail legend with earlier Celtic myths of magical cauldrons.
Real symbolic cauldrons include:
- the Gundestrup cauldron, made in the second or first century BC, found at Gundestrup, Denmark
- a Bronze Age cauldron found at Hassle, Sweden
- the cauldron where the Olympic Flame burns for the duration of the Olympic Games
Mythical cauldrons include:
Iles, J., THE ELEMENT ENCYCLOPEDIA OF WITCHCRAFT. London: HarperElement, 2005.
Starhawk, THE SPIRAL DANCE, A REBIRTH OF THE ANCIENT RELIGION OF THE GODDESS. SPECIAL 20TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION. New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 1999.
Tuitéan, P. and Daniels, E., ESSENTIAL Wicca. Freedom, CA: The Crossing Press, 2001.
Webster, G., CELTIC RELIGION IN ROMAN BRITAIN. Totowa, NJ: Barnes & Noble Books, 1987.
Zimmermann, D. and Gleason, K.A., THE COMPLETE IDIOT'S GUIDE TO Wicca and Witchcraft.Indianapolis, IN: Alpha Books, 2000.
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