Saturday, October 16, 2010

What is a cauldron keeper?

I am a cauldron keeper.  It is a role that I embrace with more enthusiasm than most of my other roles in life.  It describes who I am and what I do.  It is also not the most obvious title.  It brings to mind images of a cauldron stirring witch, but it is so much more than that.

I actually own a cauldron.  It's cute and little and usually sits on my kitchen counter.  I've had it for years.  I've used it for spells and candle burning.  Sometimes it's just a cheerfully strange decoration that makes people wonder about me.  It wasn't until another fateful college course that I really began thinking about the cauldron as anything more than a decoration.  The course was Myths of the World at San Francisco State University in the spring of 2005.  I thought it would be an interesting course of what other people once believed; it would also be a good way to fill my unit requirements and read something fun and interesting.  I also learned several important and useful things from the course, which I will share with you and that you can be assured I think about a great deal.

The first revelation of this course was a definition of mythology that is simple, brilliant and succinct:  Mythology is what we call somebody else's sacred texts or stories.  That definition fits perfectly.  It makes the study of mythology a much more level playing field if the Bible, the Koran, the Torah and the Greek myths are all considered mythology by someone.  It takes a way the authority of anyone view point to be the only truth.  We all believe in mythology, we just don't think of it that way.  Once you put all of these world views on a level playing field, comparisons can be made.  Commonalities can be examined.  A dialogue can be established about what mythologies and symbols mean to mankind as a whole.

This leads to the second revelation of the course, there is a language of symbols that can be (not necessarily though) applied to mythology.  Psychology was founded upon this study.  Erich Neumann, a psychologist, developed a set of "universal" symbols that can be applied to literature, dreams, mythology and art.  In the Myths of the World course, we spent quite a bit of time applying these symbols and their meanings to "The Middle Passage" a modern novel based on the myths of Odysseus.  Suddenly, cauldrons and cook pots and ships and hearths weren't just objects to me when I read a story. They were part of this symbolic language of the collective human unconscious. (Whether or not there is anything about humans that is universal or collective apart of from biology is, of course, a completely different discussion) 

Cauldrons, according to Neumann are symbols of the divine feminine.  They are powerful symbols of the creative power of the womb to transform and give life.  They are place where transmutation and magic can occur.  Caves, ships, cook pots, holes in the ground, and chalices are all disguised cauldrons, as the cauldron itself is a disguise for the womb.  These are all places of power and of magic and mystery.  These are the places where amazing things happen and anything is possible.  These symbols are seen in the stories of the world from Harry Potter to Hopi creation stories to Noah's ark to the cauldron of Cerridwen the witch goddess of Welsh legend.  In cauldron's death becomes life, the mundane becomes the magical, lead becomes gold, the raw becomes the cooked, cowards become heroes, the wild becomes domesticated. 

Magic happens around us.    We are the cauldron and its keeper and its contents.  I claim my right to create reality.  I honor the tradition of women as creators.  I claim the magic that exists within me.  Every act of creation is done by a cauldron keeper.  When you stir  dinner as it cooks in the pot or turn a raw materials into something beautiful or become pregnant you are stirring the cauldron of inspiration.  You are a cauldron keeper.  We all are.

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