Sunday, 11 August 2013

The Witches Cauldron

I am currently working on The Folk Witchery Book of Halloween which should be out by the end of the month. The book will be full of all sorts to do with Halloween from what Witches look like, to spells and party games and even a special potion for those who would like to visit the land of Fairy. To whet your appetite here is an extract from the book. I hope you like it:

The oldest form of cooking is to drop some raw meat into a fire and let it burn for a while. A step up from that is suspending the meat over a fire so you avoid having to eat ashes with your meal.

However if you want to heat anything liquid, or you want to catch those lovely meat juices which are dripping into the fire, you will need something to catch them in. You will need some sort of cooking pot.

Over the millennia many ingenious solutions have been found to this problem, from pots made of closely woven basketwork, to clay and finally metal pots. The general household cooking pot for several thousand years in Britain and Europe was the cauldron.

The cauldron is a round bottomed cooking pot, usually with three small legs and either a lip or some lugs so that is could be suspended over the fire.

It was never empty and was always over the fire. It was used to make a never-ending stew (the French name for a casserole is still 'pot au feu' - pot over the fire) just keep adding liquid and ingredients, eat some, add more liquid and ingredients to top it up again.

It was used to prepare potions and tisanes, to boil your porridge, to create the wort for brewing, to dye wool and cloth.

The contents of the cauldron were also mysterious. No one knew what was in the ever boiling cauldron, just that sometimes the results were delicious, and sometimes they were poisonous.

The most experienced cauldron user would be an old woman, who may have a child helping her to stir the cauldron and make sure nothing burned.

So here we see Cerridwen with her magical cauldron full of a special potion that had to be brewed for a year and a day. She has a small boy, Gwion, assisting her. He is stirring the cauldron while she gets on with other work.

The time is nearly up. The potion is nearly ready, when the child is distracted, his stirring stick slips and the boiling potion splashes his finger.

Alarmed and hurt, he does what every small child does in that situation, he stuffs his finger into his mouth to suck it better. And when he does that, he sucks in the three magical drops of the potion. These are the drops that Cerridwen has been waiting for, for a year and a day.

And suddenly the boy can understand the language of animals, he knows the magic of the shape-shifter and he gains the wisdom that Cerridwen was brewing to turn her own son, the lumpen, ugly and stupid Avagdu into the greatest and wisest magician on earth.

And he knows that when Cerridwen finds out what has happened, she will kill him.

So he runs as fast and as far as he can.

But Cerridwen has returned. She sees the abandoned cauldron and sniffs it cautiously, then screams in rage and frustration. For all that is left in the cauldron is a seething mass of poison.

Gwion hears the scream and shape-shifts into the swiftest hare, but Cerridwen is a greyhound, hunting him down. He leaps into a stream and becomes a salmon streaking through the water, but the otter who is Cerridwen is catching him up.

Desperately he leaps into the air and becomes a dove, but Cerridwen is ready and leaps after him in the shape of a hawk. Then just as she is about to seize him with her sharp talons, Gwion sees below him a heap of shining, golden grain. Thousands upon thousands of tiny grains all alike and he falls gratefully into the heap, losing himself amongst the myriad.

But Cerridwen is not giving up. She is become a hen, pecking here and there amongst the grain, seeking, seeking......  and finding!

In anger and triumph she swallows the grain and Gwion is lost forever.

Or is he? For nine months later Cerridwen gives birth to a beautiful baby boy, Taliesin, the 'Shining Brow' who becomes the greatest, and most magical, of all the Welsh bards.

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