Many cultures have identified energy centers that both affect the body and mediate between the physical and spiritual worlds. The Irish were no exception. In old Irish manuscripts, three “Cauldrons of Poesy” are described. Although originally focused on the inspiration and dispensation of poetry, the concept has evolved and is now referred to as “Cauldrons of Soul” by Celtic scholars and shamanic practitioners.
For the Druidic Irish, this “poetry” was not just a matter of crafting words. “Poets” of that time commanded powers of divination, blessing, and cursing – gifts of otherworldly power given in imbas or inspiration. Thus, these cauldrons were where our material bodies received, stored, and dispensed otherworldly gifts of vitality, skill, emotion, inspiration, wisdom, and what we might now call “shamanic power.”
Allowing for various translations, these centers have become known as the Cauldron of Warming (in the belly), Cauldron of Vocation (in the chest), and Cauldron of Knowing (in the head). This essay is a summary of the functioning of each cauldron, its needs and, in the last section, suggestions for the practical application by shamanic practitioners in self-assessment and balancing, as well as healing work with others.
As we explore these cauldrons, we can see their relationship to vitality and to ancestral inheritance; to responsivity to outer and inner landscapes; and to our conscious relationship with the Divine. Each cauldron is a universe in itself but is embedded in a web of relationships not only with the other two cauldrons, but also with the worlds around them. When well-functioning, the Cauldrons of Soul are like a musical chord, each note with its own harmonics that blend into the Divine harmony of the Great Song.
The Cauldron of Warming
Located in the belly, the Cauldron of Warming also called the Cauldron of Simmering or Incubation, is our grounding in this world and supports the physical foundation for the incarnation of our soul. It gives us roots, stability, endurance, vitality, and structure for physical life. It generates and contains the heat that maintains physical life. In addition to our physical survival, it is the repository of our primal ancestral inheritance, along with the rudimentary knowledge of survival in youth. Along with survival instincts, it connects us with the vital energy of the Earth. It incubates verse and is physically creative and procreative. It is a source of sensory pleasure. The Cauldron of Warming provides the physical foundation for the other Cauldrons of Soul.
Related primarily to our Earth’s connection, it supports the flowering of everything earthly. It reminds us that we are of the Earth, as well as an expression of the Divine in matter.
As the foundation for our physical life, the Cauldron of Warming needs everything we ordinarily think of for physical survival: clean and healthy food, air, and water, as well as protection from detrimental energies and actions of others. Attending to our physical health serves our spiritual development. Since no two physical bodies are the same, we need to pay attention to what our own body (and Cauldron) is telling us in terms of its diet, activity, and other needs; and by advocating for clean air, water, and soil on which it depends.
We can give thanks at each meal to the hands that brought us food, to the spirits that gave that food its life, and to those who have advocated for our safety and for the cleanliness of our environment. Also, at any time, we can honor our ancestors for their lineage of survival.
The Cauldron of Vocation
Located in the chest, the Cauldron of Vocation has also been called the Cauldron of Movement or of Yearning. It helps to remember that the word “vocation” does not mean a job or career in the social and external way we use it today, but it refers to a calling – a yearning we feel from within toward some action or purpose. It helps us be aware of the deep yearning that is the call of the soul and is, also, our social connection. The Cauldron of Vocation has a function of relationship between inner and outer realities, where we become conscious of the emotional world through our and others’ responses, and where we seek to harmonize polarities. It seeks harmonious integration, complementarity, or unification.
It responds to and generates all manner of emotions and, thus, it reflects changes in the environment as well as in our inner landscape. This allows for filling and emptying, receiving and rejection that are signs of emotional and social health. The Irish poems indicate the importance of reciprocity, along with generosity and flow rather than hoarding.
This cauldron reminds us that we exist in relationship, and that we have a Divine calling. Not only does a part of us live in others, but we are also of both earthly and heavenly realms. Thus, this cauldron is a connecting link between the Cauldron of Warming and the Cauldron of Knowing and is, thus, a harmonizer of Earth and Sky, as well as inner and outer.
Since the Cauldron of Vocation engages the world through our deep yearning and core values, it needs conscious relationship, balance, and reciprocity, along with protection from detrimental relationships and emotionally toxic environments. It yearns for mutually beneficial and respectful relationships. When healthy, it seeks to give and receive hospitality and generosity. Because it involves relationship, it is aware of polarities and dualities, and seeks to harmonize them.
Our relationship with our ancestors is honored here, too, for those present and those in the distant past.
The Cauldron of Knowing
Located in the head, the Cauldron of Knowing is also called the Cauldron of Wisdom or of Knowledge. It is our source of vision and inspiration (imbas), and it distributes to each of us our gifts, the skills of which are left for us to develop. It contains not only that which we learn, but it is also the repository of our ego-consciousness. Its wisdom develops out of consciousness, knowledge, and perspective.
This cauldron can be visualized as connecting us to a Divine Star from which we draw inspiration and perspective. It reminds us that we are of the Divine, and that part of us lives in the heavens.
The Cauldron of Knowing needs both mundane information (learning and the evaluation of truth), as well as inspiration and vision. The fruit of genuine learning is a higher, deeper, and broader perspective that gives meaning to knowledge. In addition to such learning, this cauldron is also fed by contemplation and meditation.
We honor our ancestors here, too, for their historical perspective and all that they handed down to us in terms of learning, survival, and the myths by which we live. Here, we look to the higher octave of everything possible, work to open the field of vision, and to honor the Divine in our own way, such as ritual, prayer, religious practice, meditation, devotion, visualization, service, and/or altruism.
The Cauldrons as an Integrated System for Life, Relationship and Imbas
The Cauldrons are not independent of one another. Full functioning of the Cauldron of Vocation in the chest rests in part on the vitality of the Cauldron of Warming in the belly. In turn, early forces of life and the conditions of our Cauldrons of Warming and Vocation affect whether the Cauldron of Knowing is open to receive spiritual impulses and inspiration, and to realize our gifts. Thus, we don’t live in just a spirit-matter dichotomy, but an Earth-Heaven-Soul triplicity. Each depends on the others.
The fires of life in the Cauldron of Warming maintain our survival as individuals, as a culture, and a species. Its heat rises to the Cauldron of Vocation to allow us to respond to the world and reach out beyond ourselves. The Cauldron of Vocation can be inspired from within – from heart and soul; or it can be fed (or distorted) by external conditions of the world. The flow of imbas (inspiration) depends on opening of the Cauldron of Knowing in the head. This is not a false wisdom of packaged ideologies but an awareness and wisdom that then feeds the Cauldron of Vocation, thus arousing a yearning for the higher octave of all things. Thus, both the earthly and heavenly are required for the realization of soul; and the dark womb of the earth is as necessary and significant as is a heavenly light for the manifestation of the presence of soul. We are, then, each an incarnation of the Divine that is not confined to any realm – heavenly or earthly.
Imagine a world where all people are supported in their earthly vitality, open to a flow of inspiration that enlarges their perspective, able to respond to the whisperings of soul, and responsive and hospitable to others’ lives, inspirations, and love. One could be present to oneself, to the full presence of others, and to imbas, the flowing inspiration of the Divine. Such is the world for which I yearn.
Practices for the Health and Integration of the Cauldrons of Soul
To work with the cauldrons, we can use various methods such as shamanic journeys and divination, breathwork, stone grids, meditation, focused attention, herbs, etc. There are several things I’d suggest keeping in mind.
- First, don’t take anything I’ve written here too seriously, literally, or rigidly. Leave space for your own experience of each of these centers. The final arbiter should be your answer to the question: What is my life telling me about my cauldrons at this time?
- They all operate as both individual entities, as well as pieces of a larger system.
- They are cauldrons of soul and, as such, part of their functioning is within consciousness, and partly beyond our awareness.
- There are likely guardians for each cauldron. If not already in place, they may be invoked or invited.
Shamanic Interventions for the Cauldrons of the Soul
Shamanic Journeying can be used to assess the condition and needs of each cauldron, and to enlist the help of allies to heal, balance, protect, and strengthen them. Here are some examples of such journeys.
- Journey inward to look at the health of each cauldron for whatever you can glean from its appearance, vitality, or functioning.
- Meet with the guardian of each cauldron for instruction.
- Elicit information about what each one may need.
- View the connections among the three.
- View the relationship each one has with what is around it or related to it.
You might note which cauldron seems most active or energetic for you. Do you live in your head; or are you so empathically responsive to others that you set aside your own responses and needs; or is your focus primarily on physical health and activity?
In addition to self-exploration, the Cauldrons of Soul might be used for healing according to your spirit guidance. If invited, you may journey to assess another’s cauldrons, and be given remedies to assist in their balancing. (I’ve taught about the Cauldrons of Soul in my shamanic seminars and students have found creative ways to apply them in their shamanic practices.)
The Cauldrons of Soul are a model of our existence as a system of energies that operate within a larger system of interactive and interpenetrating realities. We enhance our own development by attending consciously, purposefully, and responsibly to the physical, social, and spiritual worlds in which we live.
The ideas I offer here are only suggestions and signposts for your journey into the Cauldrons of Soul. Please use them as a foundation only and feel free to explore beyond what I’ve offered. Assess their usefulness through your own responses to them. There is no substitute for making the journey yourself and grounding your consciousness in the realities of your own life.
 I offer my thanks to the following writers and teachers as resources for this essay, along with the guidance of my Otherworldly teachers:
Tom Cowan who first introduced me to the Cauldrons of Soul in seminars and personal communications;
Caitlín and John Matthews, The Encyclopaedia of Celtic Wisdom, 1994;
Erynn Rowan Laurie “The Cauldron of Poesy,” in Obsidian Magazine at http://www.obsidianmagazine.com/Pages/cauldronpoesy.html; and
Frank MacEowen, The Spiral of Memory and Belonging, 2004 and The Celtic Way of Seeing: Meditations on the Irish Spirit Wheel 2007.