When new witchlings come around, I almost always get asked this. And it’s a super fair question. Do you need a cauldron? What purpose does a modern cauldron serve? It is just aesthetic or is it actually useful?
I’m not going to dig into the actual history of the cauldron like I normally would. There’s been numerous books written on the subject, easily found via your local internet search engine, online marketplace, bookstore, or library. Plus, the Great Wise Man Google can always lend a helping hand with your research.
I’m going to tackle the actual everyday usage of such an item.
A cauldron is a cooking pot, often with a half moon handle. Sometimes it has a lid and feet on the bottom. It was often set directly on the fire or on a hook suspended over a fire to cook in. Styles vary depending on age, region, and manufacturers. It’s essentially a cooking pot or stock pot, the same kind you use to make soup in.
There’s a similar looking cooking vessel known as a Dutch oven that’s primarily used to bake in these days. It’s used as a casserole dish. Historically, it was used to do everything a cauldron can do. The shape is very similar and you could easily confuse the two in some designs. Other similar cooking pots are potjie (which looks very similar to a cauldron), a testunabe, a chugunok, a sač, and the variety of Korean sots, to name a few.
I own several traditional cast iron cauldrons. Some very small and fit in my palm. Others larger, about the size of a medium soup pot, I suppose. I’ve been on the look out for one of those really big ones, but they’re hard to come by. The one time I found one, it was quite expensive and I was traveling. The expensive wasn’t as big of deal as the travel was. I wasn’t going to haul a seventy pound cauldron half the size of me through Boston, onto a train for the hour commute home, then into my car for the half an hour drive home. I just didn’t have that in me that day and, honestly, I don’t regret not buying it.
Anyway, cast iron is great – if you can properly take care of it. Every few months I have to go in and mess with my cauldron’s cast iron coating because many of them are antiques and thus neglected. I have one cauldron I’ve been trying to remove rust on for over ten years. I do, actually, know how to properly care for cast iron. I use cast iron in my everyday cooking and it’s like having a pet. You have to take care of it properly to keep the seasoning in pristine shape, making the cast iron itself easy to use.
But cast iron is great because it retains heat very well, making it lovely for burning things like incense, herbs, and candles. Because of the typically porous nature of a cast iron’s coating, some modern witches use it to grind herbs in. (Unless, of course, your cast iron seasoning is so good it’s smooth) It’s also heavy which means it’s not likely to get knocked over easily. And it looks so witchy and great.
It’s also heavy, hard to clean, and often difficult to store due to the weight and sometimes greasy coating it may have due to being poorly maintained. Smaller cast iron cauldrons are much easier to store and are actually pretty great to keep around. Plus, they are not subtle if that’s something you’re aiming for. Acids, such as fruit and citrus, can also immediately ruin a cast iron’s seasoning, even returning it to the base metal.
Of course, not all cauldrons these days are cast iron. Many are aluminum or metal alloy. That isn’t to say these are necessarily bad, just that they’re different. You’re not working with cast iron, so clean up and heat conductivity may be different. Also, it’s not iron, so magically it is different. Be aware of this when choosing cauldrons.
I like dutch ovens and stock pots for actual witchy related cooking in the house. I usually aim for steel, glass, ceramic, or enamel coating cooking vessels when I’m doing witchy stuff and even then it depends on what I’m doing. I choose a more modern equivalent of a cauldron, even though I have direct access to open flame cooking (fire pit, grill, stovetop) to use my traditional cauldron, because they’re often easier to clean and save time. Plus they usually fit on the stovetop better.
So, if you’re going to use a cauldron for actual cooking, I’d recommend going with a more modern option for ease of use. Don’t make your life harder than it needs to be. You can also use a rice cooker, or slow cooker instead of a dutch oven.
I’d like to throw in here that there are definitely ritual and religious reasons to have a cauldron for some people. I’m definitely not knocking that or saying that you should sub out your religious item for a more modern version. I’m talking about the more secular usages and everyday functionality in this post.
If you are using a cauldron for ritual or religious purposes, then you need to weigh your decisions on whether to actually get a cauldron on a personal level. Is it symbolic? Is it a vessel of a deity? Is it what is being asked for? Is it described specifically in texts? Does it need to be functional? Is there a better or more historical option that the cauldron itself has been substituted for by modern practitioners because it’s something they probably already have? Make sure you break down your usage and figure out if you need a cauldron specifically or if any type of bowl will do.
If you’re using it to burn incense or candles and so on. It’s actually a really good choice. As said, it retains heat well, making it not great if you’re in a rush to put stuff away quickly, but otherwise it’ll keep incense going for a decently long time. That being said, you can same the same thing about a thick ceramic bowl or glass casserole dish.
But the real question is this: do you NEED a cauldron?
I say no. Unless you’re using it for specific religious reasons, there are plenty of other vessels out there that will do the job just fine. A mortar and pestle or herb grinder can grind herbs better than a cauldron (I bring this up because I see a lot of people grind herbs in their mini cauldrons) . Any number of cooking vessels are more functional in a modern kitchen than a traditional cauldron, especially for actual food and drink prep. If you already use what you got, you might not need to store yet another item, which is good if you’re short on space.
Of course, if you want one, get one! I have a habit of always picking up cauldrons when I see them, but I really don’t think modern magical practitioners NEED one, unless it’s specifically called for in a religious sense. Use what you got and see what happens.
If you’re a newbie starting out, I’d say hold off on the cast iron cauldron unless you find one at the flea market and instead head on over to your local secondhand store and pick up a pretty casserole dish or cooking pot. You can always upgrade later. Unless, of course, you’re using it for specific religious purposes. Then it’s up to you to determine how necessary a cauldron it for your religion.