Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth

In Which One Midwest Man-in-Black Confers, Converses & Otherwise Hob-Nobs with his Fellow Hob-Men (& -Women) Concerning the Sundry Ways of the Famed but Ill-Starred Tribe of Witches.

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Interview with a Cauldron

It's generally conceded that the far-famed Gundestrup "Cauldron" was used in ritual.

Assuming, then, that "form follows function," can we hazard any guesses about what sort of rituals those might have been?

The Gundestrup Cauldron is a container.

Chances are, it was made to hold offerings. It seems likely that these would have been liquid offerings; libations are known universally throughout the Indo-European-speaking culture sphere.

The Cauldron as libation-bowl.

One possibility might be libations of beverages: water, milk, mead, wine, beer.

The Cauldron as blood-bowl.

Another would be that it was used as a vessel to catch the blood of a sacrifice, whether animal or human. Since the central boss in the inner bottom of the vessel seems to show the killing of a bull, this may be a realistic possibility.

If so—judging from a widespread Indo-European ritual trope—participants in the sacrifice may have been "blessed" (sprinkled) with this sacred blood.

The Cauldron has no front or back.

The Cauldron as sacral Center.

Since the portraits of the gods encircle the outside of the vessel 360°, it seems possible that the GC would have stood in the center of a ritual area and that people would have gathered in a circle around it.

The Cauldron's exterior plates show faces—presumably gods and goddesses—looking out towards participants.

The Cauldron as point of encounter.

It makes sense that, as participants stand in a circle around the Cauldron, they look upon the gods—and the gods look back. The vessel is a meeting-place of human and divine.

The Cauldron's interior plates show activity, either ritual and/or mythological.

The Cauldron as mediator between the gods and humanity.

The inside of the Cauldron is where the ritual activity is going on: presumably the sacred action that makes possible the connection between human and divine which the vessel itself mediates.


Whether or not any of these guesses even come close to ancient reality, we will, of course, never know.

But it certainly bears thinking about.



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Poet, scholar and storyteller Steven Posch was raised in the hardwood forests of western Pennsylvania by white-tailed deer. (That's the story, anyway.) He emigrated to Paganistan in 1979 and by sheer dint of personality has become one of Lake Country's foremost men-in-black. He is current keeper of the Minnesota Ooser.


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