The Three Cauldrons: Celtic Myth and Spiritual Wisdom

Historically based study and exploration of Celtic religion, mythology, folklore, and shamanism.

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The Three Cauldrons and Preserving Knowledge

It occurs to me that it might be of interest to say a little something about the name of this blog - "The Three Cauldrons." The name comes from the content and theme of a fascinating little collection of poetry and prose found complete only in one manuscript (TCD MS H.3.18), small parts of which which were copied in other texts. It was first edited some years ago and entitled by the editor (not the original author or scribe), 'The Caldron of Poesy,' a somewhat out-of-date title (and spelling) that has nonetheless been used by subsequent editors.

A more appropriate title would be 'The Three Cauldrons,' as this is the subject of the text. Although the extant manuscript dates to the sixteenth century, the content clearly goes back to an Old Irish original, probably dating to the first half of the eighth century. Students of early Irish belief will remember that the filid (poet-seers) were in existence at this time, as well as the druids (who had legal status into the ninth century, although their influence seems to have been waning by that point).

This text is one of the few really early and really clear examples we have of a substantial text containing obscure, learned materials which would have been the providence of the filid, and perhaps even, an inheritance from the druids (as the filid were known to have taken on some of the roles and learning of the druids - but not all of it).

The text states that there are three cauldrons born into every person, whose position and state reflected the person's level of learning - perhaps including elements of inspiration, and spiritual development as well. The three cauldrons were: Coire Goiriath (The Cauldron of Warming), Coire Ermae (The Cauldron of Motion) and Coire Sois (The Cauldron of Wisdom).

Most of the text is quite clear about the association of the cauldrons with traditional learning, wisdom, poetry and so forth, and was associated with the training, development and abilities of the learned classes. Quite a bit of on-line chit chat has gone on around this text, including the distribution of totally inaccurate or derivative 'translations.' There are two actual translations of the text, one by P.L. Henry, and one by Liam Breatnach, which I find superior (so there is no need for people who have discovered on-line dictionaries to claim to be 'doing translations' of this and other texts, simply by 'looking up words' one by one). 

In addition, people are claiming that these represent the 'Irish chakras' and have to do with healing practices, including energy work, Reiki, and so forth. It's important to point out that the text does not actually say where in the body the three cauldrons reside. Having said that, meditations on the text have produced a distinct sensation that they reside in the belly, chest and head. This would align with the three dan t'ien in Chinese tradition, three energy centers in Andean tradition, and a form of the chakra system in which there are three primary chakras. However, we should be very careful before leaping to these types of conclusions.

For one thing, many of the people who make these claims have not actually sat and read the text; nor do they often have any idea of the time period and context in which is was written. By jumping immediately to modern perceptions and conclusions, we may actually be showing disrespect to the poets (or druids), by not setting aside our projections, egos and modern beliefs, and letting these texts speak for themselves.

Without understanding who wrote it, why, when, where etc... comparing it to other early texts and beliefs, we run the risk of obscuring, disrespecting, and actually obliterating aspects of this beautiful literature and the culture that produced it.... all in a mad rush to 'instantly know' something and display our 'knowledge.' Here we should remember that in traditional cultures, humility is often considered a virtue.

Of course, the medieval poets were often quick to sing their own praises! Their status and their next meal depended on it... but that status was the result of 7-12 years of intensive study (in the case of the poets) and perhaps up to twenty years in the case of the druids (if references to Gaulish druids are right). Concentrated, intensive study with trained elders, who have themselves gone through a rigorous program of learning, is not something that is always available to those interested in Celtic literature, myth and belief.

But we can at least be mindful of what we are doing, and take the time to let the voices of the past speak on their own behalf. If we do not, we may be contributing to the demise of the very cultures we say we wish to understand and perhaps even emulate.

Pause, breathe, be honest with yourself about what you may not yet know, and don't be in a rush to instantly 'equate' the expressions of another culture with that of your own. In doing so, you may lose the opportunity to learn something both surprising and remarkable. Let the voices of the past speak, or they may eventually be silenced forever.

(For those interested in learning more about The Three Cauldrons, a workshop will be held in New England on Saturday, June 25th. Message me for more information)

 

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Born on the eve of Lugnasad, your guide and ban-fili is a published author, teacher, and Celtic singer and musician. She trained in Celtic Studies through Harvard University, and has taught Celtic mythology and folklore at the university level. Her research in Celtic myth and religion has been presented at the University of Edinburgh, University College Cork, and the Ford Foundation Lectures.


She has served as Faculty at the Celtic Institute of North America and the Omega Institute, and her books include 'Celtic Myth and Religion: A Study of Traditional Belief' (McFarland), 'The Divine Feminine in Ancient Europe' (McFarland), and 'Queen of the Night' (Weiser).


Currently she is Director of the Eolas ar Senchas research project, with grants from the Canada Council for the Arts and the Scottish Clans Association of Canada to research ancient Celtic music and ritual. Her previous group, The Moors, has cult status in the pagan world. She leads workshops and distance training programs, with new books, CD's and research on the way.

Comments

  • Tony Lima
    Tony Lima Sunday, 05 June 2016

    From what I understand, the Irish culture is indirectly driven by Psycho-electromagnetism - a superior nature in self-realization, unfortunately this is not broad to the open either by my ID nor any other ID in power realism.
    The Irish in its rightful ways may have more to offer the world than any other race. I am talking about solid realism.

  • Tony Lima
    Tony Lima Sunday, 05 June 2016

    What Ireland needs to do concerning the Romantic explorations is in the mannerisms involving mating 100%, this can be straightened out slowly through aesthetic knowledge of inner enlightenment - this can be accomplished through technical knowledge involving certain things in the Eastern cultures. This way it will be known that Ireland had routs in Angelic sources, not directly out of Heaven but a fantastic civilization in another planet, not political whore domination as Europe tends to judge and lead.

    First, I admire Ireland in matters of simplicity in human love, and what most of the modern world is ignorant about, the super-conscious mind indirect awareness.

  • Jamie
    Jamie Monday, 06 June 2016

    Ms. NicLeoid,

    Thanks for sharing! I'm a Platonist Hellenist now, but owing to my heritage I've read many books about ancient Celtic societies.

    It's endlessly fascinating to speculate on what spiritual and psychological insights the druids may have possessed, based on the tiny scraps which have come down to us. As one who worships the Hellenic deities (plus the Celtic Goddess Clota), the potential intersections between Platonic philosophy and Celtic belief interest me.

    We live in New England, and I regret that we will not be able to attend your workshop. I'll definitely have to check out your CDs.

  • Katie
    Katie Thursday, 07 December 2017

    I learned about the cauldrons in a Celtic Shamanism class I took from Meri Fowler and loved it! Its what first got me into shamanism. I have always have an immense love, fascination, and respect for this ancient culture. Please keep up with the great posts!

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