On tour at the Ozark Medieval Fortress farm/wool cottage, people often ask about the cauldron being associated with witches and whether this is because of the Dark Ages. This was particularly the case because our map labeled this area as the “Good Witch”. That is the traditional French translation, but it would more accurately for us be “Good Wife”. It is absolutely true that cauldrons have been used in non-Christian ritual and the Dark Ages (first half of the Medieval period) was a time of change in Northern Europe from pagan to Christian. A cauldron, by the way, is defined as “a large pot used for boiling”. It was difficult to make and, therefore, very valuable, especially because it was not just a status symbol, but rather a very useful tool. Ancient “cauldrons” were made by potters, but by the Medieval they were made of metal whether cast or hammered (forged). The oldest one in Europe was silver found in Denmark. They have been copper, brass and iron. In the Middle Ages, as today, the most common are cast iron. A cauldron is large as well as heavy, and therefore usually has a heavy handle, which means it can be suspended over an open flame. It is not hard to see why it was so valuable to women in the Medieval time. In fact, it was valued in America in our colonies and the pioneer West where it was used for cooking, dying and soap making as well as laundry.
At the Ozark Medieval Fortress the Good Wife does not use the cauldron for cooking. It is used as a necessary part of the preparation and use of dyes on textiles. Raw spun wool, tunics and hats were all dyed using natural dyes. Even today large cauldrons are hard to find and expensive. In 2010, the cauldron at Ozark Medieval Fortress was on loan from me. Because it was such a big part of Medieval life, so practical, and involved metalworking, I wanted to see how hard it would be to make them. I made two and have to say I see now why they are hard to find!
We have to remember that although they may make us think of witches, cauldrons were and are much more a practical part of daily life and history.