The Witch’s Cauldron by Laura Tempest Zakroff

The Witch’s Cauldron: The Craft, Lore & Magick of Ritual Vessels
Laura Tempest Zakroff
Llewellyn Publications, 2017

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Review by Natalie Zaman.

I’m kind of in love with Llewellyn’s Tools series. Written by different authors, each little volume (literally—it measures a neat 5 by 7 inches) is a fast read that offers a sampling of spell and ritual, mostly by the author, but also by several contributing authors for a nice mix, but also a good dose of lore, history and background: Know thy tools—which, even in the mundane sense is a necessary if you’re going to use a tool properly. Laura Tempest Zakroff’s The Witch’s Cauldron, the latest addition to this series, explores this humble, yet mighty vessel. As with other volumes in the Tools Series, several other writers contribute essays; in The Witch’s Cauldron, they’re cleverly pre-titled “Stirring the Cauldron.”

The first third of the book is an extended introduction: Chapter one covers cauldron basics, everything from definitions to uses to the root of the word “cauldron.” which I found particularly interesting. This is followed by a chapter on mythology and lore that goes beyond Ceridwen and encompass a variety of cultures—while I loved the retelling and discussion of Baba Yaga and her flying cauldron, I thought the Cauldron Game, which discusses cauldrons as vessels of victory was really insightful. Chapter three covers the practical aspects of the cauldron, materials used, considerations for purchasing, and, I was surprised, making your own cauldron. Of course forging is mentioned—it kind of has to be, but not all of us are smiths. Considering what a cauldron is and can be (read the book to learn more!) the idea that cauldrons can be made of paper mache and 3-d printed illustrates (I thought) an important aspect of evolution in the Craft: while we honor the past, we must make for our own times.

Things get interactive for the remainder of the book with suggestions and guidance for preparation (Chapter 4: Getting Started; please do read up on Cauldron Safety—again very thorough because not all cauldrons are crucibles!), ritual (Chapter 5: In the Circle—Ritual Arts; my favorite, Cauldrons as Ritual Markers—not just an excuse to buy/make more cauldrons!), spellwork (Chapter 6: Making Magick—Spellcraft and the Cauldron; I want to try Angus McMahan’s “Soaking a Spell”—an innovative and practical use for a cauldron in spellwork.) and divination (Chapter 7: The Seers Cauldron; loved the Dice Cup.). Chapter 8, Thinking Outside the Cauldron was my favorite in the book because it made me see my own world with new eyes—there are cauldrons, and thus the possibility of magic everywhere: in my bathroom, on my stove and in my laundry room. The book closes with a look at the cauldron as a virtual vessel; the spiritual cauldron of ideas, inspiration and devotion.

The Witch’s Cauldron is a little book, but incredibly thorough and perceptive, a cool crash course on cauldronaria from an experienced practioner with a flair for storytelling, and making what could be dry material a fast and fun read.

The copy of The Witch’s Cauldron that I hold in my hands is the redesigned package for Llewellyn’s Tools series. While I know one should definitely not judge books by their covers, cover and interior art are important aesthetics that express the character of a book. That said, I like both styles of covers for different reasons, but this new packaging—definitely more pared down and reminiscent of the styling of Wooden Books main line (http://woodenbooks.com), lends a very “book of shadows” quality to the series, while the interior illustrations maintain a sense of “yes, magic is serious business, but it can also be whimsical”—and sometimes that’s what magick is all about.

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