When you’re an urban Pagan or Witch, or you’re someone that just doesn’t have the space outside to safely create ritual fires, you can sometimes feel like you’re missing out on getting to participate in some really great ritual experiences and spells. Certain Sabbats, like our upcoming Litha Sabbat here in the Northern Hemisphere, provide great opportunities for working with fire, but if you don’t have a place to do it or you don’t feel you can do it safely where you are, that can cause a little problem. Personally, I’ve never found the power of a plate of candles to be quite the same as that of an actually ritual fire, no matter how much energy or focus I put into it. Your experiences will certainly vary, but there are other options for those who, like me, would rather see the leaping flames of a ritual fire than just the soft dance of a candle for certain rituals and workings.
Cauldron fires can be a great, simple and safe way to bring the essence and energy of the ritual bonfire into your indoor workspace, or even to an outdoor space where an actual bonfire isn’t allowed, isn’t practical or isn’t safe. With a cauldron fire you are able to determine how big or how small you want your fire to be, how long you want it to burn, and even what sort of magickal energy you want to add to it by preparing it in specific ways. Creating cauldron fires is very inexpensive and allows for a safe indoor fire for petition magick, ritual bonfires, meditation and so much more!
What You Need:
- A Cauldron: This can be any size, but remember that the size of the cauldron will also determine the size of your fire. Small cauldrons used for incense burning are a great size option to have (these are usually 2-3 inches wide at the mouth) and the smaller sized cooking cauldrons used over campfires are a great general option as well for ritual and meditation (these have about a 6-7 inch mouth).
- A Cauldron Lid: Some cauldrons, like the incense cauldrons and the cooking cauldrons, often come with a lid. If you purchase a cauldron without a lid, have something on hand that is heat resistant and big enough to fit over the top of the cauldron; for example a cast iron pan or pot lid. This is so that if you need to put the fire out before it goes out on it’s own, you can do so safely. DO NOT pour water into the fire to put it out! This can cause splashing and can possibly cause leaping flames, hot derbies to fly out and, in general, make a big mess that could burn you or cause a fire. If you can’t get or find a lid, have a good one or two cups of dry sand available which you can pour over the fire if you need to.
- Rubbing Alcohol that is 70%-90% isopropyl alcohol: The higher the actual alcohol content the better your fire will burn and the less alcohol you’ll need to make your fire. Most rubbing alcohol is 70% so you usually shouldn’t have any trouble finding something in any drugstore or supermarket. You can also use grain alcohol if you have that on had, but personally I prefer using the rubbing alcohol. Try different things and find what works for you.
- Epsom Salts: These are also found in your local drugstore or supermarket, usually right near the rubbing alcohol and other over the counter medical supplies. This is used to create the base for your fire in the cauldron. Some people will use table salt or rock salt instead, and while you can use that, I wouldn’t recommend them as your first choice. Epsom salts absorb the heat and sustain the fire better in my experience, but in a real pinch you could use it if you had to. Epsom salts aren’t terribly expensive and you wont be using a ton of one bag will last you quite a while.
- Herbs: We’ll talk in a bit about creating special fire blends for special occasions but always have at least one herb that can be used as an offering to the fire at the end of your work. Sage, sweetgrass, cedar, or lavender work as great general herbs for offerings but you can also use an herb specific to either your working or any spirits or deities that you called on during your work. You only need one herb and you’ll only need a small handful of it. Other herbs for our fire brew will vary and we’ll discuss that in a moment.
- A Ceramic Tile, Trivet or Other Fire-proof Surface: This is going to go on top of your working surface. You want to use something designed to absorb heat and protect your table top. You can also take a large pot, bigger than your cauldron, fill it about half way with soil or sand and place the cauldron on top of that to absorb the heat. NEVER place your fire cauldron directly on any surface!! You run a high and very probable risk of burning and ruining your work surface and possibly starting a fire.
- Any Other Ritual or Spell Items: When working petition magick with your fire you’ll want to have slips of parchment and a pen; if you’re going to be making general fire offers of herbs, twigs or flowers you’ll want to have those on hand as well.
- Matches: Using matches that can just be tossed into the cauldron to light the fire rather than trying to use a lighter, even a long one, is far safer and will prevent any accidental burns or flying sparks. Small, pocket matches from a matchbook are perfect for this.
A Word Of Caution!!!
Remember that you are working with FIRE! Fire, both in the physical and energetic sense, can be very unpredictable. Just because you are creating a contained fire doesn’t mean that something can’t happen to cause a mishap! Make sure that you are working away from any hanging fabrics like curtains, tapestries on your walls or hanging objects like prayer flags. One spark catching on an updraft is enough to cause your own curtain panel to go up in flames so be sure you’re not near such things. If you’re working indoors try and work away from windows that could cause drafts and cause your fire to blow around. If you’re working outside with this, be sure that you’re working away from hanging tree limbs, flowers, vines and plants. It never hurts to have a fire extinguisher near by just in case! But don’t worry! A properly created and used cauldron fire is not any more dangerous than burning a candle, so use the same precautions that you would use with burning a tray of candles in your space. And again, ALWAYS have your cauldron on a heat proof surface.
Creating Your Cauldron Brew
A cauldron brew is simply an infusion of herbs in your alcohol that you’ll be using for your fire created before hand. You can make these in accord with magickal timing or, if you don’t have the time to do that, you can work with more mundane amounts of time such as 1-2 weeks or even just a few days if that’s all you have. If you wish to use magickal timing, depending on the purpose of your brew you can work from one moon cycle to the next such as full moon to full moon for a psychic power brew or new moon to new moon for a brew to help bring new beginnings. If you want to create a brew for banishing, create your blend during the period of the waning moon and so on. The idea is to charge and blend the brew with the energies of that moon phase and during the phase itself. This way, regardless of when you use it, it will hold the essence of that moon phase and it’s magickal energy, making it part of your intention and allowing you to draw on that no matter when you use it.
To make a cauldron brew you’ll need to first declare your intention. Then pick 3-6 herbs that you’d like to work with that support your intention. The amount of each herb you use will be up to you but a good palm sized amount for each herb makes a good measuring part (if you wish to use a 1/2 part of an herb just use half a palm full, etc). You’ll then want to take your herbs, charge each one separately, grind each one as finely as possible in a mortar and pestle, and then blend them together in a blow, charging them with your collective intent. This is very much the same process as creating magickal incense and, in a way, you’re creating a sort of incense that will be part of your fire. If you wish you can even safe a little of your herbal blend to use as an actual incense in your ritual or magickal work that you’ll be doing with the fire.
Next you’ll need a jar or bottle with an air tight lid, like a canning jar or a cleaned and sterilized used food jar. Place your herbal blend in the jar and fill about 3/4, or a little more, with alcohol leaving room for shaking the contents freely in the jar. Cap tightly. Determine how long you will be letting the brew steep for. Each day during that time take a few minutes to shake the jar, filling it with energy and intent. When you come to the end of your steeping cycle filter out the herbs with cheesecloth or a strainer and keep the brew in a clean, labeled jar. Labeling the jar is VERY important, especially if you plan to make more than one kind of brew because they will all look the same and possibly smell very similar making it hard to tell them apart. Your brews will likely last you a while too. A 2 cup jar of cauldron brew can very easily last 8-10 smallish fires.
Creating Your Fire
When you’re ready to do your fire ritual, gather together all your items. Place your fire on your tile or trivet and fill with 1/2 inch to 1 inch of Epsom salts. Next take your cauldron brew, or plain alcohol, and pour over the salts. This is where things can get tricky; you don’t want to put too much in or the fire will burn for what seems like an eternity, but if you don’t add enough it will go out very quick or wont catch well. I find that adding enough so that the top layer of the salts appear to be wet but no pools of alcohol are visible is best. You DO NOT want to pour in more after you light it!!! You may find you have to try this out a few times before you find the best about for your cauldron and your needs.
Now it’s time to light the fire! If you have any ritual steps that you’d like to do before lighting the fire, like calling on any specific spirits or deities, you can do that now; speak any prayers or invocations, intentions or chants that you wish before lighting your fire. Then simply light your match and toss it into the center of the cauldron and you should get a little bit of a poof sound and then a nice blue and gold flame. The fire will put off a lot of heat, so don’t be alarmed. You will notice though that, especially if you cleared out all the bits of herbs from your cauldron brew, that there is virtually no smoke which is nice for people that have problems with smoke from outdoor fires.
As you near the end of you work toss in your offering herb to the fire as a thank you for the fire spirit’s energy and aid in whatever work you have done.
If you complete your working, ritual or meditation before the fire burns itself out and you wish to put it out either place your cauldron lid over it or carefully pour dry sand over the top. The cauldron will be extremely hot so do not touch or move it for a few hours once the fire is out. If you let the fire burn down on it’s own you will likely be able to reuse the salts for at least one or two more fires. If you had to use sand to put it out you will need to dump out the salts and use new ones next time.
This is a great way to create a small ritual fire to honor specific Sabbats and Esbats and it also allows you to safely and easily bring in the magickal power of a bonfire right to you indoor altars. Always work with respect and reverence for the fire and use practical safety precautions and you will find this to be a great addition to your rituals.