Saturday, February 7, 2009

What's in the Cauldron?

I've resisted blogging for many years now but have finally taken hand and knife to this one. Hopefully, I won't clutter the Internet with too much dross or drivel.

Here's links and an article to what it's all about:

What is an imbas experience?There seems to be some confusion about this topic among some frequent posters to this newsgroup. It's certainly not a way to self-aggrandizement. It is however a way that one connects to the gods.That means that it is a pathway of dedication. I apologize in advance to those of you who already know what an imbas experience is.Good historical and scholarly information about imbas can be found here:

A short description of my personal take on imbas can be found at this URL:

This is a part of "The Celtic Workshops" a course I taught online forseveral years:

The Celtic Workshop is a part of "O'Dubhain's Cauldron" a Pagan Bestof the Web website which is itself a part of the Summerlands Public Library and the Summerlands itself (the website that my wife Deborah,many talented others and myself created seven years ago):O'Dubhain's Cauldron:

The Summerlands:

But enough about all that for now! :-)

Imbas is an experience that has been described by Druids in the past. Amergin described it in the Cauldron of Poesy materials as translated by Erynn Laurie and found at:

Here is different version of part of this poem:

The Cauldron of Vocation

Ar-caun Coire
intlechtaib raith
rethaib sofis
srethaib imbais,
ellach súithi,
sru/aim n-ordan,
indocbáil doer,
intlecht ruirthech,
rómnae roiscni...

I acclaim the
Cauldron of Érmae
with understandings of grace
with accumulations of
with strewings of imbas,
(which is) the estuary of wisdom
uniting of scholarship,
the streams of splendour,
the exalting of the
the mastering of language,
quick understanding,
the darkening
of speech...
Attributed to Nede mac Adne and translated by Liam Breatnach

I put together a version of these texts more in line with my own imbas that stands on the shoulders of previous translations and versions:

The Three Cauldrons

Trí coiri bit en cach dúini:
coire érma, coire goriath, coire áiged.

Three Cauldrons that exist within each person: the Cauldron of Formation, the Cauldron of Vocation, and the Cauldron of Celebration.

Amergin, White Knee and the Triads of Ireland

My own existence springs forth from the Cauldron of Formation,

Which was created by the gods from the dúile;
Enlightened is each inspiration
That streams forth in my speech and from my center of being.

I am Amergin White Knee,
Ancient in years and gray of hair.
My inspirations are found within
The many forms of poetry
That are born within my Cauldron of Wisdom.

The Gods do not orient each person’s Cauldrons equally
Or fill them with the same talents and abilities:
Some are formed upside down, some tilted or upright.

Some are empty, while others are half full,
Some are filled with knowledge like Eber and Donn,
Capable of creating chants of life and death,
Through a skillful combination of words
In the power of three genders: masculine, feminine, and neuter,
And possessing the strength of three measures:
Double letters, long vowels and short vowels.

My Cauldron of Vocation is trained
Through a study of the arts of poetry
And sustains me through proper composition.

I sing also of the Cauldron of Knowledge
That allocates the gifts of wisdom
According to the laws of each art
And the work of each artist in general.[i]

Question: Is the root of poetical art found in a person’s body or within their soul?

Some say that it is found in the soul, since the body is brought to life by the soul. Others say that it is through the body that the skills of our ancestors are passed down to us, hence it is true to say that the source of poetical arts is within a person’s body; though in every second person it is not to be found at all.

Question: What is the root of poetical art and all knowledge?

Not hard to say. Every person is born with three cauldrons existing within them: The Cauldron of Formation, the Cauldron of Vocation and the Cauldron of Wisdom.

All people are born with their Cauldron of Formation upright, which promotes growth in the body and the learning of childhood.

Secondly, the Cauldron of Vocation is properly filled and oriented after each
person has done the work of turning it from its original position on its side.

Finally, the Cauldron of Wisdom is originally upside down in all people, and it
distributes the first gifts and aptitudes of art.

In unenlightened people, the Cauldron of Vocation is completely upside down; while it is on its side in people who practice the arts of Poetry and Barddism; for the skilled it is completely upright as is the case with the Ollúnaidh (Filidh or Doctors) and the
Draoithe (Druids). The position of the Cauldron of Vocation determines a person’s level of skill, and does not yield proficiency until it is turned by either an awareness of sorrow or the thrill of ecstasy.

Question: How many forms of sorrow will turn the Cauldron of Vocation?

Not hard to say. There are four forms of sorrow that occur within a person: longing, grief, jealousy, and a questing for the Gods; though the causes of each of these are sorrows found in the world. There are two forms of ecstasy that can turn the Cauldrons upright in a wise person: divine joy and human joy. Human joy has four forms: the union of marriage, the excellence of good health, the joy of graduation after long study in the poetical arts; joy in the experience of imbas granted by the nine hazels of wisdom of the Well of Segais, which flows in its excellence against mundane streams along the Boyne with the relentless determination like a wild boar in valor, or like a racehorse in the Sun’s splendor, at the Solstice during the
most perfect year of its endeavors.

When the Cauldron of Wisdom is turned by divine ecstasy, rather than by human joy alone, its special grace is a gift that transforms a person, who becomes both sacred and knowledgeable, so that their works include miracles, prophecies, judgments and precedents. It is these people who establish the wisdom that guides our knowledge and regulates the forms of our speech. though this knowledge comes from within a person, its truth and its power is from the Gods and originates from outside of a person.

[i] The text of the Cauldron of Poesy is all traditionally
attributed to Amergin. Several translations of the text have been done (to my
knowledge): one by P.L. Henry, one by Liam Breatnach, another by Caitlin
Matthews and still another by Erynn Laurie. Anne Power transcribed the original
text. I have studied materials from each of these translations and am offering a
combined version of them and their meanings in my own words.
[ii] Ibid.
[iii] Ibid.
[iv] Ibid

I personally had this kind of experience after years of questing and months of sustained and dedicated meditation. It's what started me on the Druid way. It is what let me experience a connection to spirit and deity that gave me a direct personal experience of life beyond life and the reality that surrounds/touches the present reality.

Don't take my word for it or place me on a pedestal for having the experience. You can discover your own imbas that comes from the gods yet is found through an inner search. See for yourself as Cathbad told Cú Chulainn. Seeking truth and finding it for yourself is what the Druid way is allabout. That is the "Truth Against the World." That is an imbas experience. That is how you can know for yourself.

Searles O'Dubhain


  1. Unfortunately only Breathnach's one will be accurate!

  2. I think the others have some merit but agree that Breatnach is more literal and accurate. All of these kenning like poems have a varity of meanings inherent to them so IMO the images they suggest should be followed to see whar can be seen. Not everything is literal but being far removed from the sources in terms of time and associations does increase the difficulty in understanding.

    That being said, we should go where the words take us and experience what can be discovered. Fitting it all back into something that makes sense with the known facts and theories is anothother thing entirely. It is the stuff of books and legends. :-)

  3. I had a vision of the cauldron, the chalice, and I saw a lovely ancient woman. If you wish to discuss this more: email me @