It must have been a couple of months go now, I was listening to an episode of ‘Druidcast’ and Damh the Bard was interviewing a curator from The British Museum discussing a forthcoming exhibition entitled ‘Celts: Art and Identity’. There I was in the bath, as I so often am when I listen to podcasts, until I heard that this exhibition would include the Gundestrup Cauldron, the famous artefact which has captured the imaginations of so many and is arguably a source for many modern day Pagan beliefs. When I heard this historical find, which I had read so much about and seen in so many books on ‘Celtic’ art and culture was going to be in London, I knew I had to go. The Christmas break provided the ideal opportunity, and on the spare of the moment we purchased our tickets for the exhibition and boarded a train up town.
The exhibition itself was busy, busier than I expected considering we had to book specific time slots, but we slowly meandered through typical museum glass display cabinets filled with more Torcs than there probably were people looking at them until I saw it…the Gundestrup Cauldron. All my adult life I had wanted to see this thing in the flesh, and never did I imagine it would be possible. Amazingly it wasn’t made much of a spectacle, in fact one could easily have passed it by without thinking much of it and many people did just that. The museum had generously positioned a couple of steps either side of the display case housing the cauldron so the public could see inside. Not only was I more blown away by this amazing artefact than I expected but it also became apparent that I had never in all the books seen everything the Cauldron had to show…the panels so carefully and intricately embossed are not only on the outside but also on the inside rim, and there is more to be seen right at the bottom of the Cauldron itself as you peer over the top. I could have spent hours walking around it, studying the images I was so familiar with from books, the bodies, heads, horned and other anthropomorphic figures. I wanted to understand the piece in its entirety…I wanted to understand the story it seems to be telling from so very long ago.
On the train journey home, as the graffiti and grey of south east London turned back into the dusky green lands of Kent I got to thinking about the cauldron and I was reminded of something I read some time ago, I think it was in a book by Bill Gray although I may be mistaken. The writer was talking about the nature of God and compared it to a teacup or a mug. He asked the reader to imagine the teacup floating stationary in space before a group of people encircling the object so each person could only see one side or aspect of the mug. Those seeing from above might see a round, receptive shape and therefore declare God is feminine, those from the side might see the protrusion of the handle and therefore say God is male. Yet as I looked upon the Gundestrup cauldron, I realised how vital it was for me to spend as much time as possible seeing it from every angle, I walked round it dozens of times, those who had a passing glance could appreciate its fleeting magnificence yes, but what they will take away with them is only a fraction of the story…the opportunity to see the bigger picture passed them by. I even heard one (presumably Pagan) couple rush to see what they had obviously been ‘told’ is the image of Cernunnos embossed on a tiny part of the cauldron, then walk away…once they had it confirmed by their own eyes what they had been told about this particular God of theirs the rest was nothing more than window dressing…what an opportunity they missed!
Many people reading this will probably remember the online storm which was created this year by ‘that dress’…did you see the dress as blue and black or white and gold? Why should this have created such a frenzy for those few days? People, including myself, were baffled that they saw, as clear as day, one colour pairing, yet a close family member saw something entirely different? Were their eyes lying, were other people pretending? For me that one image proved that what we see isn’t actually the totality of reality and maybe, just maybe, what we see isn’t real at all. To many the dress was just an online gimmick which has now been forgotten largely as nothing more than a passing curiosity, yet for some maybe it proved that actually our eyes are limited at best, or worse are lying completely! I wanted to remind so many of this as they quickly glimpsed the Gundestrup cauldron and moved on to the next shiny object, I wanted to grab them and say take your time, challenge what your eyes are telling you, forget what you think you know of this remarkable object and start again.
To truly see the ‘teacup’ in all its glory, we need to think as the mystic. We need to question everything we see, everything we hear and read, challenge everything we observe and know to be true. Take hold of the metaphorical teacup and turn it, shake it, spin it, fill it, drink from it, walk around it, take it all in, even smash it up and see what it’s made of if needs be. Only then can we see the world of spirit from every angle and then maybe we will go some way towards touching ‘truth’ (and I’m talking real bonefide ‘truth’ here!)
Long gone are the days of the little old man or woman living in an old cottage at the edge of the village, the boundaries straddled by the 21st century Witch should be mental, emotional and spiritual. Crossing the hedge should be an act of complete and utter submersion in reality, we should observe everything, actively look through and beyond the shallow surfaces and take absolutely nothing for granted. For too long the peoples of the western world in particular have been ‘bred’ to be gullible, to believe everything we see, everything we read, everything we are told but having now seen the Gundestrup Cauldron in its entirety I can’t help but question everything I thought I knew!
I spent an hour with a Muslim colleague the other day, we were having one of our philosophical chats. As we sat, drinking tea, talking about ‘God’ he said, quite blasé, “I don’t believe in God” imagine…a Muslim who doesn’t believe in God, I swear I actually heard the walls of misconception crashing down…whatever next? Something to think about as we enter 2016!
Happy New year everyone!