18. The cauldron
Updated: Dec 18, 2020
What is a woman without her cauldron? You approach the mountain ridge in the darkness, though, just over the horizon, the Sun is rising; the charcoal of dawn spreads itself above you. The mountain is a cauldron itself; perhaps, long ago, it blew its top and formed a stony cauldron. Down below, over the lip, there is a small gathering. Black sticks gathered around a cauldron; a cauldron within a cauldron. Their cackles bounce around the razor rocks, and the echoes die in hidden caves. You can smell the potion, just faintly, when the wind is in the right direction. The brew is more powerful than cannabis or ayahuasca. These witches do not advertise in the regular places. There is no grapevine that leads towards their psychic liberation. Those women who proclaim themselves witches rarely know a single rite. The real witches were visited at sixteen by a cat who, scratching insistently at the door, was admitted and shot without pause to the girl’s bedroom where, under the bed, a litter of kittens was delivered. This is how it starts with most witches. Who would throw an abandoned cat and her litter into the street? Well, there are fathers I know, mean bastards, who would do so—and, perhaps, though they are mean, they do God’s work when they drown those cats.
The rationalists say: “You are far too romantic. Women think they have magical powers because they know that men become goofy and stupid over them. They cannot express the sexual instinct, the appeal, and so they see it as a bewitchment. Their spell is sex.” Well, we pre-scientific people know a thing or two as well. We have seen the potions; we have seen the cauldron—and we have learned to respect it. We are the type of people who become suspicious when dogs go missing in the neighbourhood and when an owl appears—in the broad daylight, mind you—and deposits six little mice on our doorstep, each mouse, as experienced readers will know, decapitated.
The cauldrons are made, for the most part, just outside Oslo. I have seen the workshop. It is nothing particularly special, as with most magic. The man who owns it, well, he is an unfortunate and unnerving character. His eyes do not react to the Sun and his fingernails are so long that his jumper—it is always the same jumper—seems to be coming apart pick by pick. I feel this is more golem than man and fancy that he has been at his trade for 300 years or so. The cauldrons are very neatly arranged by size, from a miniature version suitable for a bat all the way up to a pot ready for a rosy newborn babe. The witches come for these cauldrons in the middle of night, as you would expect. The owner would not let me watch over his CCTV monitor, but this was probably for my own protection. I confess that I left that shop rather quickly; there was an abiding sense that this man would have taken an axe and disposed of me, in manageable chunks, down the drains of Oslo. Danger of this kind is, naturally, something we men who love witches must accept. Where would the interest be if there was no blood involved?
How did it come to be that I know so much about these cauldrons? Perhaps it is because I genuinely like women, whereas many men do not—seeing them as an irrational, though attractive, irritation. This explanation is, really, far too rational; we cannot accept it when we are dealing with witches. I suspect the real explanation is that I am a hermaphrodite; not a fleshy one, like a snail, but a spiritual one. It came about when, at twelve, my mother dressed me in a blouse for a school photograph. I was without a white shirt, so I took the blouse; my mother did not know she performed magic that day—or did she?