Cauldrons and Horns: Brân’s Celtic Drinking Vessels
For many, especially in America, St. Paddy’s Day is a day to let lose, get drunk, and get crazy. There’s something of a negative stereotype to the Irish and drinking, but the tradition goes back way before St. Patrick (or Pádraig), who wasn’t even Irish anyway. Truth is, the ancient Celts had their own traditions which revolved around imbibing alcohol. And just like today, many of those traditions revolve around the drinking vessels they used.
Much like their northerly cousins, the Norse, the Celts of Great Britain and Ireland valued a good banquet that was supplied with ample liquor. Their drinks of choice? Mead, beer, and fine wines from Greece, which was a very valuable import.
It was typical at this banquets to fill a large cauldron with the booze of their choice. These ornate cauldrons are found in Celtic burial sites all over Europe, treasured for their beautiful depictions of animals, battles, and knotwork.
One such cauldron was an object of great legend. Brân the Blessed gave this cauldron to the Irish king, Matholwch, as recompense following Matholwch’s request to marry Bran’s sister, Branwen. Brân the Blessed was the high king of the Island of the Mighty– an ancient Welsh name for Great Britain. This cauldron could bring the dead back to life– a kingly gift, although not much to be said for whether or not it kept its drinkers intoxicated after reviving them.
Like in Scandinavia, drinking horns were also commonplace in Ireland and Great Britain. Above all, one is quite well known: the Horn of Brân Galed. This horn was said to be filled with any drink the drinker desired. Brân Galed is not thought to be the same Brân as in the myth above. Instead, his drinking horn is an object that Merlin seeks, along with twelve other objects from Britain’s history in one of the tales of Merlin.
When Christians came to Great Britain and Ireland, they tried to fuse the mysticism of the land into their own beliefs. The object of this was to not just stop heathenry but to bring new followers into their fold without bloodshed. Therefore, the magical drinking horn or cauldron of so many legends suddenly became the Holy Grail– that infamous vessel with Jesus Christ drank from at the Last Supper. It’s also said the Holy Grail caught the blood of Christ on the cross.
Of course, the Holy Grail is the end-all-be-all for legends in the British Isle. Somehow, it found its way into the legends of King Arthur and the rest is, well, not quite history. But some myths say that the original Holy Grail was, in fact, Brân the Blessed’s cauldron. Both could, of course, bring people back to life.
So this St. Paddy’s Day, if you truly want to drink like an ancient Celt, you need to think big. A giant drinking horn or cauldron full of mead will do the trick. You’ll just have to keep it supplied yourself with whatever drink you desire, instead of relying on magic, like Brân Galed.