The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005
Food and Drink
Beer is a generic term encompassing all fermented malt beverages including ale. The word “beer” is believed to derive from an Old Norse word for barley, allegedly the oldest cultivated grain on Earth. The oldest historically documented cultivated grain (barley and emmer wheat) was discovered at Jericho at a pre-pottery Neolithic level dated c.8000 BCE. The earliest known brewery is dated to 3500 BCE in the Zagros Mountains of what is now Western Iran.
Large-scale grain cultivation began in Mesopotamia, in the region known as the Fertile Crescent. It was a dramatic development in human history. Western Civilization classes once taught that the desire for bread and similar carbohydrate foods stimulated this agricultural revolution; modern historians now suggest, based on more recent archeological discoveries, that the desire for fermented beverages like beer may actually have provided the initial stimulus.
The close relationship between bread and beer may be witnessed in the aftermath of Prohibition legislation in the United States. When breweries were forced to close, many converted to bakeries instead.
Beer was once brewed from more than just barley and hops. Brewing was a woman’s art and an accomplished ancient Middle Eastern woman was expected to know scores of recipes for different types of beer using many different types of botanicals.
In ancient Sumeria, brewing was a sacred art. The Old Babylonian epic Gilgamesh, believed to be the oldest surviving written story on Earth (originally written on twelve clay tablets), recounts the adventures of a historical king (c.2750 BCE). Seeking the secret of eternal life, Gilgamesh journeys to the world’s end, where the sacred barmaid Siduri owns a tavern on the road to the sea. Siduri suggests Gilgamesh turn back from his quest and offers him wise, sensible spiritual advice. When he rejects her advice, she provides him with shamanic directions to the realm of the dead.
Ale and beer were once identified with goddesses, women’s arts, and magical potions:
The Latin word for beer, cerevisia, relates to the name of Ceres, the Corn Mother
“Ale” derives from the Indo-European root word alu, related to magic, witchcraft, possession, and visions, cognate with “hallucinogen” and “hallucination.”
Ethno-botanist Dale Pendell suggests in his book Pharmako/Poeia: Plant Powers, Poisons and Herbcraft (Mercury House, 1995) that ancient Greek barley-potion rituals, including those of Demeter’s Eleusinian Mysteries, resemble steps necessary to prepare psychoactive beverages from ergot-infested grain.
Wormwood was among the magical ingredients once included in fermented malt beverages. Henbane beers were particularly popular throughout Northern Europe and were the primary psychoactive substance in that region. The Bavarian Purity Act of 1516, sometimes described as the first modern antidrug law, decreed that only barley, hops, and water could be used to brew beer; other ingredients were forbidden. Some historians believe this law, enacted during a conservative era coinciding with witch-hunts, was largely directed against henbane, a plant associated with witchcraft.
See also Absinthe, Barley-wine, Bread; BOTANICALS: Henbane; DIVINE WITCH: Kybele; ERGOT: Corn Mother: Demeter, Ergot.