The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005
Food and Drink
As they say, bread is the staff of life or perhaps, the magical staff. Cultivation of grain emerged amidst primal and profound spiritual traditions and magic rituals. (See ERGOT.) Thus, food created from grain products, especially bread, cakes, and ale, was considered especially magically powerful and spiritually potent.
That old cliché about pregnant women having “muffins in the oven” is even older than most realize. The earliest ovens were not square like modern stoves but resembled detached pregnant bellies. Placed on the ground outside, they looked like pregnant bellies emanating from Earth. This type of oven dates back at least as early as 5000 BCE and still survives in traditional cultures of Africa, Asia, and the Americas.
Bread at its most basic is, by definition, baked dough made from flour and water. Bread for ritual use is often intricately manipulated. Sometimes bread is intended to be eaten; sometimes, however, special breads are created to be preserved as amulets or talismans.
Chinese dried bread-dough Buddhas are hung on the wall with red thread to serve as protective, lucky talismans.
In Russia, bread or pastry ladders were baked as part of funeral rituals. The bread symbolized the ladder to heaven: seven rungs for the seven heavens.
Ritual bread was sometimes created from the last sheaf of the harvest (see ERGOT: Corn Mother; HAG: Cailleach).
Pagan Germanic women once offered their long braids to their goddess. For most women, depending on rate of hair-growth, this ritual could only be replicated once or twice in a lifetime—and perhaps some simply preferred not to shear their hair. Eventually, braided loaves substituted for offerings of real hair. This bread was made with eggs and sometimes brushed with an egg glaze prior to baking so as to impart a golden glow reminiscent of fields of ripe grain as well as of blonde hair.
With the advent of Christianity, this last tradition was forbidden and abolished, but it still survives in the Jewish community as the weekly braided golden Challah offered to the Sabbath Queen. By at least the fifteenth century, this tradition of braided loaves was widely incorporated into German Jewish tradition.
Making bread is a woman’s art, regardless of spiritual affiliation. Why this particular tradition survived among Jews, however, is subject to conjecture:
Pagan women seeking refuge joined the Jewish community, subtly incorporating their own traditions
Jewish women were discreetly making offerings to Pagan goddesses; rituals survived even after its origins and original intent were forgotten
The tradition appealed to Jewish women purely on aesthetic or culinary grounds and has nothing to do with spirituality
Although the specific shape (braids) derives from European Paganism, the tradition is actually rooted in ancient Jewish ritual Cakes for the Queen of Heaven (see page 510).
One clue to the past exists, however: although most Jews call the bread Challah, deriving from the Hebrew word for bride, German Jews name it barches instead, reminiscent of the Germanic goddess Perchta or Berchta.