Speculaas Poppen - Food and Drink

The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005

Speculaas Poppen
Food and Drink

The Dutch Yule cakes known as Speculaas Poppen (“spice cakes”) were the focus of intense seventeenth- and eighteenth-century ecclesiastical opposition to the incorporation of Pagan practices into Christmas festivities.

Once upon a time, cakes and cookies baked in appropriate animal or human form replaced or substituted for Northern European Pagan blood sacrifices. Special wooden molds were used to create these cakes. These molds were preserved, used year after year and eventually developed an amuletic aura. Mold designs (and thus cake designs) included animals, horned spirits, and images of female and male shamans.

The tradition of creating speculaas poppen pre-dates Christianity, and the tradition was retained post-Christianity. Eventually these cakes were incorporated into Dutch Christmas traditions, however many explicitly Pagan motifs and designs remained. First Roman Catholic, then Protestant authorities passed ordinances forbidding the baking, selling, and eating of these cakes. The Church ordered more explicitly Pagan molds to be destroyed. The molds were banned; many were confiscated and burned.

These cakes and cake molds also exist in German lands. Their German name is lebkuchen, with leb originally deriving from the Latin libitum or “offering.”

Speculaas poppen cakes did not disappear: they remain popular today. Bakers merely adjusted the molds, favoring more neutral imagery or more discreet motifs although many are still very beautiful. Old Frisian cookie molds remain prized collectors’ items. Many modern speculaas poppen, especially less expensive ones, simply favor geometric “cookie shapes” or are formed into people, similar to gingerbread cookies. More elaborate speculaas poppen are still made with old-fashioned carved wooden molds.

Another popular Dutch Christmas tradition is that of offering gifts of chocolate initials. This derives from the Pagan tradition of small cakes shaped into the form of runes.

If an angry witch came to call, what would you offer her as refreshment? After all hungry, cranky witches are dangerous witches, liable to cast mean, destructive spells. This Italian dish is called The Witch’s Supper and reputedly satisfies, pacifies, and pleases even the fussiest witch. Supposedly serving this dish to a witch (or perhaps anyone) disarms her, making her wish to do good things for you, not harm.

Luckily it is an extremely simple, quick, inexpensive (even cheap) dish to prepare featuring garlic (Hecate’s favorite) and some magical beans—Cicer arietinum—currently the most widely consumed legume on Earth, known as garbanzo beans in Spanish-speaking countries, chickpeas in English and cecci in Italian.