Food and Drink
In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the Weird Sisters cluster around their cauldron. In countless Halloween postcards, decorations, and images witches stir cauldrons. Cauldrons are central to the myths of innumerable mythic witches from Medea to Cerridwen. With the exception of broomsticks (another kitchen tool) the cauldron is the tool most frequently associated with witchcraft.
Witch’s brews, witch’s potions: what’s really cooking in that cauldron? Shakespeare envisioned an eerie, grotesque grocery list for his witches (newt’s eyes, frog’s toes…) corresponding to witch-hunt era stereotypes. Fairy tales and fiction reinforce that stereotype of witches’ cauldrons filled with disgusting brews and horrific ingredients.
Yet, simultaneously, another counter-stereotype suggests that food from the witch’s kitchen is the most satisfying food of all. In many cuisines, identifying a recipe with witches suggests that it is enchantingly seductive and guaranteed to please.
In reality, witchcraft is genuinely and profoundly associated with food, especially delicious, healing, charming food. To this day, the independent, solitary witch is often called a “kitchen witch.”
One might also ask, “What’s in the chalice?” The image of the witch proffering a cup is just slightly less popular than that of the witch atop a broomstick or stirring her cauldron. There is a theory, popular among some anthropologists, that the very origins of shamanism, witchcraft, and religion lie in so-called “beverage cults,” including those that first developed beer and wine, both once considered sacred. The origins of many modern liqueurs do lie in old herbal formulas for healing and spell-casting.
Spells are cast with food, potions, elixirs, and brews.
Witches heal, nourish, bless, curse, and seduce via food and potions.
Specific foods were once especially identified with magic and witchcraft.
Many of the most popular and potent ritual tools of witchcraft now masquerade as common kitchen tools. Whether these tools, including brooms, sieves, cauldrons, mortars, and pestles began as kitchen tools and were adopted into witchcraft or vice versa, or whether cooking and witchcraft were once inseparable, is now unknown.
If reversed, a long wooden spoon becomes a handy magic wand.
In fairy tales, witches have food when others do not. Hansel and Gretel’s family was starving: allegedly there was a famine in the land, yet the witch’s very house was edible. In other fairy tales, wise women offer heroines magical tablecloths that, whenever and wherever unfolded, produce incredibly delicious, luxurious meals. A witch’s food is worth the price of a child, most notably in Rapunzel but also in numerous variations on that theme from Italy, France, and elsewhere. Apples are among the fairy-tale witch’s primary tools and weapons.
Those stories reflected popular perceptions. Real-life witch-trial transcripts offer contradictory testimony regarding witch’s food, too.
Witches were accused of concocting disgusting, murderous, sacrilegious potions from corpse flesh, aborted fetuses, assorted animal anatomical parts, and killer plants.
Simultaneously, witch-hunters described witches’ sabbats as sumptuous feasts with enormous quantities of food and drink, including fresh fruits out of season and luxuries like fresh roast ox.
There is tremendous emphasis on nourishment and especially on meat in both fairy tales and witchcraft accusations. At a time when few common people could afford to eat fresh meat with any frequency, witches were accused of having a consistent supply. During an era when ascetism was idealized, witches were accused of living lavishly, sensuously, and comfortably.
Theoretically, each and every food possesses magical uses. Just as every mineral, botanical or animal possesses specific magical gifts, so does food. Spells are cast by manipulating different foods to create a desired, intended effect.
Food spells are the simplest magic of all, cast by fine cooks all over Earth, most with no conscious knowledge or affiliation with witchcraft. All one needs to cast a spell with food is to imagine a meal as a means to an end. Plan a menu for seduction. It will likely be very different from a meal intended to humor a cranky child, appease an angry spouse, heal one’s ailing self or ingratiate oneself to potential in-laws.
Any recipe may be converted to a spell via the time-honored magical techniques of whispering and murmuring. Just before serving, secretly whisper your goals or intentions over the food or drink. The tradition of toasting derives from this type of spell. Spells may be cast over oneself too. Whisper affirmations over food or drink, then consume.
Every food has its magical uses; many extensive cookbooks devoted to magical recipes exist. The foods and beverages explored in this section are related to the general topic and history of witchcraft rather than to specific spells. Notably, in the light of the spiritual origins of witchcraft, a high percentage of them involve grain products, intoxicating beverages and sometimes both, as with barley-wine, beer, and kvass.
Absinthe is the Latin name for the herb wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) and for a controversial alcoholic beverage distilled from its leaves. In addition to wormwood, the distilled beverage is a sophisticated blend of other herbs including anise, dittany of Crete, fennel, and star anise.
Wormwood has long held a powerful magical reputation. It is mentioned in the Book of Revelation and is considered by some to be the original biblical bitter herb. Its Latin names, Artemisia absinthium and Artemisia judaica, indicate its affiliation with the lunar witchcraft goddess, Artemis.
Wormwood is powerful: it possesses narcotic properties, contains the neurotoxic chemical constituent thujone and can potentially cause convulsions and brain damage. It can also cause intense uterine contractions, thus pregnant women or those actively attempting to conceive should avoid it.
Wormwood is traditionally believed to serve as a weapon against malevolent magic and so is identified as a witch’s tool. Some perceive wormwood as a powerful and sacred plant; others consider it evil, and still others perceive that it guards against witchcraft.
These days, the “worm” in its name is believed to indicate its former use as a vermifuge or de-wormer, used to rid livestock of worms. In medieval Europe, however, “worm” was considered synonymous with “dragon” and especially that Old Dragon, Satan. In Christian Europe, wormwood was said to have first sprung up along the path the serpent took when it slithered out of Eden. Wormwood thus bore something of an ambivalent, ominous reputation.
That reputation transferred to the drink named after the herb. Herbal concoctions have been brewed from wormwood for millennia. Witches brewed healing and aphrodisiac potions with it. Wormwood allegedly enables one to communicate with the dead and potions were used for such purposes.
In classical Greece, wormwood leaves were infused in wine to create medicinal potions; Hippocrates recorded its virtues. In the Middle Ages, an English ale was brewed with wormwood. However, the beverage marketed as Absinthe that raised all the fuss and remains controversial did not exist until almost the end of the eighteenth century.
Absinthe is an emerald-green color, which, combined with its aura of witchcraft, led to its nicknames—the Green Goddess or Green Fairy (Fée Verte).
Absinthe in its modern form was invented in either 1792 or 1797 by a Swiss country doctor, Dr Ordinaire. It developed a local reputation as a panacea. When Dr Ordinaire died, he willed the formula to his housekeeper, who gave it to her daughters who continued to bottle and sell it. Among those who purchased it was an army major who gave it as a wedding gift to his future son-in-law, Henri-Louis Pernod, who then purchased the formula from the sisters. He opened the first absinthe distillery in Switzerland. He then opened a larger one in France in 1805 and began manufacturing on a commercial scale.
Absinthe had an exceptionally high alcohol content, bottled between 120 and 160 percent proof. Because of its high alcohol content, it was hardly ever drunk undiluted but usually blended with water. Because of its bitter flavor, sugar was usually added. An absinthe-drinking ritual evolved with a lump of sugar on a special slotted absinthe spoon placed over the glass. Water was dripped over the sugar; as the water and sugar entered the glass, the drink’s beautiful color shifted and evolved.
The demi-monde of Paris adopted absinthe as their personal potion. Many painters and artists swore by it, believing it stimulated creativity. Absinthe also maintained its reputation as an aphrodisiac.
Among those associated with absinthe are painters Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, Edgar Degas, and Edouard Manet, who painted The Absinthe Drinker in 1859; writers include Oscar Wilde, Arthur Rimbaud, Paul Verlaine, Charles Baudelaire, and Ernest Hemingway.
Among some circles, absinthe was considered provocative, modern, magical, and subversive in an appealing, positive way; in other circles, however, it was considered counter-cultural and subversive in a malevolent, threatening way. Absinthe was associated with the degeneration of society; in 1905, when a very drunk Jean Lanfray murdered his wife, absinthe was fingered as the true culprit, although Lanfray had only consumed two glasses of the drink during a binge that included copious quantities of other alcoholic beverages as well. Calls to ban absinthe were at the vanguard of the Prohibition movement. Absinthe was banned in the United States on July 25, 1912. France followed suit in 1915. Absinthe remains illegal in the United States and elsewhere, although in recent years restrictions have been eased throughout Europe.
It is now generally acknowledged that the dangers of absinthe derived largely from its exceptionally high alcohol content rather than its herbal ingredients. In addition, because of its trendy popularity, inferior cheaper bootleg absinthes were produced, which included toxic adulterations leading to increased health hazards like heavy metal poisoning.
The liqueur Pernod was developed and marketed as an alternative to the forbidden absinthe; its taste is somewhat similar. Many craft their own wormwood potions by infusing wormwood leaves in wine or Pernod, although these are not exact substitutes for the original, which was a distilled liqueur.
Absinthe was made from the leaves of the wormwood plant; one must never substitute Essential Oil of Wormwood as the toxic ingredients are incredibly concentrated in the essential oil, which is poisonous to the point of fatality.
Anisette is a liqueur distilled from the herb anise (Pimpinella anisum). It gained popularity following the ban of absinthe as its taste is somewhat similar, although its alcohol content is much lower. Anise has many magical uses; like wormwood, it is believed to guard against malevolent magic.
Anisette, however, was particularly beloved by spiritualists: because anisette is believed to be particularly appealing to dead souls it is a popular component of séances, necromantic summoning spells, and ancestral offerings. Anisette allegedly serves as an invitation, summoning ghosts and ancestors to visit.
Anisette, like absinthe, is often diluted with water. A glass of anisette, served neat or diluted, is often incorporated into séances, Dumb Suppers (see CALENDAR: Halloween) or ancestral altars. The formula known as Spirit Water is a further dilution: a tablespoon or splash of anisette is added to a glass of spring water and placed on an altar to beckon the spirits.
Anisette, like absinthe, was often identified as a woman’s drink. True anisette is a distilled drink. Commercial anisettes are readily available; homemade infusions of anise are easily concocted.
Homemade Anisette Infusion
1. Place approximately one quart of spirits (vodka or similar) in an airtight jar.
2. Add approximately one ounce of bruised, crushed, green anise seeds.
3. Other seasonings may be also added to taste, for instance approximately one-half ounce crushed coriander seeds and/or a small quantity of cinnamon.
4. Seal the jar; allow it to infuse for a month in a cool, dark place, shaking it gently every so often.
5. Dissolve one pound of sugar in water and add to the container.
6. Filter out the solid material, bottle the liqueur and enjoy.
See MAGICAL ARTS: Necromancy.
Apples were once considered the fruits of life, symbols of love and happiness.
The “golden apples of the sun” were associated with glorious goddesses like Freya, Hera, Idunn, and (especially) Aphrodite. Apples had their very own deity, the apple-goddess Pomona. Slice an apple in half horizontally to see the pentacle hidden within.
Post-Christianity, apples were re-envisioned as the forbidden fruit of the Garden of Eden, emblems of sin and desire. Associations with goddesses evolved into associations with witches: poison apples are the fairy-tale witch’s favorite tool. No recipes for poison apples are included here: fairy tales to the contrary, witchcraft favors apples for love, seduction, and divination, not for cursing.
Apples are primary ingredients of special Halloween recipes. Instructions and recipes are found on page 516 under Halloween Specialties.
Simple and popular apple spells include the following.
Apple Group Ritual for Good Luck
1. Distribute an apple to each person.
2. While everyone holds an apple, make a wish or blessing. (One person may preside over the ritual or every individual might make personal wishes.)
3. Wish the assembled company good fortune and together eat the apples.
Apple Love Spell
Among the simplest of spells is one from ancient Greece that involves tossing an apple into your intended’s lap. If the apple was picked up and the person took a bite (and better yet, then offered you the next one) your feelings were mutual. If the person looked pained and attempted to return the apple or otherwise lose or dispose of it, well, it was clearly time to choose another intended or maybe, for the persistent, a stronger spell…
That spell may be intensified by whispering one’s desires over the apple or via this spell:
1. Use a pin to scratch secret messages into the apple skin: explicitly write out your goals and desires or carve initials, images, runes, hearts or other personal symbols.
2. Using your fingers, rub honey over the apple while visualizing the spell’s desired outcome.
3. Suck the honey off your fingers while visualizing success.
4. Deliver the apple to the spell’s target; watch while they eat the apple. (Sharing the apple only increases the power of the spell.)
Boszorkányhab (Witch’s Froth)
Once upon a time, and still sometimes today, people purchased spells from witches. This was the original take-out food; witches sold specially prepared meals or potions that would allegedly deliver the desired outcome when served. (A scene illustrating this is featured in the film Haxan: see CREATIVE ARTS: Films.)
Rumor had it, however, that witches kept their best, most potent recipes for their own private use. This Hungarian recipe is reputedly among them. Its name translates as “Witch’s Froth” but it’s also sometimes called “Witch’s Snow.” It has a reputation as a love spell. The ingredients are incredibly simple, nothing more than apples, sugar, and eggs are required and so was accessible to even the most modest kitchen witch.
Theoretically, the finished product is supposed to resemble clouds or snow. If this is desired, choose apples with very white flesh, otherwise the end result will have a pinkish hue. (If the pink color is preferred, adding tiny bits of red peel or the juice that emanates from the baked apples will enhance the effect.)
The quantity depends upon the size of the apples; four medium apples creates two generous servings.
One egg whitea
Confectioner’s (Powdered) Sugar to taste
Optional dashes of eau de vie, rum, Calvados or almond extract
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C/Gas 4.
2. Wash four apples and bake them in the oven for approximately 45 minutes. (Prick the skins if you don’t want them to burst although for this recipe it doesn’t really matter.)
3. Remove the apples from the oven; when cool, remove the skins, core, and seeds.
4. With a fork or wire whisk beat the apple pulp until smooth.
5. Stir in the egg white and sugar and beat with a fork for an additional 10 minutes until a light, fluffy, frothy texture is achieved.
6. Add a touch of eau de vie, rum, Calvados or almond extract if desired.
7. Spoon into bowls. Serve immediately or refrigerate until served.
See also Witch’s Brew; BOTANICALS: Apples; MAGICAL ARTS: Charms.
Magic beans lend themselves to divination. Although these are traditional Halloween recipes, they may be incorporated into New Year’s festivities as well, or any meal devoted to divination.
This requires one bean but a lot of peapods.
Slit open one peapod very gently and push a single bean in, then close up the opening. Add this peapod to other peapods; steam, boil or otherwise prepare. Serve the peas in their pods or shell and serve with butter and salt. Whoever finds the bean is destined to find true love.
Another version suggests adding one single bean to an entire pot of peas. Cook them and serve. Now eat carefully! The person who finds the bean in her soup can look forward to a year of good fortune.
Bean Ritual for the Solitary Fortune-teller
Many divination dishes are intended for groups and parties. What if you’d just like to know your own fortune? This divination ritual is conducted privately and discreetly by the cook:
1. Mix a handful of peas into a large pot of beans.
2. Avert your eyes and stir the pot without looking.
3. Lift up a spoonful: if there’s a pea amongst the beans, expect a year of good fortune ahead. (Other interpretations include true love, marriage or a baby within the year.)
See also Fava Beans, page 514.
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.
Special cakes are traditionally part of Beltane rituals, usually featured at the conclusion of the celebration. Rituals and the style of cake depend on region and tradition. Sometimes one large cake is made and shared, sometimes smaller individual cakes are distributed.
The tradition emanates from the Scottish Highlands and the actual recipe for the cake, also known as a bannock, derives from Scottish cuisine. Usually made from oat and/or barley flour, milk, and eggs, cakes traditionally have a scalloped edge and are decorated with knobs, frequently nine knobs or multiples of nine. A thin batter made of beaten eggs, milk or cream, and a little oatmeal was often brushed over the top of the cake before baking. As Beltane is a solar feast, those Neo-Pagans who incorporate this ritual add spices associated with the sun to the cakes, for instance cinnamon, cloves, and saffron.
Various rituals and traditions involving these cakes exist:
At the close of Beltane festivities, the Master of Ceremonies or ritual officiant presided over the distribution of one single cake, large enough for a piece for every participant. One bit was previously marked, usually with charcoal (hence its name—“the blackened bit”). The cake was sliced and distributed; whoever received the blackened bit became the Beltane Carline. (See HAG: Beltane Carline.)
In a ritual traditionally combined with the creation and consumption of the Beltane Caudle (see next section) each participant was given an individual oat and/or barley cake decorated with nine raised square knobs. Each person faced the central fire, so that they stand in a circle. Together they break off knobs, one by one, throwing them over their shoulder without looking back. The throwing of each knob is accompanied by a different invocation.
The first invocations are dedicated to protective spirits; then propitiatory offerings are made to predatory ones. Descriptions of offerings to protective spirits are somewhat vague: written reports skirt exactly who is being thanked. However, offerings of propitiation are made directly to the presiding spirits of predatory animals. Thus:
“This I dedicate to you, preserve my horses.”
“This I dedicate to you, preserve my sheep.”
“This I give to you, Fox, spare my sheep!”
“This I give to you, Hooded Crow, spare my chicks!”
Following these offerings, each individual consumed the remainder of their cake and shared the Beltane Caudle.
This tradition originally derives from the Scottish Highlands where participants were primarily concerned about agriculture and livestock. By adjusting the invocations, however, it is easily adapted to suit participants with other concerns.
Sometimes Beltane cakes were intended for divination, not consumption. Participants rolled their individual cakes down a hill. Anthropologists suggest that this action mimics the sun’s motion and/or recalls the ancient Druid tradition of rolling burning wicker wheels down hills. If the cake arrives at the bottom of the hill unbroken, the person to whom it belonged could anticipate a happy, fortunate year. If the cake broke en route, misfortune was predicted.
See CALENDAR: Beltane.
The word “caudle” is related to “cauldron” and describes a concoction traditionally made from blending eggs and grain with ale or wine, brewed in a cauldron. This blending of beverages and grains was once quite popular.
The Beltane Caudle was incorporated into a Scottish Highland ritual also involving Beltane cakes (see page 506). Sir Walter Scott described the traditional ritual: a square trench was cut into the ground, leaving the turf in the middle. A wood fire was built for the cauldron, which was filled with eggs, butter, oats, and milk. Copious quantities of beer and wine were added: each participant was expected to contribute his share. (The suggestion is made that much beer and wine were also enjoyed independently prior to and during ritual preparations.)
The ritual began by spilling some of the caudle on the ground as a libation. Individual Beltane cakes were distributed; the ensemble then made various invocations to protective and dangerous spirits (see page 507). Once the invocations were complete, the caudle was consumed. The remainder of the Beltane cakes might be consumed or incorporated into different rituals.
See ANIMALS: Corvids; CALENDAR: Beltane.
Bock Beer (or Bock Bier) is a strong lager with just enough hops to balance the malt. It was first brewed in Bavaria and allegedly named for its ability to make one caper like a goat. Bock is German for goat and many bock beers feature goats on their labels.
Exactly what was originally implied by the word “goat” is subject to conjecture. According to witch-hunters, bock beer was among the beverages reputedly featured at witches’ sabbats presided over by the goat god.
See also Beer; ANIMALS: Goats; CALENDAR: Sabbats; DICTIONARY: Sabbat; HORNED ONE.
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.
Cakes are more than just desert or a sweet conclusion to a meal. Since that old proverbial time immemorial, cakes have been incorporated into spiritual ritual and magic spells.
Cakes are among the most ancient offerings:
Dough formed into specific shapes (people, animal, objects) serves as ritual offerings and sacrifice
During the ancient Greek Thesmophoria Festival, cakes dedicated to Demeter and Persephone were thrown into chasms inhabited by sacred snakes
In Rome, women offered millet cakes to Ceres
In ancient Egypt, pig- and other animal-shaped cakes were offered to Osiris
Cakes are incorporated into Beltane, Yule, and Hecate Night rituals Cakes are also used to cast spells:
Dough is molded into the shape of humans or animals for purposes of image magic (see MAGICAL ARTS: Image Magic)
Cakes are used for divination (see Halloween Specialties)
Cakes are used to cast love and seduction spells: raw dough is held under the armpit to absorb perspiration, then shaped into a cake, baked, and served to one’s heart’s desire.
The SATOR square, the renowned magic square, is incorporated into all kinds of spell-casting, particularly for healing and protection. An ancient Serbian spell uses cake to administer its effects; it was intended to prevent or heal various physical maladies including bites from rabid dogs in the days prior to rabies vaccinations.
1. Write the SATOR square onto a small cake:
S A T O R
A R E P O
T E N E T
O P E R A
R O T A S
2. Bake and eat the cake to obtain the square’s magical protection.
Runes or sigils may be substituted for the SATOR square as desired.
See also Beltane Cake; Cakes and Ale; Cakes for the Queen of Heaven; Feast of Diana, Hecate Supper, Moon Cakes, Yule Cakes; CALENDAR: Beltane, Halloween, Hecate Night, Yule; DICTIONARY: Runes; DIVINE WITCH: Hecate; ERGOT: Corn Mother: Ceres, Demeter; MAGICAL ARTS: Divination, Runes, Sigils.
Cakes and Ale, Cakes and Wine
“Cakes and ale” or “cakes and wine” names food and drink, but they also name a Wiccan and Neo-Pagan sacrament. Many covens traditionally conclude circles and other rituals with the ritual of cakes-and-wine or cakes-and-ale. Food and beverages are blessed by the High Priestess or Priest and are considered sacramental offerings. Depending upon purpose, cakes and ale may also be incorporated at other points during the rite, not only the conclusion.
Cakes are often, but not always, formed in the shape of a crescent moon
“Cakes” may include biscuits, cookies or bread as well as cake
“Wine” or “ale” also includes beer, mead, and fresh fruit juices
See DIVINE WITCH: Dionysus.
Cakes for The Queen of Heaven
Cake is among the most primeval traditional offerings made to female deities including Aphrodite, Artemis, Lady Asherah of the Sea, Astarte, Diana, Hecate, and Inanna-Ishtar. The blini offered to Baba Yaga may be understood to derive from this tradition. Specific ritual cakes were created for specific deities:
Triangle-shaped honey-cakes, representing female genitalia, were offered to Aphrodite
Round cakes lit with miniature torches intended to represent the glowing moon were offered to Artemis and Diana
In the grimoire Aradia or the Gospel of the Witches, the term “Cakes for the Queen of Heaven” is used to describe crescent-shaped cakes blessed in the name of Diana.
In the Middle East, archeologists have uncovered ancient cake molds used to create cakes in the shape of the goddess herself. These molds are similar to modern cake, chocolate or candle molds and could be used to form multiple cakes of uniform appearance. Anthropologists believe these molds were used to bake cakes for the Queen of Heaven.
The Queen of Heaven generally refers to the supreme Mesopotamian deity Inanna-Ishtar; in the Babylonian version of the Deluge, the rainbow that serves as the Creator’s reminder not to cause another flood is really Inanna-Ishtar’s necklace.
Offerings of cakes were incorporated into Inanna-Ishtar’s rites. Ironically, the most lucid, detailed surviving information regarding ritual baking and offering of cakes derives from the biblical book of Jeremiah. Offering cakes to the Queen of Heaven was a family affair. In Jeremiah 7:18, the prophet reports that he heard the voice of God complain that “the children gather wood, and the fathers kindle the fire and the women knead their dough to make cakes to the Queen of Heaven…”
Offering cakes seems to have been incorporated into ritual alongside burning incense and pouring libations. In Jeremiah 44, the prophet discovers a community of exiled Jews in Egypt, burning incense, pouring libations and offering cakes to the Queen of Heaven. He rebukes them, singling out the women.
Typically the Old Testament records complaints against those who deviate from extreme monotheism but fails to record opposing arguments. Unusually, in this case the Bible recounts the women’s response to Jeremiah (44:16-19): they are not compliant. “As for the word that thou hast spoken unto us in the name of the Lord, we will not hearken unto thee” they say, explaining that when they offered to the Queen of Heaven “…then had we plenty of victuals, and were well and saw no evil. But since we left off to burn incense to the Queen of Heaven…we have wanted all things and have been consumed by the sword and by the famine.” The women also reject Jeremiah’s attempts to identify this practice as a women’s cult, pointing out “…did we make her cakes to worship her…without our men?”
Unfortunately, the Bible is vague regarding exactly which spirit it describes as the Queen of Heaven—whether it is Inanna-Ishtar, Astarte (who may or may not be identical to Inanna-Ishtar), Anat (who may or may not be identical to Astarte) or Asherah (ditto).
See CREATIVE ARTS: Dance: Dance of the Seven Veils; ERGOT: Corn Mother: Anat.
Days of The Dead (Dias De Los Muertos)
Days of the Dead rituals are intrinsically associated with food: special foods are not only prepared for the dead but for the living, too. Foods specifically associated with the holiday are eagerly awaited year round. (Days of the Dead recipes courtesy of Angela Villalba, of the Mexican Sugar Skull Company.)
Mexican Sugar Skulls
Mexican Sugar Skulls are a traditional confection and folk art used to celebrate the Days of the Dead. Their name describes them exactly—packed, hardened sugar molded into the shape of skulls, then decorated with vividly colored icing, bright bits of colored foil, sequins, and/or colored sugar. The name of the loved one they are intended to honor is traditionally piped over the forehead with icing. Most sugar skulls are tiny although larger ones exist too.
Sugar skulls are sold as treats for children during the weeks leading up to the festival. (Providing nothing inedible is used to ornament them, sugar skulls are edible but very sweet!) They are also used to decorate the home altars (ofrendas) that welcome the visiting souls of the dead. Sugar skulls are carried to the cemetery with flowers and other objects used to decorate tombs.
Mexican sugar skulls are not hard to make: requirements are sugar, meringue powder, water, and special skull molds. Blend one teaspoon of meringue powder into each cup of granulated sugar used. (Meringue powder is a must and cannot be omitted.) A little bit of water is then used to moisten the blended sugar so that it achieves the texture of beach sand. This is then added to the molds and allowed to dry for approximately eight hours, after which the skulls may be decorated as desired.
Meringue powder and skull molds in various sizes are available from www.MexicanSugarSkull.com. Further information, ingredients (including the Royal Icing and colored sugar favored in Mexico), and beautiful images of Mexican sugar skulls and other traditional crafts may also be found at that website.
Among the discoveries made by the Spanish in Mexico was chocolate, indigenous to Meso-America, and previously unknown to Europeans. Chocolate was a sacred, ritual food associated with the deity Quetzalcoatl and usually served as a drink blended with ground chili peppers. (The concept of sweetened milk chocolate was born in Europe.) Molé sauce reproduces the ancient formula, blending chili peppers and chocolate. Fine molé sauce is extremely time-consuming to make and so not traditionally an everyday food but one reserved for the most sacred of days.
In Oaxaca, Mexico molé is especially associated with the Days of the Dead. Turkey molé is a favorite of spirit and villager alike. Molé sauce is spooned over turkey and sesame seeds, which represent happiness in Oaxaca, are sprinkled on top of each dish. Plates of turkey molé are placed in the center of ofrendas to delight visiting spirits.
The original recipe, while varying slightly from village to village and household to household, generally has over 30 ingredients and takes days to make, but now many shortcuts to the traditional process of making molé exist. Oaxacan markets sell the ground chocolate/chili paste by the kilo, which is quickly fried with onion and tomato and thinned with broth. This paste is also sold in the Import section of many international gourmet markets.
Angela Villalba has further adapted the traditional Oaxacan molé recipe:
One 30-ounce can red enchilada sauce
Two to four blocks Mexican hot chocolate mix (approximately 8 ounces or to taste)b
Three cloves of garlic, finely minced
One-quarter teaspoon ground oregano
Ground cinnamon to taste
Two cups chicken broth or consommé
Dried red chili flakes to taste
Toasted sesame seeds
1. Add the enchilada sauce to a large saucepan over medium heat.
2. Add the blocks of chocolate, garlic, oregano, and cinnamon.
3. When the chocolate has dissolved, add the chicken broth.
4. Stir and taste; then add the red chili flakes as desired.
5. Simmer for an hour, adding more broth if the mixture becomes dry.
6. Spoon the hot molé sauce over the main dish (traditionally turkey but it is also served over roasted chicken and Mexican dishes such as enchiladas and tamales) and sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds.
The sauce is best served the next day so that the flavors can meld.
Pan de Muerto
Pan de Muerto (’Bread of the Dead’) celebrates the return of the spirits. Traditionally these breads are made by village bakers using lots of egg yolks and anise seeds. These round beautifully decorated breads are stacked on home ofrendas for the spirits to enjoy as well as being eaten by the living. Regional variations exist: in Oaxaca, loaves are sprinkled with sesame seeds representing happiness, while in Michoacan, pieces of dough are used to form skulls and bones to ornament the top of the round loaf, which are then dusted with colored sugar.
One-quarter cup lukewarm water
One tablespoon dry yeast
Four cups all-purpose flour
Three-quarter cup sugar
Two whole eggs plus five egg yolks
One-half cup melted butter
One teaspoon salt
One tablespoon anise seed
Two teaspoons nutmeg
Egg wash made from one egg white and one teaspoon melted butter
Sesame seeds (optional)
Sugar for decorating (colored sugar is most dramatic)
1. Proof yeast by dissolving in warm water.
2. Add 1/4 cup of flour and blend with a spoon.
3. Allow the mixture to rest until it doubles in volume, approximately 30 minutes.
4. Place the rest of the flour in a large bowl, make a well in the center and add the sugar, eggs, egg yolks, melted butter, salt, anise, and nutmeg. Beat thoroughly.
5. Add the yeast mixture and blend.
6. Knead on a lightly floured board until the dough becomes elastic and not sticky, approximately 15 minutes.
7. Place the ball of dough into a greased bowl, cover with a cloth and allow to rise in a warm spot for approximately 2 hours or until the dough has doubled in volume. (Check by poking your fingers into the side of the dough; when your fingerprints stay in the dough, it’s ready.) You may also raise it overnight, covered in the refrigerator.
8. Punch down the dough and knead five times. Do not add additional flour.
9. Cut one-third off the dough and set it aside.
10. Shape the remaining dough into a round loaf.
11. Pinch off a ball from the reserved dough and form a “skull” with it, placing it on top of the loaf.
12. Roll the rest of the reserved dough into a long rope. Pinch it off into approximately 3-inch long pieces and shape them into bones. These are traditionally placed onto the loaf like spokes on a wheel.
13. Cover the loaf and let it rise until doubled in size in a warm spot on a greased cookie sheet.
14. Brush it with the egg wash and sprinkle with sesame seeds, if desired.
15. Cover once again and let it rise once more.
16. Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C/Gas 4.
17. Bake the Pan de Muerto on the center rack for approximately 45 minutes or until golden brown.
18. After the loaf has cooled on a rack, sprinkle the bread with colored sugar or decorate it with icing. Traditionally names of departed loved ones are inscribed on the bread.
See also Anisette, Bread; CALENDAR: Days of the Dead; HAG: Black Annis.
Italian folklore is full of interesting magical references to beans:
Beans were spat in the directions of ghosts for purposes of exorcism
Beans were believed to serve as containers for unborn human souls, thus serving as fertility symbols, and incorporated into fertility rituals
Beans were also sometimes a tabooed food
Beans thus were the seeds of life and death.
Although beans in general are perceived as a magical food by many traditions, these Italian traditions didn’t just refer to any beans: many modern beans derive from the Western Hemisphere and, like tomatoes, were unknown in Europe pre-Columbus. The beans incorporated into Italian traditions are fava beans.
Fava beans (Vica faba) are traditionally associated with death and rebirth. Ancient Romans served them at funeral banquets. This tradition still survives in Italian witchcraft and spiritual practices. At midnight on October 31st, for instance, bowls of fava beans are placed outdoors for the spirits; they are then buried in Earth after sunrise on November 1st.
Fava beans were understood as a magically potent, potentially deadly food and for good reason: a condition known as “favism” is common throughout the Middle East and the Mediterranean. There is a genetic predisposition toward this condition, however it is triggered by the consumption of fava beans. Once upon a time, favism was considered to be an allergic reaction to fava beans. It is now known to be caused by a deficiency in an enzyme (glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase).
Favism is a type of anemia caused by hemolysis (destruction of healthy red blood cells). Victims are predominately male; almost all victims are of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean descent. Symptoms include intense fatigue, nausea, vertigo, and dark-orange colored urine. The condition is usually temporary but seasonal, corresponding to the sprouting of fava beans in the early spring. Thus favism is among the first signs of spring in that region. Favism can be fatal if an attack is sufficiently severe: approximately one in twelve cases proves fatal.
The oldest known fava beans were found in an archeological dig in Nazareth and date from c.6500 BCE but are believed to have been wild plants. Widespread cultivation of fava beans is believed to stem from the third-millennium BCE; they were widely cultivated throughout the Middle East, Mediterranean, and North Africa.
Fava beans were a mixed blessing. Although they were potentially deadly to a sizable percentage of the population, they have also been found to protect against malaria, once among the primary causes of death in the region.
In ancient Rome, one single fava bean was baked within one of the ritual cakes of the Saturnalia. Whoever found it was crowned Lord of the Saturnalia. This tradition survives in the King Cakes of New Orleans’ Mardi Gras, although instead of a fava bean, the token is a tiny baby doll.
Italian immigrants to New Orleans brought other fava-bean traditions with them. On the Feast Day of St Joseph, dried, roasted fava beans are blessed, thus transforming into special St Joseph’s Beans or Lucky Mojo Beans. Allegedly someone who carries one of these lucky beans will never want for money.
The Romans spread fava bean rituals throughout their Empire; some continue to evolve. In France, the Feast of the Epiphany, also called the Feast of the Kings, is occasion for mass consumption of the “galette of the kings”—a flat, round pastry filled with almond paste baked with one trinket concealed inside. This lucky charm is called a fève (fava bean in French) because once that’s what served as the trinket. Whoever finds the fève becomes king or queen for the day. (Galettes are sometimes sold with paper crowns.)
In the late nineteenth century, small porcelain figurines began to replace the traditional bean. Fèves are now collectors’ items with the rarest commanding high prices. Some collect them for value or novelty but others for their magical aura as a charm. Fèves range from the traditional, like four-leafed clovers or horseshoes to the unusual—Harry Potter figurines or porcelain tiles depicting positions from the Kama Sutra.
Ovid and Petronius recommended a ham and bean soup to antidote effects of the striges, including loss of male sexual vigor. (See DICTIONARY: Strix.)
See also Bean Divination, Yule Cakes.
Festival of Diana
Diana’s Roman feast day on August 13th traditionally incorporated feasting. Her celebratory meal included wine, roasted young goat, cakes served hot on plates of leaves, and apples still hanging in clusters on their boughs. Cakes in the shape of the moon, topped with lit candles—the original birthday cake—were a traditional offering.
See also Apples, Cake, Strega; ANIMALS: Goats; BOTANICALS: Apples; DIVINE WITCH: Diana.
Fox Spirit Tofu (Inari Sushi)
What do you serve a fox spirit? Well, they love fried tofu. If you wish to please or lure a fox spirit, a plate of fried tofu reputedly does the trick. Aburage is the Japanese name for thinly cut tofu, drained and fried in oil. Its association with fox spirits is so strong that it is also called inariage.
Inari is the Japanese spirit who presides over rice. Foxes are her/his sacred animal and messenger. There are approximately 40,000 Inari shrines throughout Japan.
The identification of fox spirits with fried tofu has inspired other dishes such as Fox spirit sushi or, in Japanese, Inari sushi (also sometimes spelled Inarizushi). Inari sushi is a simple, modest, and inexpensive type of sushi incorporating no fish. Despite the fox associations, this is a vegetarian dish: triangular, deep-fried tofu bags are filled with sushi rice (sticky, vinegared rice.) Inari sushi is sometimes placed under the paws of the stone foxes found in Inari shrines as an offering.
However, renegade fox spirits also crave this treat, as do those fox spirits affiliated with the sorcerers known as Fox Spirit Owners. Allegedly some fox spirits transform into human-shape just for easier access to Inari sushi.
Among the most renowned Inari shrines is the one in Fushimi, a saké production center near Kyoto. The shrine was established in 711 CE. Inari sushi is served at the many small restaurants along the shrine’s hiking trail, as is another dish, kitsune udon (“Fox Udon”), a noodle soup topped with fried tofu.
See ANIMALS: Foxes.
Outside the Pagan community, where it is a significant spiritual festival, modern Halloween is largely associated with juvenile trick or treating: children go door to door begging treats, which now usually consist of commercially manufactured candy. Once upon a time, however, Halloween (Samhain, November Eve) was an adult holiday dedicated to divination, romance, and feasting. Special dishes, both sweet and savory and often incorporating spell-casting and divination, were special features of this night.
Traditional Halloween tokens and their meanings include:
Baby doll: a baby
Button: mixed fortune, blessings and challenges
Dice: good luck
Four-leafed Clover: luck, freedom from malevolent spells
Horseshoe: luck, health
Key: success, travel, solutions, adventures, luck in love, opportunity
Ring: romance or marriage
Thimble: professional success, steady income, independence (old-fashioned sources indicate “spinsterhood”; this once was considered the booby prize)
Wishbone: your wish come true, your desires fulfilled
Fortune-telling recipes often incorporate tokens to be added to the dish, then found during the meal and interpreted. One must eat carefully: tokens received indicate one’s destined fortune in the coming year. If this is reminiscent of New Year’s traditions, it should be: according to the ancient Celtic calendar, Samhain was New Year’s Eve.
Special Halloween dishes include the following.
Apple Crowdie is spiced apple sauce with whipped cream. The spice may be as simple as a dash of cinnamon; if serving adults, rather than children, a dollop of whiskey may be stirred in as well. Just prior to serving, tokens are added to the dish: each person takes one spoonful from a common pot. Eat carefully! If no token appears in the spoonful, then the jury is still out—your fortune cannot yet be foretold, or perhaps it’s in your hands…
An alternative method is for each person to take a spoonful until they find a charm. This is a modern variation on the Scottish traditional desert Crowdie. (See below, Fortune-teller’s Crowdie.)
Colcannon is a traditional Irish Halloween meal. Small tokens are hidden inside the meal for purposes of divination.
1. Boil potatoes, then drain and mash them.
2. While the potatoes are boiling, boil cabbage, too.
3. Stir chopped, cooked cabbage into the mashed potatoes.
4. Melt butter in a pan.
5. Chop onions and gently sauté them in the butter.
6. Mix the sautéed onions into the mashed potatoes and cabbage dish.
7. Add salt and white pepper to taste.
8. Carefully stir the tokens into the dish.
9. Serve the colcannon on individual plates. Make a well in the center of each mound of colcannon and place butter within.
Should someone not receive a token, this indicates that their destiny is unresolved or is in their own hands. Although any tokens may be incorporated, sometimes, particularly if serving children, coins are wrapped in wax paper and hidden as a treat instead.
Some prefer to substitute parsnips for the cabbage although both could easily be incorporated.
Fortune Cake (also known as “Halloween Cake”) was once the centerpiece of Victorian Halloween parties. In addition to serving as desert, it was fortune-telling device. Trinkets and charms were baked into cake. (The safety conscious wrap each trinket individually in wax paper to lessen chances of accidental swallowing.) A modern variation substitutes ice cream or ice cream cake as it is so easy to insert the treats.
Fortune-teller’s Crowdie is a very similar dish to Apple Crowdie (see above), except that it is made from oatmeal rather than apples. However the token ritual remains identical.
1. Add two tablespoons of lightly toasted oatmeal to a dish of whipped cream. (There must be sufficient cream to hide the charms.)
2. Stir in sugar to taste.
3. If desired, add a tablespoon of whiskey, rum or other spirits, stir and chill.
4. Just prior to serving, add tokens. Participants take spoonfuls from the common dish until all the tokens have been claimed.
Lambswool is a traditional Irish Halloween drink. Various recipes exist. The basis of the potion are roasted, crushed apples, which are added to milk, hot spiced ale, cider, and/or wine. Sugar is added as desired. Bits of toast may be added to the drink, too.
The name “Lambswool” is believed to be a corruption of the Irish Gaelic La Mas Nbhal or “Feast of apple gathering.” Pronounced “Lammas-ool,” it eventually evolved into “lambs wool.”
See also Beltane Caudle.
Mash of Nine Sorts
Mash of Nine Sorts is a traditional British Halloween Supper. Ingredients include potatoes, carrots, turnips, parsnips, leeks, and peas. These are boiled or otherwise cooked. Milk or cream is added and everything is mashed together and seasoned to taste with salt and pepper. If you dislike one ingredient, omit it but then incorporate something else as a substitution. It is crucial to maintain the lucky number of nine ingredients.
This dish was traditionally served to a group of unmarried people; only one token was hidden: a wedding ring. Whoever found it was destined to be married first, however other tokens can also be substituted as desired.
Not all Halloween dishes are intended to be eaten; some serve purely for divination instead. One of the most famous Halloween rituals involves apple peels:
1. Begin to peel an apple; the peel must come off in one piece.
2. If and when the apple peel breaks, stop peeling and work with whatever you have.
3. Toss the apple peel over your left shoulder.
When the peel falls it will allegedly form the initial of your true love (or the one you’re destined to marry—ideally one and the same).
To determine the future of a partnership or romantic relationship, carefully place two chestnuts on hot coals or within a burning fireplace. If the chestnuts sputter loudly, this is auspicious; if they jump apart, however, it’s time to reconsider the relationship. (This ritual may also be performed with bay leaves instead of chestnuts.)
Ritual meals were among Hecate’s traditional rites. Once upon a time, these dinners were consumed outside under the dark moon, ideally at a crossroads. One plate was reserved for Hecate; after her devotees dined, just before they departed, Hecate’s plate was laid down at the crossroads. Traditionally whatever is given to Hecate cannot be reclaimed. Thus, do not break out your priceless set of china; lay the meal on the ground or use a serving dish that will be incorporated into the offering. Once the offering is laid down, depart without looking back. Hecate determines who picks up the offering. Once upon a time, observers scoffed at Hecate’s rituals, commenting that offerings made to the goddess were consumed by homeless people or feral animals, however they misunderstood: this is among the ways Hecate accepts offerings.
A typical Hecate Supper menu included eggs, fish roe, goat and sheep cheese, sprats, red mullet—a scavenger fish that was the subject of many taboos—garlic, mushrooms, and honey cake surrounded by blazing torches or cakes decorated with miniature imitation torches (candles).
Red mullet (also known as trigle) was tabooed at the Eleusinian Mysteries and at the shrine of Argive Hera. Poet and scholar of mythology and ancient history Robert Graves writes in The White Goddess that red foods were tabooed in ancient Greece, with the exception of feasts of the dead. (Hecate has many associations with Death.) These red foods included red mullet but also bacon, crayfish, crimson berries, and fruits, especially pomegranates.
See also Cakes, Cakes for the Queen of Heaven, Lunar Foods; DIVINE WITCH: Hecate.
For as long as can be remembered, the moon has been believed to rule magic, water, and women. Certain foods are identified as lunar foods; they transmit the effects of the moon and thus are believed able to impart great psychic power. Those wishing to further align themselves with the moon were encouraged to consume these foods.
Among these lunar foods are the following:
Cake, specifically round cakes with candles. The traditional round birthday cake derives from this ancient ritual practice. An alternative option is crescent- or horned-shaped bread or cakes, such as croissants.
Cheese, not the legendary green cheese of which the moon is supposedly composed but round white cheeses, such as goat cheese or brie.
Crabs and Crayfish; the creature assigned to the astrological sign Cancer, the only sign belonging to the moon, is the crab. Those born under the sign of Cancer are believed to resemble crabs, leading to many jokes about crabby personalities. In Mediterranean regions, crabs are intensely affiliated with the moon.
Amphitrite, the Greek Queen of the Sea, wears a crown crafted of crab claws.
Older versions of the Tarot card The Moon traditionally feature a picture of a creature that, to modern eyes, resembles a lobster more than a crab. Many assume that the artists who created these images simply couldn’t draw realistic crabs; modern versions of The Moon often feature more realistic depictions of crabs. However, many of these older versions are really depicting crayfish, hence the confusion.
In Central and Eastern Europe, especially in those areas whose magical traditions were heavily influenced by the Romany, the crayfish is the lunar animal par excellence. Crayfish are freshwater crustaceans: they are cooked in innumerable ways. Their shells are traditionally dried and preserved as amulets, particularly for fertility, long believed to be the moon’s magical gift. (See FAIRY-TALE WITCHES: Grimms’ Fairy Tales: Hansel and Gretel.)
The traditional festive beverage of the May Eve/Beltane/Walpurgis celebration, May Wine is flavored and scented with the herb Sweet Woodruff (Asperula odorata). Sweet Woodruff’s other folk names include Forest Queen, Forest Mother Herb, and Master (or Mistress) of the Woods. The earliest surviving recorded mention of May Wine occurred in 854 CE, when a Benedictine monk, Wandelbertus, referred to it.
In German, May Wine is called Maitrank. Traditionally any type of Rhine or Alsatian wine is used.
1. Place young, fresh woodruff shoots in a covered tureen.
2. Add a bottle of white wine. (Some now also add a few tablespoons of brandy.)
3. Cover the tureen and allow the wine to infuse for an hour
4. Dissolve sugar to taste in water and add to the infused wine, then serve.
As fresh woodruff is not always available, dried herbs may also be used. Sliced fresh strawberries are also frequently added just before serving.
See CALENDAR: Beltane, May Eve, Walpurgis.
The Chinese moon festival occurs annually on the fifteenth day of the eighth month of the Chinese lunar calendar. The day is dedicated to Lady Chang’o, the beautiful woman in the moon. Lady Chang’o lives alone on the moon in a beautiful cinnamon wood palace, her sole companion an alchemist rabbit who grinds out the potion of immortality with his mortar and pestle.
The moon festival corresponds with the night when the moon is at its brightest and nearest Earth. On that night, Lady Chang’o reputedly grants secret wishes to those people who address them to her. Moon cakes are eaten to honor Lady Chang’o, to commemorate the holiday but also as part of the magic ritual of asking for one’s heart’s desire.
Moon Cake Ritual
1. Take a private moment to commune with the Full Moon.
2. Holding your moon cake in your hands, silently address Lady Chang’o: make your wish or invocation.
3. Eat the moon cake in the moonlight.
4. Thank Lady Chang’o in advance, but be sure to keep this wish secret.
Moon cakes are round cakes, usually stuffed with some kind of filling. They are eaten and given as gifts during the moon festival. The simplest cake features an egg-yolk filling believed to resemble a bright full moon. Alternative fillings include nuts, red bean paste, white lotus paste, and Chinese ham. In Chinese tradition, foods are highly symbolic; thus moon-cake fillings are adjusted to reflect one’s wishes. For instance, a watermelon seed filling indicates the wish to conceive.
Immediately preceding and during the moon festival, Chinese bakeries and specialty stores feature moon cakes, frequently beautifully packaged and intended as gifts.
See also Cakes, Lunar Foods.
Pancakes are thin battercakes fried in a pan. Essentially they are a quick, simple, homemade cake that lends itself to spontaneous preparation, unlike elaborate ritual cakes like the Bûche de Noël or the snake pasty of the serpari. Pancakes are now generally identified as a breakfast food (except in Holland where they are eaten all day), however they have a long history as a ritual food.
In Britain, Shrove Tuesday (the day before Ash Wednesday) was once popularly known as “Pancake Tuesday.” Ritually eating and making pancakes, as well as pancake-eating contests, were once part of celebrations. These pancakes were often used for divination: Lincolnshire farmers once threw pancakes to their roosters and observed the reaction. If the rooster ate the whole pancake, this was a bad omen; if the rooster summoned his hens to come share, good fortune for the entire family was believed assured.
In Brittany, pancakes and cider are brought to the cemetery as the traditional Day of the Dead offering.
The witch-goddess Perchta expects to find offerings of pancakes left for her on Twelfth Night or else dire consequences are threatened…
In traditional Macedonian ritual, the evil spirits believed buzzing about during the Twelve Nights of Yule are lured close with pancakes, then obliterated as the pancakes sizzle in the pan.
In Grimms’ fairy tale Hansel and Gretel, the witch serves the children pancakes with apples, nuts, and sugar.
See also Apples, Witch’s Brew; BOTANICALS: Apples; CALENDAR: Days of the Dead, Festivals of the Dead, Twelve Nights of Yule; DICTIONARY: Ciaraula; DIVINE WITCH: Angitia, Perchta; ERGOT: Corn Mother: Perchta; FAIRY-TALE WITCHES: Grimms’ Fairy Tales: Hansel and Gretel.
Pumpkins are the food many people most associate with witchcraft. They are perceived as a magical food: it is no coincidence that Cinderella’s coach was a transformed pumpkin.
Pumpkins are emblems of Halloween. Pumpkins, whether left whole or carved into jack o’ lanterns symbolize Halloween for many; their image is incorporated into all sorts of Halloween memorabilia.
Pumpkins are the fruit of the Cucurbita gourd and are native to the Western Hemisphere. Although pumpkins may be boiled, baked, roasted or made into pie, 99 percent of all pumpkins sold are now used as jack o’lanterns. A jack o’lantern is a hollowed-out pumpkin that has been carved to resemble a face. Pulp and seeds are removed and may be cooked and eaten afterwards although many people do discard them, only desiring the pumpkin’s shell. Most pumpkins are orange, however some are white. White ones have become popular recently and are used to create “ghostly” jack o’lanterns.
Jack o’lanterns are an Irish tradition and were first carved from turnips. However, Irish immigrants to the United States quickly realized that large round pumpkins were perfect for creating jack o’lanterns and turnips are now rarely used.
Pumpkins are also identified with African Diaspora spiritual and magical traditions. Enslaved Africans recognized the pumpkins they encountered in the West as a type of gourd, popularly used as containers and magic spell ingredients in Africa. Pumpkins were thus easily and naturally adapted.
Pumpkins are associated with Oshun, the Yoruba orisha of love, beauty, fertility, and magic. Orange is her sacred color; Oshun is said to cast her magic spells with pumpkins, and pumpkins are identified as her children. Oshun’s devotees or those to whom she has rendered assistance are forbidden to eat pumpkins, especially the seeds. (The injunction also extends to yellow and orange squash.)
In Vodou and other traditions, pumpkins are often hollowed out to serve as magical lamps for divination and spell-casting. The pumpkin is treated as if similar to a cauldron. The hollowed pumpkins are filled with oil; cotton wicks are floated in the oil and lit.
See DICTIONARY: Orisha, Voudou.
Also known as ramps and rampion (and in French, raiponce), rapunzel (Campanula rapunculus) grows wild in the fields but, as the story says, is easily cultivated in the garden. Roots are eaten raw or cooked like any other root vegetable; the leaves may be eaten raw as a salad or prepared like spinach.
See FAIRY-TALE WITCHES: Grimms’ Fairy Tales: Rapunzel.
Salt’s use as a natural preservative reveals its magical power. Salt’s primary magical use is protection. The simplest protection spell of all consists of casting a circle with salt and sitting within it until all danger passes. Allegedly no evil power can transgress that salt circle. Salt is carried in amulet bags for protection.
Salt is also used for magical purification and cleansing rituals: the simplest personal cleansing spell involves bathing in water to which sea salt has been added.
It is considered among the lunar foods: most salt is white, and salt is extracted from water, whether from the sea or laboriously through the evaporation of brine water in salt mines.
Salt’s associations with water enhanced its identification with lunar goddesses and with psychic, protective, magic power. The constant presence of the saltshaker on the table derives from its magical use: once upon a time, open saltcellars were preferred as this way salt emanates more power than when tightly enclosed.
It was once commonly believed that evil spirits wishing to take possession of a body or otherwise cause harm were likely to enter through the mouth together with food. Salt added to food allegedly foils these plans.
Many spirits allegedly hate salt, particularly Djinn and sidhe (fairies), and will avoid it at all cost. They reject offerings made with salt; those cooking for these spirits are advised to omit salt entirely. Those wishing to prevent these spirits from partaking of a meal are conversely encouraged to use it. Some anthropologists believe that references to spirits’ dislike of salt (usually accompanied by an equal hatred of iron) indicates references to aboriginal people without knowledge of iron or salt, and first introduced into their territory by invaders.
Not all spirits hate salt:
Ogun, West Africa’s Spirit of Iron accepts bags of salt as a ritual offering
Russia’s horned spirits, the Leshii, accept offerings with salt
An ancient Bavarian salt mine is named Berchtesgaden or Berchta’s (Perchta’s) Hall
The notion that spirits despised salt carried over to Christian mythology of the devil. During the witch-hunt era, it was commonly believed that the devil hates salt. Witch-hunters claimed that salt was omitted during sabbat feasts. A legend developed that witches too despised salt; allegedly one way to identify a witch was merely to pay attention at table. The witch was the one complaining that the food was too salty. To cook without salt was thus to leave oneself vulnerable to accusations of witchcraft. Needless to say, many sought safety and protection by lavishly, ostentatiously, and publicly salting their food.
Salt is used to cast magic spells. Salt is an excellent conductor of energy and so is a primary tool of Russian whispering spells:
1. Murmur your desires over salt, then slip it into someone’s drink, although it may be more discreetly added to food.
2. Feed this enchanted salt to your heart’s desire as a seduction or romance charm.
See CALENDAR: Sabbats; DICTIONARY: Sabbat; DIVINE WITCH: Perchta; FAIRIES: Nature-spirit Fairies: Sidhe; HORNED ONE: Cain, The Devil, Leshii; MAGICAL PROFESSIONS: Metalworkers.
In ancient Rome, traditional New Year’s rituals included giving snake-shaped cakes as gifts for good luck. At the Thesmophoria, the festival dedicated to Demeter and Persephone, among the offerings ritually placed within Earth were cakes shaped like female genitalia and snakes.
Cakes shaped in the form of snakes were among the ritual foods offered to the witch-goddess Angitia. The ritual survives in the annual Festival of San Domenico that now incorporates many of Angitia’s traditions. (See DIVINE WITCH: Angitia.) Although no recipes from Angitia and Demeter’s ancient priestesses survive, the following is a modern variation based on the cakes carried in San Domenico processionals.
Two cups of all-purpose flour
One-half cup sugar
Scant teaspoon baking soda
Grated peel of an orange
Ground cinnamon to taste
Honey (at least one-quarter cup but to taste)
An espresso-sized cup of hot black coffee
One jigger chocolate or orange liqueur
Sour black cherry jam
Red and green candied fruit
1. Preheat oven to 350°F/180°C/Gas 4
2. Place the flour in a mixing bowl; add the sugar, baking soda, grated orange peel and cinnamon.
3. Warm the honey carefully until it is almost bubbling. (Be careful not to scorch it. Do not microwave; the best, safest way to warm honey is in a bain-marie or a bowl sitting in a pan of hot water.)
4. Remove the honey from heat. Immediately make a well in the middle of the blended flour and add the honey, hot cup of coffee and liqueur. Mix quickly.
5. Divide the dough in half.
6. Form one half into the shape of a long loaf.
7. Spread the jam down the center of this loaf, then fold or wrap the edges of the dough over the jam so that it is enclosed within.
8. Get creative: form a snake’s head and tail.
9. Curl the snake and place it on a greased baking sheet.
10. Make green eyes from the green candy and trim the red candy into the form of a forked tongue. Insert into the snake’s head. (Depending on the type of candy you are using, this may be done before or after baking.)
11. Repeat with the other half of the dough.
12. Place in the preheated oven for 20 minutes. Remove and allow the snakes to cool completely.
13. If desired, once cool the cakes may be decorated with pastry paint or a dark chocolate glaze. (Melt dark chocolate in a bain-marie and brush onto the snake using a pastry brush.)
See ANIMALS: Snakes; DIVINE WITCH: Angitia; ERGOT: Corn Mother: Demeter.
Strega means “witch” and so this is “Witch Liqueur.” According to legend, this Italian liqueur is based on an ancient witchcraft potion. Its label and bottle feature witches: young witches dance around the famous tree of Benevento on the label, and the bottle also features a portrait of a snake-haired witch with her owl and broom.
Strega is a steam-distilled liqueur crafted from approximately seventy herbs, barks, roots, and spices. Its yellow color is obtained from saffron, which has an ancient reputation as a magical aphrodisiac.
There are two versions of Strega’s origins:
Strega is genuinely based on a witch’s love potion. Benevento, where Strega has been produced since 1860, is an area long associated with witchcraft traditions.
The recipe originally belonged to local monks. Giuseppe Alberti, a liquor distributor, coaxed the recipe from them, marketing it as Alberti Medical Elixir. It didn’t sell. So Alberti renamed it Strega; it became extremely popular and remains among Italy’s best-selling liqueurs.
Some suggest that both versions are true: Alberti received the formula from the monks but they received it from the witches!
Whether Strega was developed by witches or not, the liqueur has been incorporated into modern witchcraft traditions. It is an appropriate and popular offering to the Italian witchgoddess, Diana. It may be offered as a libation or in a glass, however Diana has a predilection for flame offerings:
1. Pour a small quantity of Strega into a flameproof bowl and set it alight.
2. Toast Diana with your own glass while keeping an eye on the burning flames.
Don’t be too generous with the Strega. Be sure to add only a little to the bowl—no higher than a quarter-full. As Strega is highly flammable there is a tendency for flames to shoot up.
See DIVINE WITCH: Diana; PLACES: Benevento.
In some parts of England, “Witch’s Brew” is a nickname for cider with alcohol content, more commonly known in the United States as “hard cider” and in Britain as “Scrumpy.”
See Apples, page 503.
Not all witch’s food is edible, nor is it all really “food.” It was once a popular belief in Sweden that witches sent their cats out to steal food from neighbors, especially butter. According to legend, these witches’ cats once ate so much butter that they vomited it up on their way home. Thus the yellow bile that cats sometimes cough up is called “witch’s butter.”
See ANIMALS: Cats; DIVINE WITCH: Freya.
Although the individual kitchen witch’s egg might be fried, boiled or scrambled, “witch’s egg” is a nickname for several types of fungus. Some types of mushroom have what is called a “universal veil,” a tissue covering that serves to protect the immature mushroom, which makes it look something like an egg. The universal veil is, ultimately, ruptured by the expanding mushroom and either disappears altogether or leaves behind “warts” on the mushroom cap. Among the mushrooms displaying a universal veil are many amanitas and stinkhorns.
The following fungi bear the nickname “witch’s egg”:
Amanita muscaria, also known as Fly Agaric, is deadly poisonous and not to be played with. It is intrinsically linked to shamanism and witchcraft and is a symbol of good luck. Further information on this witch’s egg is found in BOTANICALS: Amanita muscaria.
Elaphomyces granulatus, also known as Deer Truffle, has long been considered an aphrodisiac. It is a component of love potions and burned as incense. The deer truffle, technically a “false truffle,” matures underground and is not considered an edible delicacy, but is beloved by deer and wild boar. There is debate regarding whether it is poisonous. This witch’s egg also has a reputation as a galactagogue, a substance that stimulates women’s milk supply.
Phallus impudicus, also known as Stinkhorn, is a member of the mushroom family whose Latin name indicates that they closely resemble penises. The tip of phallus impudicus is covered with a foulsmelling, spore-laden slime, hence the name “stinkhorn.” Some consider them delicacies. Phallus impudicus (and other stinkhorns) emerge from Earth from what appears to be an egg. This witch’s egg has traditionally been used in aphrodisiacs and love spells, and to induce abortions.
Witches’ Salt is another name for what is usually called “black salt.” Black salt is either black or speckled black and white, unlike standard white salt. Black salt is usually table salt (sodium chloride) with additions although some simply dye salt black. It may or may not be edible but is usually used as a magical powder intended to either cast or antidote a malevolent spell.
Additions to the salt may include any of the following:
Scrapings from the bottom and sides of cast-iron pans or cauldrons
Powdered, dried snakeskin
The Saturnalia was the old Roman festival corresponding to the Winter Solstice. Many of its traditions have been incorporated into modern Christmas practices including giving gifts to children. The star of the Saturnalia, the Roman god Saturn, was a white-bearded old gentleman who bears a resemblance to the modern Santa Claus. Cakes were a part of Saturnalia rituals, and are now an important component of Christmas or Yule. Traditional Yule cakes include the following.
Bûche de Noël
Bûche de Noël means Christmas or Yule log in French. The Yule log, traditionally burned at Christmas time, derives from European Pagan traditions. Trees were sacred, the subject of the earliest spiritual traditions, especially those associated with goddesses like Frigga and Diana. In Gaul (ancient France) Diana was adored in the form of an oak log.
The bûche or log is generally made of a sheet of Génoise cake pasty, spread with various creams, usually a butter cream but maple cream has also recently become popular and extends the tree metaphor. This is an extremely sophisticated concoction: the cake is rolled into the shape of a log and decorated using a pastry bag with fluted nozzle and filled with some type of butter cream, often chocolate or coffee. Bûche de Noël are often beautiful, elaborately decorated cakes, ornamented with woodland motifs such as candied leaves.
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.
Two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
Peeled fresh garlic, finely chopped
One can of chickpeas
Chopped fresh mint
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1. Warm the olive oil in a cast-iron pan.
2. Carefully sauté the garlic in the olive oil.
3. When the garlic begins to brown, add the chickpeas to the pan (but not the liquid from the canc).
4. Add the chopped mint and sauté for fifteen minutes.
5. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and extra mint if desired.
6. Serve on pasta or on toast.
a This is an old-fashioned, traditional recipe and so a raw egg-white is incorporated. Many no longer consider consumption of raw eggs safe. The fluffy, cloud-like texture cannot be achieved without it, however if you are concerned, just eliminate the egg—the desert still tastes good.
b Mexican hot chocolate mix is sold in disks or blocks intended to dissolve in hot liquids and often incorporates ground cinnamon and almonds. (Villalba recommends Mayordomo brand.) If Mexican hot chocolate is unavailable, substitute dark, bitter chocolate, not sweetened chocolate.
c If the mixture is too dry or if you prefer a saucier recipe add a little of the liquid.