K is for kitchen witchery

The idea of being a kitchen witch holds a lot of appeal for me. Indeed, the name of this blog comes from the ideal I hold of a magical lifestyle centered in a home (whether or not I’ve managed to combine the two is a question for another day). I admire practicality and efficiency, qualities kitchen witchery has in abundance. For instance, it’s a given that I’m going to be cooking and baking. Should I need to do a spell, rather than fit both cooking and spellcraft into the day, kitchen witchery allows me to do the two in tandem. Instead of devoting some of my precious storage space (and my budget!) to ingredients and some more to spell components that have little use outside of magic, I can use the contents of my kitchen in my practice.

breadPragmatism isn’t the only reason I’m attracted to kitchen witchery. In all honesty, even though I love baking and can get along all right with cooking, food preparation is often more of a chore than a delight. (Decades of onion-chopping experience behind me, and dicing onions still doesn’t thrill me for some reason.) Kitchen witchery gives me an opportunity to make this necessary cooking special: it’s not just a casserole, it’s a spell (!). I enjoy reading through tables of magical correspondences, and food correspondences are just as interesting as the better-known herbal ones.

Still, I have trouble considering myself to be a kitchen witch. The practice itself could be something of a challenge. Ideally, as I baked something, I’d be thinking magical thoughts, infusing the food with my intent, considering the magical flavor of each ingredient as well as its mundane one. But I know that when I cook, the cooking itself grabs my attention. Much as I may dream of charging a pan of brownies with good wishes for the friends who will be eating them, in reality, my baking thoughts are more along the line of 3 ounces of unsweetened chocolate…okay, where’s the unsweetened chocolate?…no, that’s the semi-sweet…there it is! My cooking rarely gets more magical than to hope that Fornax watches over my baking while it’s in the oven.

And, well, there’s a deeper issue here. Kitchen witchery doesn’t seem all that relevant to my life at the moment. For months now, I’ve been struggling to figure out what exactly my spirituality is, what I believe, how I can live in accordance with my beliefs, and how my life has shaped those beliefs. I’m not finding much use for the magical practices of kitchen witchery right now.

That said, I’m trying not to be too rigid about all this. Yes, it’s magic, which I’ve never done much of. I tend to make the same distinction Arin Murphy-Hiscock does in The Way of the Hedge Witch between hearthcraft (a spiritual practice encompassing the entirety of home life) and kitchen witchery (a magical practice centered on the kitchen, operating through cooking), and I’m more inclined towards hearthcraft. I often forget that kitchen witchery can be part of hearthcraft, not just an alternative practice, just like I often forget that magic can be small blessings and general good thoughts, not just Spells of Mighty Import.

Funny how writing a post on something fires up my interest in it. Now I’ve got this urge to curl up with Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Wicca in the Kitchen (magical food correspondences) and a cup of tea. Happy Friday!

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photo credit: madlyinlovewithlife via photopin cc

The dining solitary

My attention was caught by a recent post on Pagan Blog Prompts, so I’m detouring from the Pagan Blog Project for a moment. (I don’t confuse the blogs themselves, but I do mix their names up occasionally.) The prompt in question:

Throughout the many different cultures around the world, meal time is a coming together of the family. From the way the table is set, to the thanks we give, to the conversations we have around the table. As a Pagan, how do you and your family make meal time special?

Like my spirituality, my meals are often a solitary endeavor. I fully believe that meal time should be special, but I have a more basic challenge to meet first, namely, raising my meals above the level of refueling stops. Lunch is especially prone to this danger. Like many people, I work a daytime job where lunch is the longest break in the day. I get half an hour for lunch. I don’t feel as if I’m gobbling my food down, but eating in a starkly-decorated (if old holiday cards, stale news clippings, and a calendar count as decoration) windowless staff kitchen does not enhance a meal. Breakfast and dinner have their own issues. I manage to eat breakfast at home, but during the week I rarely leave myself enough time to eat it sitting down. Instead, a bowl of cereal and a glass of juice sit on the kitchen counter, and I grab bites as I rush around getting ready to go to work. This leaves dinner as the most traditional meal of the day. I usually have the time to make it look “right”: served at the dining room table, on a place mat with a napkin, using all the right dinnerware. But by the end of the day, I’m more interested in getting dinner eaten than in doing anything extra to make the meal special.

I haven’t found any easy answers to making the solitary meal more than just the ingestion of food, but I’m trying to stay open to ideas. I got myself into the habit of giving thanks for the meal. I didn’t grow up in a family that said grace, so this was a radical new practice for me. Keeping it simple, I’ve memorized a blessing I liked and mentally recite it before meals. When pinched for time, or when eating somewhere so busy that I can’t concentrate, I pare it down even further, making sure I take a good appreciative look at what I’m about to eat before thinking Thank you.

I have ideas of what I could add to this practice, but I haven’t committed myself to any of them. I could pay more attention to the meal itself (mindful eating). Since childhood, I’ve read during meals when eating alone, which is not really compatible with being in the moment and being aware of my food. I know I’m less than enthusiastic about this idea because it feels like I have to sacrifice good reading time. Still, if I’ve gone to the trouble of making a tasty dish, why eat it so obliviously that I never notice it? Another option is to make an offering before eating. I’m still exploring why I’m so reluctant to adopt this practice long-term, but I’ve done it a few times, and it did remind me that a meal can be sacred. Another possibility is to start a little earlier and remember the magic involved in cooking. I’ve never done all that much in the way of kitchen witchery, much as I like the idea of it, but ever since I learned the Romans had a goddess of ovens, baking has had more of a magical feeling to it than it used to.

Food is the great communal rite for people of many faiths. I’m sure there’s a way to make a solitary meal seem as sacred as a holiday banquet, even if I haven’t found it yet. After all, if there are solitary practitioners of religions, then there can be solitary practitioners of sacred dining. But I’m making no promises that I’m going to figure out how to be one of them!

O Fornax!

Last month, I learned about the ancient Roman festival of Fornacalia. This was a festival held in the date range of February 5-17, when people honored ovens (fornaces) and the goddess of ovens, Fornax. Fornax had some important responsibilities: she kept ovens from starting fires, kept bread from burning, and in general, made sure that baking came out right.

Clearly, this is a goddess after my own heart. On the baking-cooking spectrum, I prefer baking, although I end up cooking more frequently. There’s just something wonderfully magical about baking. Put together a selection of ingredients. Get them into a pan or Dutch oven or casserole dish. Put that vessel into the oven, close the oven door, and the alchemy happens. You don’t just have hot, sweet liquid batter; you have a light and fluffy cake. Your sticky, damp, inedible bread dough has metamorphosed into a golden brown loaf of scrumptiousness.  Form has changed; texture has changed. Cooking—at least the mostly vegetarian, rice-and-beans style cooking I do most often—doesn’t usually transform the ingredients so drastically. Oh, sure, the onions get translucent and the rice grains and beans swell up, but mostly, a bunch of raw mixed ingredients doesn’t look all that different than a bunch of cooked mixed ingredients. Delicious, yes; magical, not quite as much.

Of course, the magic here is science. I have several books that explain at great and fascinating length how leaveners work, how gluten is formed, and what low, prolonged heat does to the collagen in meat. I love reading those sorts of cookbooks. On top of which, in researching Fornax, I learned that she’s a bit more artificial than many deities, probably invented after the fact as an origin for the Fornacalia. I’m guessing that there isn’t any mythology about her, no tales of lovers taken or spurned, no stories of her having spared Rome from destruction by preventing an oven fire from getting out of control. I can remember all that, though, and still consider baking to be magical and think that maybe there are worse perspectives I could have than thinking of my oven as a shrine to a minor, yet important goddess.

Non-bakers have reason to honor Fornax as well. Surely fornaces reminded you of the English word “furnaces.” Furnaces: very important to those of us in the Upper Midwest, especially at the time of the Fornacalia.