Message fail?

Having recently written a post on kitchen witchery, the topic is still on my mind, along with vague intentions of practicing it some more. In one of those probably-not-true-synchronicity-but-close-enough coincidences, Amazon.com recommended Grimoire of a Kitchen Witch: An Essential Guide to Witchcraft by Rachel Patterson to me today.  Interested, I clicked through to the book description to find out more, which happened to also enlarge the book cover:

Grimoire of a Kitchen Witch book cover

Yes, that’s a skull. Okay, kitchen witchery and cooking are two different topics, but there can be a lot of overlap between them, and there are good reasons publishers tend not to put skulls on the covers of cookbooks. A skull doesn’t suggest “delicious food” or “healthy recipes inside;” it says “death.” This looks like an excellent cover for a book on necromancy; for a book on kitchen witchery, it seems incongruous as all get-out. Adding to the dissonance, the reviewers quoted on the publisher’s website describe the book as “very helpful,” “friendly,” “playful,” and “sprinkled with humour.” One writes, “If the word ‘grimoire’ makes you think of a book of dark rites to perform, maybe involving conjuring up the devil, think again. The Grimoire of a Kitchen Witch is more a book of brilliant spells you could do, maybe while conjuring up the odd cake.” I believe them. This could very well be a fine book, although I’m going to wait for a few customer reviews before deciding whether or not to buy it. But I’m utterly bewildered as to what about this cover design says kitchen witchery. The egg timer?

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

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.