It is not hard to see where magic and food intersect. Most modern Pagan traditions hold that the planet we live on deserves reverence. "Earth-based spirituality" or "Nature religion" are common euphemisms for various forms of Paganism. Almost all magickal systems honor the elements as sacred participants and invited guests. Air, Fire, Water, and Earth are frequently invoked at Pagan rituals. Everything we eat comes from the earth. Yes! That includes organic vegetables, ethically-raised meats, and manufactured foods with additives and chemicals with a list of unpronounceable ingredients as long as your arm. We live here on the earth. The food we eat lives, grows, or is made here, too.
Food is transformed by the elements. Fire in all its myriad forms heats our food. Water washes clean our vegetables, boils stew, and turns leaves into tea. Convection ovens employ Air and help foods cook faster. And Earth, well, that's everywhere. Clay dishes, metal pans, the soil our foods grow in. There's no part of what we eat that isn't impacted by the elements.
A basic understanding of the magickal arts reveals that we aim to work in accord with the natural world, stepping into the flow of the landscapes we find ourselves in. The phrase "changing consciousness at will" is frequently applied to all sorts of magickal practices. One of the best ways to change your consciousness and be in touch with the natural world is to be aware of the food you eat. Food has the incredible power to change our mood, impact our energy levels (both physically and metaphysically), and bring us in alignment with the natural forces present in our environment.
Working with food as a magickal practice doesn't require much more than you already have right now. It's possible your refrigerator, freezer, pantry, and spice cabinet are completely stocked to bursting with every imaginable protein, meat, and vegetable you might need, or you might be in possession of one lone mushroom, a box of leftover rice from lunch at Panda Express, and an egg. What you have, what you can afford to buy, and where you are able to buy or grow the foods you eat has little to do with the magick you can create with the food you have.
Each magickal system has its guidelines, rules, and methods. It's no different with food magick. I've concluded that there are five basic principles to understand. Every time you shop for ingredients or sit in your car in a drive-through line or eat popcorn at a movie, you can remember these guidelines and put magickal intentions to work for you.
All food is sacred. It is. Sit with that for a minute and let that fact settle in. Notice I didn't say, "All food is healthy," or, "All food should be organic" or, "All food is sacred only when it comes from a farmer's market, is locally produced, is cruelty free, and is lovingly prepared by a personal chef named Jacques in sacred space." A McDonald's cheeseburger is sacred. So are potato chips and skinny vanilla lattes. Microwaveable pizza is a gift from the gods, and bags of plain white rice and red beans purchased at the discount grocery store are quite possibly more sacred than the Great Pyramid of Cheops, Stonehenge, and the Charge of the Goddess all combined.
Don't get me wrong—eat well, eat healthy foods, do whatever you can to support local farmers and food artisans, and do grow your own food if you have the resources to. But having access to "clean" and "sustainable" foodstuffs doesn't make them any more sacred than pre-packaged foods from the megastore. What it does mean is that you are fortunate enough to be able to make choices about what you buy, grow, and eat, and that's a truly amazing state of affairs. Absolutely revel in and appreciate your good fortune.
For many people, regular access to fresh fruits and vegetables, free-range meat, and organic spices just isn't a reality. There are areas in the United States known as "food deserts"—whole neighborhoods, hundreds of square blocks without grocery stores. You couldn't find a bunch of basil if you searched for a month, but you could find every candy bar and fast food restaurant you can name. People must eat. I would love for there to be food equity and justice and access for every single person in the world, and I'll never judge anyone for their food choices when I have more choices than they.
Let me give you an example from my own childhood. Milk sop. I thought milk sop was the best breakfast treat in the world. My mother would make milk sop a couple of times a month, and I thought I was the luckiest kid around when I woke up to find a steaming bowl of it waiting for me. Milk sop is bread, sugar and hot milk. Mmm...right?
What I didn't know was that I got milk sop when there was nothing else to eat. The bread was the hard heels of a leftover loaf, ripped up into cubes. The milk was the last inch or two in the container and sugar was to sprinkle liberally over the top so it was sweet and I'd eat it. Milk sop is one of the most sacred and dear meals I can ever eat because it's the meal I ate when we had absolutely nothing else in the house. Eating milk sop meant my mother probably didn't eat that day. Milk and bread and sugar remind me what it is to feed another person the very last morsel you have and that the most meager ingredients, lovingly prepared, can sustain life and bring joy. And if sustaining life isn't potent magick then I don't know what is.
Eating what you need speaks to paying attention to internal conversations and the wisdom of our own bodies. These are big questions being raised here. "What do I need to eat?" and "Why do I need to eat it?" The answers are incredibly complex, as they have to do with hormone levels, chemical processes in the brain, mineral deficiencies and excesses, emotions associated with lack and surplus, our childhood, outside stimulation (like advertisements), societal expectations, and taboos. This list could go on and on.
Let's look at this from the perspective of magick. It's a well-held magickal belief that there are forces at work beyond our human understanding. Perhaps that means goddesses and the Good Folk to you. Maybe those forces have to do with the alignment of the planets and stars, or the way that the mycelial network communicates over vast distances. No matter how you define those forces, part of being a magick worker is to pay attention and act accordingly to the messages you receive or interpret from those forces. The highly complex system that is your body is like one of those forces. It sends you messages, even if they are highly encrypted, almost indecipherable, and practically alien in their origins, even though those origins might be right there in your liver, your taste buds, or your hypothalamus gland. The key is that it's not always going to be clear why you are being called to act a certain way, but rather you should try to hear the message, imagine what it might mean to you in this moment, and then act with awareness and purpose.
And that's why it's perfectly magickal to exclaim to the universe, "I need to eat a pretzel right now!" Maybe you just really want a pretzel because the people that own the pretzel stand are nefariously pumping out delicious pretzel smells in hopes of enticing you to buy a pretzel. Maybe your body needs salt right this minute and says, "Hey! Isn't there a pretzel stand around here somewhere?" Align with the magick and act consciously. Buy the pretzel. Eat it. Enjoy it. Or note that you really want something salty right in this moment and decide that a pretzel isn't the optimal choice for you and go get a bowl of miso soup instead.
The forces you are reacting to have a message. You might interpret that message as the need for a specific kind of food or to get certain ingredients, minerals, or vitamins into your system. Beyond that, maybe pretzels remind you of where you grew up or a person you love and adore that's no longer part of your life. The forces at work might want you to eat a pretzel because somewhere in the recesses of your mind you know that it's nearly the anniversary of your favourite aunt Elsie's passing, even though you haven't thought about her in years. Go with the magick. Eat the foods that you are attracted to, that are calling you for some unknown reason, and see if you can find the reason.
Human beings have been sharing food with each other for hundreds of thousands of years, millions even. Perhaps you shared the milk from your own body with another person or you were fed by mother's milk. You would not be reading this today if someone hadn't shared food with you. A study of college-aged students published in the journal Appetite27 showed that people that shared their food with others were also more likely to give up their seat on public transport, help a friend move, act with more consideration to others, listen better, and exhibit "pro-social" tendencies.
Interestingly enough, there's an echo of wisdom from our ancient Sumerian friends in that the students noted a marked difference between simply "eating together" and "sharing a meal." I define "eating together" as dining with another person. We do that all the time. We find ourselves at a restaurant with someone. We typically order separate meals, likely we pay for "our" meal. What's on my plate is mine and what's on your plate is yours. Sharing a meal, however, means that we share food with each other. We eat from one pot, we pick foods from a communal platter that we've all contributed to, even eat from one another's plates. There's a real difference in how we conduct ourselves when we're consciously sharing with another person or group.
Again, let's look at this magickally for a moment. One of the main benefits of practicing in a coven or any form of magickal group that works together regularly is the sense of a common bond and common purpose. Feelings of sympathy, empathy, genuine concern, even love are present when the group gathers. There's an egregore, a shared consciousness, that begins to impact the group on subtle, magickal levels. These feelings don't happen in a vacuum, though; they need to be cultivated. Preparing and sharing meals together is one way to stimulate the process of bonding. Sharing food together requires trust, restraint, paying attention to who has eaten and who has not, so you know when it's okay to fill your plate again. If you learn that a new coven member doesn't eat tomatoes, you might consider bringing a wider variety of fruits and vegetables to your next meeting. That shows care and attention and that a person's food needs are important. Egregore grows.
What if you are a solitary practitioner? Share your meals anyway, as often as you can, with the non-magickal people in your life. Let me tell you a short story of a birthday dinner I once had at a local restaurant as an example. My partner and I were seated next to a married couple. We could hear them discussing their menu choices. We settled on our choices. All the appetizers showed up about the same time. I looked over and commented on "his" dish. I'd considered it but opted for something else. Turns out, he was mulling over what to get and was stuck between ordering what he did and what I'd ordered. I asked if he wanted a bite or two of my meal. His wife was initially appalled at the suggestion, but he was totally game. He offered me a fork full of his appetizer. We exchanged names. We discussed food. Talked about where we lived. We discovered that we shared the same birthday and that our partners were treating us to a special meal. We pulled our tables together and ended up eating our meals "family style," sharing everything that came up. We even split the bill when we were done. It is one of the best birthday meals I've ever had, and it was with two total strangers.
Maybe eating a meal with someone you don't know is a little too far for you to go just now. Maybe you could organize a potluck at work. Bake a cake and share it with your neighbor. Share your gummy bears with a stranger you meet on the bus. What does this have to do with your magickal practices? Sharing food means you must interact with others in real life, even if that's awkward. It means navigating personal food preferences, letting go of having all the control, and learning from and about others. Lastly, and most importantly, sharing what you can with others connects you with folks on a very human level. I can share my food with you and know that at the present moment in time, you are not hungry or thirsty. You may hold wildly different beliefs than I do, or not be the kind of person I would choose to hang out with in the future, but we can share food together and celebrate the fact that we both have something to eat. Magick is often cited as being about power. I can think of no greater use of magickal power than ensuring the health and happiness of one other human being, albeit temporarily, by making sure they are fed. A simple "thank you" goes a long way. There's a spell called, "the Thermos of Gratitude" included in the recipe section of The Magick of Food. It speaks in detail about the practice of gratitude. Expressing thanks, being for grateful what others have provided for us, is a profoundly satisfying practice, but what does it have to do with magick? Well a lot actually.
Very few magicks left in the world are done entirely alone. Even if we practice by ourselves, we're probably reading books written about the magick other people have done and repeating those spells, incantations, and rituals. If you work within a particular magickal tradition, unless you started that tradition yourself, there's a good chance there are elders and founders and folk that have shown you the magickal ropes. It's a fair bet that almost every part of your magickal practice owes something to someone else. If the magick you do means a great deal to you, your family, your coven, and the tradition you practice in, recognizing that fact and saying "thank you" once in a while is a simple and elegant way to remember those that have contributed to your life and impacted your well-being in a positive way. One of the easiest ways to express gratitude is to say "thank you" at every meal. Maybe you're thanking the person that cooked your meal, or served your meal, or perhaps you're saying the "big thank you" to the goddess in your chosen pantheon, your ancestors, or the planet you live on.
There's a phrase I heard at a large gathering of witches. As the spellwork was drawing to an end for the evening, the cry of "the magick must move" began echoing around the stone circle where the ritual was happening. I understood that chant to mean that we must move our magick out of the cauldron, so to speak, and take it out into the world.
We do that when we pass our magick along, sharing our skills and knowledge with others, writing down spells and recipes and the best cooking techniques. There is a power in freeing the magick and letting the intention of a spell go where it must to do its best work. It's the same with food magick. The collecting of ingredients and the alchemy of cooking a meal, coupled with the magickal workings embedded into each herb and vegetable, are temporary vehicles for the magick being created. There is no ever filling cauldron where ingredients replenish themselves whenever there's a need for more food. As much as I wish it were true, the magick of a full harvest table only lasts in that form for a few brief hours until the food is eaten and transformed into calories.
The magick must move, and move it does. The food moves through our physical bodies and, at some point, we literally pass it on. But there's a magickal way in which we're passing it along, too. Food replenishes us; it nourishes us and those we share our food with. If eating together or providing food for others is a regular part of your magick, you are passing your magick along through the actions and thoughts of everyone that eats your food. If there's spellwork kneaded into every loaf you bake, if each spice and herb is chosen for its magickal properties as well as its flavor profile, if gratitude is expressed for the life of the animal that died to be reborn in another form on your dining room table, then when your oven has cooled and the dishes are done and folks leave to go about their business, the magick will move with them. It must. The ones you feed carry the spells out with them into everything they do. That's powerful magick indeed.
Excerpted from The Magick of Food, by Gwion Raven.
27"'Our' Food Versus 'My' Food: Investigating the Relation Between Childhood Shared Food Practices and Adult Prosocial Behavior in Belgium." Charlotte J.S. De Backer, Maryanne L. Fisher, Karolien Poels, Koen Ponnet. Appetite, Volume 84, January 2015.
Gwion Raven (Sebastopol, CA) has been a practicing witch and ritualist with the Reclaiming Tradition since 2003. He has taught Reclaiming Core classes, week-long witch camps, and embodied devotional work. Gwion has studied ...