January/February 2006 Living Now
Kitchen Rites: A Taste For Magic
by Jesse Wolf Hardin
an element of magic in cooking. And a loving cook is a magician.
Magic, after all, is the spell behind every successful recipe. No matter
how basic its designs or how often its been served or how quickly
consumed... and its one of the missing ingredients in any culinary
flop. The element of sorcery is evident in a flaming glaze flambé at
midnight, and when were ushered into a state of enchantment by
the designs of foodstuffs artfully arrayed on the plate, their colors
swimming about under the influence of candlelight. Whenever our delighted
cook leans towards the window facing the river, to better spoon moonbeams
into the blueness of her bowl. And when an eagle calls, just as she
concludes her daily dinners blessing. Watch her lift a spatula
in the air like a magic scepter, followed by a trail of tiny exploding
stars. A gentle motion of her hand, and she calls forth the spirit of
flying doves from a steaming pot pie, evokes the essence of laughing
children residing in homemade cookies and milk, raises swaying sheaves
of wheat from the holy ground of her wholesome crusty bread.
Not that the essence of the magical is restricted to such singularly
exquisite moments. There is utter magic in the way that organic molecules
reconfigure themselves, making the transition from soil to plant, to
animal and to human, and inevitably back to soil again. Theres
magic in our digestive systems, a partnership of bodily acids and bacteria
rendering food into a puree of assimilable nutrients. In the way smells
transport us through an ether of mirage-like memories and immediate
desires. The way that tiny single-celled yeast plants inspire bread
dough to heave and rise. The way that the suns rays are swallowed
up by the glistening leaves, sweetened with the trees best intentions,
and then squirted into the chambers of a pulsing orange. The effects
of the orange on our tongue. The bodily mending made possible by its
vitamins and its minerals. The inevitable smile on the face of any kid
who eats it.
A single bite of one of a lovingly prepared meal, and a connection
with the universe is made. Great things suddenly possible, and yet nowhere
one needs to go... for all that matters is right here, right now. We
give thanks with every breath to the fertile, hallowed ground we live
on and eat the bounty of. Thanks to God or Goddess, to Gaia, to the
Holy Spirit in any language, by any name.
For tens of thousands of years, on all parts of the globe, food was
held to be sacred. Sacred not just because we required it to live, but
because we recognized in it an expression and bodily extension of the
divine whole. Food appeared as a tangible manifestation of the Anima
Mundi, the world soul. In fact, for most of our long history humans
believed that to consume life of any kind was literally to "eat
God," to consume and assume the manifest flesh of Spirit: a pantheon
on a plate! To the ancestors of every race, a feast was a ritual
partaking of the Agape, the sacred meal. They likewise affirmed the
intrinsic wholeness/holiness in every element of unperverted Nature.
They recognized that the most integrative and satisfying truths in life
come not as rational conclusion, but as spiritual revelation, as epiphany.
They knew as we are obliged to learn a ritual approach to
our dinners that heightens meaning while deepening sense of value. Every
meal, a magical, spirit filled rite. Every food, a source of connection.
There was a time in the not so distant past when all devotional rosary
beads were made out of real rose petals, hand rolled and sealed with
lampblack. Instead of tasteless communion wafers the priests served
real and wholesome chunks of bread, broken from a common loaf. Wiccans
make their ceremonies more real by hand feeding each other bread and
mead. It is this depth of authenticity, relevance and nourishment that
feeds the most powerful religiosity: "binding together."
Handling, smelling and eating of the same foods we are bound in exquisite
experience as well as corporal purpose. We bond with the food, with
the earth that supplies it, with the gentle hands that planted or fed
or transported it. We bond with one another through shared experience
and shared tastes. We bond with our families, our communities and ecosystems,
bond with all that is.
No matter how modern or mundane, every kitchen in the world offers
an opportunity for revelation: self-knowledge, self love, empowerment,
connection and enchantment! Cooking opens up the door and invites
us into the experience of sacred space. Let us open our mouths
to new tastes, our minds to new ideas, and our hearts to love. And let
us open our eyes wide.... to the day to day miracle of our numinous
Jesse Wolf Hardin is an acclaimed teacher of Earth-centered spirituality,
living seven river crossings from a road in an ancient place of power.
He is the author of five books., and performs on the GaiaTribe CD "The
The drawing above is from his book Gaia Eros: Reconnecting
To The Magic & Spirit of Nature (New Page 2004). He and his partners
teach Gaian Spirituality at their riverside sanctuary, hosting students
and guests for studies, counsel, retreats, quests, resident internships
and the annual Wild Womens Gathering: The Earthen Spirituality
Project & Sweet Medicine Womens Center, Box 820, Reserve,
NM 87830 www.earthenspirituality.org