Monday, October 3, 2011

Time for a Reset

Ok, so this was a very different blog earlier in the year. It was a blog about various restaurants in Bloomington Indiana because I desperately needed a way to express my thoughts and feelings about food. I used it to discuss food culture in Bloomington and to talk about the way the city had changed, as well as just . . . well review eateries.

Sadly for the blogs future, but joyously for my future I ended up being thrust into a move to Chicago shortly after beginning the blog. I knew I was bound for Chicago, but everything happened MUCH faster than my family's original plan (at least a year faster). Needless to say my investment in Bloomington food culture became somewhat more difficult to hold on to.

So now I find myself in Chicago and quite honestly the same sorts of reviews just don't seem as meaningful. Chicago has a thriving food culture, with critics and feedback. It is a myriad of mixed experiences and microcultures of gastronomic experience. Where as a complex critical voice was something Bloomington was sadly missing I don't feel that the same approach would bring something new to the Chicago conversation.

So I am taking the blog in an entirely different direction while leaving the archive in place. I have recently begun a much more devoted study of pagan religion and ritual than I have practiced over the past several years. As with all things spiritual I think religion and ritual can and should be tied into the aspects of our lives that are most significant.

In times past people put enormous amounts of energy and focus into food. There were royal chefs who's job it was not just to make sumptuous food, but food that balanced the 4 humors of the body. They were physician, magician, and guardian of the physical well being of the royalty, as much as any other person could possibly hope to be. In the east entire philosophies about the impact of foods on our bodies flourish wherever you look. A food might be particularly yin, cold and reserved, or particularly yang, hot and energetic, among a million and one other things. These systems are in many ways similar to the associations we use today in paganism correlating planets, to astrological signs, to elements, to aspects of the Kabbalistic system, to herbs, symbols, and components of the rituals we perform to manifest our will into the world.

In our modern world the old humor systems are largely gone, and while modern paganism draws much from eastern traditions, especially in much more recent times food, cooking, and it's magickal connection to the energy of our lives and existence has largely been ignored in the pursuit of magickal systems.

I recently decided to search for texts that explore these obvious connections but when I went digging all I could find was "Magick in Food: Legends, Lore and Spellword" by Scott Cunningham. This book is out of print and ranges from $22 something used on Barnes and Noble to over $40 for the 1 copy floating about on ebay at the time I performed my search. I as all pagans who discovered the path while they were younger am quite familiar with Cunningham's work. I tend to find his texts on general wicca and paganism a bit simplistic. However, his texts on more specific topics such as his work "The Complete Book of Incense, Oils and Brews" are exceptionally useful texts. However, it was still very disappointing to find only one book that even came close to the topic I wanted to explore, and I am reluctant to spend that kind of money for any book published by Llewelyn. Not that the quality of their publishing is particularly poor, but it's hardly profound either.

One can find a plethora of books for the "kitchen witch", but they rarely focus on food. They rather focus on the kitchen and pantry as a storehouse for items associated with magick, but the fact that the kitchen is a place of cooking, and nurturing, and the love of a meal shared is an incidental aside in most of these texts. The fact is the kitchen is the center of the hedge witches magickal storeroom BECAUSE of its connection with food, cooking, family and love. It is not an incidental association.

We live in a time where we are disconnected from the earth and the place where that connection should have been the strongest, at the dinner table has ceased to tie us to the land. We live in a time where people fight to get food that is local because they want to be closer to the earth. What does that mean to a pagan who is trying to develop a relationship with the spirits of place? We live in a time when you can go to the store and purchase 5 chickens for an amount of money that while not ignorable isn't really substantial in terms of our entire existence. In the past you labored and worked to get your chickens to be fully grown, and they represented not just meat, but eggs, and the potential of future chicks. So when you sacrificed a chicken who was in her prime you were sacrificing much. What does this change mean to a modern practitioner who is trying to appease their patron deities? Yes, you can pour some wine from the corner store, and place some bread from the corner bakery, and maybe you even bought the good port wine from the local winery, and the nice fresh bread from the artisan baker, but are you connected to that food the way the farmer who raised and cared for the beast they sacrificed, or the peasant who grew the grain, and dried the grain, and cultivated the yeast from a culture older than they were to make the bread to break on the altar of the gods, in hope that it would result in another harvest that would allow them to make sacrifice again? What's more, what do the answers to these questions even mean, and what would you do with that knowledge once you answered them?

In the days when paganism was the religion of the peasant, the religion of the Latin Paganus rustic country dweller these connections were so intrinsic that our ancestors didn't need to think about them. They could not escape their connection to the land, for they lived or died at its whim. If we truly seek to reclaim that heritage, that connection to the earth then we must dig into what was done in the past and consciously cultivate what our ancestors took for granted. We must also understand that while the critical connection caused by this inherently natural connection has unquestionably been lost, what does it mean in our modern fast paced, Android, Boxee, Google Plus world to rediscover it. The connection will not look like it did to those who came before us, but as the disconnection from our food and the land has lead to a world where obesity and malnutrition can exist in the same package, so too I believe it has left a hole in our pagan spirit, and our magick. I will not pretend to understand the full nature of that gap, but it is something that I cannot separate my mind from. So I seek it out as truth, in whatever form I may discover it.

I have left the archive up because while my previous posts are not explicitly pagan in nature, many of my thoughts on place and heritage, and the meaning of food is contained within those posts from my time randomly reviewing eateries in Bloomington. I will sometimes post something intrinsically pagan, and I will sometimes post something that is little more than a meditation on food and our lives. It is impossible to avoid the implications of the unseen connections we have with food and the land, and sometimes you have to just look at the world to realize that magick and spirit reside in the most mundane of items, places, and thoughts.

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