It's beginning to look a lot like summer (at least where I live). And when it's warm out, fresh fruit just feels right. In addition to cleansing, hydrating, and nourishing the body, it can also help align the spirit with sweetness, beauty, and the luxurious abundance of the earth. Plus, each fruit possesses its own unique magical properties. So I thought it'd be fun to explore the magical properties of various types of fruits, and to discuss some hints and tips about how we can effectively incorporate them into our edible enchantments.
So, without further ado, here are some of the fruits that seem to feel best this time of year, along with a sampling of their magical properties.
Where and how does food become a religious issue? I can think of two cases. The first is when we have a relationship with what we eat. The second, when there are purity issues at stake. In his Moral Foundations theory, Jonathan Haidt says that human concepts of purity are shaped by the psychology of disgust and contamination, and holds that the body is a temple that can be desecrated by eating something that has been contaminated. While this has not, in my experience, been the case with the Pagans I know, it is common in many other religions.
I’ve found the first case is far more common for Pagans. Ritualizing the harvest of a carefully raised animal is now not uncommon among Heathens. Of the Pagans I know who garden, raise livestock animals, or grow their own food or herbal medicines, every single one has a relationship with the land, and the living beings that thrive there. Such relationships are deeply interactive. Goats are fed and milked. The milk is drunk, and soap is made nourishing humans and creating products that can be gifted or sold. Chickens are fed and housed, their eggs supporting bodies and their antics providing food for the soul. Gardens are carefully planned, mulched, fertilized and the harvest proudly shared, or preserved.
It is harvest-time here in the southern Highlands of the Appalachian mountains. The green beans have been blanched and frozen. The blessed elderberry harvest has been frozen and juiced and tinctured for winter healings. The apples are in now and I have spent many and many an hour cutting off the bruised parts and cutting out the wormy bits and chopping them up. Some have gone into bags to be future pies and apple cake. Others have become applesauce and many of them have been crushed for their juice and amended with yeast and honey to be hard cider in the cold months to come.
If I sound like the busy Ant from the fable that is appropriate. There are "fun" things that I have declined attending because the harvest is in and there is food to process. Not so much fun now but imagine pesto from my own basil, thawed in the depths of January. And I hold fast the notion of a crisp cold hard cider as the perfect celebration of the the Midwinter Solstice.
Lammas, or Lughnassadh can easily be a forgotten Wiccan/Pagan holiday. It is not as showy as Samhain, or as lusty and festive as Beltane. But it remains one of the major sabbats, and should be recognized as such. The harvest is a time to gather: thoughts and blessings. It is about taking stock. We are getting ready for the next big seasonal shift. It is actually quite a powerful time, if you stop to ponder it. What better way to celebrate than to host an intimate gathering, simply to bake and break bread together; to just be?
I would keep this one at four to five guests, tops. You know the old saying about too many cooks in the kitchen! Assign one person on each bread recipe– I have three that you could try. Have a fourth person on oven-tending and clean-up duty. If you have a fifth, let them set up serving plates and make sure everyone's glass stays filled with one of the following: sparkling apple juice, a hearty locally made craft ale, or a nice fruity barley wine.
As I write this, Samhain has just passed. I think about my maternal grandfather who left his family in Boston because he was tired of being beaten over a badly recited catechism. He fled north to Maine where he must have helped one of the locals work the fields in exchange for room and board. He was listed on the 1910 census and then dropped off the radar for a while as he traveled around the country doing whatever job came his way. He did stone masonry and lumbering, and worked the railroads, and eventually made it back to Maine where he married my “Old Maid” grandmother. I never knew him, and barely knew her before she developed dementia.
Connecting with them is a challenge. Grandpa is a bit easier because mom was close to him and I have more stories. I like to do things with stone and wood as he did, and I often feel him near me when I am building rough stone walls or doing carpentry. Grandma is tougher. Mom found her critical and doesn’t talk about her much. But I know she cooked. And I know she canned food because some of the jars are still in the basement, 50 years later.
The next principle is eating clean food produced without chemicals, preferably using biodynamic or permaculture standards. Even the average American today understands the concept of “organic,” although the reality is not quite the same. USDA organic certificationis most certainly better than conventional agriculture in terms of spraying fewer nasty chemicals on our food, which adds up to less poison in our air, water and bodies and healthier farm workers.
It does not however, mean that there are zero poisons on the veggies. Organic standards allow for naturally occurring pesticides, herbicides and fungicides to be used. In addition, these standards, in practice, do not do anything about feeding soil fertility, or about the quality of life for livestock.
One of the most important beliefs that Pagans hold is that life is cyclical. We are born, we live, we die, and are re-born. Death is not escapable. No one gets out of here alive. Mortality is part of existence, but all things return. Relationship is another aspect that defines Pagan attitudes about food. For Pagans, deity is immanent in the world. Every rock, every tree, everything that moves and breathes is sacred. Including what we eat. It is very common for Pagans to feel a deep kinship with both animals and plants. This creates an ethical dilemma that conflicts with the natural cycles of life and death, and is not easy to solve. How does one eat one’s brother? Industrial farming is repugnant to anyone who takes the time to look. But even more so to a Pagan who claims kinship to all living things.
Veganism –the practice of eating no animal products at all - has been one solution to the relationship problem, although, as with the general population, vegetarianism – not eating animal flesh, but consuming dairy and eggs - is more common. For physiological reasons, veganism is extremely difficult to maintain, and generally requires far more asceticism than is generally acceptable in Paganism. Vegan Pagans don’t get much sympathy in a religion where enjoying one’s food can include exclaiming over bacon and groaning over a chocolate confection. Although most Pagans still eat a standard American diet, vegetarianism is common. I have yet to go to a Pagan event that did not have some sort of vegetarian option for food.