How does a child of Diaspora find her ancestors? How does she connect with her ancestral culture when it exists on another continent she has never, and possibly will never, visit?
My parents were born in Indonesia when it was a colony of the Netherlands. After Indonesian independence, in the early 1950’s, they, my brother and their extended family all left the only home most of them had ever known and migrated to the Netherlands, the “homeland” most of them had never seen. They found it difficult to adapt to a cold (in more than one way) country and after I was born, immigrated to Massachusetts, then California. Growing up in Southern California, there were no other Dutch-Indonesian (“Indo”) families where we lived. My parents told me stories of growing up in Indonesia, but for the most part, they wanted me to be “American”. English became our primary language and in school I absorbed “American” history and culture. The strongest connection to the culture into which they had been born was food. My mother cooked mostly Indonesian food for my father, but even then, she made separate “American” food for me. The only time I ate Indonesian food was for special occasions, when we would go to “Little Bali” restaurant in Inglewood for “Rijstaffel”, an Indonesian feast. It was not until I was in college, visited my grandmother in the Netherlands, and collected her recipes that I learned to appreciate Indo food. For a while I was really into cooking Indo food, but I discovered that my friends did not like it (or maybe they just did not like my cooking), so I stopped gradually. It has been several years since I have prepared any Indo dishes. Meanwhile, I ate Thai, Vietnamese, Filipino and other Asian foods, but neglected my own food heritage.
At several recent Pantheacons, I attended workshops on Hoodoo and Conjure paths that have become popular. Rather than studying those paths, it awakened in me a desire to learn more about the Pagan cultures of my ancestors. Although my ancestors were both European and Asian, my Pagan practice has always been European-origin Wicca (with a detour to Ancient Egypt). At one of the Pagans of Color caucuses I expressed my desire to connect with my own ancestral Indonesian culture, but did not know how to start, as my most recent Indonesian ancestors were Muslim. One of the other attendees recommended that I do “ancestor work” and try to connect with more distant ancestors. After thinking about it, I realized I did not have to go back that far. My mother had told me that her grandmother was a “witchdoctor” who lit candles for spirits. I doubt she was a “witch” in the European sense of the word. It was more likely that she was a practitioner of folk-magic. She died when I was 2 years old, so I am not her reincarnation, but my mother often said I was very much like her.
I want to reconnect to pre-Islamic Indonesian culture (the islands of Indonesia were once a hub of Hindu-Buddhist culture) using my great grandmother as a bridge. As the Balinese never converted to Islam, I looked to Balinese culture for clues as to how the pre-Islamic culture of the rest of Indonesia would have been. I know enough about Balinese culture to know that great feasts are prepared for the gods (or in this case, my ancestors), but after they have eaten the spirits in the foods, it’s the people that eat the food. I feel that before I can call upon and commune with my ancestors, particularly with my great-grandmother, I need to show them that I am serious about pursuing this and honor them as they deserve.
This long explanation is leading up to this: during the pandemic, I suddenly found myself mostly homebound for three months. That is when I decided to re-learn how to cook Indo foods. I have an added complication. For health reasons, my doctors do not want me to eat red meat (and by “red meat” they mean mammals), empty carbs (white rice, white potatoes), and restrict sugar and saturated fat (which includes coconut). Dairy too, but that doesn’t really figure in Indo cooking much. I started with some simple dishes – “frikadel” (a meatloaf made with potatoes), “sayoer lodeh” (vegetables in coconut cream) and “atjar” (pickled vegetables). I have had to make each dish several times, each time trying to “perfect” the recipe. For the frikadel, I had to replace ground beef with ground turkey and mashed potatoes with mashed sweet potatoes (higher in fiber and nutrients). It smelled and tasted like my mother’s frikadel but was disturbingly pale. I think I will need to make it one more time and mix the soy sauce into the loaf instead of pouring it on top in an effort “darken” the loaf.
My adventures making cheese started a while back with a group experience to make Ricotta for Imbolc. Making cheese is simply the process of separating curds from whey. This is done with either rennet (an enzyme) or acid. Aged cheeses are more complex and usually separated with rennet. Luckily, fresh cheese can be made with milk, a pot, a cheese cloth, and some acid.
Bring milk (and salt if needed) to a gentle boil over medium heat stirring occasionally. The milk type and mixture will vary by the recipe.
Add the acid
Let it separate
Drain into cheese cloth
Process according to cheese type.
No really, it is ENTIRELY that simple. Check out the provided links to great simple recipes above and begin your cheese making adventure. If we ever get to gather again you will impress the heck out of your friends!
In my opinion, the BEST thing to do with fresh ricotta is to serve it warm, drizzled with olive oil, and topped with cracked pepper and a bit of shredded parmesan. Seriously. The best!
If for some reasons you any left, try out these awesome ricotta recipes.
The theme of the July 2020 edition of the Southland Pagan Press will be Old New Ways. In the midst of this Coronavirus crisis many people have turned to old time crafts.
In the upcoming newsletter we would love to hear about the old crafts of bread making, fiber arts, pottery, weaving, growing and preserving food and any thing else you can share. We need your submissions (blogs, slide shows, videos, podcasts, etc) by Sunday June 28th.
If you have events you would like feature the deadline is the same. Please submit your events at this link or reply to this email to submit either article or event. The newsletter will give you full credit for the work and link to your contact info of choice. Our preference is to link to the original source but if one is not available other arrangements can be made.
An ongoing project of mine is writing a resource book of rites of passage for pagan families. I have been compiling rituals I have written to celebrate transitions in our young daughter’s life,, such as giving up the pacifier and the end of the breastfeeding relationship. It won’t be complete until she is grown — she is six as of this writing, so many more transitions to come! Please enjoy this draft of the introduction and first chapter.
Family Rituals to Mark Life’s Passages
When my daughter was born, I had the distinct feeling of having visited the underworld and having returned as a new being, with new powers and abilities. And here was this brand-new person, totally dependent on me for everything, not just sustenance and warmth but also a spiritual foundation on which to find her trust in the universe. A terrifying set of responsibilities. And too few places to look for wisdom and guidance.
I came to paganism in my fertility journey. I had lost touch with the Christian god of my childhood and I needed some divine support. I had the experience that many pagans do of reading something and unexpectedly saying to myself “Oh – that is what I am!” It was through the support of my coven sisters and the divine intervention of Yemaya (and Oshun) that I finally had a viable pregnancy after years of suffering. Bringing a baby girl into the world opened my eyes to the utter necessity of standing up to the patriarchy, beginning with recognizing the female in the divine.
Resources for pagan parenting are few and far between. There are some noble efforts at websites, and books for children and parents alike, but the reality is that parents have very little time when their children are experiencing these passages and little interest in writing about them after the fact, although it would be tremendously useful for those who come after. The books that currently exist are mostly geared toward holidays and projects to do with the children. There is not much dedicated to rites of passage. It is as though these gateways don’t exist, as though pagans spring as fully formed adults and members of the community from their mother’s womb.
It is my intent with this work, written in pieces, lovingly, over my daughter’s childhood, that I leave behind something that speaks to you. You may be raising pagan children yourself. Or maybe you follow another tradition and are looking for wisdom and concrete ideas to create your own rites. Creating ritual for your children is a priceless gift. If you start when they are small, they will grow up with an inherent understanding of the importance of marking and celebrating transitions. Even if your children are already older, introducing them to reverence for the passages of life will plant a seed that might bloom at the most unexpected and needed time.
Here it is, laid out for you, dear reader. I have kept it all real. Not every ritual was smooth, blissful success and I will include my commentary on how each unfolded. I learned from each one, and each one, in its own way, served the purpose for which it was intended. The rituals outlined in this book are not meant to be followed word for word (although you are most welcome to do so) but as inspiration for you to find the magic you need to gracefully pass through your own transitions.
Chapter One: Conception
New moon in Cancer, 2013. I’ve been initiated into Twilight Spiral Coven and I am tasked with creating a new moon ritual in order to receive my second degree priestesshood. My husband and I have been struggling in a dark place. Two miscarriages, two years of “secondary infertility” (how can it be secondary if I’ve never actually had a baby?) I see a box checked on my chart at the doctor’s office that says “habitual aborter”. Fertility drugs give me hallucinations. We have a failed attempt at artificial insemination. We have given up. We are ready to cash out our retirement to put a down payment on an adoption agency (couldn’t risk spending our retirement on a failed IVF)…we need to get the ball rolling if we want a child BEFORE we enter our forties.
I am at my office job, using my time wisely to plan the ritual. I am going to ask the universe to make peace once and for all with our choice. Scrolling though a google search on mother goddesses, I come across Yemaya. I do a little research and find a beloved song that I didn’t really understand the words to. It is a song for Yemaya. I begin creating the ritual in my mind: it needs to be at the beach. The new moon is coming up in Cancer, that watery, nurturing energy.
I ask the girls to bring peacock feathers. I find a tablecloth, blue with silver stars, I had sewn for a patriotic table display the year prior. In the kitchen at work I find a blue dish shaped like a shell left behind by an art student long ago. I buy seashells at Michael’s and peacock scrapbook paper. Our high priestess checks with the authorities to make sure we can use real candles for our “prayer circle”.
The day of the ritual arrives. I drive the whole coven to the beach. We set up our altar in the sand near the parking lot, where a river meets the sea. It is getting dark. My husband is serving as a bouncer, making sure we are not interrupted by passersby. It is windy. We begin the ritual. We barely make it through calling the elements when a wave comes out of nowhere. An ocean wave, reaching for the parking lot and taking with it many sacrifices we had not intended to give. Not just the peacock feathers but almost everyone’s shoes. A new cell phone is destroyed.
There is much debate if we should continue on. We agree that those who want to sit it out can wait for the rest to finish. We write our wishes and deposit them in seashells to return to the ocean. I ask Yemaya to settle this situation once and for all.
I dream that night of driving with the coven to the top of a mountain where we see the sun and the moon come together as one. I take a pregnancy test the same week. Unbeknownst to me, I had conceived at the summer solstice. And this time, it stuck.
New Moon Ritual Honoring Mama Yemaya and Our Original Waters
This ritual was performed by Twilight Spiral Coven (now Temple Sophia) but could be modified for solitary practitioners. You will need your ritual tools, an offering for the goddess, paper and pen for writing your petitions and seashells for each participant with an opening that can hold the petitions. If the beach setting is not available to you, get creative! You can create your own salt water at home.
Cast circle and call quarters according to your tradition.
Evoke the goddess: Yemaya, mother of the waters You are deep and mysterious as the sea Thank you for gifting us with the seashell, so we can hear your voice Help us to glean new understanding by revisiting our source Share with us your protection and creative force.
Make your offering.
High Priestess: New moon in Cancer: a good time to revisit our original waters. Cancer is a sign that challenges us to come out of dependency and master our moods, initiate ideas and move people. Let us trace the lineage of our feelings, and find treasure there. What is in your past that deserves a second look for understanding, meaning and healing? Reflect on your family and where you come from. What is unresolved in your soul? Now I will sing to Mama Yemaya – as you listen to the song, think about what you would like her to help you bring to fruition. (The song used here was “Back to the Sea” as recorded by Sky Cries Mary)
Now write on your paper whatever you would like Yemaya to help you to finish. Fold your paper and put it inside your seashell.
All say: Great Mother, your daughters beseech you It is our spirit mixed with you That sends us here to make things new Mother Yemaya, your waters carry our hearts We ask that you bring our wishes so that we may have a fresh start.
Return the shells to Yemaya’s ocean body.
Thank you Mother, your blessings abound, and we are ever grateful.
Here you may do cakes and ale and/or a blessing circle.
Release the goddess: Mother Yemaya, mother of all the orisha You are the beautiful, divine feminine Star of the Sea, Ocean Goddess of the Crescent Moon Thank you for sharing your presence tonight. Go if you must, stay if you will.
Release the quarters and open the circle.
Suburban Artemis encompasses the creative work of Heather Westenhofer, artist, certified yoga instructor and second-degree priestess of the Temple Sophia in Southern California. Drawn to art and religion at an early age, the interplay of these interests manifested itself in many different careers and hobbies. After a period of upheaval, darkness, and introspection, Heather began to synthesize a way forward in communion with the spirits and beliefs of her ancestors. She came to rest in the old religion, honoring the natural world and the divine in both male and female form. She has dedicated her life to birthing the creative work of the goddess, bringing the numinous to earth, and releasing the untamed into the domestic sphere.
This ritual is a collaborative creation by a group of solitary practitioners. Our friend requested that we gather to celebrate her transition to the crone. It was a joyful and impactful experiences to come together with our ideas and create a ritual that I will treasure always. I hope you find some inspiration within.
Maiden, Mother, and Warrior all refer to roles taken by participants. The maiden wears a white veil, the mother a red veil and the warrior a purple veil. The Supplicant role is the person being led through the ritual.
Maiden will walk the circle and lay the white flower blooms in between each elemental altar saying, “The maiden walks in wonder and the world flowers beneath her feet”
Mother will walk the circle and lay 4 apples on the ground just after the flowers and says, “The mother walks in fruitfulness and the world changes as she passes”
Warrior will walk the circle and lay 4 arrows on the ground just before the flowers “The warrior walks in courage and the world bends to her will”
All three walk the circle and sprinkle breadcrumbs “The crone walks in wisdom and guides all women home”
Mother calls the east and lights the candle “To the East, we invite the powers of Air. To remember our lessons and inspire us to continue learning”
Maiden calls the south and lights the candle “To the South, we invite the powers of Fire. To burn away regrets and shine your gentle rays upon us for growth”
Mother calls the west and lights the candle “To the West, we invite the powers of Water. To cleanse us of negativity and purify our thoughts”
Maiden calls the north and lights the candle “To the North, we invite the powers of Earth. Let your renewing strength bury all ills and open new paths before”
All three return to the altar and light the goddess candles. Maiden white, Mother red, Warrior black.
Maiden approaches Supplicant who is waiting outside of the circle. Maiden says “I am given name, daughter of Mothers name, daughter of grandmothers name, daughter of great grandmothers name. The goddess knows me by chosen name. Will you be purified and come into our women’s space? Wait for an answer then begin cleansing at the end say,” by the ever renewing power of the maiden you are cleansed ” The Maiden takes the Supplicant by the arm and walks her to the Mother.
Mother says “I am given name, daughter of Mothers name, daughter of grandmothers name, daughter of great grandmothers name. Will you name yourself and come into our women’s space? Wait for an answer then anoint her forehead with salt water,”by the nurturing love of the mother you are blessed and welcomed, Supplicants given name” Take her by the other arm and walk her to the entrance together.
Warrior stands at the threshold and says, “I am given name, daughter of Mothers name, daughter of grandmothers name, daughter of great grandmothers name. Do you enter our womens space with love and trust, Supplicants given name?” Wait for an answer then hold the curtain aside, “by the tender trust of the wounded warrior you are welcome” Mother and Maiden lead Supplicant to the altar and Warrior follows. All four take up places around the altar.
Warrior invokes the silent host “We are but the latest in a long line of sacred women. I call upon the women, the maidens, the mothers, the warriors and the crones that have celebrated these rites before us. Come and witness silent host!”
Maiden hands Supplicant the basket of offerings and says, “Supplicants given name , would you like to honor your ancestors?”
Supplicant honors welcomes and gives offering to her ancestors.
Mother invokes the supplicants chosen goddess: “I invoke thee, Hecate, Midnight’s Lady, Goddess of the cross roads and the Three Ways, Protectress of children, midwife, healer, come, be here! Mother of night! Dark Power of the moon! Keeper of the shadow,Hear our call Mistress of Wilderness, we call to you and ask that you join us and witness this croning rite, let your growing light shine upon or intention.”
Maiden says, “We gather in this womens space to honor the path of Supplicants given name. Honored Sister, will you wear this veil?” Drapes Supplicant in the purple veil and takes her to her seat. Mother pours wine for all and hands it out and Warrior takes cakes for all and hands them out then everyone sits on cushions in front of Supplicant.
Maiden says, “Mother Warrior Supplicants given name, will you tell us about your first blood?” Supplicant tells story
Mother says, “Mother Warrior Supplicants given name, will you tell us about your first love?” Supplicant tells story
Warrior says, “Mother Warrior Supplicants given name, will you tell us of your most fierce battle?” Supplicant tells story
Maiden says,”You have much wisdom and experience is there any wisdom you would share with a Maiden?” Mother says, “Honored Nurturer, have you any wisdom to share with a Mother?”
Warrior says, “Your battles inspire me, have you any wisdom to share with a Warrior?”
Mother stands and takes the wine cups and such back to the altar, the rest follow suit and tidy up.
Supplicants given name, before you can truly take the title of crone you must willingly let go of the titles of Mother and Warrior. In the company of these women gathered – seen and unseen – to whom you are daughter, sister, mother, and friend speak your last words as Mother and then shed her veil.
Maiden says “A crone is the beauty of the dark moon, she is weathered by time and tempered by experience.”
Mother speaks “ She knows confidence and freedom and strives to be one with truth. She is maiden with knowledge, mother that knows loss and warrior in repose.”
Warrior speaks” She walks in her hard won wisdom and uses it to guide women and the world. Do you accept this mantle of crone?
Mother provides a gift
Maiden provides a gift
Warrior provides a gift
Supplicant given name daughter of ____, daughter of _____, daughter of _____, What shall the goddess know you as from this day forward? Supplicant gives her new name. All hail Crone, ____! All shout new name and toast.
Crone ____, have you any words to share?
Goddess thanked: Hecate, of the crossroads! Thank you for joining us in this celebration. Hail and farewell.
Maiden says, Crone ____, would you like to thank your ancestors? Supplicant’s ancestors are thanked
Silent host thanked: We joyously thank our silent host of women that have walked these paths before us! Hail and farewell.
Maiden goes to the north and says, “Earth, thank you for your presence, hail and farewell”
Mother goes to the west and say, “Water, thank you for your presence, hail and farewell”
Maiden goes to the south and says, “Fire, thank you for your presence, hail and farewell”
Mother goes to the west and say, “Air, thank you for your presence, hail and farewell”
Warrior takes up the basket and walks widdershins around the circle picking up the arrows at the end states, “The warrior returns to battle.”
Mother takes the basket and walks widdershins around the circle picking up the apples, “The mother returns to caring for her folk.”
Maiden takes the basket and walks widdershins around the circle picking up the blooms and at the end states, “The maiden returns to her exploration.”
All return to the altar and take hands. “May the crone watch over them all” and extinguish candles.
Lastly, do you remember the transition between these two things?
Even if one is born into a family tradition or heritage, each practitioner of the Craft experiences a singular moment of transition between being just a regular old human and that of becoming a witch. You know what I mean – that “aha” moment when you suddenly knew that magic was at your fingertips, and that you were now part of an awakened reality where anything was possible, because YOU were now MAGIC. Remember?!?
That instance of transition, whether it be a minute, or a year and a day, is what anthropologists call the liminal period. Liminality is defined by Merriam-Webster as “of, relating to, or situated at a sensory threshold”. Whether one is formally initiated, or informally decides to claim the label “witch” for their own, there is still a glimmering moment of what anthropologist Arnold Van Gennep calls “liminality”. This is the bridge between two states of being in a rite of passage, when a person separates from their prior existence and incorporates into a new identity.
For traditionalists, much is made of the “year and a day” of study before initiation, but there should be equal attention paid to the magical moment of “betwixt and between”. For a moment in time, we are literally caught between worlds, the so-called “normal” 3D regular, and the etheric, supernatural one. When a witch makes that transition of identification, they literally shed self and spirit, ideally forming a new being that is able to traverse worlds and dimensions. They were human, flesh and blood. Now they are a witch, a magical entity able to cross planes of existence and bend the laws of nature (fingers crossed!)
But can the witch sometimes stay in that state of liminality? Caught between worlds can be a literal dilemma for many who are “in the broom closet”, unable to commit to the title of “witch” publically due to social norms and economic realities. One foot in the normal, one foot in the magical, they seem to hover marginally in-between. Perhaps it should be more correctly viewed that once one has claimed this identity of “witch”, and all that entails, one can be seen as fully crossed-over, that their public self is now only a persona, cloaking the true witch self. For even in the broom closet, the rites of passage can occur, and hence, the transformation will be complete.
Years ago, I remember reading how a famous witch compared becoming a witch to jumping off a cliff – that there was no way back. I have always liked the finality of that thought, that becoming a witch was not just a social transition, but a religious one, that the taking of vows, consciously or subconsciously, meant something. Even those who renounce the Craft still carry the “witch” definition with them as a former, and hence permanent, part of their existence. (Yes, I am unfortunately reminded of Christine O’Donnell, the most notorious of former witches. Commence eye roll!)
Lastly, what if you are a pagan contemplating witchhood? Not to deter those who balk at the finality of what I stated above, but the contemplation of such a rite of passage is indeed rife with consequence. You will be choosing to cross into a world of magic and possibility, to embrace marginality, and to own an identity that is still cloaked with disapproval in most quarters. My witchly advice, however, is to seize the moment, make that jump, and look for the magic that transits your path from one state to the other. The moment in-between is pregnant with potential – let it be yours.
Augusta Johnson is a high priestess and witch, and proprietor of Wolf River Artifacts, an e-commerce business that specializes in repurposing and recycling of clothing and home goods.
Most of us are familiar with The Dragon and The Rose. It’s a favorite pagan shop in Santa Ana and in 2019 OC Weekly has dubbed them the best Occult Store in Orange County. What you may not know is that the local favorite was born from tragedy. On May 16, 2008 everything in co-founders Karen and Hugh’s lives changed when Arielle Rose Estremo was killed by a drunk driver. From the ashes of that event, Karen and Hugh joined together to create a store and a community in the heart of Orange County. The Dragon and The Rose bears witness to what can grow in ashes and is living testimony to Karen’s commitment to the pagan community that Arielle embraced.
In addition to the act of service that is the best Occult Store and gathering place in Orange County, The Dragon and the Rose also hosts “Arielle’s Table”. This food collection charity has been active since 2012 when their drum circle priestess, Candy Eaton, asked if it was something they would like to do. These collections have included collaboration with Second Harvest and Three Worlds, One Heart.
When Karen stepped up to help Pagan Pride Day with the food drive in 2019 she came to understand the difficulties in working with large food donation organizations. It can be difficult to find charities to take the donations and none that she contacted wanted to staff a booth to gather donations at the event. Working with Rayna from the Universalist Unitarian Church they gathered a team and handled the food drive.
After this experience, they began to think about a way to make it more than once a year project. That is how Arielle’s Table has established a pantry within The Dragon and The Rose to assist those facing hard times. It started with a single can of black beans and today is a well-stocked food pantry. The pantry is open during business hours (Tuesday-Sunday, Noon to 5pm until further notice) and available thanks to the generosity of Karen as well as community donors.
If you can contribute to Arielle’s Table either email firstname.lastname@example.org or come by during regular business hours with the donation.
Years ago, I had a large statue of Ganesh, the pachy-cephalic Indian deity, sitting on a table in my home. He sat on a large wooden tray surrounded by offerings of flowers, sweets, incense, and candles. The guy I was dating came over for movie night and presented three boxes of Milk Duds. “Why three?” I asked, “There are only two of us.” He smiled and told me that one was for Ganesh. He placed the yellow box of candy with the other offerings, and I thought to myself, “Damn. He really gets it.”
An hour later, with the other chocolate resources depleted, he went over to the shrine to retrieve the third box of Milk Duds. I inquired what he was doing, and then admonished him, reminding him that those candies belong to Ganesh. He replied, “I don’t see what it would hurt. He’s not going to eat them!” We had a little discussion about that.
My family raised me to see food as a gift shared between relatives, between friends, between co-workers, between confidants, and between comrades. Note that I repeated the word between each time. The repetition of words isn’t clumsy sentence construction, but as an emphasis. When we share food—or drink, or any offering or gift—is that the focus place not on the giver or the receiver, but on the space between. That between, like the precise gap of a spark plug across which electricity jumps, igniting vaporized fuel, pumping the pistons, and propelling a vehicle forward, takes us forward into authentic reciprocal relationships.
If you went to my grandmother’s house you were not only offered food and drink—there were always cookies and pies all over the kitchen—but something was sent home in a Tupperware container, with the promise to return the container the next time you came to visit. My mother was no different, except that the “down in the holler” hospitality was compounded by her Sicilian father’s notions of generosity and overlaid with a Jewish sensibility that regarded all people coming to the door as hungry masses that required feeding. When you arrived at my mother’s house you would be fed. Repeatedly.
All this food-centric openhandedness wasn’t rooted in what my mother and grandmother thought they would get in exchange for feeding visitors. It was about friends, family, congregations, and community. Food, in this sense, in addition to sustaining physical life, created and sustained a network of relationships based on caring and nurturing. The space between is the gap between the offering hand and the receiving mouth (and if that recalls the body of Christ, that is no accident). The void between the giving and receiving holds us together. The welcome, sustaining gesture of sharing food fills this gap, expressing hope that the connection will continue. In keeping with the notion of receiving communion, the worst punishment the Catholic Church can condemn an individual to is excommunication, a separation of the individual from the body of the church, cutting off the person from community, connection, and love. To be outcast from any community, be it Catholic, ancient tribal, or that of Contemporary Paganisms, is to be bereft of those things that allow us to live in the world.
On a related note, when a visiting individual receives an offer of hospitality in the form of refreshment, it is always equally hospitable to partake. It is something like a handshake: to refuse it shows an unwillingness to enter into the relationship, and says in no uncertain terms that you are not connected, do not wish to be connected, or wish to weaken or sever the connection to the person and household that is offering the hospitality. The words common, community, and communion come down to us from the Greek koinonia, from koinos, meaning common or ordinary. To be in a state of community is commonplace, the way of being in the world common to all men.
Injurious behavior toward hospitality and the offering and acceptance of food sharpens our focus on the importance of sharing that which sustains us. Imagine visiting a friend or family member that pulls something to eat out of a cupboard and offers you none. How does that make you feel? Imagine this person was visiting at your house and refused your hospitality, or ate the food you offered, and then pulled out food that they had brought with them and ate it in front of you. I have had all these things happen and I am not ashamed to share that in each instance I felt as if the individual had taken advantage of the laws of hospitality.
I never walk into someone’s home and say, “So, what do you have for me?” When visitors cross my threshold, I don’t greet them with, “Welcome! What’s in it for me?” When the offering hides the expectation of receiving something of equal value, that is a relationship of commerce. Libations and offerings must be concerned with connectivity of love. Otherwise they are a contract, an exchange. Certainly, some magical work involves these transactional operations, but then it is a relationship of contract and payment, not an offering. The relationship is business.
I have a friend who frames all interactions in the context of sacrifice. If she visits with me, she has sacrificed that time she could be doing something else. If she goes to work, she is sacrificing her free time. Treating all activities and relationships as a transaction is, I think, and unfortunate thing, and will keep her from forming deeper relationships. There are times for sacrifice, which should always be in the service of something we believe in and love, but I think that kind of sacrifice is hardly an everyday occurrence. Day in and day out our usual involvement in our web or relationships engages not cutting off connection but establishing and fostering of connection.
Why would our work with the spirits be any different? I use the word spirits here to refer to incarnate spirits, the spirits of the dead, the fey spirits, the land and house spirits, tutelary spirits, and those spirits many of us refer to as the gods. This shift in language levels the playing field and pulls us into a more authentic reciprocal relationship with the world. When these spirits come to the door, be they the spirits of my friends or the discarnate spirits that walk the world with us, I offer hospitality. I do this because it builds and sustains relationships. I do this because it embeds me in a network of reciprocal relationships with the world. I do this because of love.
To share food and drink engages us on a level field of relationships, much in keeping with Starhawk’s concepts of Power-With or Power-Through, rather than relationships of Power-Over, which characterize monotheistic religions. Life force infuses food and drink: the captured energies of earth and sun, as well as the transformative human energies that change wheat, butter, eggs, and grapes into bread and wine. To share in this offering of life—again the idea of Catholic communion is present in the image, as is the pouring of libations, the clinking glasses of a toast, and the mother’s breast—is to link us to those rich threads of life that run through us, through our human communities, to field and orchard, to the fertile earth, the nourishing rain, and the celestial bodies. But most of all there is love: love as connection. Connection is the remedy to the narcissism of the world, and the legion of minions through which it manifests: impotence and greed, shame and arrogance, deprecation and egotism, powerlessness and force, and apathy and obsession.
As post-modern Americans, steeped in a culture that is suffering narcissism and embroiled in frantic late-stage capitalism, we approach relationships with someone or something other than ourselves from the perspective of “what’s in it for me?” This attitude is egotistical and self-serving, and never allows us to discover what other is out there, be they a person, an animal, a tree, or a spirit. If we only engage in this notion of tit-for-tat commerce, how can empathy, caring, affection, and affiliation begin to emerge? How are we every anything else than alone.
The Egyptian culture lasted over 3000 years. There were thirty-two Dynasties of Egypt beginning around 3,500 B.C. It began with Menes uniting Upper and Lower Egypt and ended with the last pharaoh, Queen Cleopatra the Seventh. Most of what we know today of the foods and drink of Ancient Egypt has been derived from the paintings and papyrus remnants found in tombs. Shards of various kitchen utensils, pottery pots and other cooking items also have offered many clues to the diet of the Ancient Egyptians.
The Egyptians were excellent farmers. Each July, the Nile would rise, flooding the lush, fertile plains on each side of the river. The alluvial soil deposits provided ideal farm land in which just about any crop thrived. This land provided the Ancient Egyptians with an abundance of various fruits, vegetables, fish, meat and poultry.
In the New Kingdom, around 1350 B.C., foods from nearby cultures were also grown in Egypt. The Persians brought apples and pomegranates. Coconuts from North Africa, were a highly prized food and considered a lavish treat. The main staple of their fruit intake consisted of various melons. These were the ancestors of today’s watermelons, casabas, pumpkins, gourds and cantaloupes. In addition to nutrition, these melons provided water to tribes which lived in the arid desert regions. Fruits we take for granted, apples, oranges, lemons, pears, peaches, cherries and bananas, did not exist in pharonic times. If the fruit selection seemed small, the grape crops made up for it. Egyptians had many red and white varieties. Various nuts, figs and dates were added additional variety to meals.
The vegetable selection was much broader than the fruit selection. It consisted of leeks, onions, beans, garlic, lentils, chick peas, radishes, lotus root, spinach, turnips, carrots, cucumbers and various lettuces. Our California avocado tree has it’s roots in Ancient Egypt.
Egyptians ate their salads dressed with oil made from the bak tree until the olive was introduced in Ptolemy’s time. Castor oil was also used for medicinal purposes and for lighting lamps.
The art of baking bread and brewing beer was a forte of the Egyptian culinary arts. Petrified bread has been found in tombs along with wine casks. Archaeologists have even unearthed wine bottles with liquid still inside!
The records of pharaoh Ramses III listed over a million loaves of various breads in honor of Amun-Ra, the popular god of the times. The Egyptians would naturally leaven their breads, topping them with onions, garlic and other exotic spices of the Middle East. They even created a version of sourdough bread that any San Francisco native would enjoy.
The cow was a sacred icon in Egypt and represented various attributes of the goddesses, Nut and Hathor. However, unlike the culture of India, the Egyptians loved to eat beef. Herds of oxen, derived from the long-horned wild ox, were especially fattened for slaughter. As today, the fillet was considered the best cut. Lamb and goat was also consumed. On rare or special occasions, one might sit down for an entree of oryx, gazelle or the ibex.
The most common meat was the abundant wild fowl. The wild fowl industry was very organized in the Delta region of Egypt. It was similar to the major chicken suppliers of today. Ducks, geese, pigeons, quails and cranes were trapped in enormous numbers while flocks of domestic geese and ducks were raised for the table.
Fish was eaten but not in the quantity you might think. Religious taboos influenced the consumption of fish. At one time, it was thought that certain kinds of fish were sacred to the god Set. Since he was the god of change and destruction, Egyptians approached eating certain fish with caution. Pigs were not eaten and considered unclean for human consumption.
The ancient Egyptians were experts in wine making and the brewing of beer. Barley beer was the drink of the masses. In addition to this, various red and white wines were drunk by the upper classes.
The Egyptians certainly had a lavish choice of foods for their tables. But it should be stresses that, unlike Roman culture, the Ancient Egyptians believed in moderation. They frowned on excessive consumption of food and over indulgence in drink.
The modern Egyptian diet is the standard diet seen throughout the Arab world. Islam quidelines vary only slightly from country to country. The diet is simple but spices such as cinnamon, saffron, cloves, ginger and cardamom are used in various combinations. Rose-water or orange blossom water and cardamon are often used in puddings, yogurt and sweets.
Yogurt is called laban and is a favorite thirst quencher when diluted with water and seasoned with salt. Tahini, sesame-seed sauce, is used on everything: bread, fish, meat, rice, bulgur, salad and soup. Tahini is a great source of protein in the predominately carbohydrate diet of the Middle East.
Fava beans, known as fool in Arabic, have been eaten in Egypt since the pharonic times and is still part of the diet today. Wheat, legumes, white beans and garbanzo beans are grown throughout the Arab world. Rice came to Egypt by the way of Pakistan.
One of main dishes of the Arab household is kibbe. This is a category of minced, molded, stuffed and layered ground meat. Lamb, the symbol of hospitality, is served in honor of special guests.
Finally, eating on the floor is traditional in the Arab world. Foods are minced or cut up for easy enclosure in pieces of soft, chewy pocket bread. Forks and spoons are widely used today. It is proper to only eat with the right hand. The Arabic custom of washing hands before and after the meal is based on religious tenets of cleanliness which have been practiced for centuries.
What follows are some recipes which stem from ancient biblical times. However, as you read through these recipes, you will discover that you can “Egyptianize” just about any modern recipe.
DUCK IN GRAPE JUICE
Two 5 lb. ducks, 1 1/2 cups whole wheat or barley flour, 1 cup cooking oil, 4 cups grape juice (red or white), 1/2 cup red wine vinegar, salt and pepper to taste.
Cut up the duck into pieces. Salt the duck and roll into flour. Fry in oil until brown. Pour off oil and add grape juice and vinegar. Cook over medium heat for 40 minutes or until tender.
PERCH WITH TAHINI
6 medium size perch or any solid white fish. Salt and pepper to taste, 3 tbls. parsley, 2 tbls. vinegar, tbls. of whole wheat bread crumbs, 1/4 cup sesame oil (not oriental), 2 medium onions-sliced, 2 cloves garlic chopped, 1/2 cup tahini.
Score the fish on both sides, salt and pepper and sprinkle with 1 tbls. vinegar. Oil a baking pan and preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix two tbls. of parsley with the bread crumbs and sprinkle over the inside of the baking pan. Fry fish in 3 tbls. of oil until golden. Reserve oil in skillet. Place fish in preheated baking pan.
In reserved oil, saute onions, add garlic after 2 minutes until garlic is golden. Add remaining tbls. of vinegar and tahini to the onions and mix well. Spoon over fish. Bake for 15 minutes. Garnish with remaining parsley.
WHOLE BAKED ONIONS AND GARLIC (My favorite!!!)
1 large onion per serving, 3 tbls. of rich stock for each onion or bouillon powder to taste, large cabbage leaves, garlic to taste.
Peel each onion. Cut top of onion off. Core each onion so that 5 or six cloves of garlic will fill center. Peel layers away from onion slightly. Push bouillon powder down between layers of onion to taste. Pour stock or water into each onion and wrap in cabbage leaves. Place in baking dish. Bake at low heat 200-250 degrees for 2 1/2 hours. Check onions. If they are translucent throughout, remove from oven. If not, continue baking until onion is translucent and soft. Both onion and garlic become sweet and easy to eat.
WATERMELON IN GINGER WINE
1/2 watermelon, 1/2 cup dry wine, 1 cup water, honey to taste, 2 pieces of candied ginger.
Use melon baller or cut seeded watermelon into bite sized chunks. Combine water, wine and honey. Heat gently. Add ginger. Let cool. Pour mixture over watermelon. Refrigerate for several hours. Green ginger wine can also be used in place of wine honey and candied ginger.
CUCUMBERS STUFFED WITH BARLEY AND RAISINS
6 cucumbers, 1 onion chopped, 2 tbls. olive oil, 1 cup cooked barley, 1 cup raisins (soaked for 1 hour and drained), 1 tbls. vinegar, 2 tbls. fresh mint or two tsp. dried mint, 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, salt and pepper to taste, 1 1/2 cups water.
Halve cucumbers lengthwise and remove seeds. Peel only if they are waxed. Saute onion in oil until golden and remaining ingredients (except water). Stuff cucumbers and place in large pot. Add water and bring to boil. Simmer for 35 minutes until tender.
2 cups semolina, 1 cup sugar, 2 tsp. baking powder, 1/2 tsp. baking soda, 1 cup plain yogurt, 1 cup milk and grated rind of 1 orange, tahini to grease pan. Syrup: 2 1/2 cups sugar, 1 3/4 cups water and 1 tbls. lemon juice, 1/4 cup rose water.
Combine seminola, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and mix. Stir in yogurt. Add milk and orange rind. Lightly grease 9 by 14 baking pan with tahini. Pour in batter and set aside for 30 minutes. Bake 20 minutes at 350 degrees. Cut into squares. Prepare syrup by boiling sugar and water for five minutes. Add lemon juice and rose water, simmer for 10 minutes. Pour syrup over the hot cake and leave at room temperature until absorbed.
The Good Book Cookbook-Recipes From Biblical Times, Naomi Goodman, Robert Marcus and Susan Woolhandler. Dodd, Mead and Co. 1986
The Complete Armenian Cookbook, Alice Bezjian. Rosekeer Press 1987
Everyday Life In Ancient Egypt, Jon Manchip White. G. P. Puttnam’s Sons 1963
Cookbook of Foods From Biblical Days, Jean and Frank McKibbin.
Voice Publications 1971
Middle Eastern Cooking, Rose Dosti. HP Books Tucson 1982
King Tut’s Cellar, Leonard H. Lesko. B.C. Scribe Publications 1977
Bulgaria is the world’s major producer of roses. The “Valley of the Roses” is in the approximate center of the country, 130 miles east of the capitol, Sofia. Roses grown commercially in the U.S. are bred for size, color, and longevity, not scent, but in Bulgaria, roses are grown specifically for their fragrance. The best attar of roses, used in perfume making. comes from Bulgaria, which produces 95% of the attar on the international market, and 80% of that comes from Kazanlik. At approximately Sl,500 an ounce, it provides one of Bulgaria’s most important sources of income.
Each year in June, the town of Kazanlik hosts a rose festival complete with a Rose King and Queen, a parade, a pageant and airplanes that drop rose petals on the crowds from above. 70,000 tourists come from all over the World for this festival. It has also become a major venue for Bulgarian folk music and dance. People dust off their colorful costumes, representing all areas of Bulgaria, and sing and dance all day and night, interrupted only by feasting. which goes on continuously.
Bulgarians are a very long-lived people. It might be due to genetics, but the Bulgarians themselves claim it is due to their diet. Bulgarian food is similar to Greek, Turkish, and other Balkan foods. Peppers, eggplants, tomatoes (none of which are native to the Balkans) have become staple foods. Meat, particularly lamb, is considered cold weather food, but fish is consumed year-round. Lentils and beans are also an important source of protein.
At various times, Bulgaria was a part of the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires. During the Byzantine era, many Armenians settled there, bringing with them dishes such as pasterma (pastrami). Turkish dishes abound, and turulu (vegetable stew), guvetch (meat-vegetable casserole) and pilaf have become part of the Bulgarian diet. We know mousakka as a Greek dish, but it is also popular in Bulgaria.
Bulgarians love to eat outdoors when the weather permits, and the Rose Festival is a perfect venue. Loukanka (sausage), breads and banitsa (noodle and cheese cake) are served at long tables.
Although not an everyday seasoning, roses can also be used to flavor foods. At Kazanlik, people celebrate with a liqueur flavored with rose petals. Rosewater can also be used to flavor mallegi (rice flour pudding) or can be made into a syrup to pour over cakes or ice cream. Rose petal jam is produced commercially in Turkey and Iran, and considered a special treat in Bulgaria where it is served with bread or toast.
The following recipes are enough to celebrate your own Rose Festival, but be careful to use only pesticide-free roses!
Rose Petal Liqueur
3 cups deep pink rose petals, loosely packed
½ cup water
Rose Sugar:1/4 cup deep pink rose petals + 1 cup sugar
Remove white heels from 3 cups of petals and crush lightly. In a 1 ½ quart glass container, combine rose petals and vodka. Cover and let stand in a cool, dark place for 2 weeks. Make rose sugar after l week. Remove white heels from petals and gently wash and dry. Layer sugar and rose petals in an airtight container. Cover and let stand for one week. Remove petals (sugar will be lumpy). After vodka has steeped 2 weeks and sugar has set for one, gently boil water and rose petal sugar in a small pan, stirring often until sugar has dissolved. Refrigerate until used. Strain vodka through a coffee filter to remove all petals and residue. Stir in rose syrup and serve chilled.
Gui Receli (Rose Petal Conserve)
1 lb. red or pink rose petals
I quart water
3 lbs. sugar
l T lemon juice
Soak rose petals in water for 30 minutes. Strain and reserve liquid. In large pan, layer sugar and rose petals, and pour 1/3 of reserved rose water over it. Let stand 24 hours. Pour in another third of the rose water, and heat slowly. As petals cook down, slowly add the rest of the rose water. Continue to cook until thickened. Stir in lemon juice and remove from heat. Let cool. Serve over cakes, ice cream or puddings.
I medium eggplant
3 med onions, chopped
1/4 tsp paprika
1 lb. lean ground beef, cooked
1/4 cups bread crumbs
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
2 large tomatoes, chopped
½ cup parsley
Slice eggplant into 1 1/2 inch slices and sprinkle lightly with salt. Set aside for one hour. Drain off liquid and rinse and pat dry. Sauté onion and eggplant slices in oil until golden, then add paprika. Mix tomatoes, parsley and meat and spread a portion of this onto the bottom of a casserole dish. Place a layer of eggplant on top of the meat. Repeat until all meat and eggplant is used. The top layer should be eggplant. Sprinkle with bread crumbs and dot wi1h margarine. Bake in 350-degree oven for 30 minutes or until golden brown.
Jane Grigson, ed., The World Atlas of Food. Simon & Schuster, 1974.
Elielle Markhbein, ed., “In the Shadow of a Rose” Victoria, May 1991.
Arlene Mueller, “Bulgaria’s Rose Parade; Los Angeles Times, 12/27/87.
Rowland, Joan, Good Food from the Near East, M. Barrows & Co, Inc. 1950.