I Practice Witchcraft Now Because of This Book
A new cookbook taps into Wiccan, Druidic, and other folk traditions and serves up food at the same time.
Yet again this Halloween kids will dress up as their heroes and nightmares and adults will dress up like the news or maybe a meme. But very few people will practice the ancient traditions such as ritually lighting bonfires to protect their harvest, casting spells, and communicating with nature spirits as on past Samhains, the Druidic predecessor to Halloween.
Did I lose you at Samhain? How about at Beltane, Imbolc, and Lughnasadh? These are the ancient festivals with roots in Gaelic and Wiccan traditions celebrated in The Spirited Kitchen: Recipes and Rituals for the Wheel of the Year. Every Day Animism, Folk Magic, Witchcraft, a new book by British Columbia-based author, practitioner of witchcraft, and Cordon Bleu-trained chef Carmen Spagnola.
After a particularly difficult period in her life Spagnola experienced a shift in consciousness as she turned to the garden and the kitchen as a place to get grounded. “As I became more attuned to individual and collective patterns of collapse,” she writes. “I also noticed patterns of growth, regeneration, and resilience. I recognized resourcefulness in the plants I tended and the (actually quite delicious) meals I was able to make from them. I grew to love the plants and the soil like friends—friends I genuinely relied on. As I tended that tenacious kale yard, I recognized resilience in myself, too. I came to understand that this was my spiritual practice, this kinship with the natural world, and that this animistic way of perceiving the world was my form of witchcraft.”
Like her and so many people over the pandemic, I also felt the seasons more acutely, the power of the weather, the weight of the news, and I needed something to connect with and ground. Sure I’d lit a votive candle or two as a kid as a remembrance of family members who’d passed, and once with my own kids, lit an offering in the backyard for a pet fish who had died. But salt spells and the accompanying incantations? Meticulous building of mini bonfires? Not in my playbook.
Anybody who gardened and cooked their way through challenging times can relate, which is why I found myself drawn to the musings on magic, the botanical photographs, and, let’s be honest, the delicious-sounding recipes for dishes like garlicky kale with roasted lemons, cassoulet with duck confit, and vanilla pound cake with summer fruits. Such abundance historically was not taken lightly or purely culinarily, as feast-worthy dishes like these were far from being on regular rotation in the challenging lives of many of our ancestors. (Although one standout irony I learned in the book is that kale, the yuppie green du jour, was the most abundant vegetable in Scotland and the go-to green for peasants.)
In addition to recipes, throughout the book Spagnola shares traditional folk wisdom such as the “magical correspondences'” between certain ingredients and outcomes: acorns for creativity, almonds for clairvoyance, chamomile for protection from bad luck, apples to access the tree of immortality. Who doesn’t want a shot at eternal life plus a tasty snack?