In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the Weird Sisters cluster around their cauldron. In countless Halloween postcards, decorations, and images witches stir cauldrons. Cauldrons are central to the myths of innumerable mythic witches from Medea to Cerridwen. With the exception of broomsticks (another kitchen tool) the cauldron is the tool most frequently associated with witchcraft.
Witch’s brews, witch’s potions: what’s really cooking in that cauldron? Shakespeare envisioned an eerie, grotesque grocery list for his witches (newt’s eyes, frog’s toes…) corresponding to witch-hunt era stereotypes. Fairy tales and fiction reinforce that stereotype of witches’ cauldrons filled with disgusting brews and horrific ingredients.
Yet, simultaneously, another counter-stereotype suggests that food from the witch’s kitchen is the most satisfying food of all. In many cuisines, identifying a recipe with witches suggests that it is enchantingly seductive and guaranteed to please.
In reality, witchcraft is genuinely and profoundly associated with food, especially delicious, healing, charming food. To this day, the independent, solitary witch is often called a “kitchen witch.”
One might also ask, “What’s in the chalice?” The image of the witch proffering a cup is just slightly less popular than that of the witch atop a broomstick or stirring her cauldron. There is a theory, popular among some anthropologists, that the very origins of shamanism, witchcraft, and religion lie in so-called “beverage cults,” including those that first developed beer and wine, both once considered sacred. The origins of many modern liqueurs do lie in old herbal formulas for healing and spell-casting.
• Spells are cast with food, potions, elixirs, and brews.
• Witches heal, nourish, bless, curse, and seduce via food and potions.
• Specific foods were once especially identified with magic and witchcraft.
Many of the most popular and potent ritual tools of witchcraft now masquerade as common kitchen tools. Whether these tools, including brooms, sieves, cauldrons, mortars, and pestles began as kitchen tools and were adopted into witchcraft or vice versa, or whether cooking and witchcraft were once inseparable, is now unknown.
If reversed, a long wooden spoon becomes a handy magic wand.
In fairy tales, witches have food when others do not. Hansel and Gretel’s family was starving: allegedly there was a famine in the land, yet the witch’s very house was edible. In other fairy tales, wise women offer heroines magical tablecloths that, whenever and wherever unfolded, produce incredibly delicious, luxurious meals. A witch’s food is worth the price of a child, most notably in Rapunzel but also in numerous variations on that theme from Italy, France, and elsewhere. Apples are among the fairy-tale witch’s primary tools and weapons.
Those stories reflected popular perceptions. Real-life witch-trial transcripts offer contradictory testimony regarding witch’s food, too.
• Witches were accused of concocting disgusting, murderous, sacrilegious potions from corpse flesh, aborted fetuses, assorted animal anatomical parts, and killer plants.
• Simultaneously, witch-hunters described witches’ sabbats as sumptuous feasts with enormous quantities of food and drink, including fresh fruits out of season and luxuries like fresh roast ox.
There is tremendous emphasis on nourishment and especially on meat in both fairy tales and witchcraft accusations. At a time when few common people could afford to eat fresh meat with any frequency, witches were accused of having a consistent supply. During an era when ascetism was idealized, witches were accused of living lavishly, sensuously, and comfortably.
Theoretically, each and every food possesses magical uses. Just as every mineral, botanical or animal possesses specific magical gifts, so does food. Spells are cast by manipulating different foods to create a desired, intended effect.
Food spells are the simplest magic of all, cast by fine cooks all over Earth, most with no conscious knowledge or affiliation with witchcraft. All one needs to cast a spell with food is to imagine a meal as a means to an end. Plan a menu for seduction. It will likely be very different from a meal intended to humor a cranky child, appease an angry spouse, heal one’s ailing self or ingratiate oneself to potential in-laws.
Any recipe may be converted to a spell via the time-honored magical techniques of whispering and murmuring. Just before serving, secretly whisper your goals or intentions over the food or drink. The tradition of toasting derives from this type of spell. Spells may be cast over oneself too. Whisper affirmations over food or drink, then consume.
Every food has its magical uses; many extensive cookbooks devoted to magical recipes exist. The foods and beverages explored in this section are related to the general topic and history of witchcraft rather than to specific spells. Notably, in the light of the spiritual origins of witchcraft, a high percentage of them involve grain products, intoxicating beverages and sometimes both, as with barley-wine, beer, and kvass.