According to Rachel Patterson, your kitchen, with its semi-liquefied veg at the back of the fridge and forlorn bottles of Christmas alcohol is, in fact, a simmering vortex of magical potential.
But then Patterson is high priestess of the Kitchen Witch Coven and an elder at the Kitchen Witch School of Natural Witchcraft. She also just brought out a new title in her series of food-slash-magic cookbooks, suggesting that the everyday ingredients found in your cupboards are ideal for magical offerings, medicine pouches, and poppets. According to Patterson's A Kitchen Witch's World of Magical Food, "dishes can be created for specific intents, moon phases, and rituals, to celebrate sabbats."
Throughout history, witchcraft and cooking have been intertwined. Of the estimated 200,000 "witches" tortured, hanged, or burnt at the stake between the late 15th and mid-18th century, most were women. It follows that cooking—firmly in the domestic realm—would be implicated in the paranoia. Accusations of poisoned food were rife, a perfect storm of fear around the subversion of those great nurturers: women and food. The image of the witch's cauldron—into which fall strange bunches of herbs and dismembered animals—is central to popular conceptions of witchcraft.
Today, self-proclaimed witches like Patterson are reclaiming the power. "I've always loved food and the journey from planting seeds, growing, tending, harvesting, creating the recipes, and then eating," she says. "My own coven has gained a reputation for providing cake at meetings."
Most of us are on board with the cake, less so with the witchcraft. It's easy to ignore how much magical thinking permeates everyday food culture. Yes, we might have different language for it but health and healthy eating are today's lightning rods for superstition.
If you've ever been on a "detox," with its vague, unscientific ideas of contamination and purification, you've subscribed to magical thinking. Likewise if you begin your day with a handful of mysterious supplements, hoping their properties will give you powers (health), this is a spell. Sacred rituals also abound. Invite your mates for Sunday lunch then offer them a bowl of cereal—they will cry sacrilege. Lay out a silver service setting at your desk, tuck a linen napkin into your shirt, and eat a leisurely three-course meal—your colleagues will think you're a freak.
Here's what Patterson has to say.
MUNCHIES: Hi Rachel, so why cookery and witchcraft? Rachel Patterson: Food on its own brings good energy and, throughout history, magic has been created with food. Think about the birthday cake and blowing out the candle to make a wish, is that not magic? The rituals and traditions around wedding cakes and seasonal holiday foods are all magic in their own way.
Bringing magic into your food is just an extension of working as a witch. We already use herbs, plants, and flowers in magical workings so adding it to your food to bring peace to an argument, to add spice to the bedroom, or bring healing to a sick person makes sense.
There's no dark art or evil in witchcraft. Just follow your intuition and your heart and enjoy what you cook.
Who is the target audience for your book? My books all sell to the pagan audience whether it's witches, druids, pagans, wiccans, or just those with an interest in magic or, indeed, food.
How seriously do you think people will take the magical element of your recipes? A pagan will take magic very seriously. Every natural thing has an energy, whether it's a flower in the garden, a tree, a shell, or the tomatoes in your greenhouse. We can tap into that energy and make use of it. For instance, thyme has healing properties so it works well in a soup for someone who is unwell. Chilies have a spicy kick so they work in a dish to serve at a romantic meal.
As a full-time witch and a keen cook, do you often find yourself thinking up spells in the kitchen? Spell work is actually quite a small part of a witch's repertoire. I don't work with spells in the kitchen as such but I will always work love and good energy into each meal: stirring pots clockwise to bring in good energy, anti-clockwise to dispel negative energy, for instance.
What sort of reaction do you get when you tell people what you do? It depends. Sometimes I get disbelief. That's usually from those that have only read about witches in fairy tales or watched Hollywood films. Both of these give witchcraft a bad rep and are so far from the truth that people think it's all hocum. But some people are genuinely interested in what I do. Thankfully, I haven't had any bad reactions.
What foods best lend themselves to witches' spells? Everything has magical potential, every food has energy of some sort. Foods that are natural are going to have the strongest energy.
Have you ever had a food-related spell go wrong? Spells are tricky buggers, they have to be worded incredibly careful as they have a habit of going off in their own direction. What you want may not be what you need. Spell work has to be done with extreme care.
So should people be careful when unlocking the art of culinary witchcraft? There's no dark art or evil in witchcraft. Just follow your intuition and your heart and enjoy what you cook. If you put love into your culinary creations then the good karma will fall into place.
Are we too dismissive of the power of magic? As a society, yes, I believe we are. Magic is just working with energy and energy surrounds us, think of the power of the ocean or the wind—that magic can be used for good things.
What's your favourite recipe in the book? A good part of the book is made up of information on how to work magically with food and an extensive list of foods and their magical properties but there are some seasonal and moon phase recipes. For me, anything cake-related is always a winner.
Thanks for talking with us, Rachel!