I can't help myself. It happens every year around the autumn equinox. The day comes when there's a slight chill in the air and the sun feels just a little less prominent in the sky. And all I can do is think about soup.
The soups I make at this time of year are really for my own pleasure. Most everyone else the house tolerates soup, but it's not their idea of a good meal. Me, I could and do eat soup, three times a day for breakfast lunch and dinner.
Autumn Equinox & The Harvest
The autumn equinox and the last of the summer vegetables start me thinking about balance. Equinoxes are all about still points and transitions for me. I still have warm days, but the cold isn't far off. I still have summer produce, but the farmer's market has just a little less on offer. Bright yellow squash, are giving way to orange and brown gourds, and right behind them are the dark greens of kale and other winter crops. The sunburst of fresh peaches has all but disappeared and I'm left with their slightly less ebullient counterparts, securely stored in jars.
And there's something about making do. You know, looking in the fridge and pantry and thinking "okay. There's only so much of this ingredient or that ingredient, what's the most amount of nutritious food I can make with this, right now"? For me that translates beautifully to the autumn equinox - How much is there left to do with the resources I have before I go to ground for a few months?
Autumn Equinox Soup
There's a reason I like to make soup at this time of year. One, there's that chill in the air I mentioned. Nothing like a hot mug or bowl of soup to make me feel all cozy, cuddly, and warm inside.
But really it has to do with the ingredients. There's something about the vegetables at this time of year and the various and multiple harvests coming in, that just sits right with my kitchen witch's soul.
Here's the recipe. It's simple. Home cooking at it's best. Anyone can do it. Fresh vegetables are best, but substitute in frozen or canned if that's what you have.
My Autumn Equinox Soup Recipe
Total prep time is about 15 minutes. Total cook time is 30 minutes. You'll get six (ish) servings.
You can find more favourite recipes in my book The Magick Of Food - Rituals, Offerings, & Why We Eat Together available for pre order now!
Right at the outset, I want you to know this is not an historical treatise about Dionysus nor does it cover ancient practices of any Dionysian cult. What this article is about is exactly what the title says. Dinner and drinks with Dionysus.
And when I say “exactly what the title says”, that’s a bit of a fib too. I didn’t have dinner or drinks with any person named Dionysus. He didn’t text me and say “Hey Gwion, see you at 7 for canapes and champers”.
What happened was I started thinking about making dinner. Then I started thinking about drinks. Drinks and dinner thoughts inspired me to consider enjoying my repast outside. Which, in turn, made me think of idly languishing on a chaise lounge quaffing copious quantities of excellent wine and stuffing my gob with tasty comestibles.
But Dionysus Was There
Now after that rather elaborate set up paragraph and saying that no person named Dionysus joined me for dinner, Dionysus was absolutely there with me. Let me explain…
Earlier on in the day, when the first inklings of what to eat for dinner sparked in my brain, I started thinking about Dionysus. That’s Dionysus the god. Imagine this conversation running in my head:
Me: Should I make lamb burgers with a mint, yogurt sauce?
Me: Mmm…Sounds good. What else could I make?
Dionysus: Hey there! Dionysus here. Could be the god. Might be a figment of your imagination. Up to you. Any chance we can have olives, pickled red onions, and some feta with that?
Me: Oh! Hello there Dionysus. Yes. Let’s figure this menu out. I’ve got lots of ideas.
Dionysus: Me again. Did you mention wine? You know, you have an exquisite bottle of red wine you bought in Napa a couple of months back. We could have that. Oh and I think eating outside is a great idea. Why don’t you get some of those lovely wooden platters you have. Maybe we should think about doing a ritual as well. You know, a ritual for me. I like rituals. Do you have any poetry you want to read out loud? You could light a fire, eat finger foods, and drink that gorgeous bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon that’s just gathering dust in your cupboard. I like it when you read Yeats, or Shelley or Byron. You have a cute accent when you’re drunk and their poetry is so full of life and the angst of it all. Have I told you about death yet? It’s coming. You know, you should drink that wine during my ritual while you’re still alive.
Setting A Plate For Dionysus
Whether it’s a real god or the divine madness he inspires or my over active imagination, my conversation with Dionysus went on for quite some time. In the end, I/we decided on a variety of tantalizing nibbles including pistachios, grapes, feta, cured meats, olives, and lamb chops with mint sauce.
I prepared most of the food on a wooden cutting board, in my back garden. A fire was lit and I cooked the lamb chops in my favourite cast iron pan, right over the open flame. I popped the cork and poured the wine into a favourite carafe. There was no diluting of the wine, as would have been the thing to do in ancient Greece, but rather threw my lot in with Dionysus and drained a few glasses by me lone self.
I set two plates and two glasses. One for me. One for my unearthly guest. I piled an assortment of goodies on his plate first. Topped up his glass first. Then I went about eating and drinking from both settings, tossing in the occasional “don’t mind if I do”.
Poetry and laughter and Dionysus
Whether it was the presence of a god or the presence of 12.8% alcohol by volume, we’ll never really know, I became giddy. And when I’m alone (or with a god), satiated by a surfeit of foods, and perhaps a wee bit tipsy, I like to sing.
Motley Crue’s “Home Sweet Home” burst forth. A surprising choice, you might think, but it’s not the first time Dionysus has requested that. There’s something of the tragic about that song after all. Then, quite loudly and with desperately long pauses, for the most impact, I read “Her Anxiety” by W.B Yeats.
Earth in beauty dressed
Awaits returning spring.
All true love must die,
Alter at the best
Into some lesser thing.
Prove that I lie.
Such body lovers have,
Such exacting breath,
That they touch or sigh.
Every touch they give,
Love is nearer death.
Prove that I lie.
A Serious & Silly Ritual with Dionysus
Now you might be thinking to yourself that this ritual sounds completely silly. It was. Let’s be clear, the entire ritual consisted of me eating, drinking, singing, reciting poetry, and sitting around a fire for hours. I conversed, audibly, with a person that wasn’t there and took his requests at face value. It was his ritual as he wanted it.
Its also possible that you’re thinking to yourself that this ritual sounds completely serious. It was. Let’s be clear, the entire ritual consisted of me eating, drinking, singing, reciting poetry, and sitting around a fire for hours. I conversed, audibly, with a person that wasn’t there and took his requests at face value. It was his ritual as he wanted it.
Devotional rituals don’t have to be all gloomy and somber. Or dull and sober. This one was exquisite. I laughed. I cried. I thought about mortality and the singular beauty that my life is. I contemplated the horror of oblivion. I understood that the sweetness of life can only be measured against the inevitable onrushing of death.
So yeah. A pretty spectacular night of dinner and drinks when all was said and done.
Cheers Dionysus. Let’s do it again.
It’s no secret that a big part of my craft practice centers around food. It’s an easy connection to make. Cookery is like alchemy, changing raw materials into something wholly new and yet still the same. There’s a paradox to food magic. It’s simultaneously easy and approachable and yet profound and mysterious.
I’ll be gathering with 5 other witches in October, at a week long retreat. We’ll be cooking for about 80 people, breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert. We’re an embodiment of the food magic paradox. We’re there to cook and support the magic of this retreat. The food we make is the magic and it sustains the magic. It’s as much a part of the magical work of the week as the nightly rituals and it is ritual all unto itself.
I spoke with my dear friend and fellow cook Tere (prounounced like “tare”) about their connection to food, magic, community, and service. We also talked a little about the healing magic of cooking for our ancestors. Here’s a snippet of our chat.
What’s The Connection Between Food & Magic?“Magic is concerned with relationships and everything about food invokes relationships for me. Complex webs of connection bring food to our tables. Many hands, many beings are responsible for my food. If I am to work magic, I need to be aware of these connections and feed them as I am fed by them.
Gratitude and reciprocity help me stay in good relationship. The food that sustains my body tells a story of lineage. This is connected to magic too. I know myself and my people through the food passed down through my ancestors. This connection anchors me and feeds my soul. As a witch, I believe all acts of love and pleasure are rituals that serve life. Food is complete sensual pleasure. Food is life force. Food is power.
If magic is the cultivation of: Interconnectedness, Reciprocity, Self knowledge, Pleasure, and Power, then food is magic.”
The Connection Between Working In A Kitchen & Serving CommunityPeople need to eat. Sustaining people sustains the magic. It is as simple and as challenging as that. It is an honor and pleasure to provide physical and spiritual sustenance for people doing deep magic together.
Kitchen witches stir in love and magic. They anchor the vital container supporting community. Feeding a group of people with complex needs requires daring and devotion. I go to my growing edge every time.
Service has always been my greatest teacher. To do it well, I need intention, self-awareness, and good boundaries. These qualities support community and magic. These are the qualities I hope to stir into the pot. “
A Profoundly Magical & Surprising Food Ritual“One of the covens I belonged to would craft rituals for each person in the group to help them grow into their magic and power. Each of us would ask for something. One person wanted help to free themselves. So, the rest of the coven planned a beautiful, sacred feast in their honor. We made sure the food was tasty as well as beautiful. The table was lit with candles, we sang to our beloved in anticipation of eating this terrific food, and then we began smearing the food all over each other. In our hair, on our clothes, all over the floor, this feast broke the rules. Our coven mate was at first shocked but then we laughed and laughed. We were all free.”
Feeding The Connection Between Our Ancestors & TodayI am very interested in this question as I think feeding our ancestors is important magic for the times we are in. To heal and make the changes we need to make in the world, I think we need to reach back to our ancestors. I’m very aware that my lineages have been severed by colonization and white supremacy. I carry these wounds into my relationships. I’ve been wondering how to repair connections and begin to live in balance and justice.
If feeding the living is a great way to support our magic, then perhaps feeding our dead is too. I want to set the table for those who came before, whether they are healed and whole or wounded and confused.
For that reason, I pick a sun-ripened tomato from my garden. Sprinkle a little sea salt on it. I simmer a pot of black-eyed peas with a simple strip of bacon. Stew some okra with more tomatoes and onions. I make a pan of cornbread cooked in my cast iron skillet. Slather it with butter. Slice a fresh onion and a jalapeño pepper as condiments.
To my ancestors who ate simply and with such divine flavors fresh from the garden, I offer this food. May you be healed and whole. May our ties be rejoined.”
A Quick Cast Iron Cornbread RecipeI’m a BIG fan of cast iron cornbread. Here’s a super simple recipe for you to try. There’s a note about using a whole stick of butter, and that being too much. Ignore that. There’s rarely ever too much butter!
If you love kitchen witchery and cooking, My book “The Magick Of Food: Rituals, Offerings, & Why We Eat Together” is now available for pre-order.
Being a kitchen witch has it’s benefits. There’s lots of great food, of course, and there’s something very tangible about the magic too. Dry ingredients are mixed with wet ingredients. Heat and time combine forces and make an alchemy all their own. Food is shared.
And then, then there are the stories. Sit with cooks for a meal and you’ll learn why they cook, and why food is such an important part of their magical practice. If you’re lucky, you’ll see the magic taking shape right in front of your eyes. Memories are spoken aloud and ancestors live again. My dear friend and mentor, Juniper, shared a story with me recently about their Granny’s house.
Granny’s House: Where It All Began.“My ancestors were poor. Granny lived in a house without running water or even a well. Rain was caught from the tin roof, filtered through charcoal, and hand-pumped from a concrete cistern several steps from the back door. Every drop of water was carried into the house in a metal bucket.
Her house had four bare rooms: kitchen, living room, two bedrooms. There was no bathroom, no closet, no hallway, no counter, no sink, no cabinets. There was electricity to run the refrigerator and turn maple spindles on the wringer washer. On wash day, the washer was pulled from a corner of the kitchen and carefully filled with hot water in a metal tub that straddle all four stove burners. On Saturday evenings family status determined our order into the more or less clean water in the same tub.
There was a pot-belly stove for heat, fired from a pile of coal in the side yard. With electricity, Granny no longer heated heavy irons on the stove top for smoothing wrinkles from our clothing. But they were still there, in case.”
Granny’s House: There Was Always Food“Despite being poor, there was always food. They harvested corn, beans, squash, tomatoes, and lettuce from the steep Appalachian Mountains; from land not flat enough, from soil too thin to be cultivated with machines. They had eggs from their chickens. When the chickens were too old to lay, they were slaughtered, fried, and served to the preacher for Sunday dinner.
My ancestors herded cows each evening from grassy hollers, rhythmically squeezed their udders for creamy milk. They raised fat hogs for bacon and pork.
My grandmother never owned or even imagined owning a car. She caught a ride on Saturday into town with a neighbor to pick up the welfare flour, sugar, and butter she was entitled to. Granny had a big garden, carefully watered with buckets carried from the cistern on hot, dry days. She saved every greasy spoonful of bacon fat to dress a salad, cook greens, or slather onto the raw dough of loaves or rolls, their tops crusty and brown when they came out of the oven.
On hot summer afternoons, cicadas screaming and not a breath of air, there was a plate of raw cucumber soaking in white vinegar on the kitchen table to grab as we ran through. Cucumbers were coolin’.”
Granny’s House: A Place of Belonging
What was less present, and therefore more precious in the history of my people, was belonging. My ancestors knew themselves as a people apart from the larger world. Tossed between the shores of Scotland and Ireland before immigrating to this continent, we survived on land that was never ours for long.
As the world rushed on, there were so many ways we didn’t fit. Our list of sins was long. Playing cards, dancing, drinking, smoking the tobacco that some of us raised because it was the only possible cash crop, watching movies or television. For women there were special prohibitions: cutting our hair, wearing pants, jewelry or makeup. And don’t even think about fornication or adultery.
What we had was each other. We belonged to tiny church congregations, to the people that we sang with, prayed with, who cared for our children and drove us to the doctor when we were sick. We tucked ourselves into the steep cracks of the Allegheny Mountains; into places so remote, that you can still sit at the restaurant table and feel like the first stranger people have seen in weeks. Places that no one goes to. Hearth was where we made belonging.”
Cooking For GrannyIf I could cook one dish for my ancestors, I would spend an afternoon on a sunny hillside, carefully reaching among thorns to collect wild blackberries. For every handful into the bucket, a few would land in my mouth, warm and sweet with the sun.
I’d come back to my grandmother’s kitchen and cut cold lard into white pastry flour with a dash of Celtic sea salt. I’d sprinkle the larded flour with a bit of water from the ladle in the metal bucket on a side table, kneed it gently and wrap it in wax paper. I’d toss the berries with sugar and cornstarch. Cornstarch thickens without making the filling opaque. I’d roll the dough between flour-dusted tea towels, carefully lift and drape it into a pie pan and crimp the edges. I’d fill the shell with berries, weave strips of dough across the top and sprinkle them with sugar; not so much for sweetness as for the glisten of crystals against the browned crust.
As the kitchen heated from the oven, I’d sit in the shade on wooden back stoop, hope for a breeze, and wait for the smell of warm pie and tangy berries to waft through open windows.
When the pie was cool enough to eat, I’d have to choose. Granny would have punched holes in each side of the top of a can of evaporated milk and poured that over a piece of the pie, thick and creamy. Dark berry juice would blend with the milk to make swirls ranging from deep purple to pink. But if there was a cow anywhere around, I’d use cold raw cream.”
Cooking TogetherJuniper’s story reminds me so much of my own grandmothers. Although the locations couldn’t be more dissimilar, I grew up in London, the circumstances are eerily familiar. In a few short months, I’ll be working in a kitchen with Juniper and four other cooks, serving a magical community for a week. The menu hasn’t been determined yet, but I hope Granny’s Blackberry pie makes an appearance.
Some friends and I were chatting about the different ways we do magic. We came to the conclusion that although we may have a primary magical style, we’re all witchery generalists.
For instance, storytelling is a big part of magic for me. So is music, singing, drumming, and energy raising. I’m partial to ancestor veneration and dream work. And what encapsulates virtually all of those things into one tidy magical system for me, is Kitchen Witchery.
There’s a lot that goes into kitchen witchery as a practice. Cooking, growing, mindfulness, hospitality, and food spells are some aspects to be sure. As I’ve built my kitchen witchery practice over the years, I’ve come to realize it rests on five distinct pillars.
Kitchen Witchery Starts With Gratitude
I know, I know. Gratitude blah, blah, blah. But it’s true. The work I do in my kitchen, or any kitchens I find myself in, begins and ends with gratitude. I’m grateful for the ingredients I’m cooking with and for those that grew them, picked them, bought them, raised them, and brought them to the kitchen. One might begin with an empty pot, but kitchen witchery does sort of require food and someone, even if that’s me, has to provide it.
Gratitude goes far beyond the procurement of provisions though. I express gratitude to my teachers and my teacher’s teachers frequently. Some of those teachers taught me to cook, shared recipes with me, and imparted crucial kitchen knowledge along the way.
My family has endured all sorts of concoctions over the years, occasionally finding a family favourite is lovely, but I’ve put up some terrible meals in my time as well. (note: Ask me about the pork loin & marmalade debacle one of these days).
I’m grateful they give me feedback, tell me what works, and trust me to create foods that nourish their bodies, minds, and souls.
I’m grateful that I have food and ingredients and a little skill. There have been times in my life when there wasn’t much in the fridge or cupboards and payday was many days off. Being hungry, truly hungry is no joke. Having regular access to food is something I’m grateful for.
Witchery Includes Intention
Why am I making this meal? What purpose does it serve? Who will eat this meal and when? What do I know about their dietary needs? What magic are they looking to cultivate? How will this meal serve the magic? The questions could go on and on, but you probably get the point. The more I know before I start cooking, the stronger the magic will be.
Intention is important. If I want to make apple pie but only have the ingredients for Yorkshire pudding, all the intention in the world ain’t gonna make an apple pie magically appear. And that’s where attention comes into play.
Attention Beats Intention Every Time
In my upcoming book, The Magick of Food: Rituals, Offerings, & Why We Eat Together, I share part of a conversation I had with an amazing chef and kitchen witch. We talk about the differences between intention and attention, especially when it comes to the kitchen. Intention is “I’d like to make you some cookies”. Attention is making sure those cookies aren’t burnt or made with salt instead of sugar.
You know the expression “it’s the thought that counts”? In kitchen witchery, the thought is important but the execution of the dish is crucial. If I’m making you a healing meal, I should probably definitely avoid ingredients you’re allergic too.
Nourishment Is Key
Nourishment can mean different things. Of course, food should have nutrients and minerals and vitamins that quite actually feed your body, allowing you to heal up, repair, and sustain yourself. In kitchen witchery, nourishment takes on other facets too.
When I’m missing my family in England, I make traditional English dishes. My grandmother’s shepherd’s pie recipe is to live for! When I make it, I’m instantly back in her kitchen gleefully awaiting the moment she’d pull the shepherd’s pie out from under the grill and I’d see bubbling, melted cheese and crusty, brown ridges of mashed potatoes. Eating “her” food nourishes my heart and soul far beyond the caloric and nutritional value of the ingredients.
Kitchen Witchery Is About Service
On any given day, in any given form of media, I can find article after article about becoming a more powerful practitioner of the magical arts (note: also insert famous, influential, revolutionary, etc). I rarely see Instagram posts connecting magic with service.
Kitchen witchery, at least for me, is all about service. If I cook for you, I’m literally serving you food, but I’m also serving something deeper. My hope is that I’m feeding your joy or your healing or providing you with sustenance, so you can continue fighting the good fight, whatever that may be for you.
Wherever you do your kitchen witchery, I wish you an abundance of spices and ingredients, and an endless fascination with making magic in the kitchen.