Thoughts On Food, Magic & Culture
A few weeks ago I shared a picture on my social media of my father in my kitchen. It showed him seasoning the meat he’d bought me for Sunday lunch, a chicken in fact. Nothing extraordinary or even exciting and the day had started like any other Sunday, with me going to his house to collect said chicken. He always buys me the meat for Sunday dinner for though I am vegetarian and no longer eat dairy, the rest of my family are not. Anyway, my father always prepares his lunch early for the local pub opens at 12 sharp and he always goes - a working class tradition if ever there was such a thing. So when I went to his house, his bird was already well under way, in his dutch pot simmering away on the stove top.
Because it is a faster way to cook a whole chicken and because I was going out later that morning leading one of the foraging walks I often put on, I decided I would use the same cooking method, and so, after picking some fresh thyme from his garden to use in the seasoning, my father then butchered the chicken for me. And then I headed home to get on with it. But I had forgotten the herbs and so ten minutes later my dad turned up at mine with the thyme. He then proceeded to take over because I wasn’t doing it right, apparently. As he asked for this and that, another onion and more garlic, allspice and what not, muttering in patois about me not being fast enough (all good-natured, I might add), I just stood back and had to smile. I guess I’ll always be a pickney in his eyes.
It was an enjoyable experience and I loved spending that time with him, but at the same time it got me thinking about culture and what is lost between the generations, in particular and in my case, what can never really be experienced by myself, and that is my fathers culture. Now that’s not to say that I haven’t been exposed to his Jamaican culture, after all, I am my fathers daughter and have fond memories of spending time with my Jamaican grandparents, of eating the food that they made (Jamaican Sunday dinners are divine) and just generally being around them and thus their culture. But at the same time, those aspects of that culture were experienced within my own frame of reference as an British person within a British culture.
And so through the generations, much is lost even while we may experience aspects of previous generations. In my own case, it goes further too as my vegetarianism moves me a step further from my Jamaican heritage when it comes to food (although vegetarianism isn’t unheard of within Jamaica and some practising Rastafarians do eat meat free diets, it is uncommon with many traditional dishes centred around meat). But I compromise and still use many of the same spice and flavour palettes and rice and peas is one of my favourite foods, especially when the kidney beans have been cooked with the rice, imbuing it with colour and flavour. And so in this way I try and pay homage to my heritage, along with bits of patois ( I can often be heard to mutter ‘de pickney renk dem’ when my sons answer back, as teenagers do). So whilst there is a separation in culture between the generations, even within the culture one is raised within, for how many of us live the same lives as our grandparents or even our parents, it doesn’t mean that our heritage isn’t important nor does it reduce it.
And I think the same is true in witchcraft practices too. All too often people are kept from practicing one tradition or another because some aspect of their heritage isn’t seen as enough. We see it in some heathen circles where people who aren’t white are excluded, even though they may have white ancestors. Or calls of appropriation or warnings to be careful of not appropriating when I talk about Vodou and Obeah, especially when I write about those issues, as if my ancestors are not my ancestors and as though the slave trade within the Caribbean didn’t happen. I’m English and so how dare I write about the loa and Vodou in a practical way.
There’s so much gate keeping within magickal traditions that it stifles them and makes them not fit for purpose, not applicable to how we live now or the issues that face us. If we look at traditions like Vodou and others, we see how they have changed over time to incorporate the issues affecting practitioners at the time. Haitian Vodou would appear very different to how it was originally practised within Africa and it would have to be wouldn’t it, after all families and tribes were separated by slavery to minimise revolutions and uprisings, and so became an amalgamation of beliefs and practices. And even within Haitian Vodou today, between Hounfours and families, there are many differences in style and substance.
There is no one size fits all within any magickal tradition and I would say don’t trust anyone who says otherwise. That’s not to say that anything goes because that path leads to a New Age kind of philosophy, cultural appropriation (and for those who think cultural appropriation is not a thing, it most certainly is and if you think otherwise then you don’t really understand what is meant by the term, but that’s a discussion for another day), sexual and emotional abuse and so many other things that detract from our practices.
And lets be honest, gate keeping only serves to spark infighting when our fighting could be better utilised elsewhere, united in something worthwhile instead of divided over a none thing. There are so many fights that are worthy of our attention and need it.
We can honour our heritage and live in the present, in our realities here and now. Resist beautifully but always with action!
My name is Emma Kathryn, my path is a mixture of traditional European witchcraft, vodou and obeah, a mixture representing my heritage. I live in the sticks with my family where I read tarot, practice witchcraft and drink copious amounts of coffee.
You can follow Emma on Facebook.