I began on these thoughts by getting the Muin/Blackberry work together for the Ogham. I’ve included a recipe for blackberry-and-apple pie there and that set me off …

Cooking isn’t often thought of as a spiritual exercise … unfortunately! … but it is one, or should be. You don’t have to go off into trance to journey, in fact, as you become proficient at it, you find yourself able to “walk between worlds”, to be here and there at the same time without needing to be sectioned under anyone’s mental health acts. Preparing food, changing plant and animal substance into a form that our bodies can digest and so receive the energy from is deep magic. What happens in cooking is serious magic … but we do it everyday, on auto-pilot, and don’t think about it at all, it’s just “what you do”.

Cooking involves … preparation, ritual, transformation and sometimes transmutation. Certainly the transmutation comes about when we eat the food, our bodies don’t live on the food but on the energy our athenor (stomach and guts) is able to distil out of the food.

I grow most of my own vegetables and a lot of the fruit so it’s organic and biodynamic. I try to buy organic food whenever possible and I also try to buy from local growers and farmers rather than stuff that has a burden of food miles on it. Of course, this isn’t always possible, I like bananas, lemons, nectarines, olive oil rice and pasta (although there is a local man who does superb pasta when I can get to him). Hereford really doesn’t do rice paddy-fields, nor banana groves. They are having a go at olives up in Shropshire – because of global warming! – and citrus fruit is a possibility if you have a greenhouse, as are grapes. So … I take note and care of the food I buy, how it was grown, how the farmer treats their beasts, what they fed on, etc. I buy local honey from people who keep their bees well and don’t subject them to the horrors of commercial “bee-farming”. If you don’t know about that then go Google … you won’t like it!

All of that is like ritual. Ritual is a form of taking note, of being mindful and caring of the quality of life enjoyed (or not) by the creatures and plants that sustain us. We may not normally say this is what we’re doing but it is, when we make the effort to care.

When it comes to preparing and cooking food ritual and respect are a natural part of the process too. I don’t go round all solemn and serious looking like a priest with a bad ulcer and a subsequent poe-face *g*. When dinner time comes around I go out into the garden and say, “OK, what have you got for me today?” I really do, out loud, probably a good job I live at the back of beyond or somebody would section me LOL. Then I just stop for a few seconds and then I head off towards whatever … peas, beans, spinach, salad leaves, tomatoes, peppers, cauliflower … that’s some of what’s doing good right now in the garden.

You may think it sounds daft but I sense a “pull” towards particular plants after I’ve asked for food. Again, I really do. This is something I have no doubts about at all, the spirits of the plants, of the garden, the spirits of place where I live really do push/pull, tell, me what needs eating. If I have a special fancy for something I try to get the message out in advance, something like, “I’d really like a pepper on Thursday”, asked a couple of days ahead. It often works. I’m sure cynical, materialist types would do their damnedest to knock me down and explain away my senses … thank the gods (for their sake, as I might brickbat them LOL) I don’t know folk like that well enough to see more than twice a year.

Then I bring the stuff back to the kitchen and we begin cooking. The preparation is yet another form of ritual during which I’m saying thank-you to whatever I’m chopping for the pan. It feels like quite a communion between me and the veg/meat/whatever. The scent comes up as I chop, giving me the flavour before I even get to eat. The scent of the cooking follows – digestive juices going like crazy by now LOL.

Lamb chops with fruit

Once it’s all done, even if I want to be on the sofa with a tray as I usually am, the whole gets put together on a nice dish(es), not always the same ones but whichever of my motley collection of crockery I’m attracted to today. For me, the crockery has its own spirit as much as the plants, meat, herbs, eggs. I’m always upset when I break something and give it a decent resting place – even if that’s the recycle bin, it goes in with thanks and the hope its atoms go into something fun next time around.

I know nothing of modern Buddhism but several friends are always dinning my ears with “mindfulness” … is this what they mean? I’m not sure. When I talk about this to them they stare as if I’d suddenly grown a second head *g*, so my own guess is that that isn’t at all what comes up in their “meditations”.

Mindful is a word I grew up with from the English language, from being told it was a good thing to do by my parents. Mindfulness is a new one to me, from the 20 years or so, and I don’t know if it means the same thing despite being of a similar ilk in the spelling.

Whatever, the kind of care and being mindful I do when I’m cooking is what it is to be a shaman from the Celtic perspective and, I think, to be a shaman anywhere.

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Wye’s Woman Rainbow Warrior
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Celtic shaman – Elen Sentier Cooking as a Journey