I thought my next post was going to be about dear old neighbour Ray and how he holds the history of my home in his memory of living opposite it for forty years.
But on this grey autumn day my thoughts are turning, as a cake is baking, to other things domestic, ritualistic and fey.
Many years ago I called myself a ‘wiccan’ and practised with good friends some of the celebrations and rituals I believe are known to all women be they witch, Jew, Christian, of any faith or no religious faith at all.
At the heart of the magic I’ve practised formally or just in living is the idea that we can bless and make sacred our home and relationships through little offerings, little altars and kitchen magic.
Autumn is my birth season and the one I love most. But it is also the season of decay, of final harvest, of pulling in the produce to put away for winter. Autumn is the time of preparation against death, yet as the air grows colder it is also a time when many people die. In old pagan practises it was a time to invite in against the cold the spirits of loved ones, as the veils between life and death thinned to bring the spirit world nearer. You’d do this with bonfires, an extra table place set, and the glimmer of the fires and candles seen in your home from the dark world a world away.
I have two friends, Sharnee and Tanya, a couple in a fifteen-year-long relationship who refer to each other fondly as ‘wifey’.
Last weekend Tanya’s sister died of an asthma attack she simply could not recover from. Two years ago Tanya’s brother died in a motorbike accident, an event she is barely recovering from as this new pain brings its chill and gloom to her life and home.
So on this Autumn Saturday I am reminded that the best, the oldest, the only true magic is that kitchen magic all women know. When there is birth for a loved one we take food to nourish an exhausted mother. When there is sorrow for a friend we pour tea or wine or soup. We show our apologies in perfectly cooked favourite meals, and when there is death we do what women the world over do and have done for centuries. We arrive with a box or basket or bowl of things home-cooked or garden-picked. We visit briefly, hug, put away the things on the draining board, make tea, then leave, somehow consoled ourselves in the process of consoling.
So today I bake and boil, and I bless the chicken for the egg, and the cow for the butter and the pig for the pork in the meatballs. I stir and think of my lovely friend and her bruised self and imagine her reaching into the fridge, thoughtless in grief, to find something made by someone else with love. She should not think of me as she does so, she should only eat, and for a moment perhaps feel the hug that has been folded into the food along with every blessing I can find in the pantry.