In almost every religious practice around the world is an element of prescriptive diet. Most religions tell their followers what NOT to eat, such as Muslims and Jewish people not eating pork, Hindus observing at least one meat-free day per week, or Mormons not having caffeine and alcohol.
Why are most religions so strict about what people put in their mouths? Some of it, such as the tradition of Lent, is about observing self-denial in order to appease an angry God or to make a plea for something.
A lot of structured religion also tends to be like a controlling parent who doesn’t trust their child to make good choices on their own. The parent believes that if they don’t tell the child what is good for them, the child will make a fatal mistake and ruin their own lives. Not eating pork in a hot environment was pretty good advice because of the dangerous parasites present in the meat, however for cold Scandinavian countries there was very little risk and pork was a dominant part of the traditional diet.
How does a spiritual practice such as Paganism deal with a topic such as this? Certainly pagan practices are not usually prescriptive or demanding in such a way, and some things which would be denied in other religions (such as alcohol) are actually an integral part of the practice.
The first thing is: you’re more than welcome to design your own diet, whether that is carnivorous, gluten free, vegan or raw juice. It doesn’t really matter in terms of your spirituality (although lots of online content will tell you what is “correct” in terms of food) and the only important thing you need to know is how your diet works for you in terms of health. The rest is personal choice.
Like other religions, fasting does feature in Pagan practice because it creates an energetic shift within the body. Some people find it “cleansing” for both body and soul, but ultimately it is denial of the physical needs in order to create a sacred space within.
Fasting can mean different things: it can be giving up sugar, meat, alcohol or restricting calories while maintaining the same diet as usual. It can also be abstaining from sex, so it doesn’t have to be just about food.
Because Paganism is generally a nature-based religious practice, so caring about the environment is pretty central. What that looks like in your craft may evolve over time or change with your needs. Some people opt to be vegan or vegetarian, but those are not automatically superior from an environmental perspective.
Reducing plastic, opting for organic and staying away from monoculture are big steps you can take towards contributing to the environment. I’ve been working on becoming zero waste and it isn’t easy, but it is an ideal I want to move towards.
Creating your own garden can be an entire witchcraft practice in it’s own right. Druidry is all about trees, so creating a food forest is an amazing way to observe your spirituality. No matter where you live, you can grow food in pots for personal use. This can also be an act of emancipation from money to grow your own food.
I highly recommend permaculture and I know it works really well in small spaces so even suburban gardens can produce abundance.
Food is central to a lot of ritual. Just think about the Christian Eucharist and it makes a lot of sense that imbibing certain things can be representative of other things.
Sharing food in general with other people creates community and bonding.
Food is also a great way of grounding after ritual and placing your consciousness back into your body.
For witches, the end of a ritual usually involves “Cakes and Ale” which is a biscuity/cakey treat paired with some form of alcohol. Typically, when the coven shares the plate and cup they wish one another to always have their fill in life.
A common feature on the altar is offerings to the deities. This can take the form of actual money, vases of flowers, nips of alcohol or foods.
What sort of offering you make depends greatly on who you’re making the offer to and for what purpose. Sometimes an offering isn’t to a deity at all, but rather a visual example of the abundance from harvest time, which reminds people to have gratitude.
For pagans, the Wheel of the Year is the circular calendar of festivals centred around the agricultural cycle. It celebrates harvest times and seasons with the use of feasts and fire.
Certain foods and ferments are synonymous with particular festivals, such as pumpkins at Samhain and summer fruits or berries at Litha.
Druids venerated the bee as a sacred animal so they use honey and honey mead in their practice. Keeping a hive or encouraging bees with plantings is a very ecological thing to do as well as Druidic.
The Greek pantheon is often referenced by Wiccans and they had certain foods associated with particular gods. Persephone is represented by the pomegranate which also symbolises fertility; Bacchus is synonymous with grapes and the subsequent production of wine; Demeter was goddess of the harvest and associated with wheat sheaves.
If you have a particular deity you connect with, there may be an associated food which can be used as a method of connection.