(formerly titled The Magic in Food)
Scott Cunningham
Llewellyn Publications, St. Paul, MN, 1995

I know everyone loved Scott Cunningham. I know he brought Wicca to many who might never have experienced it fully, because of his books designed for the solitary practitioner. I know many folks even now swear by his herbal recipes for incenses and oils. But I really get just a bit confused when I hear people recommend his books as the last word on magic, witchcraft, herbalism, or anything else. It's not that Scott's writing is all that bad (though mediocre is certainly a word I would use). It's not that his books seem aimed at the lowest common denominator of the Pagan Community (though I do think that "weekend pagans" tend to refer to his books more than the works of, say, Eliade, Beyerl or others). It's that, because he was rather prolific and wrote on so many topics, and because seemingly Llewellyn has published everything the man ever wrote, there seems this tendency to ignore the other well-written and valuable books on subjects like magickal herbalism. And I think that now, since his recent death from the complications of AIDS, collective grief and pity will move people to think even more highly of Cunningham's books which are, essentially, simplistic; not all that well written; conjectured and even occasionally inaccurate; all this despite what a loving and generous human being he was.

That said (and please do not bombard me with letters about what a monster I am; I am merely trying to be an honest reviewer), I want to say what a great idea Scott had when he decided to write a book like The Magic of Food. I think he could have gone a lot further with this idea than he did, and perhaps if he had not died so tragically he may have refined this idea in a later book. But he was on to something, in any case. And I think this book, newly reissued, will prove a popular title.

Pagans, perhaps more than many people, usually have a very sensual and comfortable relationship to food. Though there are overweight people in our community just as there are in other sectors of our society; still our relationship to body image tends to be healthier than most. We enjoy food in a celebratory way, in ritual circles, at feasts, and in everyday meals prepared as part of our magical lifestyle. It is this lifestyle that Scott addresses when he suggests ways to utilize the magic in food on a personal level, taking what is normally a mundane activity (like grocery shopping, cooking or eating) and making it into something wrought with magical purpose. The copious information Scott provides on the history and lore of various foods and their rituals provides details which will, I think, aid visualizations and magic workings.

In typical Llewellyn fashion, the book is usefully divided into sections which are then subdivided into chapters. Part One: The Magic in Your Kitchen covers the basics of food preparation, selecting foods for their magical properties, vegetarianism, and ritual eating, among other things. Part Two discusses the magical histories and qualities of every imaginable food group, from bread and fruit to sweeteners. Part Three, Magical Diets, offers advice on specific foods to eat for purposes like love, money, protection, psychic awareness, weight loss, etc.

The Magic of Food is not a cookbook, as Scott says in his preface, though it does have many recipes, most of which occur in Part Four. Many of these recipes are based on traditional dishes like Shepherd's Pie, mulled wine, or chicken soup. For some reason, most of them are specified for Hallowe'en (like Samhain Cider, which sounds great), prosperity spells or love magic. Part Five concludes with the ever-popular tables of correspondence, with planetary, astrological and elemental information. Note well, however: these tables do not always include the obvious planetary correspondences from, say, Culpeper. Scott offers no good excuse for coming up with his own system other than his "twenty years of study and practice," and freely admits contradicting information offered in his earlier books.

When I said earlier that Scott does not take this idea far enough, I meant that, for all the snippets of folklore and personal anecdotes, there still seems a lack of thoroughness here. Why not create menus for ritual feasts designed for each of the eight festivals, complete with recipes? Why not offer some tips on harvesting foods from the wild, beyond "avoid flowers sprayed with pesticides"? And why not offer some recipes in the section on "Weight Loss" that can be served at Pagan potlucks, where nearly all present want to shed a few pounds?

Some segments of this book are unintentionally humorous, as when Scott recommends writing the word "thinner" on a piece of celery before eating it. Anyone who read Stephen King's novel of that title will feel a chill of recognition. Scott also recommends burning a yellow candle in the kitchen for weight loss magic; does the yellow wax signify that ugly extra fat we are trying to lose? I also got a kick out of the chapter on "magical junk foods." Eat Kellogg's Frosted Flakes for love, but choose Cheerios or Rice Crispies for money. And apparently both Coke and Pepsi enhance magical energy (must be the bubbles; or is it the sugar?), but for psychic awareness you can't beat Seven-Up. There is also advice I would call questionable: like the suggestion that one eat a teaspoon of honey every time there is a craving for sweets; honey is a sugar like any other, and promotes tooth decay and "blood sugar crash" just like candy.

There aren't many books out there that specifically tackle this subject, so I give Scott credit for this effort. The basic information offered here will prove useful to the creative, resourceful practitioner who will experiment and find her own way to make cooking and eating part of a magical life.

Reviewed by Peg Aloi

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