I know in my own practice that increasingly my work has turned to mastering skills of various sorts: I’ve been building pop-up books and working on my sewing machine, practicing calligraphy and geometry, and doing a fair bit of graphic design; the carpentry/cabinetmaking is rarer, but it’s there. And lately I’ve been doing a lot of cooking. Sometimes the work is phenomenally dull, other times it’s deeply interesting — but then the artwork and the mental acuity that comes from artisanship kicks in when I’m working for someone else. I find I solve problems better, sort out potential solutions more quickly, and settle on one faster. So, the topic I’d suggest is… write a series of posts about how your shamanic practice informs other specific parts or your life, or how skills like cooking or driving inform your experience as a shaman?
First off, thank you Andrew. This is a great question.
There are skills I have connected back to and brought into my religious life, like cooking, woodworking, leatherworking, pyrography, and drawing. There are others which were part of it to begin with, such as raising my son, teaching, listening, and divining. Where I saw raising my son as part of my duties not only as a parent, but especially as a Northern Tradition Pagan, shaman, and priest, I had to work a little bit to bring cooking into my religious life.
I am not a great cook. When I first went off to college and lived in a dorm I managed to burn ramen quite well. I have learned a bit since then. I at least don’t set food on fire much anymore, and can make something halfway decent when I have good instructions and stay on target. I was looking around at one point last year for recipes to connect with my Ancestors. I had not made a full-on meal on Their behalf, and wanted to have a go at a recipe from on the places my blood relatives came from.
So I looked around online for traditional German recipes. That was when I found a potato leek soup with mushroom recipe. I wanted to pair it with something else, but by the time I got around to cooking it, it seemed it would be enough on its own.
Here is what it looked like step-by-step:
When it was finished I took some of the soup out to the tree outside to share with the Ancestors. Doing this not only put a good recipe into my hands and a good offering before the Ancestors. Cooking pushed me to connect to my Ancestors in a very straightforward and simple way. This process of cooking for my Ancestors also taught me something else: don’t forget one group of Ancestors or favor Them so strongly above one another. I had done so much research looking for a recipe for my German Ancestors that I neglected my French Ancestors. They got my attention and let me know in no uncertain terms They were not pleased with this. Mercifully, They were pleased and much happier when I made Them an omelette using the same kind of mushrooms as I had for the leek soup above. I thought perhaps I needed to make a more complex dish, like on the order of the leek soup, but sometimes the Ancestors just want a simple staple that They would have had in life.
This life skill is a powerful way of connecting to our Ancestors, and the Dead in general. Family cookbooks and recipes are, to me, precious heirlooms we pass on to our loved ones whether we have children or not. It is one more link in the chain between one’s family members and its descendants, and can be as strong as family stories, genealogy, and history. Above and beyond being a necessary life skill, one which I am grateful my Ancestors have pushed me to cultivate, cooking is a powerful way of keeping the connections with Them alive for all of those who come to our table.
To be continued in part 2.