Sustenance is an important part of Pagan ritual. What we eat and drink before, during and after ritual often holds meaning. What we take to potlucks or make for our own holidays helps to set the mood and to feel included and involved. We make conscious decisions what we do and do not eat and drink inspired by our believes. And I'm not even talking about the social importance of sharing food and drinks.

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Today I tried to make a list of all the occasions food and drink matter in Paganism. The list is probably not complete but these are some of the most important occurrences:
  • Cakes and Ale/Wine - a well known part of (Neo-)Wiccan ritual
  • Offerings - as they are eaten in some traditions
  • Feasts - cooking special meals on special days
  • Potlucks - bring your own food and drinks, usually tied to a theme
  • Holidays - a lot of Gods have special days attached to their name and many are honored with food or foodstuffs
  • Dietary choices - biological food, vegetarianism, veganism
  • Abstinence - Not eating certain foods or drinking certain drinks outside of ritual
For a lot of Pagans, and I count myself amongst them, what we put into our bodies, matter. The saying 'my body is my temple' might be a tad trite but it's also true to me. When I step into the Circle, I need to feel I have done my best to keep my body (and mind) pure for the Gods. This means a shower, clean clothes and a diet as healthy as possible under the stress of daily life. Now, there are things I would still like to improve, regular exercise being amongst them. It's an ongoing battle, that one. But I have adapted my diet to the point I feel confidant and comfortable in the Face of my Gods. I don't drink alcohol outside of the Circle. I rarely eat meat and when I do, it's biological. It works for me.

As for feasts, I host a dinner for all eight of them. Usually it's a very small group; two to six people. We make a three course meal in the spirit of the feast and eat it together, around a table. We talk, sometimes about the feast, most of the time about nothing at all. The first cut or spoon full of every dish gets offered to the Gods. These are some of my favorite Pagan moments throughout the year. 

I've done a good few Cakes and Ale/Wine ceremonies over the years. I have very little, if any, connection with them. In fact, I think I mostly did (and do, when I practice a Neo-Wiccan ritual) it because it's a part of the ritual. I ground myself through it, although I prefer other methods. The funny part is that, when I did a ritual for a friend to Dionysos, I drank with Him and we shared food. It left me completely filled and grounded. I realized that this is what the Cakes and Ale/Wine ceremony is supposed to do for you and I think I might understand it better now. After all those years of practice. 

Food is a basic necessity in our lives. If we don't drink, we die. Sharing these with friends, fellow practitioners and the Gods helps us understand each other better. All humans need the same basics. It connects us all. And although the Gods probably don't eat like we do, They require sustenance as well. And we all know that most of them, at least in the Hellenic pantheon, love Their food and (alcoholic) beverages.

Some people have difficulties eating food, either in public or at all. Anorexia, bulimia, as Pagans, we are not automatically exempt from these diseases. There are alcoholics and recovering alcoholics in Paganism. For all of them, it might be hard to get through the rituals and ceremonies associated with them. So I offer a few thoughtful words: should you ever hold a ritual where food and alcohol play important parts; offer alternatives. Grape juice works just fine for a Cakes and Ale/Wine ceremony. Allow people to say no and offer them room to talk to you about their issues with food or alcohol. Someone might even have food allergies you might not have known about and which can easily be worked around. 

When I host my dinner parties and I stand at the stove, a romanticized version of ancient Pagans doing the same thing always comes to mind. People whose lives revolved almost solely around food and their crops, a tight community where feasts were held not only out of joy but also out of desperation. If the crops didn't grow, the entire community would suffer. So they prayed. And they feasted. And they remembered that every year could be the last. And when I eat, I give thanks to the society I usually loath; a society where food comes in abundance and in which I don't have to worry about ever going without. 

And that is my Pagan connection to food; it reminds me of the romanticized version of old society I fell in love with when I was thirteen. I might not be a big fan of food in day-to-day living, but I do love it in Paganism.