Hallowe’en food is rubbish. People spend ages pouring themselves into sexy witch costumes and covering themselves with stage blood for parties; they festoon their home with fake cobwebs and furry dangling spiders, yet you’re lucky if you get offered so much as a jelly worm all evening. Even that lovely-looking pumpkin flickering in the window is strictly decorative; grown for size, rather than flavour, it would make an aptly slimy pie.
So, you can imagine my excitement on discovering in the library Scott Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Wicca in the Kitchen, “a practical guide to food magic”, which promises, rather thrillingly, that from now on, every “munch of celery will resonate with new meaning”. According to the late author, an experienced practitioner of elemental magic, “timeless energies still vibrate within our meals”, just waiting for us “to sense and use them”. A little freaky, perhaps, but surely just the thing for my Hallowe’en bash.
Sadly, there is no excuse to invest in a cauldron – with a disappointing lack of romance, Cunningham confesses that he doesn’t recommend them unless one has an open hearth, and plenty of time, because “it takes hours to boil water in one of those big iron pots”. Magic or not, modern witches are clearly just as time-poor as the rest of us.
So, if I can’t use a cauldron, how else do I inject a little magic into my food? There’s lots of talk of stirring things clockwise, “in harmony with the apparent movement of the sun in the sky”, and carving tiny pentacles on bamboo shoots for magical protection, but mostly the author’s advice seems to involve matching your diet to your desires: peanut butter for prosperity, avocados for beauty, Sara Lee cheesecake for love, and so on. Apparently even chocolate ice cream can be a “potent magical tool” in the right hands – not quite the venom of toad and eye of newt I expected to find myself searching for in Waitrose.
In fact, all animal bits are out: it seems many magicians are strict vegetarians (apparently meat inhibits spiritual advancement), though Cunningham cautions that, in his case, “the diet left me so spiritually and psychically open I couldn’t handle it”. (Too many mushrooms, perhaps?)
So, with witch’s (fish) fingers off the menu, it looks like my guests will have to tuck into tofu instead; this is supposed to heighten their psychic awareness, which should come in helpful when it comes to the “pancake divination ritual”, in which we’ll get a tantalising “glimpse of possible tomorrows” in the magic batter.
I’m just trying to decide which cheeses count as “semi-arid”, and thus suitable for use in a “variety of ritual applications”, when I read on and learn that actually, Cunningham reckons it’s best not to eat anything directly before contacting your psychic mind, ruling out my kabbalistic crêpe plans, too. Disappointed, I concentrate on drinks instead. Crème de menthe, I discover, has the power to purify “from the inside out” (a phrase to strike fear into the heart of any host), and even Pepsi boasts powerful magical properties, though it is hard not to skip ahead to Cunningham’s very own recipe for “sex coffee”, which basically seems to involve adding cardamom, plus some rather raunchy “visualisation”.
So far, so unhelpful on the food front – but there’s one Hallowe’en tradition I’m rather taken with: asking guests to swallow a raw salt herring directly before getting into bed, without so much as a glass of water to wash it down, and certainly no brushing of teeth. As they drift off into what presumably will be a troubled and pungent sleep, Cunningham assures me that, fishy breath or not, the man or woman of their dreams will appear before them, holding a glass of water to quench their thirst. And tell me, how many jelly worms can deliver that?