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An ALTAR in the KITCHEN

To become a witch, one must be as a witch.  One of the fun aspects of magic is how it enables one to engage their creativity with magic, imagination, knowledge, intuition & inspiration interplay, whether creating a ritual, magical problem solving, creating incenses, oils & other magical offerings.

As your magical world expands it begins to permeate the mundane and once boring, meaningless daily tasks are transformed into meaningful, empowering rituals.  Magic is no longer confined to an altar inside a circle – practical altars emerge from the once mundane around the home.

Kitchen window in the Magic Cottage

Once you get into making your own magical concoctions, you may find that your kitchen starts to resemble a mad herbalist’s laboratory, for what is a kitchen workbench but an altar?  And the stacked jars, once labeled ‘rosemary’, ‘thyme’ & ‘basil’ are now sporting labels reading ‘Dragon’s Blood’, ‘Devil’s Claw’, ‘Mugwort’ & ‘Bat’s Wing’.  (You always remember to label everything now; especially after that nasty mix-up with the cayenne pepper and the dragon’s blood power!)  Kitchen shelves carry a growing assortment of potion-filled bottles, trinkets, stones & curios gradually filling the spaces around food canisters and crockery, or amassed in miniature displays along the window sill to catch the sun’s light; between pots of fresh herbs.  You cultivate self heal, dandelions, thistles and clover and plant dock beside stinging nettles to remind you of the cure.  Bunches of freshly picked herbs hang in rows, suspended from the kitchen ceiling, filling air with their aromatic scents.  When Spring blooms, you decide to start making some of your own oils, especially the ones unavailable over the counter.  You begin to experiment.  You stuff jars full of freshly picked, bruised herbs and flowers – heliotrope, honeysuckle, gardenia and jasmine – then top up each jar with long-lasting, high quality jojoba oil, then leave them to steep for a couple of weeks.

It’s then that you discover that your creations have turned into cultures that look like fluffy laboratory specimens.  Lesson:  Only use dried herbs & flowers for steeping in oil.  Alternatively, vodka or tequila act more like preservatives, and are fine for steeping fresh herbs.  However, they have a noticeable odour, so you will have to master one of the greatest abilities in magic – patience.  You will need to squeeze out the herbs and replace them with fresh ones every couple of weeks, repeating this process several times over until the fragrance of the herbal matter eclipses the odour of the alcohol.  In some cases it may take a few seasons to attain this.  But the results are usually pleasing and worth the wait.

The old, manual coffee grinder becomes a herb grinder; it’s winding, grinding action magically satisfying.  But don’t make the mistake of trying to use it to grind up resins such as frankincense.  Your grinding will quickly come to a ‘gummy’, immovable jam, resulting in an afternoon of dismantling and intricate cleansing of said grinder.

Mortars and pestles make the best tools for grinding and crushing, however, you soon discover that it is possible to permanently imbed myrrh gum into your small wooden mortar, with all the incense pounding.  Soon it is replaced with an enormous stone mortar and pestle, which also helps to counter the problem of stray ingredients shooting out of the mortar and ricocheting around the room.  When you’ve finished your grinding and crushing, a concoction of white vinegar, spirits of orange and salt will help to remove the sticky build up on your implements.  For those really tough things to break up, you discover the sacred magical powers of the hammer in the toolshed.

Best performed outside, the lore of the hammer is that all ingredients must firstly be securely wrapped before being pounded – this prevents you from having to fish flying pieces out of the shrubbery, or your eye, for that matter.  This technique can also be applied to breaking up lodestones, and if you do your sacred hammering outside at night, you’ll witness the spectacle of sparks and flashes from the energy generated, which is really quite exciting, magical and empowering to experience.

Once you have pounded things down to a workable size, you can tip them into the kitchen food processor (don’t do this with the lodestone, though).  When you turn it on, it will sound like a hailstorm of rocks (so make sure the cat’s out of the room first), but it will chop things down into smaller pieces, so that you can do the final grinding by hand in your trusty mortar and pestle while you spin some appropriate magical words and chants.

The stove is to the kitchen, what the cauldron of fire is to the magical altar.  You simmer up an earthy love potion in a cooking pot for a male friend in need.  Tossing in a clump of oakmoss, a few cinnamon quills, a liberal dash of patchouli oil, and a splash of musk fragrant oil (the real thing is both illegal, and, in my view, immoral), you simmer and stir your brew in a sunwise motion, imbuing it with magical intent, before leaving it to cool. After straining the fragrant liquid, you mix it into a bowl of powdered soap, kneading it into a sticky dough-like consistency, and then shape it into blocks of soap, pressing into it a sprig of oakmoss for the finishing touch.  Then leave to dry. 

The spell was a great success, but its ingredients and their effects seem to have embedded themselves indelibly into the cooking pot, imparting its ‘flavour’ into just about everything you’ve cooked in it since.  Not only giving the food a decidedly weird taste, but also leaving some interesting residual magic.

Finally, you know that you’re a fully ordained kitchen witch when you have acquired a complete set of cooking implements and pots, deemed specifically for use in the crafting of concoctions of the inedible variety.  Their easily identifiable from the ones for food preparation, as they are often wax-splattered, blackened, sometimes slightly warped and dented and heavily impregnated with curious aromas and magical character.

Julie Snodgrass owns & runs the Esoteric Bookshop in Victoria.  She runs practical workshops on spellcraft & incense making.