This post is a sneak peek into Gather’s Patreon Cookbook which explores the “culinary goddess” found throughout history, folklore and myth. By this, I mean the “Lady of Life” who likely inspired cuisine itself. Whether she was called Isis, Inanna, Ishtar, Asherah, Astarte, Artemis or Cybele – to name but a few – the first bread, honey cakes, fruit & nut cakes, sweet buns, cookies and cheesecakes, wines, beers, even pizza, were served at her household altars, shrines and temples. The Goddess loved her food and when she was pleased, all were showered with plenty!
Take ancient Rome for example. This deeply patriarchal culture had one foot firmly planted in the goddess traditions of the past. Their many writers, historians and poets left us with countless references to the many goddesses whose festivals and feasts were considered central to the well-being of the land, crop and populace and an indispensable part of religious life.
While a woman normally had no formal place in any public sphere, many of these rites were “women only” rituals that took place at home or in the various goddesses’ temples. Offerings of sacrificial cakes, wine, milk and honey were made and special foods and libations were consumed. Many of these rituals were timed by the lunar calendar and followed the cycles of the moon, and by the time of ancient Rome were already considered part of an old religion, “hoary with age”.
April and May were big months for celebrating Goddess Cuisine. Venus, goddess of love, beauty, gardens, and all things green and growing, had no less than three festivals during this period, all of which involved offerings of cakes, bread, roses, myrtle, mint and violets and plenty of feasting, wine and licentious behaviour.
Floralia (April 28 to May 3) was held in honour of one of the most ancient Goddesses of Rome, Flora the Goddess of flowers. This festival of flowers was basically a six-day event during which wealthy Romans outcompeted each other to hold the most elaborate banquets and lavish feasts – and again indulged in licentious behaviour!
Bona Dea was a very ancient goddess of the earth, women, herbs and healing, considered to have existed long before the founding of Rome. During her April “women only” festival, women were permitted to drink wine. They created a ceremonial honey “mide” or wine with spring herbs and flowers which they consumed and poured for libations to Bona Dea. Her secret name is sometimes said to be Fauna, which means “She Who Wishes Well” but was not to be spoken—especially by men—so was usually referred to by women as Bona Dea, or the “Good Goddess”. Bona Dea is often depicted carrying a sceptre, standing next to a large jug of wine, holding a cornucopia (symbolizing abundance) and a serpent (renewal, sexuality, fertility). In her temple snakes slithered freely about!
Cerealia was the major festival celebrated for the grain and bread goddess Ceres. Although the exact dates are uncertain, it took place sometime in late April. Ceres was credited with the gift of agriculture to humankind and governed pastoral, agricultural and human fertility. She had the power to fertilise, and her name derives from the proto-European word “to satiate, to feed”, also the root for Latin “to grow” “to bear, bring forth”. She is said to have been the creator of spelt and offerings of spelt bread and cakes were made in temples.
The Great Goddess Cybele or The Magna Mater ( Great Mother) was honoured during the April festival of Megalesia. Her statue was carried through the streets in a chariot drawn by lions, her animals. Lucretius says “with bronze and silver they strew all the paths of her journey … and snow rose-blossoms over her.” In her temple and banquets, the goddess was offered a dish of simple herbs and fresh white cheese called Moretum. According to Ovid, Moretum descends from a golden age, a time before humankind had to cultivate the earth to produce food a time when an ancient people ate only “the herbs that the earth bore of its free will.” Moretum was offered so that the ‘ancient goddess may once again know the ancient foods.’
If we define cuisine as “a manner of preparing food” or a “style or method of cooking” then I think Goddess Cuisine has to be one of the oldest. And I love that it’s all about celebrating our earliest relationship with Mother Nature, what we might call today, a “gratitude attitude”. Many studies show that giving thanks for all we have received, all that we have and all we are about to receive, enhances feelings of safety, optimism, joy and pleasure, improves physical health, bolsters our immune system, reduces symptoms of illness and increases contentment, life satisfaction, strengthens our relationships and make us feel more connected to others.
This is why Goddess Cuisine is part of my spiritual practice. Over the years I’ve made a Floralia Cake for the Goddess of Flowers, Primrose Rice Pudding for Saraswati, Violet Cream Cupcakes for Venus, honeyed libations for the Goddess Bona Dea and a savoury fresh white cheese made with plenty of “herbs and blossoms born of the earth’s free will” for the Great Mother, Cybele. And more!
Inspired by the Spring Goddesses of Rome, I offer my thanks & blessings through the following foods and dishes, the herbs and blossoms “borne of the earth’s free will” so that Goddess may once again know her ancient foods. Violet Cream Cupcakes for Venus (violet was sacred to her). They are a tribute to the love and sensuous beauty she brings to life.
A Floralia Cake to thank The Goddess of Flowers, for the pleasures of her infinite colours and heavenly scents. This featured a fragrant mixture of various edible blossoms, violets, magnolias, wallflowers, flowering red currant and dianthus.
April Cocktails for Bona Dea, in appreciation for her gifts of healing herbs. Herbs and blossoms infused in honey wine.
Spiced Spelt Honey Cookies for Ceres. Infused in Red Flowering Currant Honey. In gratitude for fruits of the earth, and her grains, flours, breads and cakes.
A fresh cheese (a mixture of Ricotta and Stracciatella) made with “plenty of herbs and blossoms born of the earth’s free will” for Cybele. Wild mustards, Dame Rocket and field garlic greens. Thanks to earth who freely provides.
This sacrificial Libum Cake uses Cato the Elder’s recipe for ‘Libum‘ from “De Agri Cultura”. Served at many Roman religious feasts, it is made from flour, ricotta cheese, eggs and honey, traditionally infused with bay leaf and slathered in honey. I used honey infused with a variety of fragrant blossoms, violet, wallflower, magnolia, and red-flowering currant in honour of the blossoms of spring. (These cakes were delicious but I only got to eat one – I left them on the coffee table and when I returned the dog had eaten the rest! A sacrifice indeed.)
It saddens me we have so little memory of the rites practised not just by women, but by humanity, for thousands of years. How spiritually impoverished we have become in contrast. Not to mention less joyful – all that celebrating and feasting. I think that even the deeply patriarchal Romans would be shocked. They understood that ignoring the Goddess completely would be, well, disastrous!
So let’s celebrate glorious goddess cuisine! Because when we gather together to give communal thanks to the earth goddess who gives life, we engage in possibly what are the oldest spiritual or religious rites. The act of blessing our food causes life to bloom in response and the goddess’s cornucopias to overflow with earthly delights. And I think this is how our ancestors truly saw it. Our gratitude, intentions, our prayers – and our celebrations, revelry and feasts were necessary to fructify the land.
While my recipes are not intended to be historically accurate, they are my way of remembering a time when the goddess was at the centre of an ancient religion in which cooking, baking and feasting were magical rituals honouring the divine feminine and her life-giving power.
You’ll find these Culinary Goddess recipes (and much more) at Gather Victoria Patreon.
Coming Soon: Our Daily Bread