Cultural History Through The Ages With Secrets Hidden In Your Food.
No, I am not a conspiracy theorist.
Yes, this is going to completely mind-rape you again.
My dad makes this totally bitchin’ foccacia— the best you can get this side of Italy and the Cinque Terra. So the other day while he was baking, I popped over to his recipe book to take a peek. It all seemed very Betty Crocker-ish to me as I read through, all the way down until the point when it said, “Fold the dough from the side of the bowl into the center a total of 8 times,” which means that you turn the bowl a total of 6 times. It’s really annoying. It’s really boring. It’s really overdone. Why, I wondered, would anyone go through all this oddly specific trouble to make sure you do it this exact way?
And then I remembered something from my high school math class that changed my life, and made me a terrible liar for all the years I said that I never needed to know what I learned in those classes for anything else in the rest of my life.
"Hmm, 6 times," I thought, remembering that in numerology and folk belief, 6 is a number that represents production, completion, creation, and perfection. 6 was a perfect number— it can be divided by 3, 2, and 1 evenly, and 1+2+3=6. Early religions (Christians included, because don’t forget, God supposedly created the Universe in 6 days and rested on the 7th,) were fascinated by this fact, making six a "lucky" number.
And wait! We were TURNING the bowl as we were creating this number effect. Was there a prefferance for the direction of turn as well? The certainly had to be! In life, we tend to turn things away from ourselves rather than in toward ourselves, which means we always turn things to the right, not to the left. Not surprising, either, is that there’s meaning in even this superstitious yet natural bodily response:
Doing anything to the left is still considered unlucky. “Widdershins” was the Pagan or early-Wiccan word for it, which I dredged up in my memory from the beginning of my practicing Wiccan, and, ultimately— Pagan— period of my life. It was opposite to the turning direction of the Sun, meaning it was considered unnatural, threatening, or negative.
Your ancestors who perfected this recipe— and you— probably don’t like the Forces of Evil gathering around your kitchen hearth, so they probably turned it deasil, and away from them in the motion that felt best.
Turning “deasil” means to turn to the right with the Sun, which means that turning to the right is the venerating direction, the one that represents moving with Nature and the flow of things and Time— just like the seasons that are ruled over by the Sun. The majority of Italians and Europeans being crop farmers who grew things like the wheat this bread was being made from, dependent on weather and the steady change of time, turning the bowl to the right it surely was.
Now, after all of this hocus pocus and baking, what did we add for a little bit of flavor?
Otherwise known as the herb that symbolizes remembrance and good memory, longevity, and love. In ancient European culture, a young man would give a sprig of rosemary to the woman he loved so that she could wear it in her hair and think of him with love every time she smelled it. Hey, if cooks down South can still claim their “soul food” tastes better because it’s made with love, wouldn’t it make sense to add a great-smelling and -tasting herb to your recipe that also symbolized some really freakin’ great qualities?
So. We have a bread being folded for maximum perfection of the outcome, turned in a way that respects the Nature it came from, and seasoned with love and warm and fuzzy thoughts. Just things that, you know, just happen to be in a written, published recipe for the shits-n’-giggles. Or not. It is so fascinating to me to the realize the things we do every day that hold significance to what our fore-bearers believed in, even if we don’t even know it.
Hi. I’m a recovering scholar who digs the occult.