The use of plants as sacred and life-sustaining food in ancient and modern Druidry
This is a great subject for me. I’ve recently come to the realization that the food in our culture has no resemblance to real food whatever. I’ve watched many documentaries on food and nutrition that show clearly and thoroughly that what we consider food is not food at all. It can be called food-like products. It is engineered, manipulated, and manufactured, but it is not real food.
Real food is food created by nature. It’s the storehouse of the sun’s energy. The sun’s energy is converted in plants by photosynthesis into a storable, usable form. In this form it nourishes us with vitamins and minerals and gives us energy with calories. Green food, food that is not processed, frozen, bagged, canned, pouched, or boxed, has live enzymes that nothing we make can give us. These live enzymes are the true nourishment, along with uncorrupted vitamins and minerals. It’s easy for me to see food, real food, as sacred. It’s the sun, it’s rain, it’s nature, it’s life itself. I have an immense respect and love for plant life, especially plant life we can use as food.
The ancients didn’t have to worry about what was real food and what was manufactured and unhealthy. Nor did they lose touch with the natural cycle like we have by eating fruits and veggies completely out of season. They were in intimate harmony with the seasons, with nature, and with their food. They saw their food sprout from the ground, swell on the stalk, and ripen. They planted and they gathered. A lot of effort and thought went into food. It was respected and revered. In many ways it was considered sacred. It was never taken for granted.
The apple is a good example of sacred plant food for ancient and modern Druids. In Celtic mythology, there is the story of Conle, who was given an apple that nourished him for a month (or year?) but also gave him the irresistible desire to go to fairyland. It represented fruitfulness and sometimes a means to immortality. Druids’ wands were made from either apple or yew wood. The medieval Welsh translation of King Arthur’s Avalon is Insula Pomorum; ‘The Isle of Apples.’ In Druid tree lore, the apple represents healing, renewal, and regeneration. I used an apple myself in my renewal ceremony recently. These and many other instances of the magic of apples gives us ample evidence that apples were considered sacred by the ancient Celts and continue to hold a special place in modern Druidry.
Corn is another good example. The classical historian Diodorus Siculus describes how the ancient Britons harvested corn. “In the reaping of their corn, they cut off the ears from the stalks, and so house them in repositories underground.” In other words, they stored corn and other grains in pits. Corn was used in Imbolc rituals. From the OBOD website: “Imbolc divides winter in half; the Crone months of winter are departing and the promise of the Spring Maiden is around the corner. This celebration was definitely a feminine festival. Women would gather to welcome the maiden aspect of the Goddess as embodied by Brigid. Corn cakes made from the first and last of the harvest were distributed and this practice remains a part of Her celebration.”
Other grains are also an important part of ancient Celtic and modern Druid life. During the festival of Lughnasadh, when the first harvest is used at the beginning of August, the grain represents John Barleycorn, who sacrifices himself every year to sustain life on earth. Otherwise known as the Green Man, he is sometimes ritually mourned with wreaths decorated with poppies and cornflowers. Sacrifice, transformation, death, and rebirth are all important themes in modern Druidry, and it’s easy to see how these themes may have been carried forward to us by the ancients’ beliefs and rituals.
There are many other examples of plants as food that are also sacred. It makes sense that for people whose lives and culture depended on the natural cycle of planting and gathering that plants would be considered sacred. It represents life itself, the gifts of nature, and the magic of the seasons. It would be a wonder if traditional peoples didn’t consider plants and their cycle sacred. I honestly wish that our modern culture would rediscover the importance of natural plant food. We’d all be the better for it.