The work of running a local O.T.O. body took shape, and through the years I continued my own magical process and helped others to develop theirs. There was always the next magical event or initiation feast needing to be planned and prepared. Then it occurred to me: If balancing the elements could influence the personality, why couldn’t the body find a balancing of the elements through the food we eat? I reflected back upon the time when I was a 16-year-old vegetarian and first studying plants. I was fortunate to have grown up in a rural environment on a small avocado ranch in inland San Diego. Every year we had a large garden of fresh herbs, vegetables, and a wide variety of berries and fruit trees. The methods of planting, tending, and harvesting foods, were a part of my home life. I learned how to work with herbs, preserve foods, later how to distill plants, and how to heal myself through plants. If the application of working with the elements in the personality could also be applied to food, I would be even further along in finding the balance of the elements within, just as I was learning to work with the elements magically without.
So I took another long look at the foods we eat. All my old herbal texts came off the bookshelves and research began anew. (These books are listed in the back of my cookbook in the bibliography.) I started once again, with new eyes, to review the materials. I reopened my old copy of Culpeper’s The Complete Herbal and found the plant All Heal. After its description, the place where it grows, and the season in which it can be found, were listed its government and virtues. I now noticed that it was under the dominion of Mars and was considered hot, which only meant that it had to be a plant of fire in the sign of Aries. If planetary, elemental and astrological correspondences could be assigned to all edible foods, this meant that menus could be devised with any specialized magical focus that I wanted to address.
Culpeper had already assigned planetary correspondences to most herbs and some trees, but still many edible foods were not listed. As new foods got added to my growing list, their magical correspondences had to be addressed. That’s when the work of botanically studying these plants to assess their primary qualities was approached. At the end of two years the list of foods and their correspondences had grown to over one thousand edible foods from around the world. Their element, ruling planet, and astrological sign, as well as its chakra of influence had also been identified. That was how my cookbook got started. There have been others that have gone down this road. In fact, there are a couple cookbooks already written that offer some wonderful recipes based on these same principles, but they are limited in scope, dealing with only planets or astrological signs. All I needed to do was examine the magical aspects of our Thelemic celebrations, and work out what those correspondences should be.
Another author that supported the magical usefulness of plants was Scott Cunningham, who I knew well, as we ran in the same magical circles in San Diego in the 80s, and we were both members of Raven Grimassi’s Strega tradition. Scott published several books based to a great degree on Culpeper’s work: The Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs, The Magic in Food, Magical Herbalism, and Earth, Air, Fire & Water; among many more. In his books on magical herbs and plants he expanded upon the work of Culpeper adding together a plant’s element, planet and astrological sign with historical uses and magical folklore.
In addition to his works others appeared on the market during this rich and revealing time for practicing witches and herbalists. All of them added to the publics knowledge of working with plants through magical means, but it also became apparent that some writers did not convey the correct magical correspondences for the foods they spoke about. At times the assigned element did not match the planet. For instance, some fruits were said to be foods of water, yet were assigned to Venus as the ruling planet. But Venus is not a planet of water. Venus is a planet that rules Libra in air or Taurus in earth. What then? What I had to do was go back and once again analyze each plant, in much the same way that Culpeper had once done more than 350 years before. Eventually, by analyzing the botany of those plants and the characteristics of edible animals, I was able to come to an understanding of their properties, and complete the assigning of the correspondences for all foods. Because Culpeper and Cunningham had stayed with the classical planets I did as well, even though later Pluto became the modern ruling planet for Scorpio, Neptune for Pisces, and Uranus for Aquarius.
The challenges did not end there. A lot of foods can be eaten raw and with those foods their inherent quality remains constant. However, there are still a lot of foods that in order to be digested and enjoyed, need to be cooked. Wouldn’t the action of one element upon another change that elemental property? I knew it did, because I had changed the property of foods in everything I had ever cooked. The way in which a food is prepared can greatly alter its properties. A food can be diced into tiny squares or mashed, its flavor altered by contrasting seasonings, and many different methods of cooking can be employed. Take the common table grape for example.
Due to its shape, light flesh below the skin (regardless of its outside color), and the fact that it is mostly made up of water, the grape is considered water of the Moon, which places it in Cancer. Easy enough, but what happens if that grape is dried and becomes a raisin, or its juice is fermented into vinegar or wine, or is made into champagne? Then I realized that there was an inherent elemental aspect, and a transitory elemental aspect, to all foods. And sometimes there may be more than one transitional phase that it goes through, as in the case of the common grape. That is how I came to understand their differences. Like everything else in life, I found some exceptions, but they were rare. It was becoming clear that these very things had to be explained, in order to work with them in a disciplined and magical way.
Let’s examine some of these foods so that you will more easily understand how this works. Every food I’m going to talk about is edible, either in its seed and root, stem and leaf, or flower and fruit stage. Here is a general guideline that helps to delineate and characterize a food for an element. Air foods are primarily leafy herbs and trees that have bright flowers and hanging fruit, as well as most fowl. Fire foods are yellow to red, have a warm to hot taste, are spicy, and include many seeds and oils. Water foods are usually clear to white, have cooling properties, can be found in lakes and seas, and have an extraordinary juiciness about them. Earth foods are generally root vegetables, low-lying plants with an earthy color, are heavier, and more compact carrying substantial protein, as in grains, nuts and meats.