Goddess of Food:
Food for the Goddess
By Dr Tricia Szirom
Food and drink are such an essential part of our lives that it would be hard not to create a representation or aspect of Goddess dedicated to food; in fact there are a number especially if all aspects of the growing, preparing and enjoying of food are included. Annapurna, Demeter, Ceres, Ukemochi-no-kami and Chicomecoatl are just a few of these specifically designated Goddesses. As a dedicated foodie I am particularly interested in these Goddesses and their roles in our wellbeing.
Of course the Mother Goddess, who creates the prosperity of the earth, also provides the crops and other forms of food and nurtures her children from Her abundance, however the focus of this collection is those Goddesses that have a particular and specific connection to food. Interestingly, some Goddesses are responsible for both the crops and the preparation of food. The first Goddesses described here are those of the harvest and growing of food. We then look at those Goddesses who assist in the kitchen with the cooking and preparation and those Goddesses who watch over feasting and celebrations. The next section considers what might be thought of as ‘exotic foods’ and the Goddesses associated with them. Finally we look at ways to celebrate the Goddess with food.
Ukemochi is the Japanese Goddess of abundance in food, nourishment, kindness. Her story is associated with that of the sun goddess Ameaterasu who sent her brother, Tsuki, to check that Ukemochi was doing her job. While he was visiting she opened her mouth and sent out boiled rice, turned to the sea and from her mouth sent out fish and seaweed and then sent out game into the hills. Tsuki didn’t like this and killed her – from her head came an ox and a horse, from her forehead came maize and millet and from her genitals came beans.
The foods which sprouted from Ukemochi's body all have significance. Rice is known as a symbol of happiness and sustenance. Seaweed represents joyousness. Fish signify abundance, represent woman, and also stand for wisdom. The ox is a symbol of agriculture and also of working for the benefit of others. Wheat represents agriculture and the horse represents endurance and creativity. Beans, in Japan are seen as dispelling evil spirits as well as being a food source. Source
Growing and Harvesting
The name of the Hindu Goddess Annapurna signifies nourishing with food (Anna) and completeness (Purna). She is an example of a Goddess of both the harvest and of food, able to supply food in limitless form. Wasting food makes Annapurna angry – a threat made to Hindu children who do not finish their meal.
The origin of Goddess Annapurna is related to the mythological tale of Lord Brahma and Vishnu being worried about the extinction of food from earth resulting in perishing of many human beings. These gods pleaded to Lord Shiva who invited the goddess Annapurna to earth and begged for food from her. Lord Shiva distributed the food received from the Devi and since then promised her that she should continue to nourish the people of earth and in turn he would give moksha to the people of Kasi where the goddess resides.
Worship or veneration of Annapurna is said to ensure that the person will never be hungry and invoking her when cooking will lead to nourishing and splendid meals.
O mother Annapurna! O great Goddess!
Thou art my protector, listen to my prayer!
In thy worship I offered my heart as a flower
My body was made up of the elements of nature
The water element in my body shall reach
Your paradise only to wash your lotus feet
The fire element from my body shall reach
Thy abode to become a lamp near thy throne
The air element in my body becomes a fan
To wave cool breeze on your gracious person
To thy abode the ether element in my body
Shall carry the songs of praise on your glory
O mother Annapurna! O my great Goddess!
Shine in me as the supreme light of universe
The Roman Goddess of agriculture, Ceres and her Greek counterpart, the great Olympian Goddess, Demeter are both associated with grain and bread. Demeter also presided over the foremost of the Mystery cults, which promised its initiates the path to a blessed afterlife. Demeter was depicted as a mature woman, often crowned and holding sheaves of wheat and a torch. Demeter was the mother of Persephone who was abducted by Hades. After much searching Demeter negotiated her release for part of each year thus creating the fallow time of winter and the fruitful time of summer.
Given the Asian dependence on rice as a staple it is not surprising that a Goddess, Devi Sri, watches over the crop in Bali and is present in every rice paddy. In the ancient times the gods provided humans with food however some greedy persons built larger barns so that they could hoard more and humans were on the verge of starvation and the gods punished their greed by taking away all of the rice. Devi Sri took pity and taught them how to plant and care for the rice plants through planting to harvesting.
Again the link between food and prosperity comes with the Indian version of the rice Goddess being Lakshmi the Goddess of wealth and prosperity. Inari or Oinari, a major Shinto deity is also the god/dess of rice. Inari who is depicted in either female or male form protects the rice harvest and is also the patron of prosperity for farmers and merchants, especially those involved in rice production, foodstuffs and fisheries. Source
Dependence on a particular crop is also the case in Africa however the crop there is yams or sweet potato and the Goddess of yams is Aha Njoku. Source Aha Njoku is worshipped by the Ibo tribe of Nigeria. She looks after all aspects of yam growth and use.
Fruits and Orchards
The Canaanite Goddess of fruits and fertility, Nikkal, is a Goddess of Orchards and the Moon God Yarikh, her husband, causes the dew to fall each night to water Her trees. Nikkal is also associated with the Sumerian Goddess Ningal and is often shown in front of a date tree. Other important fruit-trees that would have been in Nikkal's orchards are the olive, fig, apple, pistachio, walnut, and almond.
Other names by which She is known include 'Ib, the Fruitful One, Great Lady and Bright, Great Goddess of Fruit, or Fruits of the Earth. Nikkal/Ningal is the mother of Inanna, Goddess of the Planet Venus.
Another Goddess of orchards and fruit was the Roman Goddess Pomona who watches over and protects fruit trees and cares for their cultivation. Her name is from the Latin pomum, or fruit and she gives her name to the French word for apple, "Pomme".
Preparing the Food
The Greek Goddess Hestia (Roman Vesta) rules over a different aspect of food and nurturing as the Goddess of the hearth and the home. As the Goddess of the family hearth she presided over the cooking of bread and the preparation of the family meal. She was also the Goddess of the sacrificial flame and received a share of every sacrifice to the gods. The cooking of the communal feast of sacrificial meat was naturally a part of her domain.
Goddess of the hearth, of home life and family,
sister of Demeter.
Grant that my household shall always be a home –
a nurturing, safe, and creative environment for me;
that my family and friends shall share this domestic
part of me; and that the inner flame of life shall burn
within my home and my soul.
Allow that my gardens will be nourished and prosperous,
and that my endeavours at home be successful and fulfilling.
The Ainu people of Japan also have a hearth Goddess, Kamui-fuchi or "Lady Hearth": This Hearth Goddess is known as the Supreme Ancestress. She may be a deified tribal mother, or the spirit of female reproductivity and the home. Source
Perhaps one of the most beloved Goddess of the hearth is the celtic Bridgid, who was so loved that the catholic church had to include Her as a saint to this day. As Goddess of the fire she was also seen as Goddess of hearth. Bridget, as the Goddess of healing, created healing potions from the herbs and plants of the land.
Feasting and Celebrations
As the Roman Goddess of drink and beverages, Bibesia presided at feasts along with Edesia, Goddess of Food. Her name is derived from the Latin bibi, "to drink, toast, or visit", and the same root is found in our word imbibe. Considered the personified divine spirit of the drink or wine served at table, she was believed to make sure both that the wine was of good quality and that it flowed freely. Libations were offered to both Bibesia and Edesia at banquets and feasts.
Along with Bibesia, Edesia is the Roman Goddess of food who presides over banquets. She ensured that the feast went well and the food was excellent. Her name comes from the Latin verb edes, "to eat" or "to consume", and both She and Bibesia were given offerings during the meal to ensure their presence and blessings. Apparently the Romans considered feasting to be a magical act that warranted its own Goddess. The verb edes can also mean "to spend money on food", connecting Edesia with luxury as well as with city life, in which most food was bought, rather than like in the country where the people grew much of their own food.
Across the world there are some foods that are considered exotic and special, capable of bestowing special powers on those who eat them. Food that has an aphrodisiac power is said to increases sexual desire and prowess. The name comes from Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of sexuality and love. Different cultures have foods that have been considered to enhance sexual desire or pleasure. Some of these are because of the shape (eg. oysters, avocado, bananas) flavour (eg strawberries) and aroma (eg. almonds) while others are considered to have some special attributes (eg. asparagus). Of course there is the much valued aphrodisiac – Chocolate.
Honey: The bee was an emblem of Potnia, the most important Goddess in Greece in the late Bronze Age. The Minoan-Mycenaean "Mistress", was also referred to as "The Pure Mother Bee" and Her priestesses received the name of "Melissa" ("bee"). Priestesses worshipping Artemis and Demeter were also called "Bees".
Honey was considered the food of the gods and a honeyed tongue means the gift of eloquence. In the Homeric Hymn, Apollo acknowledges that the gift of prophecy came to him from three bee maidens. Other cultures also have Bee Goddesses such as the Hindu Bhramari Devi, the Sumerian Bee Goddess.
1/2 cup oil
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup creamed honey
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup butter
2/3 cup honey
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 8 6-ounce custard cups.
In a large bowl, combine oil, sugar and honey until well blended, about 2 minutes. Beat in vanilla and egg. Scrape sides of bowl and beat until well combined.
In another bowl, stir together baking powder, salt and flour. Alternate adding the flour mixture and heavy cream to batter, beginning and ending with flour.
Fill each custard cup about 2/3 full of batter. Bake 20-25 minutes. DO NOT OVER BAKE. Let cool about 5 minutes then remove from pan and place each cake on a small lipped serving plate. Prepare glaze by melting butter in saucepan. Add honey and brown sugar. Bring to boil and stir until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Poke honey cakes with a toothpick all over. Brush or spoon glaze all over each honey cake until glaze is gone. Allow cakes to cool completely.
Tea: Although not specifically know as the Goddess of Tea, Guanyin or Kwan Yin gives her name to the most famous of all Chinese oolongs. There are two legends about how her name came to be associated with this tea. The first involves a tea grower who daily passed an iron statue of Guanyin in a rundown temple in central Fujian's Shaxian (Sand) province. The temple was in disrepair and the tea grower was unable to afford the cost of its repair. However he burnt incense and cleaned the temple regularly. Guanyin appeared to him in a dream and told him to look in the cave behind the temple for a treasure which he was to take and share with others. He planted the single tea shoot he found and cultivated into a bush which produced the finest quality tea which he shared. All prospered, and eventually the temple was repaired.
Another version is that this tea is named for the appearance of its processed leaves -- dark as iron and heavier than other teas, but with a quality as pure and beautiful as Guanyin. (Source : All the Tea in China by Kit Chow & Ione Kramer, 1990)
Chocolate: The Goddess of Chocolate/Cocoa was a Mayan Goddess named Ixcacao. An ancient fertility goddess, Ixcacao was an earth goddess in a matriarchal society where gathering crops and seeing to it that everyone was fed was woman's work. She was also worshipped by tribes in central and south America as Xochiquetzal the Goddess of fertility, flowers and fruits. A prayer quoted from an old Mayan legend to promote a good harvest in times of hunger goes:
Ixcanil, Goddess of Seed, hear me.
Ixtoq, Goddess of Rain, help me.
Ixcacao, Goddess of Chocolate, see my tears and come to my aid.
It was the responsibility of Ixcacao to banish hunger and provide for the safety and security of her people. Mayan creation myths described a great flood, devastating droughts and earthquakes that destroyed the human race. The gods had had four attempts at creating a race of humans to love them and sing of their glory. Humans were dying out again because they had not taken care of the earth. Ixcacao was willing to try one more time.
Chocolate was often blended with chilli for a drink or as a sauce for chicken. It was considered to be the food of the gods and only available to the nobility. Mayans and Aztecs believed that the cacoa bean had magical and spiritual powers.
Salt: Although not considered exotic in the same way as chocolate, to the ancient people salt was indeed a gift from the Goddess and many cultures have a Goddess of Salt. For example the Zuni of America say that the Salt Goddess who lived by the sea became angry with people coming and taking her white treasure without giving thanks or making an offering in exchange. She left the ocean and moved into the mountains of the south-west. As she wandered, and rested she would turn the ponds and lakes into salt. Source
The Aztec Goddess Huixtocihuatl’s name means salt lady (pronounced we-sto-key-WAH-tl) She is usually depicted wearing a skirt adorned with waves and jadeite, with golden bells around her ankles. She carried a special shield with a picture of a waterlily and decorated with parrot, eagle, and quetzal feathers. Source
Food Offerings to the Goddess
As well as being a gift from the Goddess, food is also given as an offering to Her. Offerings to Annapurna are distributed to the poor and elderly at noon each day. During the nine day Navratri Durga Puja in India, food is offered to the Goddess Durga in a particular order – ghee for health, sugar for happiness and good health, milk products for peace and mental happiness, products made with maida and sugar to rid one of ‘sin’, fruit especially bananas gives psychological maturity, honey for confidence to face life, jiggery for wealth, coconut for prosperity and grains for ‘salvation after death’. Source
In ancient Greece it was the custom to place a plate of food at the crossroad (usually a three way junction) as an offering to Hecate. Her favourite foods included eggs, fish, garlic, bread, milk, cheese, mushrooms, honey and cake.
Prepare a meal of fish cooked with garlic and mushrooms
Make a Bread and Butter pudding using the bread and cake with honey, milk and eggs. Layer the bread and sliced cake. Whisk the honey, milk and eggs and pour over the bread. Bake in the oven for 50 minutes until the custard has firmed.
In the fourth month of the Aztec agricultural calendar there would be special offering to Chicomecoatl:
‘In this feast... they went about the maize fields and brought stalks of the maize (which was still small), and they garnished them with flowers… They went in procession, to present them to the goddess Chicomecóatl [”Seven Snake”], and they returned them once more to their houses as blessed things; and from them they took the seed to plant next year. [They made an image of dough of the goddess]... and before her they offered all kinds of maize, and all kinds of beans, and all kinds of chía. For they said that she was the maker and giver of all those things which are the necessaries of life, that the people may live.’ Source
Food offerings to Goddess Saraswati, the Hindu Goddess of learning and knowledge are quite specific and made of five seeds believed to provide essential nutrients for the brain. The five items that are part of offering are bamboo shoot, misri (sugar) nuts, cardamom, lotus stems and lotus seeds.
Oshun is the Mother of the African sweet or fresh waters. In her form as the mother of salt waters, she is known as Yemaya. Like Egyptian Isis and later Greek Diana, Oshun is the goddess of love known for healing the sick, cheering the sad, bringing music, song and dance, as well as fertility and prosperity.It is said that “Oshun has excellent cooking skills.
Food offerings to Oshun could include sweet things such as fresh water, honey, mead, white wine, oranges, sweets, or pumpkins, as well as essential oils and incense.
The Old Testament Book of Jeremiah describes a community of Jews in Egypt who worshipped the 'Queen of Heaven,' scholars identify with Anath or Astarte, of the ancient Near East. Like other goddess worshippers, the Jewish women in the Egyptian diaspora lit altar fires to the Queen of Heaven, baked and ate 'crescent-cakes marked with her image' (Jer. 44.19), poured out libations as drink offerings to the goddess, and burnt incense or perhaps even sacrificial animals in her honor. The women serve as priestesses. When Jeremiah calls on them to return to orthodoxy at the risk of their lives they boldly and flatly refuse. (Source : Johnathan Kirsch, The Woman Who Laughed at God: The Untold History of The Jewish People, 2001)
Cakes for the Queen of Heaven
2 eggs, well beaten
3⁄4 cup hot water
1 cake yeast
4 cups sifted flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter
1⁄2 cup butter
Beat the eggs, add water, and dissolve the yeast in this mixture. Set in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes. Blend together all remaining ingredients. When the yeast mixture has cooled, pour onto the flour mixture and knead dough for about 2 minutes or until smooth. Form the dough into a large ball, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for about 1⁄2 hour. Then roll out dough to 1⁄4 inch in thickness, and cut into 3-inch squares. Cut each square to make 2 triangles. Place about a teaspoon of filling on each triangle and, beginning with the long side, roll each triangle into a crescent. Place on a non-stick sheet. When the crescents have risen to about twice the original size, bake at 375 degrees for about 18 minutes.
1⁄4 cup butter
1/3 cup brown sugar
3⁄4 cup chopped dates
1⁄4 cup almond paste
1⁄2 teaspoon cinnamon
Melt butter and simmer with sugar for about 2 minutes. Remove from heat, and stir in all other ingredients. Allow to cool for a few minutes before filling crescents.