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Author Topic: Foods of the gods  (Read 475 times)

Sefiru

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Foods of the gods
« on: January 15, 2021, 06:37:16 pm »
An idle thought I've been pondering lately: What foods are considered sacred in various religions, and why? Because they're essential, because they're rare, because they're magically delicious? (I don't mean mythological foods like ambrosia either).

I'm hoping some of our Mesoamerican members will chime in because I'm curious about the significance of chocolate  ;)

Altair

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Re: Foods of the gods
« Reply #1 on: January 15, 2021, 07:44:38 pm »
An idle thought I've been pondering lately: What foods are considered sacred in various religions, and why? Because they're essential, because they're rare, because they're magically delicious? (I don't mean mythological foods like ambrosia either).

I'm hoping some of our Mesoamerican members will chime in because I'm curious about the significance of chocolate  ;)

Not an adherent to Mesoamerican traditions, but chocolate is *absolutely* sacred in my book!

(Yes, because I'm obsessively fond of it, but also because my intuition tells me it's bound up in something deeply spiritual for me)
The first song sets the wheel in motion / The second is a song of love / The third song tells of Her devotion / The fourth cries joy from the sky above
The fifth song binds our fate to silence / and bids us live each moment well / The sixth unleashes rage and violence / The seventh song has truth to tell
The last song echoes through the ages / to ask its question all night long / And close the circle on these pages / These, the metamythos songs

Darkhawk

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Re: Foods of the gods
« Reply #2 on: January 16, 2021, 02:18:58 pm »
An idle thought I've been pondering lately: What foods are considered sacred in various religions, and why? Because they're essential, because they're rare, because they're magically delicious? (I don't mean mythological foods like ambrosia either).

You know, as I think about this, I think I have seen a lot more treatment of staples as sacred than exotics.  Consider the Egyptian offering standard of bread and beer, or "give us this day our daily bread" in Christian scriptures.  The six Jewish food blessing prayers are for bread, other grain products, wine, fruit, vegetables, and everything else.  It makes me suspect that if you dig down crossculturally your core food blessings are going to be "staple calorie input" (bread, rice, etc.), "staple alcohol", a selection of culturally-significant common foods, and maybe a flag for exotics/occasion foods.

I mean, you have "nobody eats meat unless there's been a sacrifice" cultural stuff a lot of places, but if you look at cultures like that it turns out that there's a lot of occasions for sacrifices.
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Yei

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Re: Foods of the gods
« Reply #3 on: January 17, 2021, 05:47:58 pm »
An idle thought I've been pondering lately: What foods are considered sacred in various religions, and why? Because they're essential, because they're rare, because they're magically delicious? (I don't mean mythological foods like ambrosia either).

I'm hoping some of our Mesoamerican members will chime in because I'm curious about the significance of chocolate  ;)

I'd be happy to indulge. But, before getting into the religious significance, let's have a brief look at the history of cacao.

People had been consuming cacao, probably for as long as they had lived in the American tropics. But from what I remember, it was first domesticated and grown along the Pacific Coast of Guatemala by early Maya people as early as 1900 BC, probably earlier. Because cacao is a delicate plant, the procedure for growing them was quite involved. First, cacao was often planted underneath a shade tree to prevent them from burning in the sun. Second, the Maya planted cacao in small pits. These pits kept the soil moist, but also had to have good drainage to prevent the soil from becoming water logged. Cacao cultivation quickly spread to other parts of Tropical Mesoamerica, and was being grown by early Olmecs around 1750 BC. From there, cacao proceeded to become one of the most important ritual items in Mesoamerica. The Maya in particular were quite fond of chocolate, and many of the finest Maya ceramics were chocolate drinking vessels.

Because cacao can only grow in tropical regions a trade in cacao beans became a huge factor in Mesoamerican economics. Some of the first large scale irrigation works in Guatemala were done to grow cacao for export. This trade became so extensive that chocolate eventually found its way to the American South West, and I've even read Louisiana. Cacao beans were also used as currency, which is often presented as a 'fun fact' about Mesoamerican cultures. It also had ritual uses. It was offered to the deceased, especially among the Maya, and was frequently offered to rain gods during ceremonies.

And this is where the Aztecs/Mexica appear. The Mexica's explosive conquests are well known. What is less well known is exactly how much of that conquest was aimed at getting cacao (well, not exclusively, but still). They received chocolate products from 5 different provinces, Tlatelolco (as a market tax), Tochtepec, Xoconochco, Quauhtochco, and Cuetlaxtlan. Of course, one the Spanish arrived, they noticed it too. Although it took them some time to adjust to its bitter flavour, they eventually found a taste for it, and the rest is history.

So, the question is, what was cacao and chocolate to Mesoamerican people? It seems to have had several things going for it. First, the cacao tree was one of the world trees. In Mesoamerican cosmology certain trees served as axis mundies, which linked the four cardinal directions, the heavens, and the underworld, together. Among the Maya, this was typically the ceiba tree. However, the cacao tree served as an alternative world tree. The Popol Vuh records that chocolate (or rather cacao seeds) were one of the first items given to the Maya from the Tree of sustenance by the gods. Thus, like maize, cacao is a form of sustenance, although it leaned more spiritual than physical. The two were often blended together to make chocolate atole. Chocolate was also thought of as an equivalent to blood (remember, Mesoamericans took their chocolate as a drink, and there were actually several different chocolate drinks, some without any chocolate beans in them!), and the cacao pod was a human heart. Therefore, it was a standing in for the generative, life-creating force.

Among the Mexica, chocolate was associated with the nobility, and only nobles were allowed to drink it casually (although, it was always available on feast days). Interestingly enough, the Florentine Codex claims that drinking too much chocolate could cause one to become dizzy and confused. Drinking a moderate amount, however, was invigorating. This relates to a Mesoamerican notion that moderation was a good thing. Bernal Diaz notes that Motecuhzoma would drink his chocolate from gold cups, often before going to visit his wives and mistresses. I don't know for sure, but this could be where chocolate began to gain a reputation as an aphrodisiac. I think that priests would later associate chocolate consumption with lust and other vices, so its possible, but I don't have any real proof. Either way, it further suggests that cacao was a life-giving substance.

To summarise, cacao and chocolate were a substance that could enhance life. Hence why it was consumed, and why it was offered to the gods.

arete

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Re: Foods of the gods
« Reply #4 on: January 17, 2021, 06:00:22 pm »
An idle thought I've been pondering lately: What foods are considered sacred in various religions, and why? Because they're essential, because they're rare, because they're magically delicious? (I don't mean mythological foods like ambrosia either).

I'm hoping some of our Mesoamerican members will chime in because I'm curious about the significance of chocolate  ;)
Bread by far is the most sacred food. And the most popular too. I think because it's good for the health?

Sefiru

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Re: Foods of the gods
« Reply #5 on: January 18, 2021, 07:22:57 pm »
It makes me suspect that if you dig down crossculturally your core food blessings are going to be "staple calorie input" (bread, rice, etc.), "staple alcohol", a selection of culturally-significant common foods, and maybe a flag for exotics/occasion foods.

There's also rice in Asian cultures ... I think you might be on to something here.

Quote
I mean, you have "nobody eats meat unless there's been a sacrifice" cultural stuff a lot of places, but if you look at cultures like that it turns out that there's a lot of occasions for sacrifices.

Now I'm reminded of that scene about the sacramental wine in Robin Hood Men In Tights "Bless them all until we get verschikkered!"

Sefiru

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Re: Foods of the gods
« Reply #6 on: January 18, 2021, 07:23:41 pm »
Bread by far is the most sacred food. And the most popular too. I think because it's good for the health?

Well, not starving to death is generally healthy, so ...

Sefiru

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Re: Foods of the gods
« Reply #7 on: January 18, 2021, 07:44:26 pm »
I'd be happy to indulge.

Yay!

Quote
The Mexica's explosive conquests are well known. What is less well known is exactly how much of that conquest was aimed at getting cacao (well, not exclusively, but still).

That is somehow both surprising and not. I suppose there are worse reasons for conquering one's neighbors.

Quote
Mesoamericans took their chocolate as a drink, and there were actually several different chocolate drinks, some without any chocolate beans in them!

Wait, how does that work? Is it lke we use the word 'tea' for any kind of infused herb drink? Or did they use other parts of the cacao plant?

Quote
Interestingly enough, the Florentine Codex claims that drinking too much chocolate could cause one to become dizzy and confused.

Too much caffeine will do that ...

I'm rather taken by the idea of chocolate = blood and pod = heart ... a cacao pod is vaguely heart-shaped, if I recall correctly.

Quote
To summarise, cacao and chocolate were a substance that could enhance life. Hence why it was consumed, and why it was offered to the gods.

With reference to Darkhawk's post above, I'm seeing some parallels to alcohol in other cultures, ie 'the water of life'. (I know the Americas had maize beer, but did they know about distilling?) And there's also a comparison there to the importance of (true) tea in some Asian traditions. Maybe caffeine as well as alcohol gets special attention across cultures.

Which leads me to the further question, is there any religion that holds coffee sacred? It's joked about often enough, but I don't know of any real/sincere examples ...

Ashmire

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Re: Foods of the gods
« Reply #8 on: January 18, 2021, 07:50:34 pm »
Which leads me to the further question, is there any religion that holds coffee sacred? It's joked about often enough, but I don't know of any real/sincere examples ...

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_coffee At least according to Wikipedia, the answer is "Sort of".  It has a history of use by Islamic mystics and apparently its discoverer was accounted a saint for the discovery.

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