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The Sacred Duty of Food

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Our culture suffers from a drastic disconnect between human beings and the sources of the food they eat. I’m sure you’ve seen the memes where some poor misguided individual criticizes hunters for killing animals when grocery stores are full of food, blissfully oblivious as to the origins of that food. Lest you think that is mere exaggeration, just this week, an agricultural group I’m a part of online discussed criticism of farming by someone who was under the impression food in the grocery store isn’t also the result of agriculture. Several fiber-art groups I’m in have dealt with harassment from those who mistakenly believe using wool results in the death of the animal instead of a simple haircut.

I’m sure most people reading this aren’t naive enough to believe that meat in the grocery store magically springs forth from styrofoam packages, blood free and unattached to any animal. Nor would I expect you to think that cows have to be killed for their milk, or that, per the PETA ad, “the rest of your wool coat” is a dead lamb. (Spoiler alert: both claims are ludicrous.)

But maybe you suffer from some of the other ways our societal disconnect from food sources has harmed us. Do you have any idea where the food you eat was raised or grown, processed, or packaged? Does any of it come from somewhere nearby, or is it shipped in from halfway across the country, or even another country? Do you know what’s in it, how it was treated, or how that might affect you and your health? Are you one of the many people (myself included!) who over-relies on fast food, take out, and TV dinners when you’re stressed and busy?

At this point, you might be asking another question: what does any of this have to do with Urglaawe? One of the guiding principles of Urglaawe is die Zusaagpflicht, or, the Sacred Duty. The Sacred Duty isn’t your typical oath, in that it’s not set down in specific terms, and there’s no rulebook. Rather, it’s a traditional way of interacting with the land, plants, and animals that has arisen within Deitsch (Pennsylvania Dutch) culture from its much older Germanic roots. The Sacred Duty is what we owe to these beings, and their spirits, for sacrificing to feed and support us. We owe them good stewardship–an Urglaawe virtue–which means to care for and protect the land and its inhabitants, to use its resources responsibly, and to give back whenever we take. As you might know from other branches of Heathenry, a gift demands a gift. In Urglaawe, the land, plants, and animals all have their own inherent spirits that give us the gifts of life, and so we give to them in return.

But there’s another side to the process of getting food into our mouths. One side goes from the farm to the market, where we try to make more conscious choices. The other side leads from the market to our tables. And this is where the most central deity of Urglaawe teaches us some very important lessons.

In Urglaawe, Frau Holle is the Mother of the Deitsch nation, spiritual protector of all who take part in this Deitsch-inspired faith. One of the things She’s well-known for is preserving order within the home, and encouraging industriousness amongst those who tend their own homes. On a spiritual level, this means tending the innangardh, filling it with the things that nurture us and our loved ones, and protecting it from the utangardh, or the forces of rootlessness and chaos that threaten to separate us from community.

Holle and a GirlIn the myths and stories we have of Holle, we see that every element of Her home takes on sacred and spiritual dimensions. Indeed, the tools of the home themselves are alive, and ask for help. What do they want? To fulfill their given tasks, to nurture and nourish those that depend on them–to carry out their side of the Sacred Duty. To be cared for and tended properly–to have our side of the Sacred Duty towards them fulfilled.

When we prepare and cook our own food, we have an opportunity to take part in this cycle. We can give our attention and care to what we are making, and thank the plants, animals, and land that sacrificed for our food. We can ask Their Spirits and the Gods for blessings on our work and the meal it will create. Plus, when you make your own food, you know exactly what is going into it, which puts you in the driver’s seat for your health and well-being. There can even be a connection to the blessings of the Ancestors, such as when we use a family recipe, cook foods from our home cultures, or even use the good family china. Today, I just baked brownies for a family holiday party, using mixing bowls that belonged to my great grandmother. I remember her and the incredible meals she made every time I use them. Even if you aren’t lucky enough to have an heirloom like that, just the simple act of cooking connects you to countless generations of tradition. And if you’re of a magical bent, there are so many ways that you can “kitchen witch” your food, it’d take a book just to describe them! (Incorporating spells into everyday activities and items is a very Braucherei (Deitsch folk magic) sort of thing to do, but that’s a topic for another post!)

Don’t underestimate the power of cleaning up afterwards either! It may not be anybody’s favorite task, but it takes on new meaning when you look at it from a spiritual perspective. Cleaning your kitchen after a big cooking project is a way to thank your tools and your space, honor the beings that have assisted you, and to create order in this part of your innangardh. If you’ve invoked Frau Holle in your work, you may find that She…ahem…“inspires” greater cleaning efforts than you might normally use. But hey, spiritual work is worth it, right?

I hope this post has inspired you to take back a piece of your personal power and cook more of your own meals, or be more conscious about where your food comes from. If I’ve piqued your interest in Urglaawe, you can always check out the official Urglaawe website and Facebook group for more information. Macht’s immer besser!

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