Eating God: Considering Eucharistic Ritual

Eating God: Considering Eucharistic Ritual June 1, 2012

A scene familiar to both Christians and Pagans.

It’s not unusual to see Pagans joking about the “cannibalism” of the Christian eucharist. While the concept of transubstantiation is unique to Christian worship, eucharistic ritual is not. What do you think those ancient sacrifices were about? Why do you think women baked cakes for the Queen of Heaven? And when the officiant blesses the cakes and ale/wine in a Wiccan ritual, isn’t that a eucharistic style of worship as well?

One of the most important things for a human to do in this life is to pay close attention to what they put in their body. Food is important. Always has been. You gotta eat if you want to live. So not only has humanity been concerned that their food be nutritious and tasty, but also that it feeds their spirit.

One of the big concerns rolling around in the back of my mind as I move from Wicca into something more personal is what to do with ritual, “high magick,” and theurgy. I love ritual deeply, particularly group ritual. There is an energy and a blessing present that resonates to the depths of my soul. Regardless of the form and purpose, when you create a space for the Gods, they will appear. Perhaps not as you expect. A rather ordinary and uneventful ritual once brought the Horned One to my attention in an almost palpable way. A solo invocation while showering one morning left me with a profound sense of the intense power and responsibility inherent in such ritual, as I spent the day flushed with an unfamiliar energy. (Tip: Invoking Ereshkigal to help you through a tough work day is about as useful as throwing your clothes in a bonfire to aid in washing them clean.)

The older I get, the less enchanted I am by the concept of transcendence. I am not enamoured by the idea of becoming more than human, or achieving something better than humanity. While I have not fully processed my feelings regarding apotheosis, it’s not something I find attractive or aim for. Even the concept of becoming an Agathos Daimon to watch over my family has little appeal, although I know some of my ancestors have done just that. Many Pagan rituals, particularly those influenced by NeoPlatonism, Gnosticism and Wicca, are by their very nature rituals of transcendence. Ascending the planes, climbing Jacob’s ladder, reuniting with the purity we lost, or were severed from, long ago.

I find myself far more interested in ritual that celebrates us as unusual mammals that, rather than ascending to the Gods, elevating our spirits to their plane or reuniting with them, seek and capture a boon from the Gods that simply enhance and bless our innate humanity. For instance, we are sexual beings. To create sacred space for a God/dess who embodies sexuality to appear and grant us a boon in the form of sexual energy is a way to embrace our deep humanity rather than transcend it. The same could be said for seeking a boon of poetic inspiration, fertility, strength, prosperity or health. We are not asking to become what we are not (i.e. Gods) but seeking more of what we already have as humans. If you have a pulse, you have some modicum of health. We should not seek for something which we do not already a small spark of already within us, and as humans we carry the seeds of so many talents, so many ways of being and so much potential. Why seek to transcend that?

Reciprocity is a part of this “begging a boon” but I don’t want to go into that today. I want to talk about technique and spiritual technology. Humans are mammals, and though we have the capability to be spiritual, abstract and ephemeral, we respond best to things palpable. Which is why ritual so often focuses on the palpable, sensual elements: incense, candles, attire, music, movement and food.

While feeling “spiritual” has an affect on our well-being, nothing signals the feeling that we are not merely ok, but blessed, safe and healthy on all levels of our being as ingesting food. Triggering that feeling is one reason why fasting before ritual is important. You are less likely to feel that sense of well-being from eating a sacrament if you downed a cheeseburger and fries 30 minutes before.

It only makes sense that the most effective way to receive a boon or blessing from the Gods is by ingesting food that has been ritually sacralized. So the technique of eucharist has been on my mind lately. It’s something I’m familiar with, and comfortable with, and it makes spiritual sense to me. So I am considering both “high ritual” eucharist as well as “low ritual” eucharist as a part of my spiritual practice, often known as saying grace.

Blessing your food regularly may be far simpler, and only involve your household Gods. Placing a hand over your cup of coffee while giving thanks for wakefulness and drawing the energy you seek through your body to imbue the bitter brew is an example of this “low ritual” eucharist. Sitting in an airport terminal clutching an energy bar in your hand and whispering a prayer to Hermes is another example.

Yet if what you seek is the ability to lead and manage well, then perhaps something more formal calling upon Zeus, and, upon his presence being felt, channeling a bit of his energy into food that you then ritually ingest would work well. Perhaps you need help with a meeting, and the food you associate with meetings is coffee and bagels. Once the bagel and coffee are blessed, you offer a portion back to Zeus and then consume the blessing. Maybe you seek a lover with which to build a life? Asking Hera to bless a glass of table wine, whole wheat bread and a bit of rich chocolate might imbue you with the intoxication, stability and allure to find such a mate.

This type of ritual doesn’t deny our humanity. It implies that we need to regularly be in communion with the Gods as much as we regularly need to eat food. We do not become a God by participating in a eucharist anymore than we become a potato after eating some french fries. Just as eating a bowl of stew doesn’t mean we won’t ever need to eat again, so a eucharist doesn’t mean the boons or blessings we receive from the Gods last forever. Just as we are not “saved” and thus forever blessed, so our commitment to our spiritual path is something that must be constantly reaffirmed. Every day we wake up and choose once again to follow the path we have taken. Every day we wake up and ingest food to continue the health of our body. Every day we recommit to our spiritual path, not the rote of superstition, but the earnest affirmation of spiritual truth.

In a way, this line of thinking leads us back to Will and Love. Love states I shall not love you but once with a vow, but with constant renewal, affirmation and active choosing to love. Will states I am not a victim of circumstance but actively choose the beautiful, good and best for my life, not with one choosing but with an active, continual self-awareness.

And all that sounds all right to me. :)

Oh and I meant to add in here somewhere that this is a great primer on eucharistic ritual. I’ve been reading it and finding it super useful!

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