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A Shaman in the Kitchen: Cooking the Seven Elements
by Stewart Blackburn

A shaman often works with more than one layer of reality at the same time. For instance, a shaman might use an herb both to soothe a severe abrasion to the skin and to invoke a certain spirit to assist in the healing. Eggs have long been used to symbolize fertility in rituals and then eaten for nutrition. Bananas were used in some cultures for similar reasons. In China, in a shamanic holdover that is carried out to this day, live, highly poisonous snakes are killed at tableside in certain restaurants in order to serve the blood and gall bladder bile fresh to customers who want the implied power of a dangerous animal. The rest of the snake is then served in various ways for the flavor and nutrition it provides.

Working with the spirits of the natural elements has been an important part of shamanic healing for many millennia. One finds evidence of this usage all over the world. Calling in one or more of the elements can increase the intensity and power of any ritual. Now suppose that we wanted to invoke all the elements at one time in order to connect as fully as possible to life here on Earth. Perhaps we want to celebrate someone's birthday, or to encourage a depressed person to continue living, or to initiate the process of bringing a child into this world. In all these cases we might desire to call upon the spirits of the Seven Elements to aid us.

We talk about seven elements because we include plants, animals, and humans, as well as the usual earth, wind, fire, and water. This pretty much covers all the things we encounter in this physical world. Humans are a special kind of animal and thus deserve, though arbitrarily, their own elementhood.

There are many ways that we can make meaning for each of the elements. These meanings are subjective, but they can be very useful. Whatever meanings we create, the point is to evoke feelings within us that will energize what we are attempting to do. So we could say that fire is the energy of transformation and that we want to use that energy to take us from a stagnant place to one of enthusiasm and joy. Or we could say that fire is a profound cleanser and that we want the energy of fire to burn away all our dysfunctional beliefs and clear out the old debris so that we can focus on crafting our lives to our liking.

Likewise, water could symbolize the essence of our being or the blood of the world. It could represent our emotions or it could symbolize the nurturing fluids of the womb and thus nurturing in general. To use the power of the elements we need to choose for ourselves what these elements mean to us. A little time on this is well spent. Using other people's meanings for the elements can still work if we genuinely accept them, but I think it's important to remember that someone else made up these meanings. Our own meanings are likely to be stronger for us.

So let's say that we want to create a romantic ritual to initiate the process of creating a child. And let's say that we want to bring together all the elements at one time to symbolize for us all the forces that come together at the inception of life. And we wanted each element to bless this endeavor. How can we invoke all the elements at once? One way is to make a soufflé Many people regard a soufflé as an impossibly tricky thing to make. I've always taken advantage of this misconception to make a reasonably easy dish that inevitably evokes satisfying Ooohs and Ahhhs. So, as a chef. I encourage you to not be afraid of making a soufflé.

The water is in the milk we use. The plants are the onions and whatever other vegetables we put in. The animals are in the eggs, the butter, and again the milk. The earth is in the salt crystals. The wind is in the air we beat into the egg whites. The fire is what we use to cook our soufflé. And the human element consists, naturally, of the diners.

I'm not going to give you my favorite recipe for a soufflé because I don't have one. There are plenty of good recipes online. I make up my recipes each time just as I make up my meanings. The important thing is being conscious of all the elements at all the levels that we're playing with.

A romantic ritual might start out with both people sitting together, perhaps with some drink like wine or tea, and affirming their commitment to bringing a child into this world and raising him or her to the best of their abilities. They might then proceed to the kitchen and begin the soufflé and anything else they want to eat with it. As each ingredient goes into place one or both could say something like, "We call in the Spirit of Plants as we peel away the dried skin of this onion. May our child be grateful for every plant friend he or she encounters and may he or she understand the nature of our learning to be like peeling away the layers of an onion." "As we pour in the milk we call in the Spirit of Water to bless our child. May our child come to know the power and nature of feelings and to not be afraid of any of them." "As we open and separate these eggs, we call in the Spirit of Animals. May our child learn to understand our complex relationship with the animals of this earth and may he or she become friends with as many animals as possible." "We call in the Spirit of Earth as we add the salt. May our child grow up robust and healthy and be blessed with strong bones and skin." "We call in the Spirit of Air as we beat the air into these egg whites. May our child have strong healthy lungs and the ability to speak his or her truth." And when it comes time to put the soufflé in the oven, they might say, "As we put this soufflé in this oven we call upon the Spirit of Fire. May our child be blessed with abundant energy and enthusiasm."

When the soufflé comes out and before it exhales (as all soufflés do) they might say something like, "As we sit down to eat this soufflé, we call in the Spirit of Humans. May our child know the joy of connecting with many humans and the sweetness of deep and abiding love for another human."

There are two more important ingredients in this ritual: savoring the food itself, for the pleasure of this ritual is the energy to make these desires manifest, and gratitude of all that is involved in this day and for all that is coming.

The other operations involved in initiating a child should come quite naturally at this point.

Bon appétit!

palm isle