A Blog by and about the Maetreum of Cybele, Magna Mater

The Maetreum of Cybele, Magna Mater is a neo-pagan, goddess oriented congregation and religious charity headquartered in Palenville, New York. Our home is a 150 year-old inn called Central House. The photo above is a vintage postcard which was mailed in 1917. This blog is all about our current events and what is going on at Central House.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Cooking and Food at Central House

I started this section as part of the entry for May, but it seemed to take on a life of its own, so I gave this little tangent its own, separate section.

Some old friends came down to visit us on Saturday for the yard sale, and I was cooking dinner. I wish I could have offered them a better dinner than the Mac ’n’ cheese that I had planned, but they seemed happy with that. I really love to cook and bake (I have a few professional bakers in my family tree), but my husband has some very set ideas about what he will and won’t eat and I don’t have much room for culinary experimentation with him (But since he’s stayed slim and trim most of his life, unlike me, I can’t talk!). I’m very grateful that I have a receptive audience at Central House for my culinary adventures. I’ve made lasagna, pizza, homemade pesto and various casseroles for Saturday night dinner before class. One of these days, I will have to try eggplant parmesan and maybe some calzones. But while I’m tooting my own horn, I would like to add a nod to Helen’s bean stew, sushi (She learned how to do it from the Japanese monks at the Grafton Peace Pagoda!) and her mouthwatering cole slaw. Maybe we should compile a Cybelline cook book?

The Central House kitchen is great for cooking for large numbers of people. Cathy, having spent the bulk of her working life in her own business designing and building kitchens, has her issues with it. I do have the utmost respect for her expertise, but I will say that it’s great to be cooking with at least 2 other people and have plenty of room!

Apart from a counter that’s at least 10 feet long, it has 3 stoves – a great, big old, commercial gas range; a home gas range and reproduction cast-iron, wood-burning stove. We also have 3 refrigerators: two modern, residential ones and this great, big old commercial one which appears to date from the 1930’s. It actually worked when the gallae moved in, and I’m told that all it needs is to be recharged and it’ll work great once more. The place was clearly designed to cook large amounts of food at any given time. This is because in its heyday, Central House not only provided a place for people to sleep during their stay, but also fed them breakfast, lunch and dinner. We found an old, meal schedule card for the place that’s at least 50 years old, that gives specific times when meals were served. Anything other than these times was a la carte and was subject to an additional charge. One of these days, I’ll have to scan and post it.

Despite all of this, I’m kind of amused and a little nonplussed that the Town Attorney of Catskill stated in his report that the property included a 1500 square foot restaurant. Okay, with the bar and all of that, I can see the *potential* for a restaurant. However, we just don’t have the kind of resources needed to turn what we have into a functioning business. In this day and age of increasing costs of everything, I don’t think that it would turn a profit, anyway. But more to the point, we are a religious convent home. We’re not in the food service business. Besides, a Cybelline restaurant is just too hilarious to think about: We’d be wearing tie-dyed stolae, beating our drums and subjecting our poor customers to castration humor. They’d run away screaming! ;-)

Seriously, though, this does bring up some interesting issues with being what is basically a pagan reconstructionist faith. Just how devoted are you going to be to historical accounts of your faith? Do you become another SCA or Nova Roma? Personally, I look at it this way: it’s been 1600 years, we’ve got a lot of catching up to do. It’s good to know what our ancestors did, how and with what. We need to honor them, but to slavishly imitate them, to my mind, misses the point. Our religion lasted for 8,000-plus years. How does a religion survive changing times and cultures? It adapts. The Cybelline faith as it was practiced in prehistoric Anatolia no doubt was quite different from the faith as it was practiced during our last days in Rome.

That being said, though, the practices of the past do have a logic and meaning to them. One of the elements of the Season of the Tree festival that I enjoyed the most was the moretum. In Rome, this food was prepared by the gallae priestesses and became our sacred food. It was historically made with an herb called rue, which is not used in cooking much anymore, even though it was common in Roman cuisine. Keeping in mind that it has high phytoestrogen content, its sacredness and significance to the gallae become clear: in order to become gallae, the new priestesses in the ancient world didn’t just emasculate themselves, they used plant estrogens to feminize their bodies as well! The gallae weren’t mere eunuchs – they were transsexuals who transitioned in a way that has all the basic elements of modern transition! Sure, that one is probably a no-brainer to modern gallae, but that realization floored me. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

The nesteia fast that you have the option of practicing before the festival also has a clear purpose – preparing you for receiving the mysteries. With this fast, you refrain from root vegetables, especially garlic, as a way of showing respect for Attis, who at this time is dead in the ground and awaiting resurrection. After having done it, and being someone with years of pagan ritual and energy-working experience, the reasoning behind it was very clear. Root vegetables, especially garlic, have a grounding effect on you. According to the book The Healing Power of Garlic, certain Buddhist monasteries will not allow it in the food that they cook. This is because it’s actually counter-productive for the heavy-duty meditation based spiritual work that they do. You want to eat garlic and other grounding foods after you are done with your energy or spiritual work as a way of getting rid of excess energy and returning to the mundane world.

Bread also plays an important role in the Cybelline Mysteries. Since baking bread is one of my hobbies, I was a natural for providing it this year. Next time, I am hoping to get my hands on some emmer wheat flour for the bread, since that type of wheat was used almost exclusively in the ancient world. What role does bread play in the Mysteries? Can’t tell ya – it’s a Mystery! ;-)

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